LIRR unveils new technology, timetables after cuts spark COVID-19 concerns

MINEOLA, Nassau County (WABC) -- The Long Island Rail Road revealed its new schedule Wednesday after a service shift caused a commuter mess earlier this month, as well as new technology to help riders easily manage social distancing guidelines.

The new timetables will take effect Monday, and transit leaders say the changes restore weekday service to levels similar to what had been in effect from January 25 to March 5.

Two weeks ago, service cuts resulted in two days of overcrowding along the rail system.

The LIRR is also updating its Train Time mobile app to include a passenger count on each car, and audio messages and displays will show riders which car has the most open seats. Color coded displays will also show crowding conditions on every car on the train.

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The modifications are an attempt to improving riders' experience by giving them new information on the app, and eliminating what they don't need.

LIRR President Phil Eng said the slate of improvements to real-time seating availability information and trip accessibility information are unmatched anywhere in the world, and that riders will now find an avalanche of new real-time information available via platform screens, platform announcements, and the Train Time app.

The improvements were detailed as follows:

Platform Screens
Digital signs on platforms show a diagram of the arriving train, seating capacity in each car, and the observer's relative position within the train. In a first for any public transportation system anywhere in the world, customers can use this information to walk to a different part of the platform to find a car with fewer people. At approximately 20 stations with color screens, that information is color coded in accordance with guidelines established by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). At approximately 90 stations with monochrome screens, that information is displayed graphically.

Audio Announcements
Announcements featuring ordinary Long Islanders reinforce the information aurally, advising customers on where within the approaching train they are likely to find more seats. When a train is approaching, the automated arrival announcements include statements to the effect of: "The 7:15 train to Penn Station will arrive on Track 1. There are more seats towards the (rear/middle/front) of the train."

LIRR Train Time App
The LIRR Train Time app now shows the number of passengers in each car of every train, refreshed every 15 seconds, along with the observer's relative position within the train. When it was first launched last year, the app provided a four-tiered color-coded system of green, yellow, orange, or red to show a general sense of seating availability. This color coding remains in place even with the increased detail now being provided.

Trip Accessibility Information
The LIRR Train Time app users will now be able to locate elevators, escalators, and ramps on both origin and destination platforms, giving customers the ability to map out a trip in advance and position themselves in the ideal spot. LIRR staff traveled station-by-station to collect 900 data points to power this app feature. The app also features enhanced screen reader support for blind or low-vision users by reading out loud what is on the screen and adapt the speech output to the speed or volume they choose.

"As our customers come back to the system, we are providing them as much information about their ride as possible, including more tools to find space on a train," Eng said. "Whether they are making use of signs, announcements or phones, customers now have access to a level of clarity that previous generations of riders could hardly have imagined."

Off-peak fares will remain in effect on all trains, even during traditional peak hours.

On the Port Washington Branch, where crews are replacing concrete ties between Mets-Willets Point and Bayside, mid-day trains will operate every hour instead of every 30 minutes. However, rush hour service will operate at a level similar to what was had been in place prior to March 8.

The work also influences one evening rush hour train on the Hempstead Branch, which will originate at Atlantic Terminal instead of Penn Station. The track renewal project is expected to last through late May.

Visit MTA.info/lirr/Timetable/ for the new schedules.

The initial service cuts prompted harsh reaction from the railroad's top union official.

"They're taking the lives of people in their own hands so they can run a skeleton schedule," union president Anthony Simon said at the time. "The economy's starting to pick up a little bit. We're trying to get people back into the city. This is no way to do it."

Mayor Bill de Blasio also weighed in, calling the reduction in service "ridiculous" and "unfair."

"I think the most obvious immediate problem is the fact that in the pandemic, more and more people turned to individual (automobiles) rather than mass transit," he said. "We've got to reverse that. We've got to reverse that aggressively, give people faith in mass transit again. This is an occasion for me to say, if we are going to give people faith in mass transit, there actually has to be service there for them. I think what the MTA is doing right now with the LIRR is ridiculous. It's unfair to folks who are coming in here to work and coming here to take advantage of everything. We need folks coming in here as part of our recovery, so the MTA should restore those cuts to the LIRR immediately."

RELATED | LIRR to restore previous timetable by March 29 after cuts spark COVID concerns

Eng had previously said it was a work in progress.

"We are adjusting," he said. "We knew on day one we needed to see where people gravitated to, whether they changed trains or branches. We are going to continue to observe that."

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