As the MTA looks into expanding their lease with the Glendale-based railroad company New York and Atlantic Railway (NYA), civic groups and community leaders are telling the Transportation Authority to think again.
The NYA has been under fire from the environmental group Civics United for Railroad Environmental Solutions (CURES) for unsafe policies, and was the focus of a Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) safety review following a crash involving one of their trains at a Maspeth crossing in 2015 — the results of which showed a lack of safety regulations.
In June, NYA added an additional 10 years onto the 20-year lease it signed with the MTA in 1997 to continue operating on the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) tracks of the former Lower Montauk Line, which runs through Glendale, Ridgewood, Middle Village, Maspeth and other local communities.
The extension was able to be automatically renewed without a vote from the MTA board if NYA met certain safety standards.
According to the FRA safety review of the freight operators, they have not met many safety standards.
Members of Community Board 5’s (CB 5) Transportation and Public Transit committees drafted a letter to opposing the MTA deny NYA’s lease renewal.
“Assembly members [Cathy] Nolan and [Mike] Miller have written to the MTA questioning the renewal of this lease agreement,” said Toby Sheppard Bloch, co-chair of the CB 5 Transportation Committee. “There are numerous safety problems with New York and Atlantic with some pretty scary accidents and collisions. And neighbors who live along the rail line have long suffered quality-of-life problems from uncovered municipal waste, odor and other quality-of-life problems.”
The resolution was put to a vote to the full board during CB 5’s monthly meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 9, at Christ the King High School in Middle Village. Thirty-two members approved the resolution, while one voted against it.
Amidst all of these questions swirling around NYA’s safety record, the railroad operators promoted two of their top officials; former vice president James Bonner was named president, and former president Paul Victor was made managing director at Anacostia Rail Holdings Company, NYA’s parent company, while Marlon B. Taylor — who joined NYA in April 2016 — was named vice president.
“New York & Atlantic Railway has had a terrible safety record during the tenure of NYA VP James Bonner and NYA President Paul Victor,” the civic group said on their Facebook page. “These men were managing NYA when FRA found unqualified crew operating freight trains. They were managing NYA during the disastrous years of accidents 2013-2015. Despite safety performance that was so terrible that FRA did an unusual focused safety review of NYA, Bonner was promoted to president of NYA and Victor becomes a managing partner at [Anacostia Rail Holdings].”
According to NYA, these personnel actions were all part of a planned action of succession at the rail company. John Casellini, spokesperson for NYA, said that they are working with the FRA’s safety requests to improve their operations.
“We assure local elected officials and the neighboring communities they represent that NYA has addressed all recommendations contained within the FRA’s Focused Safety Report,” Casellini told QNS. “It should be noted that neither [Bonner nor Taylor] was involved in NYA operations at the time of July 2015 incident. In addition, in our quest for continual safety improvement, we are working in close coordination with our partners at the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) to implement further safety protocols and have proactively adopted additional safety measures that go above and beyond those recommended by the FRA. We have provided all FRA-required training and testing for our crews, along with LIRR Rules Compliance, a standard that exceeds those of other short line operations. We also have a state-of-the-art electronic records-keeping system in place.”