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Long IslandTransportation

September's performance: For LIRR, a speck of light at end of dark tunnel

Commuters at the Hicksville LIRR station make their

Commuters at the Hicksville LIRR station make their way across the platform during the evening rush hour Sept. 5. Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

After an abysmal August of delays, the Long Island Rail Road’s performance improved in September as officials prepare for winter weather challenges.

According to the most recent data released ahead of Monday's monthly MTA meeting, about 92.4 percent of LIRR trains operated on time in September, an increase from the previous month, when just 87.4 percent of the railroad's trains arrived on schedule.

But service still lags since the MTA outlined its formal plan to improve service in March. While September saw fewer delayed trains than August, the railroad still ran a smaller share of on-time trains than it did this time in 2017 as it progresses through one of its worst years of service in recent decades.

Going into September, the LIRR was on pace to have its worst-performing year since 1999. The railroad's on-time performance for 2018 is now averaged at 90.2 percent, 1.1 points lower than this time last year.

LIRR President Phil Eng said September showed signs of progress and that real improvements will take time.

“We’re making progress along all of our branches,” Eng said at a Monday board meeting. “It will not be an overnight transformation, and we need more investment, but we are tackling the issues head on. We’re starting to see the improvements despite what some recent reports have implied.”

Of the 20,082 trains scheduled in September, 1,534 were late, 21 were canceled and another 16 were terminated. The average delay for each late train was about 10.8 minutes, though 192 trains were over 15 minutes late last month.

Eng pointed to smoother service expected to come after the replacement of rails and switches on the Port Jefferson and Babylon branches, among other work, and the railroad’s just-completed Double Track project.

In the midst of slippery-rail season, Eng said crews have been out nightly with new pressure washers to blast leaves from tracks. Workers also have begun installing switch covers and rail heaters to help combat snow-related delays, according to Eng. The railroad suffered a particularly rough January this year, when it recorded its worst on-time performance of any month in 22 years.

“All of this preventive and corrective work is critical to improving service and makes a significant impact on how our system operates and how our customers experience our system,” Eng continued.

Lisa Daglian, executive director of the MTA’s Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee, said she will be interested to see how or if the renewed focus on weather prep will improve service, but she was confident the mainline double track will provide relief.

“[Service] is going in the right directions. There’s obviously still a ways to go, and we know commitment has been made to improve performance,” Daglian said. “There are still a number of equipment issues that need to be resolved. We know riders aren’t happy, but it sounds as though leadership is aware of that and certainly taking steps to improve service and reliability.”

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