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Letter to the Editor: LIRR's Babylon Branch Becoming Untenable

Rockville Centre resident sounds off on the LIRR's service since Hurricane Sandy.

The following is from Rockville Centre resident Rena Barnett:

In the aftermath of Sandy, we have all had to deal with inconveniences and difficulties, but it appears as though the LIRR has decided that they have no intention of improving the post-Sandy status quo.

For the past three weeks, it has been standing-room-only on the morning and evening rush hour trains on the Babylon Branch. I completely understand the need to cancel and combine trains if there is an equipment shortage, but at the very least, trains that are being scheduled should be running longer not shorter.

The new LIRR trains were not designed to accommodate people standing up and there are insufficient handholds. When people are in the aisles, the trains become only something short of a death trap as there is no easy ingress or egress.

With the average commute being 40 minutes to over an hour, standing up wearing heavy winter coats, carrying laptops and tablets, as well as the morning coffee, leads to a cramped and potentially dangerous situation for both the passengers standing up and the ones seated.

The woman standing behind me this morning was pregnant, due in March. She stood for the duration of the trip until we got to Jamaica.

The train was supposed to go straight through but had to stop because of a “medical emergency” -- is it any wonder that someone would be in danger of passing out under these circumstances? -- at which point, the pregnant woman could no longer stand. Fortunately, a fellow passenger gave up his seat. This Good Samaritan appeared to an elderly man.

With train fares in the $300 range, we pay enough not to have to be subjected to this kind of daily torture. Pressure needs to be put on the LIRR to fix the situation immediately.

Robert Demarco December 04, 2012 at 03:16 PM
You look around in Penn Station, particularly when there is a delay or crisis, and you see LIRR employees with clipboards walking around in groups of two or three talking to each other. What exactly do these people do? What is their role? And that is the essence of the problem. Nobody at the LIRR cares about the commuting experience that its customers endure each day. They can blame Amtrak and its tunnels, but if anyone at the LIRR had any creativity or logistical experience, they could improve the situation. The executives are content to collect their substantial paychecks, and their fat pensions, and to hell with the riding public. It is truly sad and a disgrace that one more service that Long Islanders pay dearly for is executed so poorly.
Frank December 04, 2012 at 04:45 PM
That has been the case for LIRR for the last 30 years. Storm after Storm and the result?... more of the same. You can yell till you're blue in the face... they don't care and LIRR actually laughs at the notion "where are you going to move your business to? .... NOWHERE (insert chuckle from MTA bigwigs)" hey it's a monopoly after all! I remember that monstrous snow storm in the mid nineties that shut down LIRR, stranding hundreds at Jamaica. LIRR just left them there... no bus, no nothing... left them to freeze.
Chris Wendt December 04, 2012 at 05:27 PM
To the author's point, my perspective is different for the morning rush hour trains because boarding in Wantagh virtually assures me of a seat each day. By the time these trains reach RVC, they are full, meaning SRO. That has to have gotten old weeks ago for RVC (and Baldwin and Lynbrook) passengers. Logistically, in order to provide better seating for the Baldwin, RVC & Lynbrook passengers, what would have to happen would be further cancellations of morning trains east of Freeport and west of Freeport, running half the trains from Freeport, local, to Penn Station, and the other half from Babylon through Merrick then express to Penn. But because there would only be half the number of trains each hour, they would still be crowded, but at least some passengers would get seats when boarding west of Merrick. I do not think most people would want to see fewer, less frequent trains just to give some people a better chance of getting a seat. The real solution will come incrementally when one of the two flooded tunnels reopens soon, and then finally once all four tunnels have re-opened, maybe by New Years. With fewer trains running presently, I have to question the decision made by the LIRR this morning, running the 8:23 out of Wantagh to Penn via Jamaica with two (2) fewer cars and two (2) extra stops. That was borderline inhumane. I was transferring at Jamaica to Hunterspoint Avenue, and almost could not get off the train it was so packed.
Robert Demarco December 04, 2012 at 06:14 PM
The Babylon branch frequently gets shorted when there are problems. I do notice in the evening, that there are two trains six minutes apart from Penn Station to Port Washington. These trains never get cancelled. We on the Babylon Branch get half hour service for combined trains. It does not seem fair. I usually get a seat because I get to the platform early enough, but is is inhumane for the late arriving customers to be so crowded into the narrow aisles. They could be doing a better job of scheduling.
Rocker December 04, 2012 at 07:22 PM
i notice the same thing Rob the Port washington branch never seems to get shorted.. people are at their wits end with the over crowding and lack of babylon trains. there are no express trains on the babylon branch only locals.
Chris Wendt December 04, 2012 at 08:10 PM
They have been running the 4:12 Express to MPK since last Thursday. RVC, first stop from Penn. Dream machine.
m December 04, 2012 at 08:53 PM
The train has become unbearable. To discuss a fair hike when service is so unreliable is INSANE. In addition to the problems caused by the tunnels, signals are breaking/freazing, trains suffering from "mechanical problems" are coming to halt, sometimes having to back up causing traffic jams, trains are running with fewer cars...announcements cant be heard, the list goes on and on. There seems to be no end in sight. How can they not be held accountable!?!?! All November Monthly owners should receive rebates. How can this NOT be offered?
Robert Demarco December 04, 2012 at 09:25 PM
They don't care. They don't have to care. They are a monopoly. They know that we all cannot drive into the City. Phone service got better when competition was introduced. The same thing happened when FIOS came on the scene and offerred an alternative. Un fortunately, there is nothing to compete with the LIRR, so we are stuck with their lousy service.
JFS December 04, 2012 at 11:31 PM
Rob and Rocker are right on 2 counts: the LIRR just doesn't care (otherwise how is a railroad over 150 years old still not able to deal with a 2" snow 'storm') and Port Washington is definitely favored - trains always waiting at the ready in Penn with plenty of seats (boy, were they howling after Sandy when they had to board quickly and STAND). Maybe the connection to Grand Central might alleviate the crowding after I'm retired at age 70.
R. R. December 05, 2012 at 12:34 AM
For all of you whiners think of it this way. You all are employed and all have roofs over your heads. Many dont since the storm. Wake up.
Robert Demarco December 05, 2012 at 01:21 AM
I appreciate that but it has nothing to do with how the railroad operates. We pay top dollar for this and many other services and get little value in return. I am sympathetic to the losses people have, and are suffering, but we have a right to complain about the operation of the LIRR.
Christine Agruso December 05, 2012 at 01:33 AM
I am not a commuter to Penn typically and unfortunately had to endure the 8:37 to Penn from RVC this morning. I do not know how everyone does that on a daily basis. I stood the entire time. I almost passed out from the heat and overcrowding. Why oh why was that commuter train shorter when the one 15 minutes earlier was normal length? I paid $23 for a round trip ticket on the worst train ride in my life. That is cruel and unusual punishment. Shame on you LIRR and MTA. I pray that there is never an accident because so many people will be injured or worse killed. Step it up and shape it up. You very easy stick your hands out for higher fares without making any improvements for your consumers. I hope for everyone who rides daily your commute is soon back to "normal", if there is one.
Kel S December 05, 2012 at 01:48 AM
I take the train daily from RVC after I drop my daughter at my parents. There is an 8:05 that you have to transfer in Jamaica, then an 8:25 to penn. if you are one of the few lucky (or should I say unlucky) passengers that manage to squeeze in... You are most likely standing and packed in like a sardine. Next up, since you unlikely we're able to get on 8:25 is the 8:37. A little better but not much. This is ridiculous and very frustrating. Commute home is not much better. Then to top things off, imagine picking up your 5 month old and having to drive from RVC to Bethpage. Southern state and sunrise highway are horrible. Please LIRR the least you could do is add trains that are not packed to pick up commuters from Freeport, Baldwin and RVC. Happy commuting fellow commuters.
SayHey December 05, 2012 at 02:38 PM
It is now 6 weeks since Sandy and I certainly hope that the situation on the Babylon and Long Beach lines are resolved before we hit the 2-month mark. Four rush hour trains cancelled out of Lynbrook simply does not work. The normal schedule is no picnic, forget the present state. We do pay top dollar in fares and salaries - including 6-figure salaries for "collectors", who, truth be told, are doing little more than a minimum-wage job.
Frank December 05, 2012 at 04:28 PM
@ JFS. LOL you're right! The Manhasset clowns are always favored - with a diesel-powered line, imprevious to weather, straight to Penn Station - No Jamaica transfer necessary! the rest of the South Shore no-bodies have to deal with LIRR crapola and the dreaded Jamaica transfer.
Frank December 05, 2012 at 04:30 PM
AMEN Demarco. LIRR has a slew of issues, many pre-Sandy. Sandy is now a convenient excuse for the MTA.
Frank December 05, 2012 at 04:31 PM
you're preaching to a Monopoly. Monopolies don't care.
R. R. December 05, 2012 at 07:43 PM
I took the LIRR for over 18 years, 1984-2002, on the Babylon line and believe me it is much better now than it was in the 80's and early 90's. People have been complaining about them for decades. Nothing changes. I went through 3 strikes and one started at 1pm when we all were already in the city and had no way to get home. At least the trains are not disgusting like they were in the 90's. There are more important issues to complain about than possibly spilling your Starbucks coffee because its crowded as the author says...Geez.
Robert Demarco December 05, 2012 at 08:34 PM
You never even see a collector on the evening trains. They cannot make their way through the crowd standing in the aisles on the crowded trains.
Elissa Marquis December 06, 2012 at 01:00 AM
I just want to clarify a point that clearly was not understood: "There are more important issues to complain about than possibly spilling your Starbucks coffee because its crowded as the author says...Geez" As someone who was burned as child by someone spilling hot coffee down her back, this isn't a trivial matter. Having people stand in an aisle not intended for the purpose holding hot cups of coffee over others who are seated on a moving train creates the possiblity of someone getting burned.
Elissa Marquis December 06, 2012 at 01:06 AM
Couldn't agree more. I board usually in Baldwin, SOMETIMES, I manage to get a seat but as a 60 year old woman with arthritis, when I don't, the ride litterally cripples me. By the time we arrive in Penn, I can hardley walk let alone climb the stairs into Penn Station. We are all willing to put up with hardships from time to time but there seems to be no end in site here and I think that's the writer's point.
Elissa Marquis December 06, 2012 at 01:12 AM
I always wondered what they do with those surveys. Seems like they are forever taking them and very little ever gets accomplished. Remember when they rewired Jamica? It was supposed to end switching problems. I think the very next week after the work was done, trains got stuck because of switching problems!
LL December 06, 2012 at 01:34 AM
Apparently the "quiet car" was short lived as that is no longer enforced or even mentioned these days. Even pre Sandy, the conductors never stopped to speak to loud passengers or people blasting their music on their way to hide in their little closet compartments for the remaining 70% of the trip.
Chris Wendt December 06, 2012 at 11:37 AM
An associate of mine has been buying ten-trip tickets, and so far has gotten seven rides for free. because the collectors cannot get through the crowded cars to punch tickets. The quiet car was nice most of the time, but when it wasn't observed, it led to more stress than was necessary, and anger bubbling up among passengers. The stress of the crowding rules the day, now. Passenger noise is to be expected on a crowded train, but there always seems to be that one person with the laser voice that cuts through the din with highly irritating laughter, or repetitious "can your hear me now"-type half conversations on a cell phone. I did get to work on time and home on time yesterday, and had a seat in both directions. So my complaints are only superficial, because I have a job to go to, a home to come home to, and the railroad is running between the two.
Robert Demarco December 06, 2012 at 01:15 PM
All good points, Chris. I usually get to sit both ways, but it is still not right for those who have to stand. We should all do the right thing and be on the lookout for the pregnant and the elderly and anyone else who obviously needs a seat, and be gracious. Hopefully, we get back to a full schedule soon.
Mo Bongs December 06, 2012 at 06:12 PM
Well, us hardworking folk don't have to endure the MTA treating us like cattle. Fot the money we pay, provide us with decent service. That's all we're asking for.
Chris Wendt December 06, 2012 at 07:15 PM
I agree with the sensitivity part. I am surprised to hear from people having to stand who have medical conditions or who are pregnant. While some situations are obvious, others, like severe arthritis or even a heart condition are not visible to fellow passengers sitting nearby. It should be considered perfectly acceptable and mannerly to ask for a seat if you are a passenger who needs one. While we're discussing being considerate, it should not require a conductor to ask folks to remove baggage from seats so other people can sit down. But this is a continuing problem. The PATH trains have a lot of rules, like no eating or drinking on the trains, and no packages on seats. They (PATH) enforce their rules and levy fines to violators, I don't think LIRR needs to be strict about food and drink on the trains, but I could see a small fine ($20) for tying up a seat with baggage during rush hour.
Robert Demarco December 06, 2012 at 08:15 PM
In my travels, I see more courtesy extended on the subway than on the LIRR. An expectant mother has a better chance of being offerred a seat on the subway. This is just my observation. You are right about less obvious medical conditions. We should all be alert and aware and willing to sacrifice a seat to someone who needs it more than us.

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