Archive for LIRR

The MTA’s various elevators do not have the most sterling of reputations. The ones necessary to leave deep stations in Upper Manhattan and Clark St. are dismal and foreboding. Many of the newer ones smell bad, and they’re breaking down constantly. Sometimes, those two problems are related.

Enter the LIRR’s Woodside elevator. Earlier this week, LIRR President Helena Williams shared some gruesome details about this lift. Calling it a “vertical urinal,” Williams explained how this elevator is going to need to be replaced because too many people have peed in it. According to LIRR figures, the elevator was functional only 58 percent of the time last month, lowest in the system, and no one is too pleased to have to ride it.

Strangely enough, as DNA Info notes, the station complex has five other elevators that aren’t nearly as contaminated and public restrooms as well. Though, whether or not you’d actually want to use those restrooms is a very personal decision. But no matter the answer, please just stop peeing on the transit system’s escalators.

Categories : Asides, LIRR, MTA Absurdity
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The MTA will run extra subway and LIRR trains from the Barclays Center after events are over. (Photo by Benjamin Kabak)

My unintentional week of coverage concerning the new Barclays Center wraps up today with a look at an announcement from the LIRR. The MTA, as we know, will run extra service along the 2, 4 and Q lines after events at the Barclays Center in order to clear out the crowds, and this week, the agency announced plans to increase LIRR service out of the Atlantic Avenue Terminal as well. With extra train service and a dearth of easy parking in the area, everyone from the MTA to Brooklyn residents are hoping that relatively few people will drive to the Barclays Center.

“If you are planning on attending a Nets game or going to see JAY-Z, Barbra Streisand, Justin Bieber, The Who or any of the other top acts at Brooklyn’s hottest new venue, we will have plenty of trains to get you there and get you home at the end of your evening,” LIRR President Helena Williams said in a rather canned statement. “The LIRR’s new Atlantic Terminal is just across the street from the Barclays Center, so using the LIRR is definitely the most convenient way to go.”

The MTA has released a brocher detailing post-event service [pdf], and here’s a detailed breakdown of the plan:

The LIRR’s enhanced late-night service from Atlantic Terminal will feature eastbound trains departing approximately every 15-25 minutes after an event. Following Nets games, the last train from Atlantic Terminal will depart at 11:55 PM on both weeknights and weekends. Following evening concerts and other special events, the last train from Atlantic Terminal will depart at 12:41 AM weeknights and weekends. NYPD and MTA Police will be on hand to assist customers arriving at the Center.

There is, of course, a catch: These extra trains will essentially operate as shuttles, ferrying riders from Atlantic Avenue to Jamaica, where Long Island-bound travelers will have to catch the next scheduled train to their ultimate destinations. Still, as the MTA’s brochure illustrates, the increased service is designed to ensure that riders make it to their connecting trains in time. The shortest layovers in Jamaica will last all of two minutes, leaving very little margin for error. Island-bound riders who can’t get to Jamaica will have to resort to 2 or 3 train service back to Penn Station.

I was curious about the extra service. Who pays for it all, I wondered. The issue isn’t without controversy as the WMATA and Nationals have run into a dispute this season over service for games that run late. Metro has asked the Nats to pony up nearly $30,000 per hour when the team wants the D.C. subway to run later than normal. In New York, the system’s closing too early isn’t the issue but frequency is.

In New York, the MTA picks up the bill for extra service. The only exception concerns special service to Belmont for which the New York Racing Association pays. Officially, the MTA says it’s just part of the agency’s overall job. “Our subway, bus and commuter rail services remove cars from road, help improve the environment and support the economy. If thousands of people want to travel to a sporting event, a concert, a parade or just a nice day in the park, we are there to make their trips as safe and efficient as possible,” the MTA said to me in a statement. “Of course, the main reason we add extra trains and buses following sporting and other special events is to increase capacity in order to accommodate everyone, including regular customers who are not traveling to or from an event.”

I’ll leave you then with a question: Should the MTA pay for this service? It comes, after all, out of taxpayer and fare-payer pockets, but at the same time, the extra service goes a long way toward keeping cars off the road. One of the reasons why the Yankee Stadium parking lots, for instance, have been so empty is due to the increased Metro-North and subway service. It seems then that the few extra trains are beneficial to everyone. It’s a win-win a relatively marginal cost.

Categories : Brooklyn, LIRR
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When the MTA raised last year, one of the more outrageous money-grabs involved the validity period for Metro-North and LIRR tickets. The MTA shortened the time period for pre-purchased ticket use down to two weeks, instituted a $10-refund fee and generally angered everyone. As part of the service investments set to roll out over the next year, the authority has rolled back some of these more stringent measures, but a key barrier to any refund remains in place.

Beginning September 4, one-way and round-trip tickets will be valid for a period of two months, and the refund period will last the same amount of time. A ten-trip ticket will remain valid for six month, and its refund will be lengthened to six months as well. The $10 prcoessing fee for all refunds, however, will remain in place to help, as the MTA said, “recoup some of the administrative expenses of issuing and mailing checks.”

MTA Chairman Joe Lhota made this out to be a win for customer relations, and it certainly is. “We’re pleased that the cost containment efforts of our commuter railroads, combined with increased ridership, make it possible to broaden our ticket validity and refund policies to further benefit Long Island Rail Road and Metro North customers,” he said in a statement. “This benefit will cost the railroads $6 million, but combined with the expanded service investments announced last week, shows the MTA’s commitment to customer service.”

The truth remains, however, that many railroad tickets cost less than the $10 processing fee. Thus, customer still will not enjoy the benefits of a longer refund period if the economics don’t make sense. It’s an effort to avoid allowing riders whose tickets aren’t punched from cashing it, but $10 seems like a steep price to pay for processing.

Categories : Asides, LIRR, Metro-North
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Can the MTA, New Jersey Transit and Amtrak work together to overhaul Penn Station?

For many New York politicians and transit executives, Penn Station is a problem. The city has spent decades living down the decision to raze the 1910 Beaux Arts beauty, and everyone is trying to fix the current iteration. It is, after all, a station that needs something. It’s a basement of a sports venue that’s cramped, ugly and crowded. But just what money should we spend on Penn Station anyway?

Word of the latest attempt to remake Penn Station hit the news a few days ago. Ostensibly led by the LIRR but done in conjunction with New Jersey Transit and Amtrak, Penn Station Vision will be the name of a report soon to be released by Aecom. The $1.1 million study — half of which was funded by the MTA — will present a blueprint for restoring some respectability to Penn Station. No one can turn the West Side’s transit gateway into Grand Central, but it could be a far more pleasant station than it is today.

Newsday’s Alfonso Castillo had a report on the contours of the plan. With a focus on better lighting, cosmetic improvements to the dingy and cramped passageways and an effort to relocate some Amtrak back offices, it’s a start but not too much more than that. Castillo offered up an overview:

[LIRR President Helena] Williams said those changes will be phased in over several years, and even decades. She expects to include some improvements in the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s next five-year capital plan, which begins in 2015.

The changes could include luring more upscale commercial tenants, improving lighting (including by letting in natural light if possible), adding new signage and getting rid of the main train departure board in the LIRR concourse to lessen crowding there.

Grander changes — including opening up space by relocating administrative offices, knocking down walls, and finding a new use for Amtrak’s waiting area when it moves to the adjacent Moynihan Station — could take much longer to complete. But LIRR officials and their partners in the project said they are committed to seeing it through. “We know the commuter experience can be and should be improved. The idea is to create a new, modern experience for Penn Station,” Williams said.

These are incremental improvements to a utilitarian station, and it’s tough to get too excited about such expenditures. The MTA’s next capital program will be tight on dough, and there are far more worthwhile projects to fund than some efforts to better light Penn Station. Transit experts and advocates expressed similar sentiments to Crain’s New York earlier this week. “How many more people are going to move to Long Island because Penn Station was redeveloped?” Columbia Professor David King said.

Meanwhile, one key element of the plan — better unifying operations and the overall feel of Penn Station — seems to have the support of Amtrak and New Jersey Transit as well. Currently, with three separate fiefdoms operating out of Penn Station, navigating Penn Station can be a challenge. Signs aren’t standardized, and moving from one departure area to the next involves twists and turns through strangely isolated passageways.

“Everybody has had a hand in stirring that pot a little bit, and part of the result, I think, is this almost haphazard look of development that doesn’t create the volume or the architecture of scale that you’d like to see in a grand terminal,” Drew Galloway, an infrastructure V.P. at Amtrak, said to Newsday. “It doesn’t work well today. Anybody who takes a walk down there today at 5 in the evening will agree.”

Still, MTA Board Members are skeptical that Amtrak is willing to cooperate. “To us, Penn Station is the one place where almost everybody who rides the Long Island Rail Road ends up. To Amtrak, Penn Station is one of many stations,” Mitchell Pally said. “It’s never going to be their No. 1 priority.”

Ultimately, I wonder if it even should be the MTA’s. It’s a better use of money to get better train service into Penn Station than it is to spend resources on improvements that do little to nothing to boost transit capacity. Penn Station is what is is, and putting lipstick on that pig won’t change anything.

“The basement atmosphere,” Bruce Becker, head of the Empire State Passengers Association, said, “I don’t think there is much that can be done with that, other than perhaps sprucing it up.” How much money from a limited pot of funds do we want to spend on sprucing something up anyway?

Categories : LIRR
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Remnants of the old LIRR Elmhurst station remain. Queens politicians want to revive the stop.

A few months ago, Queens representatives gathered with MTA officials to discuss the old Elmhurst LIRR station. Shuttered in 1985 due to declining ridership, politicians want to reopen the station with the neighborhood booming, and the MTA isn’t opposed to the project. With a population increase of 45 percent between 1980 and 2010, the neighborhood, currently served only by the M and R trains, is at least a 30-minute train ride away from Midtown and could use speedier transit.

Recently, a Wall Street Journal article offered up a summary of things:

The R and M subway lines that currently stop in Elmhurst take between 30 and 40 minutes to reach Manhattan during peak hours—on crowded trains. The LIRR train from Elmhurst would arrive at Manhattan’s Penn Station in roughly 15 minutes. “If people are given the opportunity to shave off about half an hour from their commute, that’s an enormously valuable product,” said Mr. Crowley, adding that the move would also open up Elmhurst as a neighborhood for additional people to explore.

LIRR officials say they are giving the issue “serious consideration.” Improvements being made on the Port Washington line will add capacity, according to Helena Williams, president of the LIRR. The project would cost between $20 million and $30 million, she said The next step, Ms. Williams added, will be a ridership study to be conducted in the next year or so, that will analyze the potential market for the LIRR in Elmhurst.

Robert Valdes-Clausell, an Elmhurst resident since 1966 and treasurer of the Newtown Civic Association, said residents are “already being exposed to the rumbling of the [LIRR] train and there is a tremendous increase in population density.” With the number of residents “expected to grow even further, this is a great opportunity to accommodate and serve the people,” he said.

The costs depend upon accessibility. With an elevator, the project would likely reach its $30 million estimate; without, it could afoul of ADA regulations and cost $20 million. That’s not the real issue though.

The biggest problem, as reports from earlier this year noted, is the cost of a ride. A subway swipe from Elmhurst Ave. costs, at most, $2.25 — and no one really pays that much on a daily basis. An LIRR monthly pass starts at $163, and individual peak rides run upwards of $7. The $3.75 City Ticket is good only on Saturdays and Sundays. Why?

The MTA has long treated its sub-agencies as separate fiefdoms that don’t play well with others. While back-office functions have been combined in recent years in an effort to eliminate redundancies, fare policies have remained stubbornly separate, much to the detriment of transit usage. It shouldn’t cost that much more to take the LIRR from Forest Hills than it does to take the E or F trains, and if the MTA is seriously about adding another LIRR stop in Queens or Metro-North access in the Bronx, the fare policies should be better unified. Otherwise, missed opportunities will abound.

Categories : LIRR, Queens
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Although the beer selection in Penn Station leaves much to be desired, kicking back and enjoying a nightcap on the right home has become a rite of passage for many a Long Island-bound reveler on a weekend evening. Now, though, after a few recent high-profile incidents and a long-standing file of complaints, the LIRR will no longer allow alcohol on late-night weekend trains. Starting May 14, between midnight and 5 a.m., passengers will no longer be able to imbibe booze on Long Island Rail Road trains.

According to The Times, two March incidents involving unruly passengers punching conductors led the MTA to consider such a ban. Riders, however, had long referred to the late-night weekend rides as “drunk trains.” LIRR President Helena Williams did not mince words. Alcohol, she says, “continues to fuel some of the rambunctious behavior we’ve been getting, all the way up to criminal behavior.” This ban will be in place indefinitely.

Categories : Asides, LIRR
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An unexpected lightning strike that took out Long Island Rail Road service near Jamaica had some help from LIRR workers executing a flawed process, a report released today by the MTA Inspector General said. On September 29, 2011, a lightning strike knocked out the LIRR signal system, delaying service across the region. A few hours later, an LIRR worker disabled another signal system while attempting to repair the damaged one, and all service shut down. The report, available here as a PDF, is not a particularly glowing one for the LIRR.

With a new signal system in place, the LIRR should have been prepared for such an outage. It was instead a 12-hour shutdown, and the IG had the following to say:

  • LIRR personnel performed deficient Quality Assurance/Quality Control both during and after installation of the new system. Specifically, LIRR failed to detect both the installation of the wrong serial server connector as well as the non-installation of certain components shown on the original ASTS design.
  • The diagnostic tools pre-programmed by ASTS into the new signaling system failed to pinpoint which critical components were not functioning. This complicated LIRR’s identification of the failure’s cause, thereby extending the duration of the incident.
  • ASTS did not provide LIRR with operating manuals for the system as a whole, nor did ASTS provide LIRR with adequate troubleshooting procedures. Additional training of LIRR personnel by ASTS on troubleshooting could have mitigated the duration of theoutage and prevented the human error that brought down the signals at the second signal hut.
  • LIRR employees did not have adequate replacement parts to diagnose and correct system problems. For its part, ASTS did not provide LIRR with a list of critical spare parts after its design was completed.
  • The LIRR Signals Department was unaware of a separate contract modification with ASTS to provide emergency response services in situations just like the lightning strike. Further, ASTS failed to provide LIRR with the contract-required phone number and e-mail address to obtain immediate emergency assistance. LIRR did not attempt to contact ASTS using existing known contact information during the first five hours of the disruption.

The ultimate conclusion is an obvious one: “Believing that it had contracted for and installed a system providing appropriate redundancy and protection, LIRR was not adequately prepared for this emergency.”

By and large, the various recommendations in the report are fairly obvious. The Rail Road needs to work closely with its technology vendors to ensure adequate documentation and training. It must also train its workers in the maintenance of the technology to avoid future accidents. That we needed an incident and an IG report to reach that point is dismaying.

From a rider perspective, though, the Inspector General did not find the LIRR adequately informed its passengers of the outage, and that’s something easily fixable. The Rail Road, says the report, “should further develop and refine its protocols to facilitate the dissemination of appropriate information to passengers on stranded or standing trains regarding why they are stopped, and the plans being pursued and progress being made to get them going again.” Shouldn’t that be a lesson from Customer Service 101?

Categories : LIRR
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The days of idly smoking a cigarette while awaiting a commuter train are coming to an end. Earlier this year, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a commuter rail platform smoking ban into law, and the MTA reminds us that this ban goes into effect on Sunday. Smoking will no longer be tolerated at any outdoor platform, ticketing and boarding areas of terminals and stations for LIRR and Metro-North. Stations in Connecticut are not subject to this ban.

MTA officials have been supportive of the ban. “The new law is a benefit to our customers, helping us in our efforts to provide a healthier and cleaner environment on our platforms and in our ticketing and boarding area,” Metro-North President Howard Permut said. “We appreciate the action taken by Governor Cuomo and the Legislature to protect New Yorkers and improve public health.”

Meanwhile, to spread the word, a variety of famous New Yorkers including Tommy John, Joe Namath, James Lipton, Mike Lupica and Countess LuAnn de Lesseps will record public address announcements for the commuter rail. Although the ban is effective Nov. 13, MTA police will issue warnings rather than summonses during a grace period while the educational campaign is under way. The authority could not say how long that grace period would last however.

Categories : Asides, LIRR, Metro-North
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The bollards at Atlantic Ave. which may have called tombstones are going to be replaced this winter. (Photo by Benjamin Kabak)

When the Long Island Rail Road finally opened its new Atlantic Ave. terminal in early 2010, its security features drew some criticism amidst the praise for the station. Surrounding the outside at the corner of Ashland Place and Hanson Place are a series of giant stone bollards that look more like tombstones. They make walking into and out of the terminal more challenging than they need to be, and for security measures, they are overwhelmingly intrusive.

The opening of the terminal drew a flurry of attention to the bollards. I didn’t go for them last year while Streetsblog noted how they exceeded the NYPD’s anti-terrorism guidelines. The Brooklyn Paper has been waging a protracted war against them, and this week, Gersh Kuntzman claimed a victory.

As the paper reported this week, the LIRR will be removing the concrete barriers over the winter and replacing them with something less oppressive. “The new, smaller bollards are less intrusive and more acceptable to the community,” MTA spokesman Sal Arena said to the paper.

Daniel Bush had more:

The MTA would not provide details of the plan, but a preliminary rendering reveals several dozen three-foot-high bollards stretching around the corner of Hanson Place and Atlantic Avenue at the terminal’s main entrance. Spaced approximately four feet apart, the proposed stainless steel cylinders — which resemble bollards seen in front of international consulates and other high-profile buildings — are far less obtrusive than the existing barriers.

Yet they appear to meet the criteria set forth in an NYPD security report which advised that bollards in front of high-risk buildings measure 30 to 36 inches high, and be spaced four feet apart. Those types of barriers are classified by the State Department as K-12, meaning that they can withstand the impact of a 15,000-pound truck traveling 50 miles per hour.

MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz said that the new bollards were “reviewed by and endorsed by the NYPD.”

As City Council representative Letitia James said of the current barriers, “There’s nothing aesthetically pleasing about [them].” The new ones sound like a marked improvement indeed.

Categories : LIRR
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As the New York State legislature wrapped up its business in June, it passed a bill banning smoking on all MTA railroad platforms. For nearly two months, the bill sat on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s desk, and yesterday, he signed it into law. Smoking, all prohibited on all New York City Transit areas, is now a no-no at all MTA-operated outdoor train ticketing, boarding or platform areas, including the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North.

In a statement, Cuomo praised the public health benefits of the new measure. “It is important that commuters are not unwillingly subject to the dangers of second-hand smoke while waiting on train platforms,” the governor said. “Exposure to second-hand smoke can lead to serious health problems for non-smokers and this law will make outdoor MTA train platforms, ticketing and boarding areas a cleaner, healthier place for all commuters.”

Of course, signatures and proclamations are all well and good, but what about enforcement? Last night while waiting for a 1 train at Chambers St., I saw a woman in the subway puffing away at her cigarette with nary a cop or MTA worker in sight to do anything about it. Most of these commuter rail platforms are relatively empty for much of the day, and I’m not sure a bill that won’t be enforced too much will be a huge deterrent. Still, it’s a measure worth applauding for those who do not like to inhale other people’s smoke.

Categories : Asides, LIRR, Metro-North
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