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'A brighter environment' on new LIRR trains, but not everyone likes it

Newsday's transit reporter Alfonso A. Castillo has the details on how some LIRR customers are complaining that the interior lighting inside the railroad's M9 cars is way too intense. (Credit: Charlie Eckert)

Long Island Rail Road officials expect a bright future for their newest fleet of train cars. But it may be a little too bright for some LIRR customers.

Four months after the LIRR trains rolled out, a growing number of riders have been complaining about the interior lighting of the "M9" cars being too intense.

"It was painful," said Hewlett commuter Ben Schneidman, who boarded an M9 for the first time while heading home from work one recent evening. "It hits you right when you walk in. It's really remarkable."

Schneidman was so taken aback by "the brightest space I've been in, in a long time" that he called the railroad to complain. Others have voiced their displeasure on social media, with one Twitter user calling the ride "worse than sitting under a dentist chair."

LIRR spokeswoman Meredith Daniels said the railroad followed an industry standard of 35 fc, or "foot candles," when choosing the brightness of the lights. That's the same brightness of the LIRR's previous generation of electric cars, the M7s, which make up the majority of the railroad's fleet.

The difference is that, unlike the old trains, which used fluorescent lights, the new trains are equipped with LED lights that emit a whiter, cooler light than riders are used to seeing.

But the LIRR, which used focus groups in designing the trains, said the LED lights come with several benefits, including increased efficiency. They last 2 1/2 times longer than fluorescent bulbs, and are more effective at charging the glow-in-the-dark emergency strips and signs on trains.

LIRR officials said the trains largely have been well-received by customers. Not all the new features on the M9s have gone over well, though, including a public announcement system that some riders said is too loud, and the placement of electrical outlets on train walls — causing some passengers to reach across others to charge their phones.

LIRR president Phillip Eng said he welcomed riders' feedback, especially as the railroad is already looking to its next generation of train cars, to be known as the M9-A.

"We realize that there are many different opinions, but they're all important," Eng said. "Everything we do, where we change something, people need time to adapt. I will say that there are just as many people, if not more, who are pleased that it's a brighter environment."

Since putting the first eight M9 cars into service in September, the railroad has rolled out more each month, and is now operating three full M9 trains. The LIRR expects to have all 202 M9 cars in service by March 2021. The trains, manufactured by Kawasaki Rail Car Inc., cost the LIRR $723 million.

Although he, too, has taken to Twitter to complain about the “blindingly bright LED lights” on the new trains, Garden City commuter Ken Balestrieri said “it’s not a big deal.”

“Maybe they’re just so new that we haven’t gotten accustomed to them yet,” said Balestrieri, 39, who praised several of the upgrades on the trains, including the “smoother ride.”

“Overall," Balestrieri added, "I would say it’s definitely a huge step-up.”

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