Living in the ‘summer of hell’

With LIRR schedule changes, Wantagh-Seaford commuters brace for possible delays

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The atmosphere at the Seaford Long Island Rail Road station was nothing extraordinary during the morning rush on July 12. Just two days earlier, the LIRR had modified weekday peak service because Amtrak, which owns and operates Penn Station, will be closing tracks for infrastructure repairs.

But commuters waiting for a 7:33 a.m. train were calm on the platform and in the parking lot, where some boarded new Metropolitan Transportation Authority charter buses to get to New York City. Taste NY had a booth in front of the bus stop, offering riders muffins, chips, water and iced tea. Two device-charging stations were also set up near the escalators, where residents could replenish cell phone and tablet batteries.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo publicly declared that the Penn Station repairs and accompanying LIRR schedule changes would create a “summer of hell.” But Lauren Pennino, a 23-year-old Wantagh resident who takes the LIRR from Seaford to her job in Manhattan every morning, said that so far, he commute had been fine.

“I think they’ve been hyping this up a lot to scare people away,” she said. “Granted, it’s only been two days, but it really hasn’t been bad at all.”

More than a dozen commuters at the Wantagh and Seaford LIRR stations last week shared Pennino’s sentiments. However, while reflecting on the derailments and delays that have plagued the system in recent months, many said they think that problems could arise in the near future.

A different commute

Nearly 10,000 local LIRR riders will be impacted by rush hour service disruptions this summer, including canceled trains, diversions to alternate locations and revised stopping patterns, according to the MTA.

In a press release, officials said that they have taken several steps to assist commuters.

LIRR is offering a special fare reduction — an average of 25 percent off the normal ticket price — for customers who avoid Penn Station by traveling to transfer points at Atlantic Terminal, Hunterspoint Avenue and Long Island City. To increase capacity, officials have also added and lengthened trains on certain existing routes — including the Babylon branch, which serves Wantagh and Seaford.

Alternative travel options for LIRR ticket holders, including free bus and ferry service, and free subway transfers during the morning rush hour, are available.

The Seaford station was one of five locations that the LIRR chose for a park and ride bus terminal. Charters are also available at Belmont Park, Nassau Coliseum, the Valley Stream LIRR station and a park-and-ride stop in Melville.

Buses run every half hour between 6 and 9 a.m., taking riders to 34th Street and 3rd Avenue, as well as Penn Station. To get back to Seaford, commuters board buses at Penn or on 34th Street, between Lexington and 3rd avenues, at the fifth or 35th minute of every hour between 3 and 7 p.m.

Some Babylon branch trains have been re-routed to Atlantic Terminal and Hunterspoint Avenue, while others headed for Penn have had cars added to create more space. The new schedule is available at www.lirrsummerschedule.com/#scheduling-changes.

Bracing for impact

Several Seaford commuters said they would not take the bus to Manhattan because traffic might make them late for work. One of them, Laura Schaefer, is a New York City teacher.

Although she is off for the summer, Schaefer said that she had been heading into the city to plan lessons. But for the remainder of her vacation time, she planned to avoid the LIRR and head to local beaches.

“The trains really haven’t been that crowded,” Sachaefer said, “but I also commute at 6 a.m.”

Nick Marinelli, 70, of Seaford, has commuted to downtown Brooklyn for more than 30 years. He said he had seen more crowding at Atlantic Terminal because Long Islanders were avoiding Penn Station.

“I would rather there be crowding than train delays or no trains running at all,” Marinelli said. “I know we can handle it.”

Matt Hankin, 33, of Wantagh, said he had telecommuted to avoid LIRR issues in recent months, which included derailments and signal issues in the East River tunnels. However, he said that the frequency of 10- or 15-minute delays frustrated him.

“The only reason [the LIRR is] allowed to do this is because they have a monopoly on train transportation,” Hankin said. “If I had that type of job performance for two days, I’d be fired without questions.”

He added that he thought the LIRR should offer commuters more discounts. He proposed that whenever a train was late, those affected should get $10 off their fare.

James DeFalco, 64, of Wantagh, said that Amtrak should have repaired Penn’s crumbling infrastructure decades ago. He has been commuting from the LIRR station in his hometown to Manhattan since 1976.

While he said that he had worked from home a few times in recent months, the new schedule hadn’t impacted DeFalco’s morning routine of grabbing a cup of coffee and reading newspapers before boarding a train.

Describing the LIRR derailments, switch problems and delays as “controlled havoc,” DeFalco said that he had worried that local folks wer avoiding the rails for now, and that overcrowding and delays would happen as the “summer of hell” went on. But so far, he said, he had been getting to work on time.

“That guy’s always wrong,” DeFalco said of Cuomo, “so maybe he’s wrong about this.”

Julie Mansmann contributed to this story.