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EDITORIAL: U.S. should let LIRR spare new expense

Riders and MTA officials met in Riverhead last night to hash over proposed North Fork service cuts, but another controversy is chugging along more quietly. Federal officials are pushing the Long Island Rail Road to install a system that would automatically stop errant trains, at a cost of at least $324 million. The system seems to be only a marginal improvement over measures already in place. Let's wait on this one.

The LIRR's parent agency, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, is nearly $400 million in deficit after raising fares and cutting services that will cost nearly 150 Long Island jobs. The MTA's revenue streams are largely dependent on collections from a thriving economy.

The LIRR hasn't had a fatal collision between trains since the 1950s, when it installed automatic speed control. On all but two stretches of LIRR track, automatic speed control slows trains that run a red signal. It's an older technology than what the feds want, but it has worked. Last summer, the LIRR had a near-miss on the Speonk-Montauk line, on a portion of track not equipped with the measure. Two trains came within 700 feet of colliding. Since then, the LIRR has revamped its low-tech, human communication procedures. It should consider installing automatic speed control on the remaining two stretches of track.

The Federal Railroad Administration should give the LIRR credit for its safety record and existing technology. For now, the FRA should put the brakes on this speeding federal mandate. hN


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