Archive for LIRR
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
As part of its flurry of late-session legislation last week, the State Senate approved a measure that would ban smoking on all LIRR and Metro-North platforms. Sponsored by Sen. Charles J. Fuschillo, Jr. from Merrick, the bill (S3461C) mimics a move made by both New York City and New Jersey within the past few years. It would ban smoking in outdoor spaces for ticketing, boarding or platforms of train stations operated by the MTA or its subsidiaries, and it has already cleared the state Assembly.
“Thousands of commuters are being exposed to harmful second-hand smoke every time someone lights up a cigarette while waiting for a train,” Senator Fuschillo, a leading anti-smoking representative, said. “Second-hand smoke exposure can lead to a number of different health problems, even among non-smokers. New York needs to expand its own anti-smoking laws to better protect people from second-hand smoke.”
The bill has garnered the support of the American Cancer Society and will now be presented to Gov. Cuomo for his signature. Enforcement, of course, remains another matter entirely.
Due to a Sunday afternoon derailment of an Amtrak work train, the MTA is anticipating a rough Monday for westbound LIRR commuters. According to a statement released this evening, the Long Island Rail Road will “operate a significantly reduced AM Rush schedule” on Monday. Numerous trains will be canceled or diverted as crews work to rerail the train and repair the damaged track and catenary wires. The authority has already canceled 19 trains while a handful of others have been diverted to Atlantic Ave. Keep an eye on this page for the latest.
Long Island City hasn’t always been the next frontier of gentrification and development in Queens as it is today. In fact, for much of its history, it’s been an industrial neighborhood that has served as the staging grounds for the Long Island Rail Road and many other area train lines. Now, though, as rents increase, luxury buildings go up and the area grows, residents are upset with idling trains.
As New York 1 reports, some new residents have called upon the MTA to power down their trains because the idling is driving them nuts. “It’s really horrible. I mean, like I wake up to this noise every morning,” Lillian Marchena said.
The news station’s Queens reporter Ruschell Boone had more:
Over the last two years, the LIRR has turned off some of the engines during the day and placed some trains in other parts of the rail yard as part of a compromise, but some residents said the noise is starting to increase again. “From 7:30 in the morning ’til 5:30 at night, Monday through Friday,” said Community Board 2 Chairman Joe Conley.
It is a harsh reality for new residents moving to the once-industrial area. The rail yard has been there for more than 100 years, but residents want the diesel engines turned off during the day. LIRR spokesperson Joe Calderone said while the Metropolitan Transportation Authority has been addressing some of the community’s concerns, shutting down all the trains during the day is not going to be possible.
“It can take up to two hours to get it started again. If you shut it off for a four-hour period, you need to do a brake test under federal rules,” said Calderone. “Those are just a couple of the reasons we can’t just shut them off and turn them back on.”
Calderone noted that the LIRR will try to power down more trains as temperatures increase. They don’t have the same need to keep the trains warm during nicer days, but federal safety rules and timing concerns are driving the idling.
Meanwhile, as the East Side Access project moves forward, train-related noise will only increase for Long Island City residents. Within the next five years, more trains will head into Grand Central via the area and the rail yard will continue to serve as a holding pen for eastbound trains. For a century, as New Yorkers eschewed the area, the trains weren’t a problem, but with gentrification comes complaints. Unfortunately, for residents though, the train yard isn’t going anywhere.
For a long time, the MTA had a very generous refund policy for its commuter rail ticket holders. Those who were unable to use their tickets had six months to turn them in for a full refund. It was rider-friendly and easy to to understand. That all ended last year.
When the authority voted to raise their fares last year, they implemented a series of hidden fare hikes as well. These measures didn’t garner as many headlines as the MetroCard hikes, but they were just as harmful to commuters’ wallets. The one that has generated much outrage has been the changes to the refund policy. All tickets must be returned within 30 days, and to get a refund, passengers must pay a $10 service fee.
As many Long Islanders quickly learned in January, the $10 fee often exceeded the cost of the ticket, and politicians grew outraged. “In the worst of circumstances there’s always a restocking fee,” State Sen. Jack Martins said in January. “But why a $10 processing fee? If you look at the fares Long Island Rail Road and you consider that most of those fares are going further than those $10, what they’re telling you is if you don’t use the ticket, they’ve just picked your pocket.”
Recently, Martins has issued a bill that would rectify the situation. Without an Assembly counterpart yet, the bill has been referred to the proper state committee, and it is available here. In it, Martins tries to limit the MTA’s ability to recoup its expenses. It says that the MTA is “prohibited from assessing any surcharge or processing fee for the return of any such unused ticket purchased for use on the Long Island Rail Road.” Metro-North riders, no one is looking out for you.
In addition to this explicit ban on the MTA’s economic approach, Martins wants to return the old refund structure to the massess. The authority would be forced to give a full refund up to six months for unused tickets. Thus, Martins’ bill would, in effect, roll back this part of the December fare hike. “Customers have had to deal fare increases and service cuts,” Martins said to the Patch site from Mineola. “To put in a processing fee just to return a ticket is arrogant at best. This legislation repeals the processing fee, which should never have been instituted.”
Does Martins’ stance make sense? From a position of a politician searching for votes, it certainly does. The MTA is fully exploiting its customers, and by instituting such an extreme refund penalty, the authority has effectively made most ticket sales final. On the other hand, by granting refunds, the agency incurs processing costs that it should try to recoup. If Albany won’t fund the refunds, why should the authority?
The best solution is, of course, a compromise. If the MTA can lessen the refund service fee while extending the time frame past the 30-day mark, everyone should walk away happy. Otherwise, this decidedly anti-customer measure could cause more headaches than it is worth.
As Friday winds down, I have two stories of note from the MTA’s suburban commuter rail areas. In one, Assembly representative Ellen Jaffe, a Democrat from Rockland County, would like to ban smoking on Metro-North and LIRR platforms. “Obviously, we kind of overimposed restrictions, but I do believe on a platform it is a contained area,” Jaffe said to WCBS. “Even though it is outdoors, it is contained.” New Jersey Transit banned smoking on its platforms a few years ago, and New York City Transit does not permit smoking on its outdoor platforms. While non-smokers seem to support the ban, smokers have requested a special section if the state legislature approves Jaffe’s measure.
Meanwhile, the new M8 cars set for use along the New Haven line have been delayed once again, CBS reports. Due to the winter weather, ConnDOT has been unable to complete the 4000-mile test for the six-car prototype. They hope to have passengers on board these cars “in a matter of weeks,” but they sure have been a long time coming.