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LIRR's August performance dismal, as expected; 2nd worst behind January

The commuter railroad said "infrastructure-related issues" resulted in 20 separate incidents that caused 230 late trains.

LIRR commuters at Penn Station seek alternate routes

LIRR commuters at Penn Station seek alternate routes on Aug. 1 after a derailment at Woodside station suspends service on the Port Washington line. Photo Credit: Jeff Bachner

The Long Island Rail Road’s latest performance figures confirm what many customers have already expressed: It was a particularly hellish summer to be a commuter.

According to statistics published online Sunday by the LIRR, 87.4 percent of trains operated on time in August — well below the railroad’s 93.8 percent on-time performance in August 2017.

It was the second straight month that the LIRR’s performance fell as compared with the same period last year. And it was the second worst month of 2018 — below only January, when the railroad reported an 83.9 percent on-time performance. That was the lowest of any month in 22 years.

The August numbers bring the LIRR’s on-time performance in the first eight months of 2018 to less than 90 percent, keeping it on pace for its worst year since 1999. The railroad has performed worse than last year in four out of eight months so far in 2018.

August was an especially trying month for LIRR commuters, who endured multiple rush hours snarled by issues ranging from lightning striking a railroad electrical substation to technical glitches in the installation of a new switch and signal system for the railroad’s just-completed Double Track project. The LIRR said “infrastructure-related issues” resulted in 20 separate incidents causing 230 late trains.

The railroad said special events also had a hand in service disruptions, including delays caused by large crowds of people its trains carried to the U.S. Open tennis tournament in Queens.

In a statement Sunday, LIRR President Phillip Eng said the railroad is “undertaking an aggressive slate of actions that fights the root causes of delays across every component of railroad operations” and also pointed to $6.6 billion in planned investments in the railroad.

“There is a new sense of urgency with everything we are doing, and step by step, each action will bring the railroad back from years of underinvestment,” Eng said.

At a Friday meeting of the Long Island Association, Eng outlined some of the LIRR’s recent efforts to tackle its most persistent problems. Since his arrival in April, Eng said the LIRR has already installed new safety devices at nearly 300 grade crossings to prevent accidents on the tracks, insulated a dozen manholes along its Atlantic Avenue tunnel in Brooklyn to prevent corrosive water from falling on its tracks, improved drainage systems on its Far Rockaway branch, and replaced some of its least-reliable track switches.

“The key thing here is that we didn’t wait. We are doing things now,” Eng said Friday. “It’s about taking actions and measures. It’s not just about talking about them.”

Statistics show that August railroad service was particularly woeful during the evening rush hour, when just 81.7 percent of trains ran on time. The railroad considers a train on time if it arrives at its destination within 5 minutes and 59 seconds of its scheduled time.

Of the 21,373 trains that were scheduled in August, 2,699 were late, 106 were canceled and 48 were terminated before finishing their runs, according to LIRR statistics. The average delay was about 14 minutes, but 536 trains were more than 15 minutes late.

Sen. Elaine Phillips (R-Flower Hill) said Sunday that she was “outraged” over the new statistics, and that they provide “even more reason for a fare increase not to happen in 2019.”

Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach) said Sunday the August figures are “not any surprise to riders.”

“They’ll tell you first hand how . . . how   bad things are. And just when you think things can’t get any worse, they do,” Kaminsky said. “At some point we just have to come to grips with the fact that there’s an aging system and an agency that doesn’t seem to be particularly well equipped at making it run efficiently.”

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