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LIRR's on-time performance dipped in 2013

A train enters foggy Jamaica station as LIRR

A train enters foggy Jamaica station as LIRR resumes full service for the first time since superstore Sandy on Dec. 10, 2012. Credit: Patrick E. McCarthy

Long Island Rail Road trains were late more often in 2013 than in the previous year -- a slip its president said was partly due to the lasting impact of superstorm Sandy and two derailments.

The LIRR Monday reported its 2013 overall on-time performance as 93.5 percent, a drop of nearly a full percentage point from 2012, when 94.3 percent of trains were on time. It was also less than the agency's goal of 95 percent.

The LIRR considers a train late if it arrives six minutes or more after its scheduled time.

The drop in punctuality was worst in the morning peak hours, falling to 91.8 percent from 94.3 percent the prior year. The Oyster Bay branch had the biggest drop in overall on-time performance, nearly two percentage points, to 92.8 from 94.7 a year earlier. Only one LIRR branch improved its on-time performance: Port Jefferson, which rose to 91.3 percent from 90.5 percent in 2012.

"We're looking hard at each element of our operation to see what we can do to enforce service reliability," LIRR president Helena Williams said.

A few key events had major impacts on the railroad's on-time performance, Williams said. They included the Oct. 29, 2012, superstorm, which devastated railroad infrastructure and caused latent problems that arose in 2013.

According to LIRR figures, delays caused by Amtrak, which owns the East River rail tunnels that were flooded during Sandy, more than doubled to 1,929 in 2013, compared to 817 in 2012.

"There's no question that bathing two tunnels in salt water . . . had an ongoing impact," Williams said, adding that various improvements to maintenance and repair procedures recently adopted by Amtrak should help reduce delays going forward.

Among the Amtrak-related problems was a June derailment in one of the tunnels that caused three days of service disruptions. Another March LIRR derailment -- unrelated to Amtrak -- in Queens snarled service for a week.

By far, the No. 1 cause of LIRR delays in 2013 was the "public," which accounted for a third of the railroad's 15,689 reported late trains. That includes trains delayed by customers boarding too slowly, medical emergencies on trains and trains striking people.

LIRR spokesman Aaron Donovan noted that the drop in on-time performance came in a year the railroad added about 10,000 trains to its annual schedule of more than 200,000 trains. Williams said further service enhancements would improve train punctuality, including reducing crowds and speeding up loading times.

While LIRR Commuter Council chairman Mark Epstein agreed that the Amtrak problems made for a difficult 2013, he said the "real problem" was the LIRR's reporting method. He said it doesn't consider the impact of trains running up to five minutes late or distinguish between a packed rush-hour train running late and a lightly traveled off-peak train doing the same.


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