Long Island commuters are asking LIRR to stop leaving them out in the cold and open waiting rooms at the station for extended periods of time during the cold winter months.
As temperatures have dropped well below freezing in recent days, some Long Island Rail Road riders said they have been forced to defy the elements waiting for their train due to the limited hours of waiting rooms at the station.
What to know
Some LIRR customers say they have been left out in the cold by the railway, as the waiting rooms of the station are too often closed, even at cold temperatures.
Long Island Rail Road said it has one policy of keeping station waiting rooms open around the clock when temperatures are expected to be below freezing for extended periods.
It said the chairman of the LIRR Commuter Council the limited hours may be the answer to homelessness problems at the stations. He suggested closing waiting rooms overnight, but otherwise leaving them open in the winter.
An important proponent of commuters believes that the railway’s reluctance to leave waiting rooms open more often may have to do with the growing problem of homelessness at some stations.
“You get the homeless to try to get in there, but we also have our equestrianism. And what’s the point of having waiting rooms if they close early?” LIRR Commuter Council Chairman Gerard Bringmann said. “It’s one thing if you limit the hours when the weather is good. I can understand that. But when you get… extreme weather when the wind cooling factor is single digits, those waiting rooms should remain open.”
LIRR has a policy of extending the waiting room hours in winter, but only during snowstorms, or when temperatures are expected to be below freezing for an extended period. Bringmann noted that LIRR has not sent notices to customers this winter about extended waiting room times, as they have done in other winters.
“Customer safety and comfort are paramount in every decision we make,” LIRR President Phillip Eng said in a statement. “When we experience periods of extremely cold weather, our practice is to keep the waiting rooms open for the entire duration so our customers can get out of the elements.”
According to LIRR’s policy, when temperatures are cold but do not freeze, or only freeze for a single day, waiting rooms could comply with their normal opening hours. At many stations, this means having waiting rooms close to 2pm on weekdays and not opening at all on weekends.
Asked if homelessness issues affect waiting room hours, LIRR spokesman David Steckel said the railway “always reviews customers’ use of stations across our system. We review the number of riders departing, arriving and the time of day. These factors along with the rider’s needs, safety, comfort and our ability to appropriate staff and police, guide our decisions about station manning and hours.
“We want our riders and the surrounding communities to know that when our stations are open, they are clean, safe and comfortable to use by everyone.”
Steckel said waiting rooms were left open around the clock between Jan. 10 and 12. He said some waiting rooms may have been closed by police these days if they encountered problems.
Waiting rooms were also scheduled to remain open Friday night through Sunday “due to the expected drop in temperature,” Steckel said.
‘Almost caught frostbite’
While waiting at Massapequa Park station on the evening of January 3 – when temperatures dropped to 20s – John D’Amato said he “almost got frostbite” standing on the windy station platform. According to LIRR’s website, the station’s waiting room is open between 4.30 and 14.00
“It’s brutal,” said D’Amato, 54. “I fully understand if it has to be closed overnight … [but] at At 5pm, there are 10 to 12 people waiting to enter Penn Station on a regular basis. “
Busier stations tend to leave their waiting rooms open later, such as Ronkonkoma, which closes at 19.15, or Hicksville, which closes at. 20.40. In Babylon, which MTA Police said has experienced homelessness problems, waiting rooms close at. 20.45 on weekdays.
Eng added that MTA Police sometimes close the station’s waiting rooms during the night “in response to an incident.”
“In the rare cases, we would reopen the waiting rooms as soon as possible,” he said.
Ten years ago, in response to prayers from the LIRR Commuter Council, the railway extended the waiting room at the stations until 1 p.m. 22.00 in the winter months. But Bringmann said the railroad has gradually gone back to closing most station rooms in the afternoon – a practice that ignores the growing trend of people using public transportation outside of normal rush hour.
In a customer satisfaction survey released last month, LIRR riders cited “the number of people dealing with, experiencing mental illness or homelessness at the destination station” as their No. 1 complaint about the railroad.
Bringmann said that while open waiting rooms can attract homeless people – especially in the winter – the solution should not be to punish rail commuters who want to stay warm. He suggested closing the station’s waiting rooms during the night, but otherwise leaving them open during the winter months.
“Some of these stations they’ve remodeled are beautiful, but you’re literally on the outside looking in,” said Bringmann, who noted that many newly renovated stations include modernized waiting rooms that many riders will never use. “It’s like having a new car, but you can not drive it after 2 o’clock in the afternoon.”
According to LIRR’s website, some of the railway’s newest waiting rooms also have some of the most limited opening hours. Wyandanch’s waiting room, which opened in 2018 and has wood-paneled ceilings and chandeliers, is only open on weekdays between 06.10 and 13.45
In 2018, LIRR unveiled its newly renovated Farmingdale Station waiting room, which includes terrazzo floors, tile and wood-wall and ceiling finishes and an upgraded heating system. But the waiting room closes at 4pm on weekdays, which means that reverse commuters like Julia O’Brien, who lives in Brooklyn and works in Farmingdale, rarely get to use it while waiting for a train in the evening.
“I’m just standing outside,” said O’Brien, who fears several weeks of the biting cold temperatures during his commute. “The worst is yet to come.”