Wednesday, November 19, 2008

LIRR Crash - I Saw It

Two Long Island Rail Road passenger trains collided this morning just west of the Jamaica station. I was a passenger on another train passing through Jamaica around the time of the crash. While I did not witness the incident, I was able to get a good view of the scene from our train as we crossed the viaduct over the Van Wyck Expressway.

In all likelihood, it happened sometime between 7:30 and 7:40 a.m. EDT. A train of six M-7 class EMU (electrical multiple unit) cars had just left the station and was running through an interlocking to get to one of the two westbound tracks that go to Penn Station in Manhattan. A second train consisting of four bilevel C-3 coaches pushed by a diesel-electric locomotive, headed either to the Hunterspoint Avenue station or the Morris Park coach yard, sideswiped the first train around the fourth or fifth car. From my vantage point, it appears that the first car of the second train derailed.

My train, which is not scheduled to stop in Jamaica, sat in the station for approximately 15 minutes while one of the conductors made repeated announcements that "due to a track condition" service to Penn Station was being canceled until further notice. When we finally moved, I saw at least two dozen railroad, fire and police personnel on the scene. I did not notice emergency medical personnel, so I am presuming that injuries were minimal. At that location, trains normally operate at very slow speeds.

[Of course, the injury count will likely climb as passenger on the affected trains report pains, flashbacks, etc.: "If LIRR retirees can take advantage of the system, i.e. file fraudulent disability claims, why shouldn't I get what's coming to me." That's a whole 'nother story.]

The big question is why did this happen. I hope someone more knowledgeable on railroad technology might be able to explain the working of interlockings. Nevertheless, I thought that if switches were lined for a movement of a train in one direction then other trains would be prevent from coming into their path. Indeed, according to Wikepeida:
"An interlocking is designed so that it is impossible to give clear signals to trains unless the route to be used is proved to be safe."
In short, somebody screwed up. Hopefully, the person(s) will be held accountable. This incident occured at critical location at a critical time, the peak of the a.m. rush. More than 100,000 riders were probably inconvenienced by it. The lost economic opportunity cost due to people late for work will probably run several million dollars.

From a public relations standpoint, the timing couldn't have been worse. The New York Times reported this morning that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority is expected to propose a whopping 23 percent fare hike when it releases its budget later this week. (When I reached my final destination, the subway stop at W. 145th Street, I glad signed a petition opposing the fare hike.) And, earlier this week an LIRR executive was arrested in connection with the railroad's disability scandal.

Update:
Newsday reports one passenger was injured, the time of the accident was 7:30 a.m. and service was restored at 7:55 a.m. Also, it notes that there was a signal outage earlier in the day.
"The accident involved the 5:59 a.m. train from Port Jefferson, due in at Hunterspoint Avenue at 7:41 a.m., and the 6:42 a.m. train from Babylon, due in at Penn Station at 7:49 a.m."
Update 2
Terrific photos of the incident on the LIRR thread at Railroad.net

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