Fresh on the heels of high-profile deadly commuter rail accidents around the country, most recently in D.C., a Long Island Rail Road engineer let a passenger take the driver's seat on a NYC-bound commuter train. Fortunately, no accident resulted.
MTA officials said that Ronald Cabrera has been suspended without pay after being accused of allowing a rider to operate the LIRR double-decker from Hicksville to Hunters Point Avenue, according to Newsday.
After the train arrived at its destination, a passenger called police to report that he'd witnessed another passenger in the cab without the engineer, according to MTA police.
"The LIRR moved immediately to safeguard the public following receipt of the complaint against the employee," LIRR spokesman Joe Calderone said in a statement, in which he called the allegations "extremely serious and troubling."
The train left Port Jefferson heading westbound at 6:45 a.m on July 2. It normally has about 400 passengers and goes up to 80 mph. The train stayed on track, ran smoothly to its destination and no one was injured.
The LIRR is the busiest commuter railroad in the U.S., servicing about 81 million passengers each year. Warren Flatau, spokesman for the Federal Railroad Administration, said federal law not only requires that a train conductor be a qualified engineer but it specifically prohibits any unqualified person from entering the train cab.
"Train handling is an actual science," Flatau told Newsday. "Would it be acceptable to have an [unqualified person] control a 747 on approach to JFK? Nobody would do that. It's on that level."
MTA Police Chief Michael Coan says his department is now "trying to develop a criminal case" against the engineer and the passenger, who has yet to be identified or located. The Nassau County district attorney has also opened investigation of the incident.
On June 22 two rush-hour Metro trains in Washington D.C. crashed, killing nine and injuring more than 70 people. In September of last year a double-deck commuter train in Southern California collided into a freight train and killed 26 people and injuring 135.