Eastbound LIRR train enters Jamaica station with storm clouds over...

Eastbound LIRR train enters Jamaica station with storm clouds over Manhattan. A lightning strike disrupted westbound service from Jamaica to Penn Station on the LIRR (Sept. 29, 2011) Credit: Patrick E. McCarthy

Last Thursday, a lightning strike disabled one of the Long Island Rail Road's control systems, shutting down the entire system for hours and stranding hundreds of riders on trains. Neither the strike nor the shutdown are exactly the LIRR's fault, but they are the railroad's responsibility.

A recent $56-million renovation should have protected against such hits. The new equipment was supposed to be resistant to lightning and redundant, with a second system as backup if the first failed, yet everything went down. Worse, diagnostic tests performed after the strike failed to pinpoint needed repairs.

Now, LIRR officials say they're talking with the company that designed the system about warranties, the reason for the failures and how to prevent a repeat. They argue that getting the entire system back up by Friday morning was a bright spot that wouldn't have been possible with the previous 100-year-old system -- as evidenced by the Jamaica switching fire in August 2010 that caused a similar kind of damage but disrupted service for a week.

That's true, but commuters weary of repeated shutdowns and poor communication over the last 14 months don't want to hear it.

The MTA will use an internal investigation and an outside consultant to figure out what went wrong, and prevent a recurrence. The focus should be on making the manufacturer live up to its commitments -- so the LIRR can do the same.


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