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LIRR Cannonball express riders pack train -- and find rules on their seats

Passengers at Penn Station prepare to board the

Passengers at Penn Station prepare to board the LIRR's Cannonball express train to Montauk on Friday, Aug. 21, 2015. Photo Credit: Craig Ruttle

Hundreds of passengers waited to board Friday when the Cannonball express doors opened at Penn Station to begin another summer Friday ritual. This time, boarding was a little more orderly.

MTA staff asked the more than 1,600 customers to stow their bags and guided them as they boarded after recent complaints of overcrowding. But passengers said, though there was more room to walk once the 12-car train pulled away from the platform, the new policies didn't address the main problem: too many people and too few seats.

Michael Mignosi, 25, of Manhattan, wasn't able to get a seat on the popular weekend train to the Hamptons and Montauk -- a first after about six trips on the Cannonball this summer -- though he said passengers standing in the bar car weren't unusual.

"I've definitely seen it worse," he said.

An LIRR spokeswoman said the new guidelines succeeded in clearing the aisles of baggage.

"We did see many more customers storing luggage in the special alcoves at the end of the car," spokeswoman Meredith Daniels said. "We asked customers with bags to move from blocking exits and it seemed to work out."

Rider Mark Burgess, 55, of Manhattan, said he took the train every few weekends to visit Montauk and this train was so crowded that he struggled to find a seat, though the aisles were clear.

"I've seen people with beach chairs in their seats. It looked like every seat was full, though it didn't look like luggage in the seats," Burgess said.

When asked about the new rules, Mignosi said, "That tactic won't alleviate the amount of people on the train."

Friday's Cannonball train was the first since the railroad met with a federal regulator and agreed to implement steps for rider safety on the popular express route from Penn Station to eastern Long Island.

A CBS 2 video of a packed train fueled reports of overcrowding, leading to calls from the Federal Railroad Administration for the railroad to reduce risks on the train with stronger safety measures.

Proposed steps at a meeting Tuesday included additional personnel and having MTA police officers oversee boarding and loading.

The LIRR said it also would designate some storage areas on the train for luggage, and that luggage would not be permitted in aisles or doorways.

On Friday afternoon, Metropolitan Transit Authority workers in orange vests and a few police officers strolled up and down platform No. 19 at Penn Station. Passengers began gathering more than 30 minutes before the train arrived.

Inside, MTA workers walked through the cars calling out instructions to place all luggage on the overhead racks. Fliers were placed on the seats explaining the luggage rules and offering information about alternative trains to the beaches.

Boarding grew chaotic at times. For groups traveling together, finding seating was an elaborate puzzle. There is no maximum occupancy number for LIRR cars and passengers are allowed to stand when no seating is available. And many did Friday, or sat on the floor near the doors.

"I've never been on one this crowded," Jessica Kahn, 29, said, adding that she normally takes later trains to avoid the crowds.

Kahn of Brooklyn wasn't able to get a seat and was sitting on the floor near the door. She put her luggage up when asked, but said staff allowed her to sit instead of stand.

The LIRR said the Cannonball's popularity "have made it the most popular train to begin summer weekends on Long Island."

The railroad said it "cannot add more cars to the train or run additional expresses because of equipment and scheduling limitations, and must sometimes limit boarding at Penn Station before the Cannonball departs."

The LIRR provides nine other trains leaving Penn Station on Friday for the Hamptons and Montauk, including five of them which leave after the Cannonball's scheduled departure.

But Hamish Kidd, 29, said he routinely travels to the Hamptons on the LIRR and no matter what time, Friday trains are packed.

"It's pretty normal," said Kidd of Manhattan, adding that asking people to stow their luggage won't necessarily help.

"It would be nice to to have a seat, but there more people going out than seats," he said.

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