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LIRR: Expect normal commute during convention

(The following article by Joie Tyrrell was posted on the Newsday website on August 13.)

NEW YORK -- Long Island Rail Road commuters can expect as normal a commute as possible during the Republican National Convention as trains will not be stopped and searched upon their approach to the city, a top transit security official said Thursday.

Metropolitan Transportation Authority Assistant Deputy Chief Terrence Culhane, who is in charge of coordinating convention security, also told an LIRR commuter's group Thursday that dogs will not be aboard trains heading on Penn Station during the rush hour.

"You may have read ... that we are going to stop every train at Jamaica and search it. We're realists. People that utilize the system know that's a physical impossibility," Culhane said during a presentation on the convention at Madison Square Garden.

However, all LIRR trains going into Penn Station will be checked before being put into service and police officers will be on board all trains that go into Penn during the convention. And he said that security measures, such as closing four of the station's six exits, will go into affect at least three days prior to the start of the convention Aug. 30.

600 officers in Penn Station

During the week of the convention, there will be 600 police officers in Penn Station alone during the rush hours, meaning commuters can expect to see an officer every "four to five feet," he said. There will be at least 450 police dog patrols as well.

Local municipalities across Long Island are expected to step up police presence at railroad stations. There will be forces at Woodside and Jamaica as well.

Only two of the six exits at Penn will be open during the convention, the Amtrak entrance at 32nd Street and Seventh Avenue and the LIRR 34th Street entrance. Some commuters council members had been concerned that the closed entrances would hinder an evacuation in case of an emergency. But Culhane said that though there will be barricades at the exits, there will also be police officers stationed at the exits as well who could remove the barricades for an easy exit in case of emergency.

In addition to the police presence, the MTA has given all 66,000 names of MTA employees to the Secret Service for background checks.

"We have tried to do everything we could possibly think of," Culhane said.

MTA Police will set up a Penn Station Operations Command Center with representatives from all segments of law enforcement and the three railroads that share Penn Station, the LIRR, NJ Transit and Amtrak. They will coordinate with law enforcement on the street.

'Frozen zone' around Garden

A number of streets around Madison Square Garden, which is above Penn Station, will be closed to vehicles and some will be closed to pedestrians as well during the convention. There will be a "frozen zone," meaning no vehicles or pedestrians on Seventh Avenue to Ninth Avenue from 31st Street to 33rd Street with only a walkway for pedestrians on 32nd Street across Seventh Avenue.

Shops and stores within Penn are expected to remain open during the convention and deliveries will be made at designated times. Police will be positioned at every tunnel as well.

"You can rest assured Penn Station will be the safest place in the city that week," Culhane said.

Bill Gibbons, LIRR general superintendent for terminal operations, told the group that there will be signs directing commuters throughout Penn Station and the railroad will soon distribute wallet-sized maps that detail the changes. The railroad has also produced a video on how to navigate the station during the convention that is available on the Web site.

And, the railroad will have customer assistance employees wearing dark blue shirts with the words "LIRR INFO" written in white on the back positioned throughout Penn.

Friday, August 13, 2004

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