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Uncovered Freight Trains Under Investigation

Mineola residents claim debris falling off uncovered train cars

From his porch, it can be seen speeding through. He’s noticed it too many times, and he couldn’t take it anymore, so Mineola resident Dennis Walsh sprung into action.

With the help of a trusty ladder, he ascended the rungs with nothing but a cell phone to capture what Walsh thinks is outrageous.

Select Mineola residents have spotted an unusual sight rolling down the tracks of the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) near the Birchwood Court residential complex and neighboring streets: uncovered freight train cars.

The tracks run adjacent to Birchwood Court on Roslyn Road with about 40 garages and parking spaces located on the property. Within the three open spots, two cars have been damaged by debris falling onto property off these open train cars, according to Walsh.

“I find it unusual that somehow the MTA could miss this, they don’t oversee these freight trains coming through?” he said.

Railroads are federally regulated, according to village officials. The freights running through Mineola are contracted through the LIRR, which entered into an agreement with freight train operator New York and Atlantic Railways.

The LIRR leases time on its rails, mostly during off-peak daytime hours. When it comes to loose impediment (anything that can fly off a train car) it has to be covered.

The MTA declined to comment because the issue in question concerns an ongoing investigation.

Mayor Scott Strauss told the Mineola American that his son, Brian, a Mineola Fire Department firefighter, recently witnessed freight trains going by that area, uncovered.

“He called me up and told me, ‘Dad, they’re uncovered, they’re uncovered,’” Strauss said.

Walsh produced several cell phone photos he took of a freight train on the main line behind his house. Calling the freight cars “open-top hopper cars,” Walsh estimated that the train was approximately 20 cars long and said that the trains are supposed to have a tarp covering any freight they might be hauling.

“They’re not legally allowed to do that,” he said of the freight train company. “They have to be covered. To me it looked like demolished building, a pummeled building and it was concrete. Concrete was falling off right in front of my eyes and dust was flying from these things.”

Walsh also found it unusual that the MTA could not have known about the freight being uncovered as it went through their system.

“When these freight trains go through ... first they have to go through the Hicksville switching station, then they have to go through what they call ‘Nassau-1’ which is that little building across the street from Davenport Press... it had to go through the Jamaica [rail] yards, it had to go through Penn Station, more then likely went to Jersey I’m told and I’m not sure of that.”

“We have noticed freight trains, many more than in the past,” Russell Sutherland of the Birchwood Court Homeowners Association said. “We also noticed at times these open – what appear to be coal cars – are uncovered.”

Most of the time the train cars travel at night, but Sutherland said he observed at mid-afternoon on weekends. Concerns were also raised about the trains hauling radioactive waste to the Brookhaven labs.

Walsh stated that he reported the incident to Seventh district Senator Jack Martins, whose office called the MTA recently. According to Martins’ office, an LIRR representative said that an investigation is being conducted.

“It’s unacceptable that there would be freight that is uncovered running so close to a residential area,” Martins said. “We have been working with Mayor Strauss and LIRR President Helena Williams to make sure that the freight is covered and we expect to have ongoing discussions until it can be assured that this does not happen again.”

Martins’ staffers have had conversations with LIRR representatives and are attempting to set up a meeting or conference call between the LIRR, Martins’ office and the Village of Mineola. Village officials confirmed they contacted the LIRR to instruct them to address the issue.

Martins’ office also confirmed that a LIRR representative did arrive at their Garden City Park offices about two hours before a recently scheduled appointment to discuss the photos; however, the representative only picked up the photos and a conversation took place over the phone. An additional meeting is planned for this week.