The incidents are higher than those associated with Metro-North, which is more closely scrutinized, according to Newsday. The rise in reports is believed to be the result of increased LIRR reporting practices that came after a Newsday investigation in 2007. At that time, the media outlet was looking at the rate of customers who had fallen into the gaps that exist between station platforms and train doors, according to LIRR officials. The LIRR is the busiest commuter railroad in the United States.
The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) indicated that the number of safety-related accidents or incidents at the LIRR has been progressively increasing from 323 in 2004 to 658 in 2013; 2013 was the worst year in the period studied, according to Newsday. Meanwhile, the LIRR’s increase of almost 104 percent is much higher than the 27 percent increase in accidents and incidents reported from all commuter railroads nationwide. The LIRR’s rate increased by 94 percent in the past decade; nationally, the 23 commuter railroads listed in the same category as the LIRR reported an accident/incident rate increase of 5.4 percent in the same period.
According to the FRA, accidents/incidents are “collisions, derailments, and other events involving the operation of on-track equipment and causing reportable damage above an established threshold; impacts between railroad on-track equipment and highway users at crossings; and all other incidents or exposures that cause a fatality or injury to any person, or an occupational illness to a railroad employee,” Newsday reported. The number of LIRR accidents/incidents has increased by about 18 percent since 2007, which has been blamed, in part, on FRA reporting standards changes, severe winters, and superstorm Sandy.
U.S. Senator Charles Schumer (Democrat-New York) is seeking a complete federal investigation of safety practices at the LIRR; this, after a similar, so-called “Deep Dive” probe into Metro-North. That probe, wrote Newsday revealed that agency managers were consistently placing on-time train performance before customer and employee safety. That Metro-North probe came after a number of train accidents in the past year, including the deadly December 1 Bronx train derailment in which three passengers died.
Although FRA officials said they had no reason to believe the same issues are occurring at the LIRR, they say they will be meeting with LIRR representatives, and all commuter railroads to discuss safety. Schumer said that, after reviewing federal safety data from Newsday, the data provided “all the more reason for the FRA to move forward with an investigation into the LIRR’s safety measures and make sure that a lack of ‘culture of safety’ does not exist.”
LIRR Commuter Council chairman, Mark Epstein, told Newsday that the railroad’s safety statistics and “specific safety challenges” should be addressed by the FRA. “The safety problems facing both commuter rails are not new, but we, the users of the systems, are all learning to ask better questions and expect better answers,” Epstein said. “Safety must be its first priority and concern,” he added, Newsday reported.