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LIRR online petition for refunds racks up signatures

LIRR commuter Eric Trinagel of Commack discusses his

LIRR commuter Eric Trinagel of Commack discusses his change.org petition demanding improved railroad service. The petition has already garnered more than 2,100 signatures.  Credit: Newsday / Alfonso Castillo

A Long Island Rail Road customer’s online petition demanding safer conditions and fare refunds for commuters has exceeded 2,200 signatures, more than double its original goal.

Fed up with a slew of major service disruptions during the first half of the summer, Commack's Eric Trinagel, a moderator on the LIRR commuter Facebook forum "Long Island Failroad," created on Aug. 8 the Change.org petition, which calls for the LIRR to be investigated for poor safety practices — including those caused by dangerous overcrowding on trains and station platforms — and fraud because “they have not delivered on their promises to the commuter.”

The petition also asks for future fare refunds on days of extreme delays and compensation “for all the recent delays and cancellations [riders] have weathered thus far.”

Trinagel, who commutes from the Deer Park station, launched the petition following three straight days of rush-hour meltdowns on the LIRR between Aug. 6 and 8, including disruptions caused by lightning strikes, switch problems and train shortages.

While Trinagel acknowledged that he doesn't expect a fraud investigation — or much else — to come out of his petition, he's already proud about what has been accomplished thus far.

“I never thought I’d get like 10 signatures. I thought it was going to be me and my wife signing up,” said Trinagel, 42, a technical project manager for Viacom.

Trinagel’s original goal for his petition was 1,000 signatures.

“It got there in two days,” he said. “I was just stunned. It just kept climbing and climbing.”

A few days after creating the petition, Trinagel said, he brought it to the attention of LIRR president Phillip Eng in an email. He got a call back from Eng the next day.

“We had a good 40-minute conversation. He was very genuine, very empathetic. He expressed that change would take time,” Trinagel said.

Eng, in a statement to Newsday, did not specifically address the petition or his conversation with Trinagel. But he said “all customer feedback given to us is valuable, and I remain committed to keeping a continuous open dialogue with riders, so that they know we are listening and that we are working hard to give them the service they deserve.”

“I take the same trains my customers do, and I feel their frustrations,” said Eng, adding that his LIRR Forward service improvement initiative aims to attack the root causes of the railroad’s woes. “I know where our challenges lie, and I see where we need to improve.”

As of 10:30 p.m. Monday, the petition had received 2,230 signatures, which Trinagel said was a testament to the growing outrage among the LIRR’s approximately 300,000 daily riders, who over the past two months have suffered a barrage of service meltdowns, including lengthy delays and cancellations caused by failing infrastructure, weather events, glitches in planned track work and other problems.

“There’s thousands of commuters that are worried that we are going to lose our jobs,” Trinagel said. “We feel unsafe. We feel uncared for. We don’t feel like we’re getting our money’s worth.”

The frustration among commuters is apparent in the comments posted by people who signed Trinagel’s petition. “I am sick and tired of paying $300 a month to be late on a overcrowded train,” wrote Erin Vecchi of Levittown.

Ursula Obando, of Port Jefferson Station, said she signed “because we the users of this service deserve better safety and better service.”

“I’m just getting tired of it,” wrote Louis Liotta of Lindenhurst.

Trinagel said he hopes the petition captures the attention of elected leaders.

A spokesman for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, one of the public officials to whom the petition is directed, declined to comment, referring questions to the LIRR.

The Federal Railroad Administration, also named in the petition, declined to comment.

A spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board, called on by Trinagel to investigate safety practices at the LIRR, did not respond to a request for comment.

Scott Reif, spokesman for State Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, who represents Trinagel’s district, said the petition “mirrors” what he’s been hearing from other constituents, and that he welcomes the feedback.

“When it comes to mass transit, people want affordability and reliability,” Reif said. “It's not too much to ask the LIRR to ensure riders get to work on time and that fares are kept as low as possible. That continues to be our focus."

State Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach) also weighed in on the petition, saying, "The overwhelming response in favor of refunds shows just how out of whack a fare increase would be at this difficult time for the LIRR."

The railroad plans to raise fares early next year.

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