Change in access for Islip commuters
Current crosswalk at the Islip Train Station.

IB/Finnegan

Change in access for Islip commuters

Story By: LIZ FINNEGAN
4/7/2016


ISLIP—Sometime in the near future, the Long Island Rail Road will be closing the current site of the pedestrian walkway at the Islip Train Station and moving it about 200 feet west to the Nassau Avenue crossing. The move is in response to complaints about unsafe conditions that now exist where the crossing is located. However, the move has some commuters upset.

“I’ve been commuting for 35 years,” said East Islip resident Kathy Ewert who said she’s concerned about where the crosswalk would be moving. “If we get a good snow, I’ll have to walk 200 feet [to cross over] in the dark and where it’s narrow. This is not a solution. They should just fix the gate crossing.”

It was another East Islip resident who had contacted Legislator Tom Cilmi complaining about the conditions at the crossing, which lacked appropriate fencing, gates and warning signals for pedestrians, prompting him to contact the railroad.

“I asked the railroad to explore the train station for safety reasons,” said Cilmi. “They came back and said they’d eliminate [the current crosswalk]. I never asked for that specifically. They could have just put up a gate.”

In September 2015, the LIRR informed the NYS Department of Transportation in a letter that it would like to close the at-grade pedestrian rail crossing in Islip. It noted their assessment of the situation indicated that there were “safety hazards associated with the crossing, which traverses the tracks between two parking lots…and is located less than 200 feet east of the Nassau Avenue grade crossing.”

A public hearing was held to discuss the issue in November 2015 before Judge Robert A. Rybak. During the proceedings, testimony was given by Timothy J. Doddo, the deputy chief safety officer for compliance and investigations for LIRR. He said that there are some “unacceptable hazards for pedestrians,” noting that some of the pedestrians don’t obey warning lights that indicate a train is approaching the station. He pointed out that the Nassau Avenue crossing has certain warning equipment in place, such as protective arms, flashing lights and bells. If the pedestrian crossing were to be closed, he explained that a paved walkway would be created and fencing installed on both sides of the tracks to provide safe access, which would be improved by adding pedestrian cross arms and warning lights.

The railroad had considered placing the gates at the current pedestrian walkway, but noted that there would still be safety issues since it does not address the fact that pedestrians ignore the warnings and the train engines occupy the crossing when the train is stopped at the station. Pedestrians sometimes cross over in front of a stopped train engine not realizing another train is approaching in the opposite direction. Near misses are reported almost daily.

During the hearing, questions were raised regarding lack of lighting and snow removal. LIRR said it needed to determine if extra lighting was feasible. A number of letters in opposition to the move were presented at the meeting.

However, in the end, Judge Rybak gave the LIRR plan a nod. The work on the new crosswalk would begin shortly and be finished by Dec. 31, 2016. The existing crosswalk would remain open until the work is completed.

Salvatore Arena, an MTA LIRR spokesman said, “The LIRR is pleased the judge recognized the seriousness of our concerns and gave us permission to move the pedestrian crossing to a safer location at Nassau [Ave.]. The new location will include ample lighting and we expect to complete the project in advance of the Dec. 31 deadline.”

Ewert said she’s not happy with that decision. “While I agree that this crossing is, indeed, dangerous, in all of my years of commuting, the LIRR has done very little to keep this crossing safe,” she said. “There never have been any pedestrian cross gates, and there are divots/potholes in the pavement around the rails at this crossing.  One can easily trip or twist an ankle when crossing there.  The only thing broken at this crossing is the crossing’s proper upkeep/construction.  A safe crossing would have concrete around the rails with pedestrian cross gates.

“Closing this crossing is not an option.  Making it safe is the right thing to do.”