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LIRR chief orders on-time performance goals for each branch

Long Island Rail Road President Patrick Nowakowski speaks

Long Island Rail Road President Patrick Nowakowski speaks at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority monthly meeting, MTA Headquarters, Monday, Dec. 15, 2014. Credit: Bryan Smith

LIRR President Patrick Nowakowski said he has ordered an overhaul of the railroad's on-time performance evaluation system to create more "realistic goals" for individual branches.

Currently, the Long Island Rail Road's 11 branches share a single on-time goal of 95.1 percent -- a target that Nowakowski said the railroad has hit just twice in the past 35 years. Last year, 93.5 percent of all LIRR trains arrived on time, defined by the LIRR as no later than 5 minutes and 59 seconds after their scheduled time.

The on-time target " . . . shouldn't be something that's easy to meet. But it shouldn't be a goal that they have no chance of meeting," Nowakowski said Monday at a meeting of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's LIRR Committee. "There are operational differences between each and every line. . . . I think the goals should be structured in a way that acknowledges those differences and take those differences into account."

Nowakowski said that benchmark is easier for some branches to meet than others. For example, he noted that the Far Rockaway and Hempstead branches, whose trains typically originate in Brooklyn instead of busy Penn Station, regularly score some of the highest on-time performance numbers. Last year, more than 96 percent of the two branches' trains were on time.

Conversely, the Montauk line, which carries huge crowds to the Hamptons on summer weekends along a single track, had the worst on-time performance of any branch last year, at 90.8 percent. The Huntington line, which struggles with capacity problems because of the lack of a nearby storage yard, also scored low at 92.5 percent.

Nowakowski said the new, branch-specific goals will be released next month, and take into account factors including historical trends, ridership and construction projects that could impact service. The LIRR's aim has always been, and continues to be, for all trains to be on time, he added.

LIRR Commuter Council chairman Mark Epstein said he supports the railroad adopting more realistic punctuality goals, but said, at the same time, the agency should be taking steps to address the issues that cause trains on some branches to be late more often.

"You can't just change the numbers, and then stop. That's just saying let's make it easier on ourselves," said Epstein, adding that the LIRR's long-term goal should be for 100 percent of its trains to arrive on time, "because customers' employers expect them to be on time 100 percent of the time."

Kris Fallot, a 35-year commuter from Farmingdale, said she believes the LIRR is only changing its on-time goals "to make themselves look better," and that the agency's internal numbers are meaningless to riders like her.

"I just want to get to work and I want to be on time and I want to be comfortable in a seat," Fallot said. "You wouldn't think that's much to ask with us paying what we're paying."

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