By Joe O’Halloran
Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice was direct and to the point at a July 17 press conference regarding a Long Island Rail Road engineer who allegedly left his cabin and allowed an unqualified passenger to take the controls of a westbound train on July 2, telling the barrage of media present the alleged incident was a dangerous violation of railroad policy but offering little details about the drivers’ identities.
“Let us not parse words: This is a criminal probe of a serious allegation,” Rice told reporters.
According to Rice, the engineer, whose name has been withheld pending ongoing investigations, was operating a diesel double-decker train departing from Port Jefferson at 6:45 a.m. The train, bound for Hunterspoint Avenue in western Queens, was reportedly left unattended around the time the train had reached the Hicksville station. She added that the allegations and subsequent investigation stemmed from a complaint filed by another passenger on the train.
“I take this situation and allegation extremely seriously,” said Rice. “Allowing a passenger to operate a Long Island Rail Road train puts both passengers and the communities near the railroad in great danger.”
Sal Arena, a spokesman for the LIRR said immediate action was taken to discipline the employee.
“These allegations are extremely serious and troubling,” he said. “The LIRR moved immediately to safeguard the public following the receipt of the compliant against the engineer.”
Arena explained that the engineer was relieved of duty after the alleged report and has not operated an LIRR train since the incident. He added that the engineer has been suspended without pay and faces disciplinary charges up to and including termination.
Joseph Calderone, also an LIRR spokesman, said the train reached its destination at 8:30 a.m., but said there is continuing internal investigations to see if the train arrived under the operation of the passenger or another engineer.
Rice said she is working with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority Inspector General and has assigned senior prosecutors to the case, but said it’s too early to tell what charges will emerge.
“If these allegations are proven true, at the very least you are talking about the reckless endangerment of thousands of passengers and individuals living alongside these high-speed tracks,” she said. “Just ask the people of the surrounding towns how they feel about a double-decker train ripping through their communities at more than 80 miles per hour without a qualified engineer at the controls. It has the potential of becoming a mass casualty situation.”
Rice urges anyone who was on the train and has information to come forward.
No member of the public is permitted in the cab of any train without proper authorization, according to LIRR policy. Any members of the public who witness potentially unsafe behavior are urged to notify a crew member, or contact the MTA Police at 1-888-682-9117.