Less Is More?

A visit to the LIRR’s main concourse at NYP reveals that the LIRR’s only restrooms, and the dingy waiting room between them, have vanished behind a wall of plywood. (Not noticed: did we also lose that famous overhead structure said to be one of the last pieces of the old Penn Station?). A sign only says, “Rest rooms available on the upper level.” (Those would be those of NJT and NJT/Amtrak; there was no signage pointing the way.) What’s going to replace them?  Dunno; perhaps they are building new facilities and a waiting room, possibly expanding into the space of the now-gone Tracks bar, which should be right behind the closed restrooms.  Or maybe instead it will be something that makes money for the MTA, like a pot dispensary maybe?
 
I have to say that a lot of the vaunted “improvements” that MTA and NY State in general have been making to NYP have not produced much for the actual riders who are supposed to benefit.  Within the last year, they opened what looks like a magnificent set of escalators to a new LIRR entrance at 7 Av and 33 St.  It looks great in the politicians’ photo ops, but the foot of the new escalators is smack in the way of the great number of riders who arrive or depart the station via the 7th Ave. subway, and also those who rely on the corridor to the years-ago-added entrance on 34 St just west of 7th Ave. (For those who haven’t been to the city in a few decades, this was all directly in front of the old LIRR ticket windows, and roughly where the octagonal information booth once stood—all gone now.)  All of these crowds collide with the folks using the new 33 St entrance.  At peak hours, like when I was there yesterday at 5:10 p.m., it becomes downright dangerous, with lemmings headed for their trains colliding with arriving passengers and themselves.  Many of these “dashing commuters” are running full-tilt to make their trains.  It’s a real zoo.
 
Also noted was the crowding, under what seemed to be normal rush-hour conditions, of the area in front of the LIRR’s track gates.  Getting through that area was not easy.  I am starting to believe that what NYP needs most is expanded areas where people can just stand and wait for trains. 
 
The best thing that’s ever happened to NJT customers is the one thing they can’t use: Moynihan. As I predicted for years, it has cleared out the 8th Ave. concourse of Amtrak and particularly Amtrak’s conga lines of waiting passengers—and it has secured for NJT riders the best waiting room anywhere, although it could use more power plugs, as the ones at the white tables are always in use for laptops and cellphone charging.  Maybe the NJT IT department could reprogram the departure monitors—there are two of them in the waiting room, stacked—so the top one shows the first set of departing trains, and the bottom one shows the second set.  As it is now, both monitors show the same display, alternating between the two sets—infuriating when you have to wait 10 seconds to find out the track of the train you hope to board in the next 2 minutes.

Side Issues

Side issue, uptown: Lincoln Center.  The new Geffen Hall has opened to rave reviews, and its glass wall opening to the Lincoln Center Plaza is truly beautiful.  Lost in all the hoopla is the underground passage under Geffen Hall that allows access to the Metropolitan Opera House from the subway without braving the weather.  Closed for the Geffen rebuilt, it’s still closed.  A peek around the barriers revealed it is, like the NJT passageway between upper levels at the 7th Ave end of NYP, still full of construction-type trash.  So opera-goers still have to cross the Plaza to get to the subway, which is longer and no fun at all in foul weather.  (A long underground detour all around the Plaza via the basement of the Koch Theater may still work—and fear not: users of the underground parking garage still can get into the Met without having to mix with the weather . . . or, of course, the lowlife that uses the subway.)
 
Side side note: On the 10:13 local to Dover last night, train ran on track 1 (center track) Newark to Millburn, necessitating delays and confusion at the 3 stops (Orange, Highland Av, Mountain Station) that lack track 1 platforms.  Work equipment was sighted on track 3, the normal (westbound “local”) track.  Dunno how long this persisted . . . and there are weekend travel alerts posted that track 2 at Newark Broad will be out of service, expect delays “in addition to the Amtrak track work delays.”

MTA Chair Lhota Champions Cooperation

Quoted on radio station WNYC (June 14), New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority chair Joseph Lhota says that there are solutions to the capacity limits at New York’s Penn Station—if the railroads using the busy terminal would cooperate more.  Lhota said there are three ways to increase capacity: longer platforms, more sharing of platforms among the three railroads (NJ Transit, MTA’s Long Island Rail Road, and Amtrak), and sharing of tracks, particularly if trains would be scheduled to run straight through the station, serving customers both east and west— the MTA/NJT cooperative service from Connecticut to New Jersey for fall football games shows that this is feasible.

The Lackawanna Coalition believes that increased cooperation between the various operating agencies is vital to an efficient regional transportation network; through-running, a unified fare system, coordinated schedules, and compatible equipment all have a part to play.  Until additional tunnels can be built under the Hudson, however, rush-hour capacity to New Jersey appears limited to the number of trains currently in service; the tunnels simply cannot handle more trains.  In the near term, it appears that if demand on NJT and Amtrak trains continues to increase, solutions will involve increased use of the Hoboken gateway and economic incentives to encourage travel outside of peak periods.

MTA Rails Say Safety Deadline Tough

Federal law requires commuter rail operators to implement an advanced safety technology, Positive Train Control (PTC), by 2015.  However, many operating agencies protest that the new technology is expensive, untested, and cannot easily be obtained.  The presidents of the two railroads operated by New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Metro North Railroad (M-N) and Long Island Rail Road (LIRR), have protested that they may be unable to meet the deadline.  Howard Permut and Helena Williams, presidents of M-N and LIRR respectively, note that they “make operating a safe and reliable system . . . our absolute priority” and that the lines have already invested over $1 billion on a signaling system “providing a level of security greater than that of many rail systems today.”   In addition, they say, in a joint letter to The New York Times (May 5), to install PTC requires retrofitting 1200 miles of track and more than 1000 rail cars and that much of the technology needed is not yet even developed, let alone approved or in production.  In a follow-up letter to The Times (May 8), the CEOs of the American Public Transportation Association and of the Association of American Railroads emphasized that the railroads do not seek to delay implementing the new technology because of the costs involved; instead, they wrote, the technology simply won’t be ready in time for the 2015 deadline.

We do not have information on PTC compliance at NJ Transit; however, NJT is known to have already implemented highly advanced “civil speed enforcement” technology on many lines, and this technology may provide most or all of the features required in the new law.

LIRR Curbs Alcohol on Some Trains

Having a nightcap on the way home has been a commuter tradition for many years.  Years ago, there were bar cars on some evening rush-hour trains and, in the New York area, Metro-North Railroad still has them on some New Haven Line trains.  Elsewhere, including on NJ Transit, weary homebound commuters buy drinks before boarding and enjoy them en route.  However, sometimes the consumption of alcohol, both before boarding and on trains, has led to rowdiness and even violence.  On some lines, apparently, this comes to a peak on weekend late-night trains as revelers continue their celebration once aboard.

On the Long Island Rail Road, two recent attacks on train conductors have led the railroad to institute a trial policy curbing alcohol on certain late-night trains.  Christine Haughney, writing in the New York Times (April 24; contributions also from Randy Leonard), reports that, effective May 14, riders will be prohibited from bringing alcoholic drinks onto LIRR trains leaving Pennsylvania Station on Friday and Saturday nights between midnight and 5 a.m.  Various riders and advocates were quoted to the effect that riders generally have a low tolerance for rowdiness on the trains.  The ban will not affect trains at other hours, including the LIRR’s popular service to the East End of Long Island for weekend getaways.

The Lackawanna Coalition believes that all riders, and transit employees as well, are entitled to a safe and comfortable environment for their journey.