Guide to Winter Weather Travel on the Long Island Rail Road
Know Before You Go
Severe winter weather can create hazardous travel conditions throughout our region. It can also hamper the MTA Long Island Rail Road’s ability to provide you with regular train service. We present the following information because we want you to understand and be prepared for any service changes we make based on winter weather conditions.
How We Prepare
Since the LIRR: Forward plan was announced in May 2018, we have prioritized initiatives that improve our ability to fight weather events that can disrupt service. As part of those efforts, we have installed 86 switch snow covers, replaced 332 utility poles alongside the tracks, insulated 38 switches, installed 3,304 M7 weather-resistant doorway threshold plates and replaced 16,000 feet of cable in the Atlantic Avenue Tunnel to make it resistant to salt-water intrusion.
In addition, we maintain the following snow-fighting equipment, strategically positioned at various yards around the system ready for deployment:
- 978,000 lbs. of de-icing material
- More than 22,000 linear feet of third rail heater
- 262 portable snowblowers / throwers
- 250 cars equipped with ice scrapers / contact shoes
- 235 chainsaws
- 167 portable generators
- 28 front loaders
- 25 cubic yards of sand
- 25 torches
- 17 box trucks
- 10 dump trucks
- Eight truck-mountable snow plows / salt spreaders
- Four de-icer trains
- Five excavators
- Three backhoe loaders
- Three cold-air rail snow blowers / throwers
- Two forklifts
In advance of the storm, employees begin prepping the passenger fleet: door panels are sprayed with an anti-freeze agent; air brake lines are purged of moisture to prevent them from freezing; and many electric trains are fitted with special third rail “scraper” shoes to help reduce icing on the third rail so electric trains can draw their power properly. Rescue equipment is fueled.
Along the right-of-way, switches – the interlocking tracks that allow rail traffic controllers to route trains from one track to another – are treated with an anti-freeze agent and lubricated. We also activate switch heaters (with natural gas burners at Jamaica Station and electrical heating elements at switches around the system) to keep switches moving freely. Scheduled trackwork is canceled to allow LIRR forces to concentrate their efforts on storm preparation and response. During the storm, anti-freeze trains are deployed throughout the system to spray de-icer on the third rail in an effort to prevent ice-build-up, and non-passenger patrol trains operate along the right-of-way to prevent snowdrifts from forming on the tracks. Engineering forces will concentrate on key switches to keep the LIRR on the move.
At stations, extra LIRR personnel are assigned to key locations throughout the system. LIRR employees pre-salt station platforms before the snowstorm and clear platforms of snow as soon as possible after the storm ends. Station waiting rooms are kept open around-the-clock during severe storms to provide shelter for customers waiting for trains.
We simultaneously ramp up our communication efforts. The LIRR’s Public Information Office (PIO) gathers information from the adjacent Movement Bureau/operations center, with customer e-mail alerts, Tweets, website updates, station announcements and crew communications coordinated and issued from under one roof. Pertinent information regarding LIRR service is also posted on message boards at Penn Station, Atlantic Terminal and Jamaica Station. Our goal is to provide information in a timely manner during emergencies. Customers can sign up for e-mail and text message alerts at www.mtamyalerts.com and also download the LIRR’s revamped TrainTime app to view service status and alerts, monitor your train’s progress, and receive real-time car-capacity information.
LIRR Storm Monitoring and Response
Based on information from a variety of sources -- a contracted meteorological service, LIRR personnel assigned to monitor conditions at key LIRR facilities, and National Weather Service reports direct from the weather station at Brookhaven National Laboratory -- we classify the level of severity of a storm, and then operate accordingly. Depending on when the storm starts, we may add trains or change schedules to accommodate anticipated ridership. Here’s what customers can expect during different types of storms:
Light snowfall, 4 inches or less: Little or no impact on operations/train service.
Moderate snowfall, accumulations of 5 to 9 inches: Operations could be hampered by more than a few inches of snowfall and blowing snow. Walking in parking lots, on stairways and station platforms may be difficult. Expect some delays; and allow extra travel time.
Heavy snowfall, 10-13 inches or more: Train service on some branches may be modified or suspended. We will try to restore normal service as quickly as possible to our core branches. We will also dedicate our snow-fighting equipment to our most heavily traveled lines. Train travel is not encouraged at height of storm.
Ice Storms, Blizzards, Sustained Winds over 39 mph: Train service will be severely curtailed or suspended, especially if there are frozen switches or there is a loss of third-rail power. Icing can have a greater impact on travel conditions than heavy snowfall and can develop very quickly. Train travel is not encouraged.
Modified Schedules Online For Storm Recovery:
An important part of the LIRR’s improved communication efforts is the posting of special Storm Recovery Timetables on our website so customers know what level of service to expect during or after a storm. Depending on storm conditions, one of the following modified schedules may be implemented:
Modified Schedule 1: LIRR trains operate on a weekend schedule.
Modified Schedule 2: LIRR trains operate at one-hour intervals on only the LIRR's four key branches -- Port Washington, Port Jefferson (between NY and Huntington), Ronkonkoma and Babylon -- with shuttle train service between Jamaica and Atlantic Terminal.
Modified Schedule 3: LIRR trains operate at two-hour intervals on only the LIRR’s four key branches -- Port Washington, Port Jefferson (between NY and Huntington only), Ronkonkoma and Babylon. No service between Jamaica Station and Atlantic Terminal.
When a storm-related service disruption requires implementation of one of these modified schedules, the LIRR will post a service advisory on its website notifying customers which schedule is in effect. A customer E-Alert and a news media advisory will also be issued. Depending upon storm conditions, which can change frequently, adjustments of the three modified schedules mentioned above may be implemented.
Service options we may enact during a storm include:
Suspending Service: To ensure your safety, and the safety of our employees, the LIRR may need to temporarily suspend all service depending upon the severity of the weather. Suspending service ensures that trains do not get stuck along the right-of-way, leaving you stranded, and making our recovery efforts extremely challenging. Temporary suspensions permit our employees to make maximum use of snow-removal equipment to clear drifting snow and ice from the LIRR’s 700 miles of track, to clear switches and train yards, and remove any fallen trees or power lines that are blocking tracks. Also, employees can check signals, switches and power systems, which must be operational before patrol trains can operate, to ensure that the right-of-way is safe for resuming customer service.
Reducing Service: Again, significant car shortages and track outages due to snow may also force the LIRR to enact a Modified Schedule, which will remain in effect until conditions improve. In developing a modified schedule, we take a number of factors into account, including the number of cars available for service, ridership patterns, the storm’s path and our ability to operate the reduced schedule reliably.
Gradually Restoring Service: When the storm is over, we cannot immediately “ramp up” to full service. Trains that were operating during the storm may be subject to weather-related damage. The same holds true for our right-of way and for parking facilities, most of which are maintained by local towns and villages. Also, the service we provide during a storm determines how fast we will be able to recover once the event is over. We can't immediately move from a severely reduced schedule to a full schedule due to the time needed to correctly position our equipment and crews. Because of these and other weather-related factors, we will upgrade judiciously and only when we believe we can reliably and safely operate additional trains. We will do our best to recover quickly. Please bear in mind that crowded conditions will still be likely. If you can travel outside of peak hours, please do so.
Remember: Our first priority in any decision we make on service is your comfort and safety. Here’s how you can help:
When an Official State of Emergency is Declared, Stay Safe: Stay home if at all possible. Roads will be impassable, and travel will be considered dangerous. We will only operate enough trains to clear tracks and transport emergency personnel until weather conditions improve.
Challenges We Face
Accurately forecasting and planning for the impact of winter storms presents unusual challenges for the LIRR. Because our service territory spans 120 miles from Penn Station to the East End of Long Island and five counties -- two on Long Island and three in New York City -- our system is subject to varied amounts of snow during a storm. Two inches may fall in Manhattan, 8 inches in Nassau County and 18 inches in Greenport or Montauk.
This can complicate our efforts to determine what is the best service to run. Further complicating our efforts are the ever-changing conditions of winter storms and the short notice we sometimes have to make adjustments to service plans and get the word on those changes out to you -- our customers. Also, road conditions during a snowstorm not only affect how you get to our station, they can hamper our crews from getting to their work locations, and that can have an impact on service.
Finally, snow and sub-freezing temperatures can affect our "cars" much like they affect your cars. Moisture from ice and snow can freeze in brake lines, air compressors and door mechanisms, causing them to malfunction. On our older electric cars, snow and moisture can get into traction motors, causing them to short out. The design of our newer cars places critical components inside, making them less susceptible to the effects of moisture.
Unlike one of your cars, when one of our cars is out of service, it affects you and 100 or so of your fellow commuters. While we work to get our train cars back “on the road” as soon as possible, your train may have fewer cars -- and therefore, fewer seats -- creating more crowded conditions than usual. Extreme cold and drifting snow also affect switches and signals, which can delay your train.
Be Prepared - Know Before You Go
- Check www.mta.info for updates, including modified storm recovery schedules.
- Download the LIRR's free TrainTime® App.
- Listen to television and radio news. We continuously provide information to the media.
- Call the LIRR’s Customer Service Center (CSC) at 511 or 718-217-LIRR (718-217-5477). The CSC will have a pre-recorded upfront message describing current service conditions. The volume of calls at the Customer Service Center will increase dramatically during a weather emergency, and you may experience delays getting through to a representative.
- Listen for public address announcements at stations and onboard trains if you are already traveling
Remember: In severe winter weather, our goal is to provide you with the best and safest service available, and to return to regularly scheduled service as soon as possible.
Helpful Phone Numbers & Websites
LIRR and NYC Transit Subways & Buses
511 or 718-217-LIRR (718-217-5477)
NICE Bus (Nassau Inter-County Express)
Suffolk County Transit (Suffolk County Buses)
- Google Translate