A LIRR ride-along: Penn Station-bound

A LIRR ride-along: Penn Station-bound
Commuters from Port Washington arriving at Penn Station the morning of April 10. (Photo by Cameryn Oakes)

For many Long Islanders who work in Manhattan, their commute is a defining aspect of their lives. With many spending upwards of two hours a day riding the train to and from the city, commuting defines part of their day.

But with the addition of the Grand Central Madison terminal, the newly established LIRR destination, the schedule changes made have not just changed their commute but also a crucial part of their weekday routine.

Blank Slate Media’s Cameryn Oakes rode the Long Island Railroad Port Washington line for the Monday morning commute into Penn Station to speak to commuters about how the  new schedule had affected their trip and experience it for herself.

Grand Central began full LIRR service Feb. 27 with a revised schedule that added trains running into Grand Central to its regular Penn Station service.

Trains running to and from Penn Station were reduced under the new schedule in order to reroute trains to Grand Central instead.

The schedule also cut the number of express trains running along the Port Washington branch after the MTA originally proposed that all would be eliminated.

The 7:54 a.m. train from Port Washington is scheduled to arrive at 8:30 a.m. in Penn Station. One of the three express trains during the morning rush, it only stopped at three stations – Plandome, Manhasset and Great Neck – before arriving on the West Side of Manhattan.

The MTA’s Train Time app, which provides the train schedules for all LIRR and Metro-North trains as well as online ticket sales, includes a feature that reports the occupancy of each train car.

The app describes each car on the train with the number of occupants and a color associated with the percentage of seats taken. Colors range from green, yellow, orange and red, each respectively associated with less than 35%, 35-50%, 50-85% and over 85% of seats taken.

The train was made up of M7 rail cars, which use the train’s suspension systems to measure the weight of each car’s seating cabin and approximate its occupancy, according to the MTA.

Upon leaving Port Washington, all 12 of the train’s cars had fewer than 35% of seats taken. The most densely populated areas were the five cars in the back of the lineup, with the peak occupancy estimated at 33 people in one car, according to the MTA Train Time app.

Each car can seat a maximum of 110 passengers.

Seats began to fill up more as the train stopped at the following three stops before arriving at Penn Station. Upon leaving Great Neck, the last station before Manhattan, the back five cars had reached the 50-85% range of seats taken. The highest occupancy of a single car was 72 passengers, according to the app.

The occupancy of the 7:54 Port Washington train after leaving Glen Cove, the final stop before Penn Station. (Screenshot from the MTA Train Time app)

The middle four cars stayed within the 35-50% range of seats taken, and the front three cars continued to have fewer than 35% of seats taken.

While on the nearly 30-minute stretch between Great Neck and Penn Station, multiple passengers spoke among themselves about their frustration with the changes. Grievances included the schedule changes made to the LIRR timetables, while others criticized Grand Central Station for a confusing layout.

Dave Neugebauer, a nearly 30-year-long commuter from Sea Cliff who hopped onto the train at the Port Washington station, said he had utilized the LIRR’s Port Washington branch for the shorter commute. Yet that short commute has now become longer by nearly 20 minutes, he said.

Sea Cliff is closer to the Oyster Bay branch, but LIRR trains do not run directly to Penn Station with the new schedule, requiring transfers at Jamaica that make commuting times nearly an hour and a half.

While trips to Penn Station along the Port Washington branch are not that long, Neugebauer said many people move to Port Washington for that convenience, which is now diminished due to longer commuting times and longer wait times between trains.

Neugebauer said he has also had to change his commuting schedule as his previous train does not run any longer.

The 7:54 a.m. train is the only train out of Port Washington that arrives at Penn Station within the hour before 9 a.m.

He said he used to arrive at his office around 8:20 a.m. but now gets there closer to 9 a.m. This is due to fewer trains running to Penn Station and providing riders with fewer options with longer wait times between departures.

While Neugebauer said the addition of a few more express trains into Penn Station would be beneficial, the negative aspects of the new schedule reflect growing pains.

“It’s been a little more difficult at the beginning, but you know, once you settle into a routine you just make it work,” Neugebauer said.

The train arrived at Penn Station at 8:36 a.m., six minutes late but with 24 minutes for commuters to arrive for a 9 a.m. work day. Approximately 573 people arrived at Penn Station on the 7:54 a.m. train from Port Washington.

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