One of riders’ persistent complaints since the Grand Central Madison...

One of riders’ persistent complaints since the Grand Central Madison service overhaul has been long waits for those transferring trains at LIRR's Jamaica Station, seen here in December. Credit: Debbie Egan-Chin

The LIRR plans to reduce wait times for transfers at Jamaica Station in an effort to win over at least three-quarters of its riders this year, the railroad's chief said Monday.

Speaking at a meeting of Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s railroad committee, LIRR acting president Robert Free laid out the agency’s goals for the remainder of 2024, with several specific targets for improving service on the nation’s largest commuter railroad.

Included on that list: achieving a customer satisfaction rating of 75% — five percentage points higher than the rating the railroad achieved in its most recent customer survey, taken in November. That was 2 points higher than the 68% the LIRR received in a spring survey, but still well below the 81% the LIRR maintained throughout 2022, before the opening of Grand Central Madison, which upended the commutes of tens of thousands of riders.

“We want to do better,” said Free, who noted that an increase to 75% would be a “big jump. But we think we can accommodate that.”

WHAT TO KNOW

  • LIRR acting president Robert Free on Monday set forth several goals for the railroad in 2023, including shortening wait times for commuters changing trains at Jamaica and achieving a 75% customers satisfaction rating.
  • Other LIRR initiatives planned for this year are adding 175 security cameras throughout the system, and sprucing up train stations.
  • Some planned LIRR infrastructure upgrades, including the purchase of a new train fleet, may be delayed by ongoing lawsuits challenging congestion pricing.

To that end, the railroad will look to tackle one of riders’ most persistent complaints since the Grand Central Madison service overhaul a year ago — long waits for those transferring trains at Jamaica.

“In order to improve the transfer experience, we need to get the trains into Jamaica Station more reliably and closer to schedule,” said Free, who acknowledged accomplishing that feat would be “a big lift.”

“We are going to, hopefully, develop some metrics to identify where we see problems and make adjustments in upcoming schedules,” said Free, adding the LIRR is also looking to align “more closely” the time that both Penn Station and Grand Central trains arrive at Jamaica during off-peak periods to reduce customer wait times.

LIRR Commuter Council chairman Gerard Bringmann — a nonvoting MTA Board member — cautioned the railroad against syncing up Jamaica arrivals too closely, given that some transfers require getting to a faraway track.

“Closely aligning the trains is great when it’s an across-the-platform transfer. But, if it’s an up-and-over, it could take two or three minutes, and you see people scrambling up and down these stairs. It’s a safety factor,” Bringmann said.

Free said the railroad is “well aware” of the issue, and the schedules will allow riders enough time to make their connection, as long as the trains arrive on schedule.

Joshua Rosenstock, who commutes between Merrick and Grand Central Madison, said he believes the LIRR could meet its goals by providing more direct service, adding amenities to Grand Central, and restoring the 20-Trip discount ticket eliminated last year.

“Anything is better than now,” said Rosenstock, 45, who is reassured by railroad leaders thinking of ways to improve the customer experience.

In a presentation to board members, Free announced several other measures to “increase customer satisfaction and encourage ridership.” Among them: a “station spruce up program” that will include installing LED lighting, small landscaping, replacing signage, conducting “heavy duty cleaning” and making some bathroom upgrades.

You may not need to completely gut a bathroom. It just may mean you could replace the dividers in the bathroom and that will enhance the bathroom itself,” Free said.

To address rider safety concerns, the railroad will aim to install 175 more security cameras on trains and at stations — in addition to the 16,000 already in place, “improve conditions” at New York City terminals, like Penn Station, Atlantic Terminal and Grand Central, and maintain MTA Police presence on trains and at Jamaica.

Potentially jeopardizing the railroad’s efforts to improve its infrastructure are several ongoing lawsuits challenging the legality of congestion pricing, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s construction chief said.

Jamie Torres-Springer, president of MTA Capital Construction, said that spending on the MTA’s current $55 billion capital budget is “mostly on hold” as the MTA waits for a resolution to the lawsuits, including two filed by New Jersey government officials. Instead of the $9 billion in new construction contracts that the MTA has issued annually for the last three years, the MTA expects to issue only around $2.9 billion this year.

The MTA’s Central Business District Tolling Program would charge most vehicles $15 for driving below 60th Street in Manhattan. The MTA has targeted June to launch the congestion pricing plan—the first of its kind in the United States.

Among the LIRR projects that could be affected by the funding holdup, Torres-Springer said, is the purchase of the next fleet of LIRR electric trains, known as the M9-A cars, a water remediation project at Atlantic Terminal and the rehabilitation of the parking garage at Ronkonkoma station.

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