Archive for LIRR
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.
On the west side of the Hudson River, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and the Feds are still fighting over the $271 million New Jersey owes for canceling the ARC Tunnel, but here on the east side, the MTA is eying grander plans for Penn Station. As Andrew Grossman in the Wall Street Journal reported yesterday, now that the LIRR isn’t required to make accommodations for ARC construction, the rail road wants to invest in improving Penn Station. “It’s a facility that’s showing its age,” LIRR President Helena Williams said. “It’s cluttered visually, functionally.”
According to Grossman, the LIRR has a list of improvements it wants to make. Some are easier to implement than others while some would require long-term disruptions. They include “better signage, improved passenger flow, higher ceilings and natural light.” Signage has, as I wrote in March, long been a challenge for the MTA.
For now, because improvements to Penn Station require New Jersey Transit and LIRR to be, as Grossman put it, “on the same page as Amtrak, the station’s owner,” change might be slow in coming. Amtrak is focusing on getting the Moynihan Station project off the ground, and Republicans in Congress are eying the national rail network’s funding with a raised eye brow or two. Still, a redesigned and re-signed Penn Station would go a long way toward improving passenger flow at this busy commuter hub.
In the unofficial war for commuter rail dominance, Metro-North in September won a decisive battle for the first time in its history under the MTA. As the Wall Street Journal’s Andrew Grossman reports, ridership on the Grand Central-bound Metro-North lines was higher than that of the Long Island Rail Road, and Metro-North, long the leader in on-time performance, can now lay claim to being the most popular commuter rail line in the country. According to the September figures — available in the latest MTA board books — the LIRR saw 6.83 million passengers pass through its doors in September while Metro-North serviced 6.9 million.
Overall, though, ridership on the commuter rail lines is still significantly off the record-setting pace set in early 2008. Before the economy plunged, the LIRR served over nine million riders per month while approximately 8.6 million took Metro-North. Still, the MTA expects the LIRR’s popularity to grow again. “Economic recovery is occurring at different rates in different parts of our region and both railroads will continue to pursue ways to show that public transportation is still the best way to travel. As the economy picks up, we expect the LIRR ridership will rebound,” an agency spokesman said to the Journal.
Interestingly, Grossman pegs two drivers behind Metro-North’s four percent increase in ridership. He attributes it to “growth in the city’s northern suburbs and an increase in people commuting out of the city to jobs in big employment centers like White Plains and Stamford.” But what of the declining LIRR figures? Ridership sunk one percent over the same time period from a year ago, and while officials look at the economy, two other factors leap out at me. First, due to the threat of bad weather, the LIRR suspended service to the East End over Labor Day, and second, service cuts have eroded the frequency of trains and their popularity.
It’s worth commenting too on a statement by Maureen Michaels, chair of the LIRR Commuter Council. In fact, she fingers the service cuts as a main driver behind the LIRR’s second-place finish, but she claims that less frequent service means that the commuter railroad is no longer “cost effective” for commuters. It’s certainly true that fewer trains and higher fares lead to inconvenienced and disgruntled passengers, but the LIRR remains far more “cost effective” than the alternative — which is driving into Manhattan from Long Island. The fares would have to jump by a magnitude of around four or five for the trains to become less cost effective, and statements such as Michaels’ should not go unquestioned.