News

Commuter Chaos: How Could This Happen?

Modelboard 14

Straphangers are stressed.

As the Long Island Rail Road desperately tries to get back on track nearly two days after a cable fire in a switching tower, the Rail Road president said it was an unusual fire with an unusual impact on the system – but many commuters wonder how a small blaze could cause such big trouble.

The blaze fried vital components of a manually operated track switching board that dates back to 1913, dubbed the Modelboard 14.

“They haven’t upgraded equipment since 1913, but they’ve been raising the rates,” said LIRR rider John Kennelley.

Commuters question the priorities of the Rail Road.

“How did it happen? Why is it taking so long to fix?” said rider Chirs Papaioannoun. “How can we keep it from happening again?”

But the LIRR defends the system.

“We’re not the only rail road to still use the Modelboard 14,” said LIRR president Helena Willians. “it is very mechanical, the good news is it’s very reliable.”

The damaged board sends signals to individual switches – more than 150 in a maze of rail road tracks. Each switch and cable now must undergo a safety check.

As CBS 2 Tony Aiello reports, if you were trying to sabotage the LIRR system, you couldn’t pick a worse – or better – sport to create commuter chaos. Ten of 11 LIRR lines pass Jamaica Station.

The antique switch control will be replaced by computers starting in October.

:If we have a microprocessor system we would be better able to isolate and define where the faults are,” said Williams.

One transportation expert calls the situation a wake-up call.

“New Yorkers, both the state and local governments, have under-invested in transit for too many years,” said Robert Paeswell. “And the chickens are coming home to roost.”

For commuters trying to get to and from their own roost – it means increasing frustration.