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Rep. Israel calls on MTA to investigate derailments

Photo by Christina Santucci
By Phil Corso

It has been a bumpy ride for the MTA over the past three months, and one northeast Queens lawmaker has called for a closer look.

U.S. Rep. Steve Israel (D-Melville) cited last week’s 10-car Long Island Rail Road derailment as the latest installment in a series of Metropolitan Transportation Authority and Amtrak slip-ups and fired off a letter to the agencies demanding an investigation.

His request came after the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Railroad Administration got moving on an investigation of its own into what may have caused the latest derailment — the fourth in the past three months.

“Millions of riders depend on the MTA and Amtrak on a daily basis to get them where they need to go,” Israel said. “With multiple derailments in a matter of months, these riders deserve answers.”

Roughly 500 feet of track and eight switches were thought to have been damaged after two cars in the middle of a 10-car train to Hempstead, L.I., went off the rails June 17, the MTA said, resulting in more than 50 LIRR cancellations or delays the following day.

There were no injuries reported, but the delays were felt over the next several days at Metro-North, the New Jersey Transit and Amtrak as well as the LIRR.. The agency cut or rerouted 56 of its 274 LIRR trains during the heavy morning and evening commutes following the incident.

In Israel’s letter to Amtrak President Joseph Boardman and MTA President Thomas Prendergast, the lawmaker said a deep investigation into the derailments would help to prevent any future mishaps. The congressman called for a detailed report, including the cause of each derailment this year and a list of measures both agencies could take to prevent them moving forward.

“Monday’s derailment marked the fourth for the MTA in the last three months, and the second LIRR train in as much time — a frustratingly high number in such a short amount of time,” Israel said in the letter. “Furthermore, with the arrival of hurricane season, we should welcome every opportunity to work together to improve the performance of the LIRR and prevent the types of problems we saw in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy.”

Both Amtrak and New Jersey Transit use the tunnel to access the Sunnyside Yards and also experienced minor delays as a result.

An Amtrak statement said a switch point protector guard cover became dislodged, allowing the wheels to ride up over it and off the tracks.

The LIRR leases the tunnel, but Amtrak is responsible for repairs, the agency said. Amtrak said it had the tunnel operating normally for the Wednesday, June 19, morning commute.

Late last year, Hurricane Sandy left much of the northeastern rail system in shambles with delays and cancellations slowing down commuters for weeks or even months.

In the aftermath of the storm, Israel was aggressive in putting pressure on Amtrak to act quickly to restore more than 40 cancelled rush hour LIRR trains in the weeks leading up to Christmas.

Reach reporter Phil Corso by e-mail at pcorso@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4573.

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