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Long IslandTransportation

New LIRR restrooms to take hands-free route to cleanliness

The bathroom on a current Long Island Rail

The bathroom on a current Long Island Rail Road car is shown at the Ronkonkoma LIRR station on Thursday, Nov. 3, 2016. Photo Credit: Ed Betz

The Long Island Rail Road’s next generation of cars may provide some relief for riders who have long complained about the conditions inside train bathrooms.

Touchless, high-velocity hand driers and improved air-quality treatment are just a few of the new features that the LIRR is promising in its next fleet of trains. The first of 416 new cars are expected to arrive in June 2018.

The LIRR outlined the new features of the “M-9” trains in a report to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority board last week. The $500 million purchase from Kobe, Japan-based Kawasaki Rail aims to replace the last of the LIRR’s 1980s-era M-3 cars, and also bolster the railroad’s fleet in time for the 2022 completion of East Side Access.

Jim Allen, LIRR director of rolling stock, said the railroad empaneled focus groups to help come up with ideas for the new trains “with particular attention paid to improving the bathroom environment, Long Island’s number one source of customer complaints.”

The new lavatory features aim to improve cleanliness and provide a “touch-less experience,” according to the LIRR. They include doors that will close more easily, scratch-proof mirrors and extra coat hooks.

LIRR commuter Carl Atteniese, who has complained to the LIRR via social media about train bathrooms, said he worries that added technological features will just create more opportunities for something to malfunction. He said he’d be satisfied with more frequent inspection of bathrooms.

“You go in there and you feel like you’re going into a bathroom in a prison,” said Atteniese, 50, of East Rockaway, who blamed customers’ bad habits for the state of LIRR bathrooms. “This isn’t really the railroad’s fault. But they’ve given up.”

Other planned amenities inside the M-9 trains include closed-loop armrests that will prevent ripped pockets, electrical outlets on every row, 32-inch multimedia screens in each car, lift-seats with suspensions systems to prevent slamming, quieter side doors that can be more easily opened manually in an emergency, and increased window tint to reduce glare.

“We believe that these will be major improvements to the car that will be well-received by customers,” Allen said.

Some improvements are in response to recommendations from train crews, including end doors that require less force to open. Anthony Simon, general chairman of the Sheet Metal Air Rail and Transportation Union, which represents LIRR conductors, said the safety of train crews and customers was “priority one” when coming up with the recommendations.

While the design of the M-9 cars is still being refined, the LIRR has already promised even more new features on its subsequent line of cars, known as the M-9A, including USB ports at every outlet, power bathroom doors, stainless steel urinals and damage-resistant “gorilla glass” windows.

LIRR officials said it’s too late to include those features on the M-9 cars without incurring additional costs and delays. The LIRR plans to order 160 M-9A cars, but has not put the contract out to bid yet. Those trains are expected to roll out in late 2021.

LIRR Commuter Council chairman Mark Epstein said that while riders appreciate any improvements, he questioned the LIRR’s priorities. He said while much attention was paid to bathroom cleanliness, there is no talk of more meaningful improvements recommended by the council, such as on-board Wi-Fi or the ability for customers to receive audio service updates directly from the LIRR’s control center.

“They tried to get us to give input on the color of the seats — the fabric. And I was like, ‘I don’t care about the color of the fabric,’ ” said Epstein, who hopes there will be opportunities to further modernize the LIRR’s next fleet. “There’s got to be an opening to change things as technology changes, without having to wait for the next whole [fleet of] trains to be built.”

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