A Mad Dash as Commuters Deal With New L.I.R.R. Service

Shouts and expletives rang out at a station in Jamaica, Queens, on Thursday morning as commuters raced to catch connecting trains during the first week of a Long Island Rail Road schedule that has benefited some passengers but upended rush hour for those traveling to Brooklyn.

The service changes offer some commuters who used to have to travel to Pennsylvania Station, on the West Side of Manhattan, a shortcut to a new station on the East Side, shaving travel times by as much as 40 minutes, according to transit officials. The project, known as East Side Access, is a long-awaited expansion of the region’s transit network and includes a gleaming new station on Madison Avenue, Grand Central Madison.

But other frustrated travelers, most of them headed for Brooklyn, say that they now have longer and more stressful commutes because the hastily drawn-up new schedule includes a number of mismatched connections.

The chaos in the days after the full kickoff on Monday of one of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s biggest and longest-running expansion efforts illustrates the challenges of changing the country’s most complex transit system. Even after years of planning, unintended ripple effects can disrupt commuters’ trips.

“We’re missing out on our lives,” said Parag Pandya, 54, who lives in Dix Hills on Long Island and has commuted to a job as an information technology worker in Brooklyn for the past 12 years. Mr. Pandya said his morning trips are now about 30 minutes longer, and his return home takes as much as 45 minutes more. “This is wrong,” he said.

Parag Pandya is facing a longer commute to Brooklyn from Long Island after the Long Island Rail Road revised its schedule to incorporate new service to the East Side of Manhattan. Credit…Caitlin Ochs for The New York Times

Mr. Pandya rides the railroad to Atlantic Terminal in Brooklyn and used to travel there directly, but as of this week he and other commuters with similar journeys have to change at Jamaica, a busy transit hub. They say connection times are either too short or too long, leading to frantic runs up and down stairs to catch trains on different platforms or long waits for the next service.

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Catherine Rinaldi, the railroad’s interim president, said that the authority has added more cars to trains and is boosting the frequency of connecting trains traveling between Jamaica and Atlantic Terminal stations. Transit officials will be closely monitoring ridership patterns to adjust them as needed, she added. The Long Island Rail Road runs 936 daily trains, the highest number of any commuter railroad in the country, according to the authority.

Between 8 and 12 percent of riders traveled to Atlantic Terminal during morning rush hour this week, a spokesman for the authority said.

East Side Access opened to the public in January after years of delays and soaring costs that turned it into one of the world’s most expensive mass transit projects. A New York Times investigation revealed in 2017 that the estimated cost of the project ballooned by at least three times to $12 billion, or nearly $3.5 billion for each new mile of track — seven times the average elsewhere in the world. The M.T.A. has since said that the actual price tag was $11.1 billion.

Some commuters found themselves on crowded platforms in Jamaica, Queens, to meet connecting trains. Credit…Caitlin Ochs for The New York Times

It ran with limited service until Monday, when the authority introduced an overhauled schedule to fully accommodate the new operation. The authority has estimated that about 45 percent of Long Island rail commuters will eventually go directly to Grand Central Madison, relieving crowding at Penn Station, which had been the rail line’s only stop in Manhattan.

The authority has said that the new service will boost train capacity to and from Manhattan by 50 percent, serving more than 160,000 passengers per day. Janno Lieber, the M.T.A.’s chairman and chief executive, has said that the new service would benefit not only Long Islanders but also residents of Queens, which compared with Brooklyn, Manhattan and the Bronx has less subway service relative to its size and population.

But Lisa Daglian, the executive director of the transit authority’s Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee, a watchdog group, said the M.T.A. should have addressed concerns from commuters who are adversely affected before imposing a new schedule.

“The problems we are hearing from our commuters could have been mitigated because they’re issues that were raised when the draft schedules were released,” Ms. Daglian said. “When we hear that there is a 20-minute wait because of a missed connection, that’s a very real difference in someone’s life.”

Sabrina Charles, 42, said she was frustrated that the new schedule seemed to give priority to Manhattan over Brooklyn, where she has commuted to a job at a nonprofit organization for the past decade. Ms. Charles, who lives in Queens, said she has to get up at least 20 minutes earlier now to get her son to middle school and make it to work on time.

Sabrina Charles, who travels to Brooklyn, has to dash up stairs to make her connection. Credit…Caitlin Ochs for The New York Times

She also has to rush to make her connection with only three minutes to spare, she said. “I have to be in the third car, run up the steps, go across and run,” Ms. Charles said after sprinting to catch a train Thursday morning. “I could have easily missed it, because I’m coming from track 2 and I’m going to track 11.”

She plans to raise her concerns on social media or in a letter to the authority. “They should have phased it in a little bit more,” she said, adding that people traveling to Atlantic Terminal lost out.

Elsewhere along the railroad, riders on the Oyster Bay line, which traverses Nassau County, launched a petition raising similar concerns about the new schedule. As of Thursday, about 1,800 people had signed.

“I just don’t see how we spend billions of dollars — I mean, billions of dollars — and anybody’s commute should be getting worse,” said Danielle Fugazy Scagliola, a Glen Cove City Council member who commutes to a job in Manhattan. “It’s unfathomable.”

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