New HD Penn Station signs to help commuters, LIRR's bottom line

LIRR passengers at Penn Station walk past a

LIRR passengers at Penn Station walk past a new video monitor that shows train departures and features advertising. The video screens replace some of the old kiosk-like monitors with small TV screens showing train departures. Some new video screens are large, bright, vivid HD, showing advertising. (July 24, 2013) (Credit: Craig Ruttle)

It's the LIRR in HD.

More than two dozen high-definition digital signs have gone up in the Long Island Rail Road's Penn Station concourse, providing riders with a brighter and sharper way to get train information, including departure times and track assignments.

The 26 new monitors were paid for by CBS Outdoor, an advertising company that wants to primarily use them for ads. The LIRR will regularly have use of 11 monitors.


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Twenty-five monitors have already been installed and are functioning, with the last set to go up outside Penn Station near 34th Street. The LIRR says it expects the electronic signs to generate an additional $1 million a year in ad revenue for the railroad.

On some of the larger screens, which stand about 7 feet high, three-quarters of the space will be taken up by ads. The LIRR displays both schedule and track information, and service updates on its share of the sign.

Although many riders welcomed the displays, some advocates raised concerns about whether the information displayed on the state-of-the-art devices will be easier to read than on some of the antiquated monitors they are replacing.

"Once you provide the information, you have to provide it so people can see it," Ira Greenberg, the LIRR Commuter Council representative on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority Board, said during a recent presentation of the new technology.

Some screens, including larger ones hanging from the arched ceiling of the main walkway, are used only for ads. Others, measuring about 3 feet by 5 feet, solely display LIRR train information. They replace six large kiosk monitors that used old tube television monitors installed about 20 years ago. The LIRR said that removing those old displays also frees up space in the crowded station.

"I like these much better," Sidney Schwartz, 82, of New Hyde Park, said of the new signs. The certified public accountant waiting at Penn for his train Thursday afternoon said he didn't mind train information taking a backseat to advertisements.

"So what?" he said. "As long as it serves its purpose, you don't need a 90-inch screen."

LIRR president Helena Williams said there are other benefits to her customers -- the most important being the LIRR's ability to take over all the signs when needed.

"The emergency information is my biggest interest; being able to communicate quickly with people in Penn Station," Williams said. "While it works great for advertising, I'm going to ensure that it works equally well for emergency information."

While the Commuter Council has welcomed the effort to better communicate with customers, it has questioned the effectiveness of some of the signs.

The LIRR's original display after the signs were installed earlier this month included a squint-inducing small font, and unnecessary information, including the next 20 train departures, said council chairman Mark Epstein.

"We don't need to know what train is coming four hours from now," Epstein said. "We have no problem with them generating revenue, as long as it's not at the expense of the rider."

LIRR officials said they have increased the font size and reduced the amount of information displayed, and will continue to make changes to maximize the signs' usefulness.

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