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The LIRRCC issues statement on OIG’s report about the 9/29/2011 system failure

The LIRRCC supports the recommendations to the LIRR and MTA released today by the Office of the MTA Inspector General (OIG), which are contained in its report about the September 29, 2011 lightning strike and service disruption on the LIRR.

By way of background, according to the OIG’s report, at approximately 4:30 p.m. on September 29, 2011, the beginning of the evening rush, lightning struck near LIRR tracks, creating a power surge that disabled the signal system controlling the train interlocking just west of Jamaica Station. Approximately three and a half hours after the strike, in an attempt to repair a computer server believed to have been damaged by the power surge, a LIRR employee erroneously disabled the separate signaling system controlling the train interlocking just east of Jamaica Station. At that point, all service was suspended. It took some time for the LIRR technical crew to identify what occurred and then fix the problem at Hall, which was not fully functional until approximately 10:30 p.m.

As a result of these two events, passengers onboard nine trains standing at platforms and 17 stranded between stations were in limbo – sometimes moving eastward, sometimes moving back west to Penn Station. Other commuters were stuck in Penn Station and Jamaica Station for hours seeking alternative means to reach their destinations or waiting until service resumed. Limited service was not restored until 12 midnight, with full service back at 4 a.m., almost 12 hours after the power surge.

The Council appreciates the OIG’s investigation and the detailed account of the incident contained in its report and is particularly gratified that the report and its recommendations address in detail needs for improvement in passenger communication.

The LIRRCC believes that independent oversight of critical systems that have been installed on the Rail Road is a necessary safeguard.  The review of the upgrades planned under the agreement between the LIRR and Ansaldo STS by the MTA’s Independent Engineering Consultant, which was recommended in the OIG’s report, is a constructive initial step. The Council recommends, however, that the oversight by independent engineers go beyond  lightning protection in these upgrades and be extended to assess the reliability of all new systems, including signalization at Amityville, Wantagh, and Valley Stream.  It is crucial that this oversight be conducted while suppliers remain responsible for correcting shortcomings in their systems, before final acceptance of work or materials or warranty expiration transfers substantial responsibility for new systems to the LIRR.

The Council also calls on the MTA to provide the resources necessary for a comprehensive top to bottom review by independent experts of the Rail Road, its needs, and its vulnerabilities.  A limited review of the condition of the Rail Road was performed in 2007, but a more detailed assessment is required to ensure that LIRR riders receive the level of reliability that they need and deserve.

“LIRR riders and the region depend upon the LIRR to provide reliable service, and disruptions are costly in both human and economic terms,” LIRRCC Chair Mark Epstein stated.  “We need to take stock of the LIRR’s substantial benefits to the region and the costs of breakdowns and to invest in independent oversight of system upgrades designed to minimize failures.”

To access the OIG’s report click here.