LIRR system now back to full service

LIRR passengers at Penn Station. (Aug. 29, 2011)

LIRR passengers at Penn Station. (Aug. 29, 2011) (Credit: Patrick E. McCarthy)

Five days after being walloped by Tropical Storm Irene, the Long Island Rail Road restored full service on all 11 lines Thursday, and is promising extra trains Friday for the holiday weekend getaway.

With restoration of service between Ronkonkoma and Greenport yesterday, the LIRR fully bounced back from the storm, which knocked hundreds of trees and utility poles across its 700 miles of track and cut power to more than 120 crossing gates.

The LIRR has added 12 extra eastbound trains from Penn Station Friday afternoon beginning at 1:45 p.m. to accommodate customers planning an early escape.

Five days ago, not a single LIRR train was moving through the system, as the Metropolitan Transportation Authority shut down all transit service in preparation for Irene. Thursday, LIRR president Helena Williams said the tremendous measures that the railroad took to protect its infrastructure -- from moving trains out of low-lying yards to higher ground, to having hundreds of workers sleep at hotels throughout the system Saturday night -- paid off.

MTA board member Patrick Foye agreed, saying the LIRR did the "exact right thing" in shutting down on Saturday. But, he added, communication efforts could have been better.

Joseph Ivaroni, a 28-year LIRR commuter, had a similar assessment of the railroad's performance this week. Ivaroni, who travels from Deer Park to Penn Station daily, said he did not run into any delays or crowded trains this week, but was charged a penalty fee for buying a ticket onboard Wednesday, even though ticket machines at the Deer Park station weren't working.

"I think they did a pretty good job, considering what they had to deal with and the miles of track that had to be checked before you could allow the people to safely get back on," said Ivaroni, 44. "They answered the bell as well as could be expected."

Williams acknowledged that the LIRR learned some lessons from the storm, and will amend its hurricane response plan accordingly.

In addition to getting the word out to conductors not to charge onboard penalties, Williams said the LIRR will look to address slippery conditions on tracks caused by wet leaves, the impact of electrical outages on station public address systems and flooding problems at the Island Park station.

In a letter to LIRR employees, Williams said she was "extremely proud" of the example they set.

"Simply put, because of your extraordinary efforts before, during and after the storm, our plan worked," Williams wrote.

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