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Car on Tracks in Fatal Dual LIRR Train Collision May Have Been Fleeing From Minor Accident, Police Say

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The car that went around railroad crossing safety gates and caused the horrific dual fatal Long Island Rail Road train collision in Westbury may have been fleeing a minor fender bender, police say.

Two Long Island Rail Road trains traveling in opposite directions collided with a vehicle on the tracks in Westbury Tuesday night, killing all three occupants inside before one of the trains derailed and tore into a concrete platform, officials said.

Nassau County Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder said the vehicle was “trying to beat the gate” when it was struck just before 7:30 p.m. He said one of the trains, which was carrying about 200 passengers and headed for Manhattan, was going at “full speed” when it crashed.

“The train then leaves the track and takes out the platform and the hits the north side of the platform and takes off about 30 yards of concrete, which goes through the train,” Ryder said.
Nassau County police said Wednesday that car could have been fleeing a minor accident involving two other cars at the rail road crossing seconds before.

The three men killed in the crash have not been indentified, but a family member of the driver confirmed to News 4 that he was the man seen on surveillance video entering a barbershop on School Street with two other men, then driving off in a burgundy Jeep and stopping just before the railroad crossing. The driver and his two passengers all worked together at a nearby grocery store, a manager at the store said, and were headed out after work.

The driver lived in a Hicksville home with his wife and three children, according to his landlord, Singh Sukhjinder.
Police say they hope to use more surveillance video and eyewitness testimonies to piece together what exactly took place.

A photo captured from inside one of the trains after the crash showed total wreckage.

Gov. Cuomo called for a “full investigation into the collision,” which also injured eight, sending seven people on the trains to local hospitals with non-fatal injuries and forced the evacuation of nearly 1,000 passengers and crew on the two trains.
Three of the injured remain at Nassau University Medical Center — two middle-aged men are in critical condition with spinal injuries and internal bleeding, police say.

One of the severly injured is the train engineer who was trapped in the debris for a time after the train hit the platform and was subsequently rescued by Nassau cops, police say.

The other person still hospitalized with less severe injuries is a woman in her 40s who suffered a seizure while also trapped in the debris.
LIRR President Phillip Eng said the vehicle went around the grade crossing and was struck by the train that was leaving Westbury station. He said the gates at the crossing were properly functioning.

“The gates were down, the lights were flashing. We’ve confirmed that they were functioning,” he said. “Witnesses have said the vehicle went around the gates, at which point the train that was leaving, heading eastbound, and the vehicle collided.

A westbound train traveling toward Westbury then struck the vehicle, he said. The vehicle was pushed and that’s when the front two cars of the westbound train came off the rails, Eng said.
Chopper 4 footage showed the train cars standing upright after the wreck, but with the forward cars off the rails. One end of one the trains struck a station platform, crushing part of it.

Many emergency vehicles were on the scene, including some ambulances. The doors of the train were open and firefighters and other emergency workers could be seen entering and moving through the cars. Service was suspended in both directions on the Ronkonkoma and Huntington/Port Jefferson branches. Lines remained suspended early Wednesday and the LIRR was offering limited service for the morning rush. Get the latest transit updates here.

Passenger Kiara Jackson told Newsday she heard the sound of metal dragging along the concrete platform.
“I knew something was wrong. We were in a panic,” Jackson said. “There was a screech and then there was a thud. They told us to walk westerly and there were two small fires. Smoke was kind of coming in so they told us to just keep walking.”

Another passenger, April Frazier, 31, of Brooklyn, was heading to Penn Station.

“I was sitting on the left side and all of a sudden the train really started rocking hard,” Frazier told Newsday. “Flames flared up on my side. I heard the conductor yell ‘Brake, brake!’ That’s when I saw the flames.”
Chris O’Neil, chief spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board, said that the circumstances of the crash, though tragic, don’t point to any safety issues that require further investigation or new recommendations by the agency.

Tuesday night’s crash was the fifth incident at the crossing in the last 40 years, and the second involving a train hitting a vehicle, according to federal safety data. In the others, a person walking or standing on the tracks was hit by a train.

As part of the LIRR expansion and modernization project, the railroad’s “A Modern LI” website said it planned to eliminate the School Street grade crossing, saying it “poses a safety risk to drivers, pedestrians and LIRR customers,” and replace it with a “two-way grade separated underpass.”
After a spike in deaths at railroad crossings in 2017, the U.S. Department of Transportation launched a public awareness campaign with the slogan “Stop! Trains Can’t.” The Federal Railroad Administration developed a crossing-finder app and persuaded technology companies to add grade-crossing warnings to GPS devices and mapping applications.

In 2017, there were 2,115 grade-crossing crashes in the U.S., resulting in 271 deaths. That was the highest yearly grade-crossing death toll in a decade (2008 had 290). Full-year data isn’t available for 2018.

Source: https://www.nbcnewyork.com/news/local/LIRR-Train-Crash-3-Dead-Westbury-New-York-Service-506428541.html

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Why New York’s Lettered Subway Lines Are ‘Cursed’

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Subway officials in New York City held a news conference recently to celebrate the system’s progress. The on-time rate for trains hit 76 percent, they boasted, signaling a “renaissance” for the floundering system.

But that figure masks a surprising disparity.

While the numbered lines have seen a notable boost in reliability, many of the lettered lines are still delivering poor service. The F train has a miserable on-time rate of about 50 percent — the lowest in the system.

“It seems like there’s always something, from a sick passenger to signal problems,” said Paul Galloway, an F train rider who lives in Brooklyn and works at the Museum of Modern Art. “It just seems like a cursed line to me.”

It is clear that the subway is improving after hitting rock bottom in the summer of 2017, when a train derailed in Harlem and the on-time rate dipped below 65 percent — the worst of any major transit system in the world. The subway’s leader, Andy Byford, has won accolades for making the system more reliable.

But the diverging fates of the lines represented by letters and numbers can feel like A Tale of Two Subways — a system where some riders see signs of hope while others continue to endure constant pain.

Subway leaders say there are several reasons for the gulf: schedule changes on the numbered lines that boosted the on-time rate; a computer system on the numbered lines that allows workers to more efficiently dispatch trains; the opening of the Second Avenue subway, which eased crowding on several numbered lines; and signal upgrades that improved service on another numbered line.

The trend has left some riders wondering how to game the system to get where they are going on time.

“The numbered lines have more stops, but they arrive more regularly and are less prone to problems,” said Benjamin Kabak, who writes the Second Ave. Sagas subway blog and lives near several lines in Brooklyn. “Do you roll the dice and take the ideally faster way, or do you take the way you know is going to work?”
The seven numbered subway lines are on time about 79 percent of the time, compared to about 68 percent for the fifteen lettered lines. Trains are considered on time if they reach the final stop within five minutes of the schedule.

One reason the lettered lines are lagging is that they have older equipment. Some lettered lines are slated to get modern signals, which should improve reliability. But Mr. Byford’s plan to modernize the entire subway will cost billions of dollars, and it is not clear whether state leaders will approve new funding streams for the transit system this year.

Still, every line has improved as part of a broader effort to make trains run faster, said Sally Librera, the head of the subways department. Workers are increasing speed limits on parts of the system and replacing faulty signals that slowed trains.

Transit officials point to other statistics that show subway service is improving, including fewer major incidents that delay 50 or more trains.

“We recognize that we have more to do,” Ms. Librera said. “But we’re encouraged by the progress that we’re seeing.”

The subway now has its best on-time rate in four years — a figure that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is highlighting as he presses state lawmakers to approve congestion pricing, a proposal to toll drivers entering the busiest part of Manhattan to raise money for the transit system. Mr. Cuomo, who controls the subway, is also pushing for reforms at the transit agency, though the State Senate issued a separate reform proposal.

Critics have raised concerns over the schedule changes in late 2017 that made it easier to ensure that certain numbered trains are on time. On the No. 6 line, five trains were eliminated at Grand Central Station in Manhattan during the morning rush from 7 to 9 a.m., according to documents obtained by The New York Times.

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There were 68 trains scheduled on the 6 line during the morning rush in June 2017. The number fell to 63 last year. The on-time rate for the 6 train jumped to 72 percent in January, up from 52 percent in September 2017.

“I’m inherently skeptical when they say we changed the schedule, and now everything is running on time,” Mr. Kabak said. “You’re running the risk of padding the schedule.”
Subway officials denied padding the schedule and said the changes were needed to accurately reflect how long it took to route trains through the system.

“Adjusting schedules to accurately reflect actual system conditions allows for less train congestion and faster, more reliable service,” said Maxwell Young, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which runs the system. “This, along with other significant factors such as the $800 million Subway Action Plan and deliberately improved operating procedures, have led to the recent subway performance gains.”

Though fewer trains are scheduled, the same number of trains are running on the 6 line during the morning rush — an average of about 61 trains, Mr. Young said. Officials also cut service on the No. 1 and 5 lines, which each lost two scheduled trains in Midtown Manhattan during the morning rush.

While fewer trains could help raise the on-time performance, they also can lead to more crowded trains and less capacity on the system. Each train can carry roughly 1,000 passengers.

Most riders never learned about the schedule changes. The authority’s board did not approve them because they only vote on “major” service changes, said Shams Tarek, a spokesman for the authority. The schedule changes on the numbered lines were considered “minor” and the board was merely notified.

An investigation by The New York Times in 2017 revealed that the transit agency was running fewer trains. The Lexington Avenue line, which carries the 4, 5 and 6 trains, regularly failed to meet its schedule, effectively canceling dozens of trains and reducing the system’s capacity by tens of thousands of riders. At Grand Central Station, just 77 of 90 scheduled trains regularly ran through the stop from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m.

For years, the lettered trains actually had better on-time rates than the numbered trains, but that shifted in January 2018, shortly after the schedule changes took effect. Ms. Librera cited two other factors behind the resurgence: The Second Avenue line opened on the Upper East Side of Manhattan in January 2017, drawing riders who had previously used the overburdened 4, 5 and 6 lines, which bolstered the on-time rate for those lines. New signals on the No. 7 line also improved service.

Most experts agree that the system is bouncing back. Andrew Albert, a board member who represents riders, said he noticed trains running faster along the Lexington Avenue line in Manhattan where they used to move at a snail’s pace.

“Absolutely, it’s getting better,” he said. “I’m thwarted less often, and I notice the running times are much faster.”

Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/20/nyregion/subway-lines-schedule-on-time.html

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MTA looks to extend accessible e-hailing pilot through end of 2019

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The MTA is moving to extend its wildly popular pilot that allows disabled New Yorkers to hail accessible taxis on demand — though the future of the program is still up in the air.

The authority will propose to its board a plan to extend the program through the end of 2019, the MTA announced Sunday. The pilot, currently slated to end next month, would still be available to its current, small pool of 1,200 Access-A-Ride users at $2.75 per trip.

“Improving accessibility and service for our customers with disabilities is one of the four pillars of our plan to modernize transit in New York City,” said NYC Transit President Andy Byford in a statement. “While forging ahead with making the subway more accessible and enhancing our fully wheelchair-accessible bus fleet, we’re also modernizing and improving the Access-a-Ride service that more than 150,000 New Yorkers depend upon.”

While Access-A-Ride requires riders to book trips a day in advance, pilot participants can hail a yellow or green taxi any time through an app, similar to other e-hail services. Since its launch in the fall 2017 as a one-year test, the MTA has extended the program but had difficulty grappling with its cost; the authority widely underestimated how many people would use the service and has had to bolster it with additional funds.

There has been a great deal of anxiety among wheelchair users and accessibility advocates over the fate of the program, which they feel greatly improves travel flexibility. But Sunday’s announcement did little to abate those concerns.

Joe Rappaport, the executive director of the Brooklyn Center for Independence of the Disabled, said he was worried that the MTA would eventually alter the pilot to make it more cost-effective.

“The announcement raises more questions than answers,” Rappaport said.

“The MTA is absolutely not committing to keeping the very popular version of on-demand going,” he continued. “Really what will happen is the MTA will have to sit down with riders, with public officials and with advocates to explain what it wants to do, why it wants to do it and whether something closer to the current design of the program can be preserved.”

The MTA said in its news release that it will continue to “establish how and if [the pilot] can be made more sustainably permanent and even expandable.” The authority did not respond to questions related to ridership and funding of the e-hail pilot. About 26,000 trips a month are completed through the program, according to MTA spokesman Maxwell Young.

The MTA also touted in its release a relatively new initiative called “enhanced broker service” that aims to put more AAR riders in taxis and black cars, a cheaper alternative to the AAR’s fleet. Rappaport said that program has been rocky since its start on March 1.

“What we’ve heard is that it’s been a very rough change for riders — that they don’t get the rides they asked for and even get abandoned. They’re not picked up,” he said. “This might work better for riders and, ultimately, the MTA. But so far not so good.”

Source: https://www.masstransitmag.com/alt-mobility/shared-mobility/car-sharing/news/21072596/mta-looks-to-extend-accessible-ehailing-pilot-through-end-of-2019

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MTA looks to extend accessible e-hailing pilot through end of 2019

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The MTA is moving to extend its wildly popular pilot that allows disabled New Yorkers to hail accessible taxis on demand — though the future of the program is still up in the air.

The authority will propose to its board a plan to extend the program through the end of 2019, the MTA announced Sunday. The pilot, currently slated to end next month, would still be available to its current, small pool of 1,200 Access-A-Ride users at $2.75 per trip.

“Improving accessibility and service for our customers with disabilities is one of the four pillars of our plan to modernize transit in New York City,” said NYC Transit President Andy Byford in a statement. “While forging ahead with making the subway more accessible and enhancing our fully wheelchair-accessible bus fleet, we’re also modernizing and improving the Access-a-Ride service that more than 150,000 New Yorkers depend upon.”

While Access-A-Ride requires riders to book trips a day in advance, pilot participants can hail a yellow or green taxi any time through an app, similar to other e-hail services. Since its launch in the fall 2017 as a one-year test, the MTA has extended the program but had difficulty grappling with its cost; the authority widely underestimated how many people would use the service and has had to bolster it with additional funds.

There has been a great deal of anxiety among wheelchair users and accessibility advocates over the fate of the program, which they feel greatly improves travel flexibility. But Sunday’s announcement did little to abate those concerns.

Joe Rappaport, the executive director of the Brooklyn Center for Independence of the Disabled, said he was worried that the MTA would eventually alter the pilot to make it more cost-effective.

“The announcement raises more questions than answers,” Rappaport said.

“The MTA is absolutely not committing to keeping the very popular version of on-demand going,” he continued. “Really what will happen is the MTA will have to sit down with riders, with public officials and with advocates to explain what it wants to do, why it wants to do it and whether something closer to the current design of the program can be preserved.”

Source: https://www.amny.com/transit/mta-accessible-e-hail-taxi-1.28628800

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