The “summer of hell”? In Brooklyn and Queens, it was more like the “summer of heck.”
Atlantic Terminal, Jamaica and Hunterspoint Avenue, designated by LIRR officials to pick up the slack for Penn Station, were mostly chaos-free zones Monday, the day construction began on long-delayed track improvements at the Long Island Rail Road’s primary hub.
The long-dreaded commuter apocalypse failed to materialize — at least not on Day 1. Nearly 18,000 passengers passed through Atlantic Terminal on Monday, 67 percent more than an average day, according to officials. About 6,000 commuters passed through Hunterspoint Avenue, a 90 percent increase. Yet LIRR passengers interviewed at Atlantic Terminal and Hunterspoint — and Jamaica — said trains there ran mostly on time and were not overcrowded.
“There are more people here today than usual but the train didn’t seem too bad,” said Alphonse Alfiero, 57, who took the 7:03 a.m. train from Valley Stream to Atlantic Terminal. “I had no problems today. The train was on time.”
Many commuters also said they appreciated the LIRR reducing fares to the alternative transit hubs, and that LIRR ticket holders were permitted to transfer to the subway free of charge.
The LIRR had stationed at least a dozen employees clad in bright orange vests in Atlantic Terminal’s waiting area, where they fielded questions and directed commuters to the entrance to the subway.
Atlantic Terminal is much smaller than Penn Station, but its size seemed to be an asset Monday. The entrance to the subway is close to the tracks where commuters board or disembark from trains, so people were able to make connections quickly. It has no shops on the ground floor of the terminal and very little seating. Commuters didn’t stick around — they had places to go and things to do.
Commuters also reported few hassles during the morning and evening rush hours at Jamaica, which was also flooded with LIRR customer service personnel. One railroad worker, who had been on duty since 5 a.m., said the morning commute had occurred without a hitch. She said many of her colleagues had been reassigned to help guide commuters — a job she expected to continue into September.
“It’s been all hands on deck,” said the LIRR employee, who declined to give her name. “But I don’t know how our regular work is going to get done.”
The trip from Long Island to Hunterspoint Avenue went smoothly, passengers said. Paralegal Dianne Ralph took the 7:36 out of Hempstead, but decided to take a ferry to Manhattan rather than the subway.
“I know it’s going to be super crowded,” she said. “Even though the 7 is more convenient, the squeeze is going to be not good.”
The worst part of Monday’s commute, according to some passengers, was getting out from Hunterspoint to the subway station. There were not many exits and staircases were narrow.
Christine DeSanti, 49, of Bethpage, said Hunterspoint on Monday morning was a “crowded mess.”
“We were being herded like cattle,” said DeSantis, a legal secretary. “Hunterspoint turned into the new Penn.”
The evening rush hour from Hunterspoint was relatively smooth despite larger crowds.
“I usually get a seat by myself. I don’t think I’ll get a seat by myself today,” said Sandra Martin of Sea Cliff, who works in human resource for a nonprofit, as she waited for the 4:59 to Oyster Bay. “I think I am going to have to share with somebody today. It’s fine. We all want to get home.”
This story was reported by Martin C. Evans, Chau Lam and Michael O’Keeffe. It was written by O’Keeffe.