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The Conversation: Long Island Railroad


(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Due to damage from a switching station fire, LIRR commuters have endured significant delays of late, including a four-hour service suspension and cancellations of dozens of trains in both directions. Of course, Long Island is known for dreadful commutes—car traffic here is worse than pretty much anywhere in the world, except for China, where a recent traffic jam resulted in 11-day delays—but the LIRR has always been pretty good to us. Hasn’t it? Or has it? Here to discuss are Press Editor Brad Pareso, Senior Editor Spencer Rumsey and Editor-in-Chief Michael Patrick Nelson.


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Brad

We have delays from Sunday’s rainstorm. We have cancellations from Monday’s impromptu fire. We already had random “The. Five. Fifty-Seven. Train to. Penn Station. Is. Forty-one. Minutes. Late.” loudspeaker announcements. I guess the one LIRR constant is rate hikes every year or so?

Michael

As someone who uses the LIRR to get to and from work on a semi-regular basis, I’d actually disagree. My experience with the railroad has been mostly positive, and it’s certainly no more unpredictable than, say, the LIE, as far as making sure I get to work on time. Of course, the smells, sounds, personalities and general idiosyncrasies of the LIRR are a good deal less consistent than those found in my car, and very often not nearly as…pleasant.

Brad

Yeah and you’re getting those smells, sounds and personalities for the low, low price of what, $300 for a monthly ticket? Maybe the LIE is more predictable, but I get to choose who’s in my car, what I hear and smell and if I even want to take it, as opposed to the Northern State. And no waiting 55 minutes until I can leave my driveway again—it’s on my schedule. All that said, I always take the LIRR to the city.

Spencer

I love trains. I could ride all day and night. In fact, I wish the LIRR had sleeper cars like the Santa Fe. Wouldn’t that be interesting! And a sure money-maker for the penny-pinched railroad, especially on Saturday nights. (Talk about coming and going! No, I guess we better not.) I don’t begrudge the conductors and engineers making good salaries. I wish the state wouldn’t be so damn cheap to its mass transit systems. The LIRR is always treated like a beggar, downright dissed. It’s no wonder that the trains do have a smell. But what really stinks is the way LIRR commuters are crowded into that big basement dumping ground at Penn Station. Jamaica is like the Versailles by comparison.

Brad

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Or is it Rome (Great Fire of Rome reference, anyone)?

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Michael

I don’t get that reference at all. But I do agree, Spencer, that the train gets especially unseemly as the evening progresses, especially if you are traveling westbound, as I am, doing the reverse commute, from the Syosset station to the Woodside station, in my case. There’s nothing quite like heading home after a long day of work, only to share a train car with, say, three dozen young men and women armed with several cases of Bud Ice on their way to Madison Square Garden for a Rangers-Islanders game.

Spencer

I think Brad is trying to channel the WWII classic Is Paris Burning? Somebody should make a great movie about the LIRR. The murder scene in Married to the Mob is good, but not enough to carry the genre. You know it’s really murder trying to take a train home after a hockey game! On the other hand, I enjoy going into Manhattan when the cars are filled with music fans all wearing a particular style to signify their allegiance. The Lady GaGa folks literally let it all hang out; she would’ve been proud. You never see that level of creativity when you’re stuck on the LIE.

Brad

When was the last time you saw this on the LIE: A short, seriously inebriated man, yelling at people for sitting down while the train wasn’t moving? The same man—he had an uncanny resemblance to Lil Wayne—began to threaten the conductor because he had the audacity to ask for his ticket. The nerve! A skirmish ensued when the man shoved the conductor onto the platform at Woodside. Handcuffs and slurred speech galore. All this on the 11:35 p.m. train!

Spencer

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Poetry in locomotion.

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Michael

Well, it can’t be denied: the public displays of idiocy and rudeness to be found on the LIRR can be startling. I remember taking the train home one night, seated behind a middle-aged man talking rather loudly and graphically on his cell phone about some especially aggressive sexual encounters he had planned for that weekend. I saw a father rush his young son off that car and onto another, so he wouldn’t have to deal with whatever uncomfortable conversations and questions might arise otherwise. I should have moved, too, just for my own sanity, but instead I sat there, stewing in hatred and frustration. Not exactly a relaxing ride spent curled up reading and watching the world pass by.

Spencer

I hate it when I’m all set to read on a night train from Penn and suddenly the lights go out in Queens and we’re all sitting there in the dim glow of the exit signs. I feel like a prisoner. And I never like it when somebody decides to occupy the seat next to mine.

Brad

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Such is the life of a LIRRer (also, noise-canceling headphones do wonders, Spencer).

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