LIRR unveils real-time seating availability, accessible trip planning

March 25, 2021
Changes to digital screens, station announcements and the app all detail real-time seat availability for approaching trains by the user’s location.

Several improvements have been made to the Long Island Rail Road’s (LIRR) real-time seating availability information and trip accessibility information.

LIRR riders will now find a slew of new real-time information available via platform screens, platform announcements and major improvements to the Train Time app.

The enhancements in information availability come alongside enhancements to service. The railroad also announced it has posted new timetables that go into effect on March 29, restoring weekday levels of service that had been in place from Jan. 25 through March 5. 

“As our customers come back to the system, we are providing them as much information about their ride as possible, including more tools to find space on a train,” said LIRR President Phil Eng. “Whether they are making use of signs, announcements or phones, customers now have access to a level of clarity that previous generations of riders could hardly have imagined.”

Details on customer information enhancements are below.

Platform screens: Digital signs on platforms show a diagram of the arriving train, seating capacity in each car and the observer’s relative position within the train. Customers can use this information to walk to a different part of the platform to find a car with fewer people. At approximately 20 stations with color screens, that information is color coded in accordance with guidelines established by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). At approximately 90 stations with monochrome screens, that information is displayed graphically.

Audio announcements: Announcements featuring ordinary Long Islanders reinforce the information aurally, advising customers on where within the approaching train they are likely to find more seats. When a train is approaching, the automated arrival announcements include statements to the effect of: “The 7:15 train to Penn Station will arrive on Track 1. There are more seats towards the [rear/middle/front] of the train.”

LIRR Train Time app: The LIRR Train Time app – which had already provided this information – has been made more detailed. The app now shows the number of passengers in each car of every train, refreshed every 15 seconds, along with the observer’s relative position within the train. (When it was first launched last year, the app provided a four-tiered color-coded system of green, yellow, orange or red to show a general sense of seating availability. This color coding remains in place.)

Trip accessibility information: LIRR Train Time app users will now be able to locate elevators, escalators and ramps on both origin and destination platforms, giving customers the ability to map out a trip in advance and position themselves in the ideal spot. LIRR staff traveled station-by-station to collect 900 data points to power this app feature. The app also features enhanced screen reader support for blind or low-vision users by reading out loud what is on the screen and adapt the speech output to the speed or volume they choose.

“The Long Island Rail Road is really enhancing the way it approaches systemwide accessibility,” said MTA Chief Accessibility Officer Quemuel Arroyo. “These upgrades to the Train Time app are important tools to guide people to mobile access points and to help navigate our system. I will push to expand these features throughout the MTA so that all transit riders can benefit from the innovations we’ve seen here.”

“By using technology, we are really transforming the way we think about customer service and the different needs of our riders,” said LIRR Chief Innovation Officer Will Fisher. “Passenger loading data is one of the most widely praised and heavily used features we have recently unveiled as customers continue to return to the railroad.”

How it works

The features on screens, announcements and the app are all powered by the same data system which uses sensors that can determine how many passengers are on board a train at any given moment. The LIRR securely transmits and processes this data, and seamlessly provides it back out to customers in a useful form in real time.

All of the latest station and app features were built entirely in-house, led by the LIRR innovation team and implemented by LIRR Communications (BRS) and MTA IT staff (TCU) with an intimate understanding of the system. The team designed numerous solutions tailored specifically to LIRR and being shared across MTA. 

The approximately 70,000 customers who already have Train Time installed will receive an automatic update so that they can use the new features. The revamped app remains available for free download through the App Store and Google Play Store.

Building on previous innovations

Earlier this year, LIRR introduced a chat function that LIRR customers can use to chat in real-time directly with LIRR customer service staff. This, in addition to the latest capacity tracking upgrades, will prove especially helpful to customers navigating their return to LIRR in the wake of COVID-19.