Julia O'Brien, of Brooklyn, said she rarely gets to use...

Julia O'Brien, of Brooklyn, said she rarely gets to use the LIRR's waiting room in Farmingdale after work because it's closed when she's waiting for a train in the evenings. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

Long Island commuters are asking the LIRR to stop leaving them out in the cold, and open station waiting rooms for extended hours during the frigid winter months.

As temperatures have plummeted well below freezing in recent days, some Long Island Rail Road riders said they’ve been forced to brave the elements waiting for their trains because of the limited hours of station waiting rooms.

What to know

Some LIRR customers say they've been left out in the cold by the railroad, as station waiting rooms are too often closed, even during frigid temperatures.

The Long Island Rail Road said it does have a policy of keeping station waiting rooms open around the clock when temperatures are forecast to be below freezing for extended periods.

The chairman of the LIRR Commuter Council said the limited hours may be in response to problems with homelessness at stations. He suggested closing waiting rooms overnight, but otherwise leaving them open during the winter.

A key commuter advocate believes the railroad's reluctance to leave waiting rooms open more often may have to do with the growing problem of homelessness at some stations.

"You do get the homeless trying to get in there, but we also have our ridership. And what's the sense of having waiting rooms if they close early?" LIRR Commuter Council chairman Gerard Bringmann said. "It's one thing if you restrict the hours when the weather is good. I can understand that. But when you get … extreme weather, when the wind chill factor is in the single digits, those waiting rooms should remain open."

The LIRR has a policy of extending waiting room hours in the winter, but only during snowstorms or when temperatures are forecast to be below freezing for an extended period. Bringmann noted the LIRR has not sent notices to customers this winter of extended waiting room hours, as they have done during other winters.

"Customer safety and comfort is at the forefront of every decision we make," LIRR president Phillip Eng said in a statement. "Whenever we experience periods of extremely cold weather, our practice is to keep the waiting rooms open for the duration, allowing our customers to get out of the elements."

Under the LIRR's policy, when temperatures are cold, but not freezing, or only freezing for a single day, waiting rooms could adhere to their regular hours. At many stations, that means having waiting rooms close by 2 p.m. on weekdays, and to not open at all on weekends.

Asked whether problems with homelessness affect waiting room hours, LIRR spokesman David Steckel said ​the railroad is "always reviewing customer usage of stations across our system. We review the number of riders departing, arriving and time of day. Those factors, along with rider needs, safety, comfort and our ability to appropriately staff and police, guide our decisions on station staffing and hours.

"We want our riders and the neighboring communities to know that when our stations are open, they are clean, safe and comfortable for use by all."

Steckel said waiting rooms were left open around the clock between Jan. 10 and 12. He said some waiting rooms may have been closed by police during those days, if they encountered issues.

Waiting rooms also were scheduled to remain open Friday night through Sunday "due to the expected drop in temperature," Steckel said.

'Almost caught frostbite'

While waiting at Massapequa Park station on the evening of Jan. 3 — when temperatures dropped into the 20s — John D’Amato said he "almost caught frostbite" standing on the windy station platform. According to the LIRR’s website, the station’s waiting room is open between the hours of 4:30 a.m. and 2 p.m.

"It’s brutal," D’Amato, 54, said. "I totally understand if it has to be closed overnight … [but] at 5 p.m., there are a solid 10 to 12 people waiting to go into Penn Station regularly."

Busier stations tend to leave their waiting rooms open later, like Ronkonkoma, which closes at 7:15 p.m., or Hicksville, which closes at 8:40 p.m. At Babylon, which MTA Police said has experienced issues with homelessness, the waiting rooms close at 8:45 p.m. on weekdays.

Eng added that MTA Police sometimes closes station waiting rooms during overnight hours "in response to an incident."

"In those rare occasions, we would reopen the waiting rooms as quickly as safely as possible," he said.

Ten years ago, in response to pleas from the LIRR Commuter Council, the railroad extended waiting room hours at stations until 10 p.m. during the winter months. But Bringmann said the railroad gradually has gone back to closing most station rooms in the afternoon — a practice that ignores the growing trend of people using public transportation outside of the normal rush hours.

In a customer satisfaction survey released last month, LIRR riders cited "the number of people panhandling, experiencing mental illness or homelessness at destination station" as their No. 1 complaint about the railroad.

Bringmann said that while open waiting rooms can attract homeless people — especially during the winter — the solution shouldn’t be to punish railroad commuters looking to stay warm. He suggested closing station waiting rooms during overnight hours, but otherwise leaving them open during the winter months.

"Some of these stations they’ve redone are beautiful, but you’re literally on the outside looking in," said Bringmann, who noted that many newly renovated stations include modernized waiting rooms that many riders never get to use. "It’s like having a new car, but you can’t drive it after 2 o’clock in the afternoon."

According to the LIRR's website, some of the railroad's newest station waiting rooms also have some of the most restricted hours. Wyandanch's waiting room, which opened in 2018 and features wood paneled ceilings and chandeliers, is open only on weekdays between the hours of 6:10 a.m. and 1:45 p.m.

In 2018, the LIRR unveiled its newly renovated Farmingdale Station waiting room, which includes terrazzo flooring, tile and wood wall and ceiling finishes, and an upgraded heating system. But the waiting room closes at 4 p.m. on weekdays, meaning reverse commuters such as Julia O’Brien, who lives in Brooklyn and works in Farmingdale, rarely gets to use it while waiting for a train in the evenings.

"I’m just standing outside," said O’Brien, who dreads several more weeks of the biting cold temperatures during her commute. "The worst is yet to come."

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