Statement of the Long Island Rail Road Commuter’s Council to the New York State Senate Committee on Transportation Concerning Problems and Challenges Associated with Platform Gaps on the Long Island Rail Road.
February 8, 2007
Good Afternoon. I am Ellyn Shannon, Transportation Planner for the Long Island Rail Road Commuter’s Council (LIRRCC). The Council was created by the New York State Legislature in 1981 to represent the interests of Long Island Rail Road riders. Our ten volunteer members are appointed by the Governor.
We appreciate that you are concerned with this serious issue about platform gaps and passenger safety and have convened this hearing. Unfortunately, the time and location of the hearing makes it very difficult for those who are most directly affected by the gap issue, the customers of the LIRR, to be present. Including residents of Syosset, LIRR’s daily riders live in Suffolk, other communities in Nassau, Queens, Brooklyn, and Manhattan, and could not be here without taking an entire day off from their places of employment. We urge that you implement a meaningful process to hear from these customers concerning this issue.
Before I address the problems and challenges associated with the Long Island Rail Road Platform Gap, the Council feels it is important to inform you that the gap problem is regarded as a symptom of major, systemic problems within the Long Island Rail Road. Over the years, customers have lost confidence in the Long Island Rail Road. For LIRR users, the two major service disruptions over the course of the last month clearly demonstrate that the LIRR is unprepared to deal with problems, incidents, and emergencies. Many riders and commuters believe the LIRR has not put the safety of its passengers first, and, in fact, they are being put at risk by a lack of communication to passengers and ineffective responses to incidents and emergency situations. Riders and commuters are concerned that, should a major incident happen on the LIRR there could be significant injuries and loss of life.
Given this perception and fear, we can’t be surprised that riders question whether the actions planned and underway to deal with platform gaps will have any effect. We recognize that there are a number of reasons why the LIRR has more issues with platform gaps than other commuter railroads. The design of some stations, the mixture of traffic on the LIRR’s tracks, the limitations on equipment imposed as a result of operating through the East River tunnels and into Penn Station, and other factors have been challenges for the LIRR to fix the problems.
We also recognize that the LIRR has expended a great deal of attention and effort toward reducing platform gaps and increasing public awareness of this problem since the August fatality at the Woodside station. The LIRR’s acting President, Raymond Kenny, has been very frank and honest in his approach to the issue, and we see this as a hopeful sign. The Council recognizes that the LIRR has implemented a number of short term actions to reduce the size of platform gaps and raise customer awareness of the issue.
At the same time, however, we want to state for the record that the Council has raised questions regarding the platform gaps since the mid 1990’s and the LIRR was unresponsive to the urgent need to address this problem system-wide. The actions that have been taken since August, 2006 are promising first steps, but we are very concerned about complacency — that the momentum that has been generated to minimize platform gaps and alert passengers to dangerous conditions will not be maintained.
The LIRRCC wishes to make several points regarding the MTA and LIRR response to the platform gap issue. First, the MTA and LIRR must commit to transparency with regard to the steps being taken to address the platform gap issue. The gap issue has become very public and personal for many LIRR customers. It is important for them to have confidence that the LIRR is focused on their safety not only in its short term actions, but in the long term operation of the system. Actions that will address the platform gap issue must be identified publicly, monitored through implementation, and assessed for impacts. Information should be readily accessible to the public, wherever possible in electronic form through the LIRR website.
Second, the LIRR must promptly identify areas where gap hazards exist and complete its work to minimize these hazards to insure rider safety.
Third, the cost of and funding for these actions must be clearly identified. To date, the cost of actions to address platform gaps has come from funding for system maintenance. The Council is concerned that this arrangement may adversely impact other needed work and that these funds may not be sufficient for the increasingly complex and costly longer term solutions that may be necessary to adequately protect riders. To date, funding for platform gap remediation has not been included in updates to the LIRR’s Capital Program. If there is a need for capital funds for some of these solutions, these situations must be identified promptly and judgments made regarding the source and timing of funding for the work to be done. At that point provisions to fund these activities can be made in the appropriate LIRR Capital Program.
Fourth, LIRR staff resources must be dedicated to reducing platform gap hazards on the Long Island Rail Road. We believe the LIRR should establish a task force or working group structure that would include representation from departments throughout the organization, headed by a designated individual with a charge to address platform gap issues. The Council believes it is important for this group to have dedicated staff with primary responsibility addressing platform gap issues. This staff may be particularly useful in identifying and evaluating new approaches to gap issues and be responsible for regularly reporting on the status of platform gap issues and disseminating these reports to customers, elected officials, and the press. We would also encourage forums at which this staff would openly discuss questions of policy such as potential changes to the LIRR’s platform and track geometry standards.
Finally, we believe that there must be oversight of this process. While the Council believes that the LIRR fully intends to work diligently to address the platform gap issue, public confidence in this process demands that the LIRR be held accountable for its performance by officials within the legislative branch of state government, the MTA Inspector General, or some other entity. Any findings generated by the oversight process should be readily available to the public.
It should go without saying that platform safety must be a primary concern of those responsible for planning new LIRR facilities, such as the East Side Access project. It is our demand that as new facilities are constructed and normal replacement and maintenance processes continue, platform safety is not a goal but a requirement.
The Long Island Rail Road Commuter’s Council recognizes that the LIRR faces many critical challenges and issues in addition to platform gaps. Nonetheless, the platform gap issue is critically important to the riders whom we represent, and we ask for your help in maintaining this issue as a priority for the Long Island Rail Road.