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Eng: Increased cleaning efforts include ditching duct tape on LIRR trains

LIRR president Phillip Eng spoke at a Woodbury event on Wednesday hosted by the Advancement for Commerce Industry and Technology to discuss the most recent changes and projects.  Credit: Howard Schnapp

The Long Island Rail Road’s heightened efforts to clean and beautify its stations and trains will include doing away with the longtime practice of patching up torn train seats with duct tape, the LIRR’s president said Wednesday.

Speaking at a Woodbury event hosted by the Advancement for Commerce Industry and Technology, Phillip Eng said going forward that holes and rips in vinyl train seats will be repaired using a “full-seat patch” that covers the seat, giving the appearance of new upholstery.

Eng acknowledged the move is in response to frequent criticism from riders about the railroad’s use of duct tape to repair seats. The makeshift bandages are particularly widespread across the railroad’s 1980s-era “M3” electric trains, recognizable by their maroon and navy blue seats.

At a November public hearing in Melville on the MTA’s proposed fare increase, one LIRR rider even jokingly questioned if railroad officials “own stock in duct tape,” considering their liberal use of the adhesive material.

Eng said that he understood why riders have problems with the unsightly quick fix.

“Now, every facility that is repairing these seats should stop using duct tape,” Eng said at the meeting. “You will hopefully not even notice that the seats were repaired.”

Eng said the railroad researched various vendors before settling on a patching material that is durable, easy to clean, and not prone to having its edges curl. The railroad began distributing the new patches, manufactured by 3M, to car maintenance facilities earlier this month.

The material will be used to mend any new rips that occur on train seats, but Eng said old duct-tape repairs also will be replaced as trains are brought in for maintenance.

Railroad officials said the duct tape patches were always intended as a temporary fix to avoid having to take a train out of service. The railroad has made permanent repairs on 14,000 torn seats on its "M7" model trains, which make up the majority of the fleet, since mid-2016.

Huntington commuter Matt Fehringer shared a photo on Twitter last month of one particularly patched-up train, which he dubbed the “Duct Tape Express.”

“I was looking around at a dozen seats, and every single row had multiple pieces of tape holding them together,” said Fehringer, 37, who was glad to hear that the railroad was addressing the issue, even if it is “lower on the list of things that they should improve upon.”

“Maybe if they start doing some small things like cosmetic improvements, people will notice and maybe take a little more care of their surroundings and their fellow commuters,” he added.

Eng said the move was part of a broader effort to address the appearance of trains and stations, and defended the railroad against criticism by some riders that trains are as filthy as ever.

Eng said the railroad has made several changes in its train cleaning operation, including by arming “car appearance maintainers” with new tools, such as an electric scrubber, an “industrial-type Swiffer mop,” and a new cleaning product that was chosen among six that were tested on trains.

Eng said the railroad is challenged in keeping its trains spotless, because of the short turnaround time they have between trips.

“If you go to a sporting event, it’s very typical that people will have drinks, people will have food, and then they’ll leave their trash under the seats. The difference is, after a sporting event ends, you can have all night, you can have a week to get in there and clean that stadium. And it will be ready for the next event,” Eng said. “We have 10 minutes sometimes, or even less.”

Eng also talked about another initiative to spruce up stations through an “adopt-a-station” corporate sponsorship program. The railroad recently announced that real estate company CBRE Group Inc. paid $65,000 to “adopt” Jamaica station and fund new customer information upgrades there, while LAZ Parking is paying $20,000 over two years to fund enhancements in Ronkonkoma, including new plantings.

Michael Kinane, president of Advancement for Commerce Industry and Technology, which hosted Eng on Wednesday, praised the plan as an opportunity for local businesses to get their name out while also doing some good in their communities.

“I think that’s a good way to show that kind of support, particularly on a local level, that will be meaningful to customers,” Kinane said.

The LIRR also announced Wednesday plans to host more "Customer Conversation" forums next month. The events, which began last spring, will take place Feb. 6 at the William P. Bennett Hicksville Community Center in Hicksville and Feb. 13 at the Wyandanch LIRR station. Doors will open for both events at 6 p.m.

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