If you can cut through the foamer speak, this thread is pretty scary. In a nutshell, on September 13, 2010, the LIRR eliminated a ‘rescue’ train that helped maintain service and protect commuters lives.
Elimination of ‘the harold protect’.
Since the dawn of sanity, the LIRR has kept a set of “protect” locomotives (and crew to operate them) just east of the tunnels into Penn Station. This set of locomotives and associated personnel was refereed to as ‘the harold protects’ – named after the old railroad tower at 39th avenue bridge in Queens where they were based. This job was on call during the day, every weekday. They were tasked with “rescuing” stalled trains from the east river tunnels. This would save the railroad from potentially having to shut down or drastically delay 50% of its inbound and outbound trains from Penn when a train gets stuck under the river. The locomotives were diesel powered, allowing them to operate through the tunnels even when there is a problem with the electrical supply used by nearly all of the LIRR’s trains.
One can think of the ‘protect crew’ as you might the fire department or police: by eliminating this service, the time estimates for removing a train stuck in these tunnels has grown. Insiders claim it could be as high as five hours. In emergency situations, that’s far, far too long. The personnel and equipment used for the protect train were no more idle thumb twiddling money-wasters than your local fire department. Sure, they probably have a measure of downtime in their day, but when your train gets stuck in the tunnel without electricity in the middle of summer – you now have a very dangerous situation.
Rated as the most dangerous tunnels to be in, on a good day, by seasoned explorers
East River tunnel exploring, 1996
The tunnels themselves are rated well within the top five deadliest tunnels in NYC by our experienced team of intrepid insomniac tunnelophiles. You really – REALLY – do not want to get stuck down there. Most tunnels have emergency exists to the surface, but due to these tunnel being under the river, exits are few and far between. They were originally equipped with ladders and spiral staircases not conducive to evacuating a train filled with hundreds of passengers. It is also a long walk through this tunnel from exit to exit. For contrast, in the subways there are emergency exits to the street every 600-800 feet, they consist of a set of stairs up to a hatch leading to sidewalks on the streets above. The LIRR tunnel exits are generally older, smaller, and not built with rapid escapes in mind. Having witnessed the narrow track shelves and ridiculously non-functional ’emergency exits’ of the east river tunnels firsthand, I can tell you with 500% certitude that in case of emergency, these tunnels are definitely not where you want to be.
It is estimated by some of the LIRR’s own employees that the MTA is at best saving a few thousand bucks on this cutback. It only required 2-3 employees on the shift each week, using 2 locomotives that were long bought and paid for – which are now left sitting in Jamaica not being used for anything. They represent hundreds of thousands of dollars in equipment that the LIRR has now let rust away, un-maintained.
At a minimum, this cutback has already cost commuters with delays – over the last seven years, numerous trains were stuck in these tunnels. Without a dedicated LIRR crew to ‘rescue’ the train, the LIRR has been forced to rely on Amtrak for this service. Amtrak, of course, has their own problems.
In the end, it is LIRR customers who lose. That loss is seen whenever a train gets stuck in these tunnels, and a ripple effect delays thousands of commuters. Fortunately it has only been resulted in a monetary loss for commuters. When a real disaster strikes, the stakes will be much higher.
*Note* This article was drastically re-written and updated from it’s original format, published in 2010.