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Feds claim end of train debris: Strauss

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Posted: Thursday, June 14, 2012 4:49 pm

Village of Mineola Mayor Scott Strauss announced last week that the Federal Railroad Administration has given him assurances that trains on the Long Island Rail Road main line were no longer carrying debris in open cars.

Strauss said a Federal Railroad Administration official informed him that FRA inspectors had been monitoring the carting of construction debris on the train cars since early May. 

“They have conducted spot checks and found them to be consistent with national standards,” Strauss said at last Wednesday night’s village board meeting.

Strauss, who declined to identify the railroad administration official, said he was told that the Federal Railroad Administration contacted CSX, a contractor for New York & Atlantic Railway, which had been carrying the debris in open cars. The Federal Railroad Administration received assurances that the debris was longer being carried in open cars, which federal inspectors confirmed, Strauss said.

Strauss and state Sent. Jack Martins and Strauss had met with LIRR officials after the problem was raised by residents in April and said they received assurances the practice would be stopped.

Strauss said the Federal Railroad Administration official told him the American Association of Railroads maintains industry standards for carting material in open cars. In addition to requiring some covering on the trains, Strauss said the railroad administration official told him any debris in open cars cannot be loaded above the level of the car walls. The railroad administration had initially observed open cars with fine black netting moving along the LIRR main line with debris still piled above the car walls.

Strauss said he was told that also violated CSX internal rules, which require brightly colored netting to cover the cars. 

Mineola resident Dennis Walsh, who made the village board aware of the openly carted debris, said he has recently observed open cars carrying debris covered with  bright orange netting moving along the main line. Walsh had taken pictures of the overloaded cars moving along the LIRR main line from his backyard, which abuts the rail line.

“This is a focal point. They’re on it,” Strauss said the of the railroad administration’s intervention. “It seems to be working.”

Robert Kulat, a spokesman for the railroad administration, said last week that the New York & Atlantic cars, which had been loaded by Long-Island-based Coastal Distribution, were now being properly loaded.

“FRA has been monitoring the cars loaded by Coastal Distribution, and they been in compliance,” Kulat said.

CSX provided the railroad administration with a copy of a letter Henry Connors, CSX director of waste, military and machinery marketing, had sent to the shipper informing the company “concerns expressed” about how trains were loaded.  

Connors reiterated CSX’s rules in the letter, which include securing the load with netting “bright and easily visible to allow for easy inspection” and adherence to gross weight allowances marked on the train cars.

“They set the rules they play by,” Kulat said.

Sen. Charles Schumer called attention to the problem on the LIRR main line in a May 21 press conference in Mineola.

“It’s vital for the safety of both local residents and LIRR commuters that Federal Railroad Administration complete their investigation as soon as possible to ensure these problems do not occur in the future. Working with our local partners, we will continue to make a full court press to ensure that freight carriers traveling though Mineola secure any and all debris being transported on their cars. I will also continue to press the federal Department of Transportation to require that freight cars be covered while traveling through densely populated areas, like Long Island,” Schumer said this week.

Kulat said he was aware of Sen. Chuck Schumer’s call for the railroad administration to establish federal regulations that would prohibit carting of open debris in train cars. 

But Kulat said the Federal Railroad Administration had already taken action after being contacted by LIRR officials prior to Schumer’s press conference on the situation.

“We were contacted beforehand. We were already looking into this,” Kulat said. 

He said the railroad administration would certainly comply with a request to establish federal standards for railroad carting of debris “if Congress directs us to do that.”

In a letter dated May 3, LIRR Vice President and general counsel Richard Gans told Paul Victor, president of the New York & Atlantic Railway, of “numerous complaints” that had been received about the railway’s freight cars “spreading construction debris along the right-of-way” along the main line in Mineola.”

Gans stated that the practice was viewed as a “safety hazard and substantial nuisance by those in neighboring communities” and informed the carrier that it “must immediately correct this situation.”

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