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Commuters slam LIRR communications woes

LIRR trains at the Mineola train station on

LIRR trains at the Mineola train station on Jan. 27, 2011. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Long Island Rail Road riders endured another snowy ride to work Thursday loaded with unreliable train service and even more unreliable information, commuters said.

The LIRR suspended all train service in the early morning because of the heavier-than-expected snowfall. Temporary suspension of some lines, including the Hempstead, Port Washington and Ronkonkoma branches, lasted through the morning rush because of disabled trains and automobiles stranded at crossings. Service was largely back to normal Thursday evening.

While many commuters tolerated the service disruptions, they were less forgiving about ongoing communications woes on display by the LIRR and its parent agency, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

The MTA's website was unavailable to many users at the height of morning rush because of heavy demand for service information. Dr. Saket Saxena, a physician at Winthrop-University Hospital, said he tried repeatedly to log on to the site between 7 a.m. and 8 a.m., to no avail.

"If that's not working at that time, I don't know what the use is," Saxena said as he waited for an afternoon train from Mineola back home to Manhattan. "That's when you need it most."

MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz said the site received "unprecedented levels of traffic" and the agency is working to "dramatically increase" its capacity.

Meanwhile, the LIRR's beleaguered electronic audio and video messaging system once again had problems. LIRR operations chief Raymond Kenny said the large number of train cancellations "overwhelmed" the system, causing it to display inaccurate info.

The system defaulted to a message telling riders to go to the MTA's website for scheduling information.

LIRR Commuter Council chairwoman Maureen Michaels said the MTA's communications bugs are "inexcusable" and must be resolved immediately.

"They have all the time in the world," Michaels said, "and forget that everybody else doesn't."

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