LIRR 2008 Year In Review

LIRR train entering Woodside.LIRR train entering Woodside. Resized photo courtesy of Eye On Transit

2008 has come & gone & for the Long Island Rail Road, which might be a good thing considering the highs & lows the agency experienced. Positive things did happen under LIRR President Helena Williams watch such as a complete communications overhaul & adding an extra train for Adelphi & Hofstra universities.

However the year featured some events that Helena & the rest of the LIRR would love to forget including the disability benefits scandal & recent train derailment right by the Jamaica station. Alfonso A. Castillo of Newsday takes a look at the highs for the LIRR in this report:

If a movie were made about the Long Island Rail Road’s tumultuous past year, the climactic scene could take place on the tracks of Jamaica Station in the days just before Thanksgiving.

A derailment – the second train accident in four days at Jamaica and the agency’s worst in 15 years – had just occurred. It came during the same week that the LIRR proposed sharp fare hikes and service cuts, and as the agency still was reeling from a disability-pension-abuse scandal.

“I think that was the biggest black eye that the railroad had – that month from hell,” LIRR Commuters Council chairman Gerry Bringmann said.

Still, through the efforts of hundreds of LIRR employees who toiled through three bitterly cold nights, service was restored on the morning of Thanksgiving eve, just in time for the busiest travel day of the year.

MTA board member Mitch Pally of Stony Brook called it “almost a miracle.”

In some ways, the 72-hour period summed up the LIRR’s year to a T – a year during which the agency encountered some of its biggest achievements and its biggest setbacks.

Improvements in 2008

Helena Williams, who became LIRR president in mid-2007 after stints running Long Island Bus and as a deputy Nassau County executive, began 2008 with a lofty to-do list.

Near the top was putting into action a multimillion-dollar plan to remedy dangerous gaps between station platforms and train cars. By last month, more than 250 of 4,500-plus metal “threshold plates” to close those gaps had been installed on train car doors. Williams said the project should be completed by January 2010.

Setbacks in 2008

Among the biggest headaches for the LIRR in 2008 was the revelation that almost all retiring career employees in recent years applied for and received federal disability benefits.

The situation came to light following published reports in September disclosing that a little-known federal agency – the U.S. Railroad Retirement Board – had been approving 98 percent of disability claims nationwide. A disproportionately high number of those claims have come from LIRR employees, federal statistics showed.

The revelation led to federal and state investigations, and the arrest of one LIRR employee for illegally advising colleagues, during work hours, on how to collect disability benefits.

Click here for the complete report.

xoxo Transit Blogger

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