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Employee errors caused LIRR’s Sept. chaos: MTA

Long Island Rail Road employees work on the train tracks at the Jamaica station in the Queens borough of New York, Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2010. An electrical fire Monday in a switching tower had halted train service for four hours and disrupted the evening commute. The LIRR canceled some trains Tuesday morning and said it could take several days to make repairs. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
AP Photo/Mary Altaffer
By Philip Newman

The chaos that shut down a Long Island Rail Road signal system, stranding thousands of commuters last fall, was the result of an employee using the wrong equipment, according to MTA Inspector General Barry Klinger.

Lighting knocked out the LIRR signal system near Jamaica in a thunderstorm Sept. 29. The attempt to remedy the situation later accidentally disabled another signal system. The result was 12 hours during which thousands of LIRR commuters were stranded in trains and stations from Penn Station in Manhattan to other stops along the line to Jamaica.

“LIRR failed to detect both the installations of the wrong serial server connector as well as the non-installation of certain components,” the inspector general’s report said.

“Common sense tells us that before modifying a system’s design with additional equipment, we must confirm design compatibility of that equipment with the system designer,” wrote Kluger.

The report said an LIRR worker used what was described as a “look-alike” connector, which ultimately set off a power surge, causing a shutdown of all trains west of Jamaica.

In response the LIRR issued a statement saying it “has taken a series of steps since last year’s lightning strike along with the signal system’s manufacturer to ensure that our lightning protection is upgraded and that we have sufficient backup systems in place that are properly isolated to reduce the chances of another system shutdown.

The railroad also said it has improved its emergency response and communication procedure after customer communication problems arose on Sept. 29.

It concluded that “we found this review very helpful as we re-examined our procedures and capabilities and we accept the IG’s recommendations.”

Reach contributing writer Philip Newman by e-mail at timesledgernews@cnglocal.com or phone at 718-260-4536.

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