The LIRR station in Greenport is the last stop on...

The LIRR station in Greenport is the last stop on the North Fork. (Jan. 13, 2011) Credit: Randee Daddona

The Long Island Rail Road for the first time plans to publish a unique schedule it will follow while digging out from severe snowstorms, officials said.

The snow emergency timetable, which the LIRR expects to complete and release in several weeks, will give riders a base level of service to expect when the railroad is forced to run reduced service after a major disruption from severe weather.

The emergency schedule would go into use during and after the cleanup from snowfalls that require suspension of service so the tracks can be cleared.

The schedule will be different from a weekend or holiday LIRR timetable, officials said. It will be based on a weekday schedule with several cancellations and with priority given to the system's four busiest lines - Babylon, Huntington, Port Washington and Ronkonkoma.

It will be made available at stations during severe snowstorms and also published on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's website.

LIRR president Helena Williams said riders will read more about the new timetable in a "seat drop" leaflet distributed this week.

She stressed, however, that even with a set snow schedule, passengers will have to be flexible. The LIRR could run fewer trains or more trains than those on the timetable, depending on the weather's severity or conditions after a storm, she said.

"Our goal as a railroad is always to provide as much train service as possible. We're going to do that within the context of being a safe, secure and reliable system," Williams said.

The LIRR began working on the snow emergency schedule immediately after the Dec. 26-27 blizzard, which caused widespread delays and cancellations for three days, Williams said. As it dug out from that snowstorm, the LIRR publicized that it was offering "extremely limited service," but riders complained about the lack of reliable scheduling information.

"The lack of a schedule created near-chaos for people in trying to know when a train would come, and did they want to wait for it," LIRR Commuter's Council chairwoman Maureen Michaels said.

While she called creation of a snow schedule "an OK thing," Michaels worried that it was an indication the LIRR would not do more to improve service during snowstorms.

"Instead of a response or solution that says, 'This is how we're going to get the trains back up and running faster,' what we're getting is a schedule that tells us, 'This is how slow our trains are going to run,' " Michaels said. "But I'll take a schedule over no schedule any day."

Williams said having a preset schedule also will allow the LIRR to more quickly update its electronic messaging signs, which couldn't adapt to the hundreds of scheduling changes the system had to process after the blizzard.

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