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LIRR: Summer ridership dipped as 2017 on-time record set

Long Island Rail Road passengers head for eastbound

Long Island Rail Road passengers head for eastbound train platforms at Penn Station after Amtrak completed its summerlong infrastructure repairs. Credit: Charles Eckert

Fewer people used the Long Island Rail Road this summer than last — “scared” off by the impact of Amtrak’s repair work at Penn Station, the railroad’s president said Monday.

But those customers that did stick with the railroad over the summer arrived on time more often than they did the rest of this year, according to new figures released by the LIRR.

LIRR President Patrick Nowakowski revealed that railroad ridership took a significant hit during the summer months — falling by 1.6 percent in July and 2.2 percent in August, compared to the same months in 2017.

With those declines, the LIRR has lost riders in five of the last six months, compared with the same months last year. The railroad had increased ridership for 25 straight months until March.

Despite the recent decline, ridership is still up 0.2 percent year-to-date compared to last year, when the LIRR carried 89.3 million people—the most since 1949.

Nowakowski attributed the loss of customers over the summer to the service disruptions caused by Amtrak’s eight-week long infrastructure renewal project at Penn Station. The project forced the LIRR to reduce rush-hour service to and from Penn Station — the busiest train terminal in the nation.

“It’s not the ridership growth we’ve been seeing,” Nowakowski said. “In my mind the Penn Station situation did a good job of scaring people away.”

Nowakowski said the number of commuters using Penn dropped by 13 percent in the mornings and 8 percent in the evenings during the summer.

Although ridership dropped overall during the summer months, Nowakowski said Atlantic Terminal in Brooklyn and Hunterspoint Avenue Station in Queens saw huge surges in use, as customers avoided Penn. Atlantic Terminal picked 45 percent more riders than usual in the mornings and 25 percent in the evenings.

At Hunterspoint Avenue, ridership grew by 77 percent in the morning and 69 percent in the evenings.

Even with the LIRR restoring full service to Penn earlier this month, Nowakowski said there is early evidence that the two alternative New York City terminals have held on to some of the new riders they picked up over the summer.

The LIRR also reported Monday that it posted its best on-time performance of the year in August, despite being down several tracks at Penn Station because of Amtrak’s work there.

The railroad’s 93.8 percent on-time rate in August improved upon July’s 93.1 percent, and was the best number since September of last year.

Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials have attributed the railroad’s stepped-up performance over the summer to improved management and communications strategies. Nowakowski mentioned the importance of social media, and customer service personnel at key stations as some of the “lessons learned” by the LIRR over the summer.

MTA Board member Mitchell Pally, of Stony Brook, said the railroad now has to find ways to implement some of those measures year-round, even if it means adding costs.

“They’re going to have to become the norm and not the exception,” Pally said.

LIRR On-Time Performance:

August: 93.8 percent

July: 93.1 percent

Jan.-June average: 90.1 percent

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