HUNTERS POINT (WPIX)—A Long Island Rail Road engineer has been suspended without pay after being accused of allowing a passenger to operate a train as it traveled west of Hicksville earlier this month.
LIRR engineer Ronald Cabrera allowed the passenger to operate the train during the portion of its run from Hicksville to Hunters Point Avenue, according to a witness' account which led to his suspension.
Eric Phillips, spokesman for Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice, said the District Attorney's office was investigating the alleged incident. MTA Police Chief Michael Coan said his department is looking to develop a criminal case against the engineer and the passenger.
The incident occurred July 2 on a westbound train that departed from Port Jefferson station during rush hour at 6:45 a.m. and was scheduled to arrive at the Hunters Point Avenue station in Queens at 8:30 a.m., officials said.
After the train arrived at its destination, a passenger called police to report that he witnessed another passenger in the cab without the engineer, according to MTA police.
"We know somebody was in the cab. We don't know what happened there," Coan said. "We also know that it ran smoothly and nobody was injured."
After being informed of the allegations, LIRR officials called the engineer, who was riding a train back to Port Jefferson, and asked him to report to the LIRR's Jamaica headquarters.
There, he was questioned and relieved of his duties pending the outcome of an investigation, LIRR officials said. . "These allegations are extremely serious and troubling," LIRR spokesman Joe Calderone said in a statement. "The LIRR moved immediately to safeguard the public following receipt of the complaint against the employee, who faces disciplinary charges up to and including termination."
LIRR officials said that the train usually travels at speeds of up to 80 mph during the 25-mile stretch between Hicksville and Hunters Point Avenue. There are usually about 400 passengers on the train during that stretch, Calderone said.
MTA police are trying to identify and locate the passenger who allegedly operated the train. Coan said he does not believe the engineer knew the passenger's name. "We're looking for him to come forward," Coan said.
Warren Flatau, a spokesman for the Federal Railroad Administration, said his agency has been notified of the incident and is investigating to see if any federal regulations were breached. He said federal law dictates that only qualified engineers are allowed to operate trains and also prohibits any unqualified person from entering a train cab.
Edward Yule, an attorney who for 20 years has represented LIRR employees in disciplinary cases, said it could be "very difficult to prove" that Cabrera allowed someone else to operate the train because passengers don't have much of a view into an engineer's cab.
William Henderson, executive director of the MTA's Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee, said LIRR officials described the suspended engineer as "a veteran with a number of years experience."