The lightning-related signal problems that the LIRR experienced on August 1st reinforces the importance of the LIRRCC speaking out on the need for better communication between the LIRR and its riders. While the Rail Road cannot be blamed for signal malfunctions resulting from the severe storms that struck parts of Long Island, riders must be kept informed of the status of train service and what they can do to reach their destinations. In too many cases during the service disruptions riders did not have access to this information.
At the request of Chair Mark Epstein, LIRR’s Ray Kenny, Senior VP Operations, and Joe Calderone, VP of Market Development and Public Affairs, joined the Council at the August meeting to explain the poor communication during the storm and discuss customer communication changes that the LIRR is planning. They handed out a detailed, time-based description of the communication actions by the Rail Road and showed pictures of lightening damaged equipment. Kenny explained that the problems began when lightning struck the Babylon Tower resulting in a loss of communications from that tower. Lightning overwhelms the signal system and then it has to be manually controlled, causing the operators to lose the ability to see the system. Meanwhile, the Rail Road experienced another strike on the Mainline and workers could not respond because of hail conditions. Although emails and Tweets did go out, it was hard to keep up with the changing conditions. Compounding the situation, the AVPS (Audio Visual Paging System) which controls the message boards on the platforms lost power. There was an attempt to input information manually, but there was not enough staff to do it.
Calderone explained that the Rail Road is adding additional personnel to handle information input until the system can be upgraded. They have some technology identified but it will take a year to implement. Under this upgrade the person inputting the information will also be able to make Public Address announcements at the branch stations. While this is a promising move, it seems that weather related delays will continue to confound communication to riders, at least in the near future.