The LIRR’s watchdog group wants customers to be able to get their information directly from the source during service problems, like the many that have plagued the agency in recent weeks.
The Long Island Rail Road Commuter Council on Thursday called on the LIRR to explore the possibility of patching workers from the agency’s rail control directly into trains’ public address system, allowing customers to get real-time updates on service problems directly from those working on resolving them.
Currently, during service problems LIRR customers typically rely on alerts sent out by the railroad’s public information office and occasional updates by train crews with limited knowledge about a situation.
“Riders are not receiving the accurate and timely information that they need and it is time for the LIRR to implement direct communications between their control center and riders on individual trains,” Commuter Council Chairman Mark Epstein said in a statement. “This system would reinforce the efforts of individual train crews, which may be engaged in other duties during service disruptions or may have not receive the most current information.”
Epstein said that if there were too many logistical obstacles in the way of introducing such technology on existing trains, he’d like to see it included in the LIRR’s next fleet of rail cars, which are being designed and are expected to roll out in 2018.
LIRR spokesman Aaron Donovan confirmed that the railroad’s current fleet does “not have the capability to allow for our control center to transmit directly to the public address systems on board trains.”
“We’re looking at a variety of ways that we can improve customer communications,” Donovan said. “We will evaluate the possibility of including the technology in future car orders, and we’ll explore further technologies to improve customer communication.”
Epstein noted that such a system is already in place on New Jersey Transit trains. NJ Transit spokesman Jim Smith confirmed that it has been using “technology to receive remote announcements” during service problems on its multi-level trains for about six years.
“Using cellular technology on the cars, personnel at our Rail Operations Center can select a single train or an entire train line to direct an audio message as well as provide text for the on-board electronic signs,” Smith said.
The council’s call comes during a summer riddled with several major service disruptions in recent weeks. On six different days over the last month the LIRR temporarily suspended service on at least one line.
Epstein said providing more useful and accurate information would have helped “ease some of the anxiety” felt by commuters during those meltdowns.
“I can’t tell you how often they ask a conductor, who tells them, ‘You know more than I do,’” Epstein said. “If they’re told directly from the command center, ‘This is what’s going on. This is what you should anticipate,’ it would just calm people down a bit.”
Anthony Simon, general chairman of the Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Union, which represents LIRR conductors, said the union “understands the frustrations of our customers about timely communication” and “will continue towards improving that communication.”