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New LIRR report shows delays caused by public more than doubled in 2014

A train at the Syosset station on the

A train at the Syosset station on the Port Jefferson branch of the Long Island Rail Road on July 26, 2011. Credit: Chris Ware

Long Island Rail Road trains were late more often in 2014 than in the previous year, and the main culprit for the delays was the public, according to a new LIRR report.

The report shows that 92 percent of the LIRR's 245,000 trains operated in 2014 on time, compared with 93.5 percent in 2013. As has been the case for years, the LIRR missed its overall on-time performance goal of 95.1 percent.

The Port Jefferson branch, which has struggled with capacity and reliability problems because the line is not electrified and does not have a yard nearby to store trains, performed worst, with 88 percent of its trains running on time, down from 91.3 in 2013.

The Far Rockaway branch, whose trains typically originate from Atlantic Terminal in Brooklyn rather than congested Penn Station, scored best at 95.6 percent, slightly down from 96.7 percent the previous year.

The LIRR defines a train on time as arriving at its final destination within 5 minutes and 59 seconds of its scheduled time.

"I think everybody that rode the LIRR last year understood that it was worse than the year before," said William Henderson, executive director of the MTA Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee, which includes the LIRR Commuter Council. "They felt it as they sat on trains or waited to get into Penn Station."

Delays were worst during evening rush hours, when only 86.5 percent of trains were punctual. The average LIRR delay in 2014 lasted 12.1 minutes -- slightly less than 12.7 minutes in 2013.

By far, the LIRR categorized most delays as being caused by the "public" -- a broad classification that includes delays due to loading large crowds of passengers or due to a train striking a trespasser. There were 7,520 delays caused by the public -- more than double from 2013, when there were 2,974.

The next closest category of delay was "other/miscellaneous" -- described only as "incidents that were a direct result of external factors causing disruption to LIRR operations." There were 2,409 such incidents.

During an October meeting of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's LIRR Committee, LIRR president Patrick Nowakowski addressed the agency's punctuality woes, saying that the only way to improve on-time performance is incrementally, identifying recurring problems "train by train" and fixing them.

But, Nowakowski said, there is little the LIRR can do about unexpected occurrences, such as a rush-hour breakdown near Jamaica, that could back up dozens of other trains, or slowdowns caused by having to serve a crush of customers leaving a concert or sporting event.

"When those types of things happen, you need to serve the public and you need to sort of eat the delay to give people a ride home," Nowakowski said.

Henderson said while there is "room for improvement," investments in increasing capacity -- including through building new yards and completing a second track between Farmingdale and Ronkonkoma -- "could reduce the probability that trains will be late."

On Tuesday Nowakowski will unveil new on-time performance goals he has said will provide more realistic expectations for each LIRR branch.

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