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Crash Engineer Had Downtime

Apr 21, 2004 | Newsday An Amtrak engineer found to be responsible for colliding into a Long Island Rail Road train on Monday had several hours of "downtime" in the hours before the crash, officials said Wednesday.

The lack of active work came because the unnamed engineer was not busy at his shift moving trains between Sunnyside Yard and Penn Station, said Amtrak spokesman Dan Stessel.

Stessel also said Wednesday that the unnamed engineer had 14 hours off work before his shift started late Sunday evening, according to spokesman Dan Stessel.

The information comes as the railroad continues to probe into the early morning accident that injured nearly 130 people as the two trains bumped at the entrace to Penn Station.

The LIRR train was stopped and the Amtrak train was moving at less than 10 miles per hour, but the force was enough to throw commuters off their feet, causing bumps and bruises.

Amtrak suspended the employee without pay Tuesday after finding that he violated rules by not being able to suddenly stop in a restricted speed zone. A "restricting signal" illuminating in the tunnel at the time of the crash requires engineers to brake quickly without hitting other trains or items on the tracks, Stessel said.

The engineer is expected to appear before a commission looking into the crash within about two weeks, after the results of his drug and alcohol tests are determined.

Stessel also said the engineer was alone in the cab at the time of the crash.

Amtrak has declined to identify the engineer, citing its confidentiality policy. The engineer, a veteran of Amtrak, is on unpaid leave pending the result of the investigation.

John Bentley, a spokesman for the engineer's union, Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, declined to comment.

A final determination of the cause could take about six months, said Jennifer Post, a spokesman for the state Department of Transportation, which is assisting in the investigation of the accident.

A representative of the Federal Railroad Administration, which Post said is the lead agency investigating the crash, did not return a call for comment.

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