LIRR expected to be back to normal Thursday

An LIRR conductor makes sure all is clear An LIRR conductor makes sure all is clear before leaving Huntington Station Wednesday morning. (Jan. 12, 2011) Photo Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa

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The Long Island Rail Road staggered Wednesday, but didn't get knocked out.

Customers endured another day of canceled trains, widespread delays and spotty communication - though service was expected to be back to normal this morning.

The railroad cut back to around 63 percent of its typical weekday morning service, with 53 out of 143 trains canceled and many more delayed.

Even at that rate, however, commuters said the LIRR's performance was an improvement over last month's blizzard, when the railroad shut down all service and took three days to fully bounce back.

"They sounded like they had a game plan and it looked like they implemented that game plan as best they could," said LIRR Commuter's Council vice chairman Gerard Bringmann, who commutes from Patchogue.

Service was out in eastern Suffolk for both the morning and evening commutes and an additional four trains were canceled for the afternoon rush, the railroad said. Later in the evening, service was restored east of Speonk on the Montauk line.

Yesterday's weather conditions were not as severe as during the blizzard - less snow overall and no high winds - and ridership was significantly down. Just 24,500 customers used the LIRR yesterday morning - around 70 percent less than typical ridership of 82,500.

Some of those who ventured out onto the rails met with the same problems that often plague the LIRR in severe winter weather.

About 120 passengers were delayed at Cold Spring Harbor station for more than two hours around 7 a.m. when ice on the third rail raised concerns that the train would not be able to draw enough electricity to climb the hill to Syosset - the steepest incline on the LIRR system.

The delay interrupted the workday for passengers such as David Cholden, a construction worker whose colleagues anxiously awaited his arrival in Manhattan. "They're all sitting in an ATM lobby waiting for me," he said. "Frustrating."

Customers also voiced a familiar complaint about the LIRR's poor communication efforts. Bringmann said customers at Patchogue were given no prior notice that several trains were canceled.

"No one was complaining that the train was late. The biggest complaint was, 'I checked the website before I left. Why didn't they tell me?' " he said.

While acknowledging there was "room for improvement" in their communications strategy, LIRR officials pointed to several areas where they had improved. Increased efforts to protect vital track switches worked, as did the agency's fixes on its problematic electronic station bulletins.

"We threw everything we had at it," LIRR operations chief Ray Kenny said of the storm. "We ran relatively well."

With Patrick Whittle

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