2007-08-22 / Editorials

Op-ed

Horned By The LIRR
BY KATHERINE LIEPE-LEVINSON

A week or so ago, as I was finishing up a work project on my computer, I was literally startled out of my chair by something that sounded like a tuba crossed with a screeching cat next to my ear. That awful noise was then repeated about every two minutes for at least the next hour or so. And that entire horrible sonata has been playing in full twice a day, with short excerpts throughout the day for more than a week now.

After living and working at home in a co-op directly across from the Long Island Rail Road for 25 years, I was shocked by the unusual timbre, loudness, and repetition of horn toots- the last extending into a scream. Previously there had been no such problem.

In Forest Hills, there are a dozen apartment buildings, housing several thousand families, within the space of 10 blocks on either side of the Forest Hills LIRR station.

I, and many others, called the LIRR and 311 to find out what was going on and to complain. When I asked a LIRR manager whether there had been any equipment changes, she said, "No". I, and all my neighbors, were given the same "talking points" for answers: the problem was "cut down trees"; "federal regulations"; "protection of pedestrians"; trains must toot if not stopping in a station to warn commuters".

So we began our own investigation of the matter.

Results Of Our Investigation:

1. Track workers confirmed that there had been a very recent equipment change with regard to horns on our line. One worker said that he and his fellow workers were suffering as well.

2. Other recent and older news articles also confirmed that the "new" horns were a problem for many other communities

3. One newspaper article even announced that the president of the LIRR, Helena Williams, intends to send an application to the Federal government for a quiet zone waiver in NYC, similar to the one already implemented in Chicago.

4. It is an outrage that we were either lied to or given misinformation from the LIRR and 311, which is supposed to be a resource to help give New Yorkers a better quality of life.

5. It is an outrage that the LIRR continues to expand its use of these horns (at least since 2005) that so many other communities have said were a huge problem.

6. It is an outrage that the president of the LIRR said she intends to send a quiet zone application to the federal government. Intends! Why was this not done in 2005 when the LIRR started using the problem horns?

7. In Forest Hills, there is no possible way that street pedestrians or cars could cross the tracks in front of a train. It is an elevated line.

8. In Forest Hills, there is no possible way for commuters to cross the tracks in front of a train unless they are willing to jump off the station platform to the tracks a number of feet below and risk their lives.

9. Most of the horn noise is coming from non-stopping trains in both directions that were using the center track lines- so there would be no way any commuter could be harmed.

10. Local newspapers, including Newsday, have reported that the decibel levels of these horns far exceeds government regulations.

Questions We Would Like The LIRR To Answer:

1. Why is this happening?

2. What is the name of the company that sold the horns, or the equipment with the horns, to the LIRR?

3. How and why was that deal made? What was the cost (money)?

4. Why didn't the president of the LIRR and Mayor Michael Bloomberg (who says he wants to upgrade the quality of life for New Yorkers, particularly in terms of sound problems) apply for a federal waiver for train quiet zones two years ago?

Katherine Liepe-Levinson is a resident of Forest Hills.

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