Today’s news:

All aboard with the L line’s all−pro ‘point man’

Greg Lombardi, the general manager for the L line, the lifeline of Williamsburg, spends around half his time in his office at the Canarsie−Rockaway Parkway station, the line’s terminus.

The rest of his time is spent on the train itself: A handful of times a day, Lombardi, an energetic man in his late 40s, takes the 39−minute trip from deep Brooklyn to Chelsea, stopping at 24 places in between.

Lombardi started his MTA career at 19 doing car maintenance, and his experience serves him well: As he rides the line, he is constantly listening and looking for anything amiss about any of the 212 cars on his fleet.

During rush hour, these cars form 24 eight−car trains. By mid−day, the fleet is reduced to around 13. At night, the number of running trains drops to 8.

Lombardi was one of two general managers chosen as part of a 2007 pilot program, the other being a counterpart for the 7 train. These lines were chosen because they were “stand−alone” lines that do not share operating trackage with any other line (the A and the C lines are examples of non−stand−alone lines.)

The general manager pilot program was instituted to improve efficiency and accountability in a large bureaucracy. The MTA apparently likes what it has seen of the program. Currently, there are general managers for all the numbered train lines, and the MTA is in the process of staffing personnel for other lines.

“If something broke down, there was a lot of, ‘Hey, it’s not me, it’s this guy.’ But now everyone knows that I’m the point man,” said Lombardi. “It’s about accountability.”

When Lombardi first took over the L, one of his first orders of business was to improve the Public Address Customer Information System (PACIS), or, in layman’s terms, those digital clocks in stations that indicate when the train is coming.

The PACIS signs are controlled by computer programs, and their frequent breakdowns are a result of software glitches. When Lombardi took over, he deployed the MTA’s own “geek squad” to iron out those glitches. These efforts have been largely successful, though there are still issues to be ironed out, Lombardi concedes.

The latest innovation on the L line is the Automated Train Operator (ATO) system, in which the train is driven without any human intervention. Currently, there is still a train operator and a motorman on these trains, but that might not last forever.

“Sure, [cutting staff] on these lines is an option, but as of now, that’s not on their drawing board,” said Lombardi.

The MTA says ATO will combine with Communications Based Train Control – in which an optical sensor at the bottom of cars allows trains to communicate with each other – to allow the agency to run more trains than before. But MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz said the agency is at least a year away from ascertaining how many more trains will run.

For sure, the pressure is on the MTA to ameliorate the overcrowded conditions on L, which runs through some of the fastest growing areas of the city like Northside Williamsburg. Thirteen of the 24 stations on the line were among the 50 fastest growing stations citywide. The rows of people waiting to get on the train at the Bedford stop are infamous, and Gene Russianoff of the Straphangers Campaign, the transit riders advocacy group, referred to the L as being “part of the Hall of Shame of Overcrowding” last year.

The agency’s efforts to use technology to help offset the line’s overcrowding will depend, in some measure, on its ability to fund its projected $26 million capital plan for 2010−2014. Currently, that plan is unfunded as the state legislature continues to haggle over a potential bailout plan for the agency.

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