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Officials: LIRR back on track after weathering storm

The LIRR is charging off-peak fares Wednesday and

The LIRR is charging off-peak fares Wednesday and is not charging extra fees for purchasing tickets on board. (Jan. 22, 2014) Credit: Daniel Goodrich

Long Island Rail Road customers can go back to looking at the page of their timetable marked "Monday to Friday."

The LIRR said it would return to a regular schedule Thursday after operating on a weekend schedule Wednesday while crews continued to recover from the latest round of snow and frigid temperatures.

LIRR commuters -- down nearly 70 percent as compared to a typical Wednesday -- had to deal fewer trains, widespread delays of up to a half-hour and substitute busing on some lines. The LIRR did not suspend service on any branches, despite concerns the snowstorm could shut down the system.

Even with far fewer people riding the rails than usual, the reduced schedule caused crowding on some trains.

Great Neck commuter Evan Nabavian said "the aisles were full of people" in the 8:19 a.m. train to Penn Station. Still, Nabavian, 24, said he supported the LIRR's decision to follow a weekend schedule, adding that it provided predictability and reliability.

"As long as I know exactly when the train is going to be there, and it's running and I can get on it, then I'm satisfied," Nabavian said.

Mark Epstein, chairman of the LIRR Commuter Council, said the railroad generally "performed well" during and after the storm, with delays manageable and no stranded trains. But, he said, overcrowding on trains and stations during emergencies remains a problem.

The LIRR made adjustments from the last major snowstorm, on Jan. 3, during which it also ran a weekend schedule. This time, the railroad added eight trains to help get commuters home, and provided bus service for customers on the West Hempstead branch, which doesn't operate on weekends.

"We had hundreds of employees working around the clock throughout the storm just to keep everything moving," LIRR spokesman Aaron Donovan said.

The railroad also charged off-peak fares all day Wednesday, and waived extra fees for purchasing tickets on board. That's partly because the blowing snow and cold temperatures caused some ticket vending machine screens to freeze up, "similar to a car windshield," spokesman Salvatore Arena said, rendering them inoperable.

And "Darth Vader" still has not taken his light saber out of his holster this winter. The 80-ton plow and spreading machine named after the "Star Wars" villain -- and the latest addition to the LIRR's snow-fighting fleet -- was not needed. The railroad, however, did employ high-powered snow brooms on its tracks, Arena said.

Although the railroad resumed regular service Thursday, the frigid temperatures could still pose some problems, including to track switches and train doors, which could get frozen while closed. Donovan said extra crews will be available to address any issues.

The LIRR is also leaving heated station waiting rooms open 24 hours a day through Friday to provide shelter for customers.

Epstein recommended that when the LIRR operates on a weekend schedule, it should still add trains on some lines as needed.

"This is something the MTA must address considering we do live on an island and mass transportation is a key part of getting on and off Long Island in an emergency," Epstein said.

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