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LIRR watchdog calls a.m. commute ‘unwarranted poor experience’

Workers clear snow at the LIRR station in

Workers clear snow at the LIRR station in Ronkonkoma, Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2018. Credit: Ed Betz

The Long Island Rail Road’s official watchdog group has invited senior LIRR management to go face to face with commuters and hear their concerns, including those stemming from the latest “unwarranted poor experience” during the Tuesday morning rush hour.

The LIRR Commuter Council — the state-mandated riders’ representative group — on Tuesday called for the restoration of the LIRR President’s Forum, where railroad president Patrick Nowakowski and other brass would “hear firsthand from riders about their concerns” and outline what, if any, plans they have to address them.

“Riders are hungry for answers about what is happening on the LIRR and the way in which the LIRR is moving forward to ensure that its riders receive the service that they deserve and depend upon,” council chairman Mark Epstein said. “Riders have many questions, and as the legislatively mandated voice of the riders, the LIRCC is hopeful the LIRR will join in this plan for a forum, as this format will allow them the opportunity to hear directly from their ‘customers’ and to respond accordingly.”

An LIRR spokesman said the agency is evaluating the request.

The council regularly held annual president’s forums for years until they were discontinued about a decade ago. The call to bring back the event comes as commuters have been beset in recent weeks by delays, cancellations and other frustrations.

The commuter council said the problems that impacted the snowy Tuesday morning commute were “entirely disproportionate” to the conditions expected from the weather.

The group said it received multiple reports of unshoveled and slippery station platforms. The council urged the railroad to devote more resources to keeping platforms clear and safe.

The amount of snow that fell — 6 inches or more in some areas of Suffolk County — came as a bit of a surprise, with predictions initially being for much less. The National Weather Service said it adjusted its forecast around midnight.

In addition, technical problems caused station platform signs to display incorrect information throughout the morning, according to the LIRR.

“We cannot have riders receiving conflicting information from station signs, announcements, and online services,” council chairman Mark Epstein said.

In a statement, LIRR spokesman Aaron Donovan said the railroad is reviewing the issues raised by the council and “looking at measures we can take to improve performance.”

“When our customers are not satisfied, we are not satisfied,” Donovan said.

The relationship between railroad management and the commuter council has been strained since Nowakowski came to the agency in 2014 — taking over for fired president Helena Williams, who was recently appointed deputy Nassau County executive by incoming County Executive Laura Curran.

The council in recent years repeatedly has taken issue with not being consulted on important decisions, including alternative service plans during Amtrak’s Penn Station infrastructure renewal work.

“The LIRR must be substantially more responsive to the needs of riders,” Epstein said. “Conditions for the commuters must improve, even in the face of inclement weather or other complications.”

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