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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

LIRR communication during storms must improve

An LIRR worker walks the tracks at Jamaica

An LIRR worker walks the tracks at Jamaica Station, trying to get the system up and running again on Jan 25 2016, two days after a massive snow storm swept through the area, causing massive delays. Credit: Uli Seit

Want better communication between the Long Island Rail Road and its customers? Well, it won’t be coming anytime soon, as Patrick Nowakowski, the railroad’s president, made crystal clear during a meeting of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s LIRR Committee Monday.

Nowakowski acknowledged that the railroad can do better during winter storms — with more snow-fighting equipment.

But for all of those commuters who made their way to the Huntington train station on Jan. 23 expecting to catch trains they were told would be running at 5 a.m. — but ended up pulling into the station hours later — there’s no guarantee the same thing won’t happen during the next blizzard.

Nowakowski said he understood riders — you know, the folk freezing on the platforms — want up-to-date information during storms or other service disruptions.

But, “we don’t always know what’s happening exactly when it happens,” he said.

“There are times that information changes.” he said, adding, “sometimes we can’t meet peoples’ expectations.”

And “don’t expect miracles,” he said, in the way train information is relayed to riders during storms.

While frankness can be a virtue, the promise of more tangled LIRR communications down the line could also serve as a fair notice to riders that nothing is going to change anytime soon.

Which may be true, but nonetheless comes off as harsh.

An LIRR official, in attempting to put the LIRR president’s comments into perspective, said Wednesday that Nowakowski’s remarks didn’t mean the LIRR couldn’t do better at communicating with customers — only that there was no magic bullet.

“Customer communications remains a top priority at the Long Island Rail Road,” said the official, who asked not to be identified. “In fact, there is no commuter railroad in the nation that puts more resources into this area of customer service ... That said, the flow of information following an unexpected event is not instantaneous nor necessarily 100 percent accurate. It can and often does change as events unfold.

“What Pat Nowakowski wants LIRR customers to know is that we are doing the best we can to get them timely and accurate information, but there is no short term fix — technological or magical — to guarantee a process that is mistake free,” the official said.

On Tuesday, Anthony Simon, head of the union that represents conductors, track workers, building and bridge workers and others, said that while he is a proponent for good railroad communications with riders, he feared the emphasis on the issue could take away from efforts to keep the system going in a storm.

“Let the professionals do their job,” he said.

Indeed.

But part of that job is communicating better with customers.

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