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Photo courtesy New York and Atlantic Railway
Photo courtesy New York and Atlantic Railway

A lawsuit filed by former employees of New York & Atlantic Railway (NYAR) accusing the Glendale-based operator and its parent company, Anacostia Rail Holdings Company, of widespread mistreatment and discrimination has led to calls for radical change.

As reported by The New York Times, the 18 workers who filed the lawsuit on Feb. 14 are of Mexican, Ecuadorian and Dominican origin. The workers said they routinely worked 12- to 14-hour shifts and were asked to right derailed trains, maintain switches and cut railroad ties while being paid much less than other employees and not provided with the proper safety equipment and training.

The lawsuit alleges that NYAR violated the New York City Human Rights Law, New York state labor laws and the Federal Employers Liability Act, while also claiming that the company impeded a train crash investigation by keeping the workers away from federal inspectors.

On Feb. 21, a joint letter sent from Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan, Assemblyman Mike Miller and state Senator Joe Addabbo to MTA Chairman Joseph Lhota called upon the agency to terminate its agreement with NYAR if these allegations are proven true. They cited a history of other safety concerns.

New York & Atlantic leases nearly 270 miles of Long Island Rail Road track and related facilities from the MTA to transport construction materials, food, waste and other items.

“Along with ongoing questions regarding safety, including not adhering to railroad crossing regulations and crew fitness, we must again state that we are opposed to the continued operation of the freight operation by this entity,” the letter states. “The MTA and LIRR must perform a full review of the continued relationship with NYAR in light of these allegations as well as the safety issues raised by our local community.”

The elected officials made reference to their disapproval of the renewal of NYAR’s contract with the MTA to begin with. A 2015 incident in Maspeth in which an NYAR freight collided with a truck is the main source of their opposition. That incident prompted a Federal Railroad Administration safety review that revealed several areas of wrongdoing by NYAR.

On Oct. 5, 2016, Miller wrote a letter to then-MTA Chairman Thomas F. Prendergast stating, “There is no justification for NYAR to be awarded a new contract as they are a danger to their employees, the LIRR infrastructure and the communities in which they operate.”

Still, the original 20-year agreement between NYAR and the MTA that started in 1997 was renewed for another 10 years as of 2017.

There has also been a long history of complaints about NYAR’s garbage-filled cars, environmental impact of train engines, and several reported incidents of warning signal malfunctions, with one as recent as Feb. 15.

Mary Parisen, the chair of Civics United for Railroad Environmental Solutions (CURES), has been advocating for years alongside the politicians calling for reform. She pointed out that since NYAR is using the MTA and LIRR’s assets, it is being heavily subsidized by taxpayer dollars.

“We knew from the FRA Focused Safety Review on the July 8, 2015, Maspeth crash that the New York & Atlantic Railway was violating the Transfer Agreement and laws, and cutting corners on personnel, training and safety,” Parisen said in a statement. “But this New York Times story shows a previously unimagined depth of unsafe and inhumane operations involving non-union labor working with state assets all over Long Island. MTA-LIRR should never have renewed the Transfer Agreement with NYAR. Governor Cuomo should order the MTA to terminate it.”

A spokesperson for the MTA declined to comment on the lawsuit, as it is policy to not comment on pending litigation. With regard to the letter, the spokesman said the MTA is currently reviewing it. At the monthly meeting for the MTA Board’s LIRR Committee on Feb. 20, LIRR President Patrick Nowakowski said the MTA has asked the New York State Department of Labor and the MTA Inspector General to investigate the allegations.

James Bonner, President of NYAR, released a statement to QNS denying the allegations.

“New York & Atlantic Railway denies these unsubstantiated, uncorroborated, and unsupported allegations and will be filing a response,” Bonner said. “We take all claims against our business seriously, but these allegations are baseless and without merit.”

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Pedro Valdez Rivera Jr. March 05, 2018 / 05:12PM
Such everyday bureaucracy by this particular railroad and I'm not surprised there.
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