The Long Island Rail Road did not have any plans in place to respond to several common occurrences that took place over the winter and resulted in major service disruptions, including a train derailment and a train striking a person on the tracks, according to a new audit by the state comptroller.
And even during incidents in which the LIRR did have protocols in place, dictating how to respond, the railroad often did not follow its own plans, the report said.
The audit by the office of Thomas DiNapoli dissected the railroad’s response to 11 incidents that occurred between December and February that resulted in delays of 15 minutes or more. In five of those events sampled,” the LIRR did not have a plan,” according to the report.
“Of the remaining six events with plans, none of them followed all the required steps,” according to the report, which also accused the railroad of not communicating with customers promptly, or at all, in some of the incidents.
As one example, the report noted that following a broken rail on the Ronkonkoma branch that resulted in a canceled train, “there was no communication of when a second train would arrive.” And when a person was fatally struck by a train on Feb. 6 on the Port Jefferson branch, “auditors saw no LIRR messages to announce bus service availability to commuters.”
And despite railroad management's repeated pledge to learn from its mistakes, the audit found that the LIRR held only one “lessons learned” meeting involving any of the incidents it examined: a two-day snow event in early January.
“There is no question that LIRR has some tough challenges to overcome, and faced many unexpected incidents this past winter, but it can provide its riders with better service by improving preparations for major disruptions, alternative transportation and communication with passengers,” DiNapoli said in a statement. “LIRR is an important part of the New York City metro-area economy and needs to run smoothly and efficiently.”
Responding to the audit in a letter to Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman Joseph Lhota, LIRR President Phillip Eng said he agreed with all the recommendations made by DiNapoli’s office, including that the railroad review incidents over the last year and develop plans to respond to major incidents. Eng added that the LIRR is already in the process of making some of the recommended changes, including part of Eng’s LIRR Forward service improvement initiative.
“LIRR Forward is not simply a list of activities. It is a shift in the Rail Road’s culture toward proactive preparedness and thorough responsiveness,” wrote Eng, adding that his plan “addresses the recommendations of the State Comptroller’s Office.”
Eng joined the railroad in April — after all the incidents examined in DiNapoli’s audit. He replaced former president Patrick Nowakowski, who joined the LIRR in 2014.
The audit tracked the railroad during one of its most difficult stretches in decades. In 2017, the LIRR had its worst annual on-time performance since 1999. And in January of this year, it had its worst month since 1996.