A new automated system at Penn Station that directs customers to a window staffed by the next available ticket clerk is making purchasing Long Island Rail Road tickets easier, officials said Sunday.

The system became operational May 1, and has sped up the sales process by making clear to customers which of the 12 ticket windows are open, said officials.

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"Customers can definitely see a difference in waiting time, as do our ticket clerks, and both have welcomed the innovation," LIRR president Helena Williams said in a prepared statement.

A clerk sets off a signal that simultaneously lights up the window number, sounds a bell and prompts a recorded voice that directs the customer to the counter. About a year ago, the LIRR eliminated the long-standing window-by-window ticket lines with a queuing system often found in banks. But ticket clerks and managers found that customers hesitated to find the next available window. Officials determined that an automated system would be the most appropriate at the LIRR's busiest terminal, which sells about 18,000 tickets on an average weekday -- 4,500 of which are sold by ticket agents.

"We're always working on ways to improve customer service," said Williams, referencing real-time Internet service alerts and mobile ticketing practices. "In the months ahead, we plan to keep the new ideas coming."

Ticket clerk Joseph LaRosa, who has been with the railroad for 12 years, said in Williams' statement that the new system "stops confusion on the line and helps overall efficiency."

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There's an added bonus for workers, he said. "It is more professional than yelling 'Next!' into the microphone."