LIRR initiatives keep riders in the loop

Long Island Rail Road commuters rushing to catch

Long Island Rail Road commuters rushing to catch their next train during the continual LIRR cancellations problem in Jamaica. (May 11, 2011) (Credit: J. Conrad Williams Jr.)

Joye Brown

Newsday columnist Joye Brown Joye Brown

Joye Brown has been a columnist for Newsday since 2006.

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Susan Nesci of Wantagh picked up a new pamphlet at the LIRR counter at Penn Station on her way to work in Manhattan Wednesday.

"It's just what I need," she said.

The publication lists alternative ways commuters can find their way home should trains stop running -- as almost all of them did one awful evening rush hour last September.

The pamphlet was one of many common-sense ideas that Nesci and others pitched the LIRR, which, commuters have complained for years, shortchanged them of meaningful information.

That's in the process of changing, with the brochure and other new or planned initiatives upcoming this year, LIRR president Helena Williams said.

"We want our customers to know that we hear them," she said.

The pamphlet Nesci picked up -- available at LIRR stations in Jamaica, Brooklyn and Manhattan -- is eerily impressive in its specificity. Williams said the information was gathered and verified by New York City, Nassau and Suffolk County transit agencies, and went through limited field testing.

The result?

Commuters needing to make their way from, say, Jamaica to Ronkonkoma during an emergency would: transfer to the 165th Street Bus Terminal-bound Q6/Q8/Q9/Q41 buses; then transfer to the N22 bus to Hicksville; then transfer to N78/N79 bus to Walt Whitman Shops in Huntington Station; then transfer to the S54 to the Ronkonkoma area.

Whew.

If anything, the alternatives clarify how important it is to keep the railroad up and running so commuters get home quickly and comfortably.

But knowing possible alternatives -- in advance -- also gives commuters the option to arrange for friends or relatives to pick them up somewhere along the alternative route.

"The idea is that a LIRR commuter could pull this from a briefcase and a purse and, communicating with a spouse, talk about how they will be heading east and where they could be picked up along the way," Williams said.

The railroad isn't stopping -- no pun intended -- with pamphlets.

The LIRR also has installed large maps at street level at Jamaica Station so commuters know which way to walk in an emergency to get to the four bus lines that run nearby.

In addition, the railroad is working on codifying and publishing, in print and online, four different modified schedules.

That means commuters in the event of, say, a two-hour delay, could look to the appropriate modified schedule and determine exactly when their specific trains are scheduled to leave.

The railroad, by the end of the year, is adding GPS to every train and more "timing points" along tracks, so the railroad will have better information on where trains are and how quickly they are -- or are not -- moving.

The LIRR has consolidated an expanded public communications operations in Jamaica, which means that employees updating the Web, sending out emails, talking to train crews and making platform announcements, are in the same room.

It is a still-evolving process.

Wednesday, for example, when broken rails on two branches disrupted the early morning commute, customers who signed up for email alerts got more specific information about delays than those left to rely only on electronic station-sign technology that's a decade old.

Williams said they're working to get all customers the same information. "Our goal is to get real-time information to customers, so they know exactly what is going on," she said.