Study: LIRR among most inefficient

A Long Island Rail Road train pulls in

A Long Island Rail Road train pulls in at the Great Neck station. (March 28, 2011) (Credit: Newsday/Jessica Rotkiewicz)

The Long Island Rail Road is one of most inefficient commuter railroads in the nation, according to the findings of a nonprofit civic group's study released Wednesday.

The Citizens Budget Commission report looked at five key indicators of efficiency for each of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's transit operators, using 2009 budget data. Among the 10 largest commuter railroads in the United States, the LIRR ranked at or near the bottom for three of those five indicators, according to the study. It ranked below the median for the other two.

"The Long Island Rail Road was pretty bad," said commission spokesman Charles Brecher, who said that the MTA was generally receptive to the study's findings. "I think they see some merit to doing this kind of comparison and want to learn from it."

The LIRR pays 57 cents for each mile that a passenger travels, the highest of all the railroads included in the study and well above the 37-cent average. The LIRR also ranked ninth worst out of 10 in cost per active vehicle, and eighth in cost per mile of service. It was seventh in cost per passenger trip and sixth in cost per hour of service.

MTA spokesman Jeremy Soffin said the findings are "helpful as we continue attacking inefficiency at the MTA."

However, MTA officials emphasized that much of the LIRR's high operating costs can be attributed to "unfunded pension liabilities" the MTA inherited when it took over the 177-year-old railroad in 1965. The LIRR pays $106 million each year in pension costs out of its operating budget, and expects to have more retirees than active employees by the end of 2011, officials said.

"The LIRR cut administrative expenses by 15 percent last year and reduced overtime as well," Soffin said. "To achieve even greater productivity and more flexible work rules, we will engage our labor organizations through the collective bargaining process."

The study also measured the efficiency of the MTA's other transportation providers, including Metro-North Railroad. Metro-North fared slightly better than the LIRR, but also registered in the bottom half of rankings in all five categories.

MTA's bus operations -- not including Long Island Bus, which was not considered in the study -- also were in the bottom half in all categories as compared with the other nine biggest bus companies in the United States.

The MTA's subway system, however, fared well in the study, having some of the lowest relative operations costs of any subway system in the nation.

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