MTA adds Brooklyn shuttles, longer trains but still leave LIRR riders fuming

The MTA rolled out a slew of tweaks Monday seeking to allay last week’s commuter rage over crushing crowds on Long Island Rail Road trains and blown connections due to its rushed route changes to accommodate the $11 billion Grand Central Madison hub.

But, at least one MTA board member said, the tweaks would likely be insufficient and officials will have to give the schedule a more thorough re-examination, which could take weeks.

The biggest changes Monday involved adding cars back to Penn Station-bound trains and shorter wait times for the much-complained-about shuttle service between the LIRR’s hub in Jamaica and Atlantic Terminal, which replaced most of the direct service between the suburbs and Atlantic Terminal.

“It helped, but it’s like putting a tourniquet on a serious injury,” said Gerry Bringmann, who is the Long Island Rail Road riders representative on the MTA board.

More than two dozen LIRR workers were at Jamaica today to help commuters understand the new schedules. Here, an LIRR worker helps a woman find her train.
Robert Mecea

“I think they gotta go back to the drawing board,” he added. “They gotta really sit down and analyze the data and the rolling stock and figure out what they can do. But what they’ve got in place, it’s not gonna work.”

The LIRR announced Monday that it would boost the shuttle to Brooklyn again on Tuesday with 10 more trains combined running during the peak morning and evening hours, cutting waits for service down to an average of 7-8 minutes. Additionally, the LIRR is now holding the shuttle trains if there are connecting passengers approaching.

“I think is going to be a huge improvement for our customers,” said interim LIRR president Cathy Rinaldi, who was at Jamaica Station during the morning rush.

“We’re going to run it much more like a Grand Central to Times Square shuttle so that you see a train there, the train pulls out, there’s going to be another train on the opposite platform with its doors open that you can get into,” she added.”

The MTA’s top commuter railroad boss, Cathy Rinaldi, was at Jamaica Station on Monday to oversee the commute after the LIRR rolled out schedule tweaks to try to address commuter fury after the new time tables were implemented last week.
Robert Mecea

The flurry of changes rolled out late Sunday and Monday came after a week of commuter fury at the new schedule, which appears to have badly misjudged demand for service to the MTA’s new $11.2 billion train hall for the LIRR under Grand Central.

Over the summer, the LIRR said that it expected roughly 45 percent of its Manhattan-bound passengers would opt for the new East Side service.

So, the MTA moved a ton of capacity over to Grand Central in two ways: First, shortening the trains running to Penn Station; secondly, axing most one-seat service between Long Island and Brooklyn and replacing it with a new shuttle between Jamaica and Atlantic Terminal.

But, only 30 percent of the LIRR’s Manhattan commuters made the switch to Grand Central during the first week, leaving crush load on the trains still bound for Penn Station and overwhelming the Brooklyn shuttle service.

Commuters wait to board their train at Jamaica last week after the schedule overhaul went into effect. Commuter fury has forced the MTA to tweak its original timetables.
Gregory P. Mango

The ratio improved on Monday, just slightly, to 34 percent.

The Brooklyn shuttle also proved to be a sore point with riders. Brooklyn is not only a destination for commuters heading to its major courthouses and downtown business district — it’s also a popular transfer point for riders heading to Lower Manhattan because platforms for the 2/3/4/5 trains are an easy walk from the LIRR platforms.

“I’m paying almost $400 a month to come from Long Island to Brooklyn. We’re not getting the service,” said Wantagh commuter Eddie Allmo. “Everyday is a race. You got to run from one track to the next. It doesn’t make any sense!”

LIRR riders were also furious the railroad ended timed-transfers at Jamaica to cut down the amount of time trains spend in the station, but it also meant trains were pulling out as riders are scrambling to get to the platforms and board.

“We got over 30 guys out here in vests this morning pointing people to the right train. All because they overestimated how many people wanted or needed Grand Central,” one MTA employee there said Monday.

“Not hard to prove, the cars are empty. Grand Central and Penn are blocks apart. Brooklyn is its own economy! Brooklyn needs its own service,” the employee added.