Mind Over Gap
This is an editorial about the Long Island Rail Road. But first, a scene from “Bored of the Rings,” the Harvard Lampoon parody of “The Lord of the Rings.”
A band of travelers — hobbits, humans, dwarf, elf, wizard — finds its path into a mountain cavern blocked by an enormous wooden door covered with dwarfish runes. The wizard tries spell after spell to open it, but nothing works. Hope drains as darkness falls. “Suddenly the Wizard sprang to his feet. ‘The knob,’ he cried, and ...”
Now back to the L.I.R.R., whose own version of the door/knob problem has been the dangerous gaps between train doors and station platforms into which people have been slipping and stumbling for years. In August, a woman fell at the Woodside station and was hit by a train and killed, greatly increasing pressure on the railroad to do something.
To hear the L.I.R.R. tell it, the problem was as intractable as any it had ever faced. It couldn’t move or straighten the platforms. They are concrete and impossibly heavy. It didn’t know if gap-spanning devices would work or be affordable.
So officials and lawmakers put their heads together and came up with a classic response: they would conduct a study. In the meantime, they would install cameras and remind riders to “watch the gap.”
And then the L.I.R.R.’s new acting president, Raymond Kenny, had an inspiration: they would move the tracks closer to the platforms.
As it turned out, the railroad has a machine that can do this. It was a triumph of simplicity over inertia, a miracle of modern bureaucracy. And it contains a lesson. All it takes is the application of pressure and the stuffing of sense into the gap between the ears of those whose usual reaction to difficult problems is, “It can’t be done.”