Passengers at the Mineola LIRR station on Monday.

Passengers at the Mineola LIRR station on Monday. Credit: Reece T. Williams

Long Island Rail Road trains ran on time more often in 2021 than in any year in its recorded history, the agency reported Friday.

The LIRR’s annual on-time performance of 96.3% was the highest since the railroad adopted its record-keeping system nearly 50 years ago. It’s the second consecutive year that the LIRR set the modern record, having run 95.9% of its trains on time in 2020.

One factor not mentioned by the railroad in boosting its improved performance was the COVID-19 pandemic. Although the LIRR’s annual on-time performance figures began improving in 2019, they saw their biggest gains during the pandemic.

In May of 2020, then-Metropolitan Transportation Authority chairman Patrick Foye acknowledged that the LIRR’s unusually high on-time performance numbers "are not representative of a normal operating environment."

The railroad has been operating fewer trains than usual since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak, and has been carrying significantly fewer riders. Weekday ridership remains at around 40% of pre-pandemic levels.

Babylon rider Dan Conner, 24, said he has noticed a difference in the quality of his commute. He said, before the pandemic, he used to encounter delays about 20% of the time. These days, he said it’s closer to 10%-15%.

"Honestly, it hasn’t been too bad recently," said Conner, who does believe COVID-19 has a lot to do with the LIRR’s improved performance. "Once everything goes back to normal and they start throwing more trains out there and packing more people, I do foresee a lot more issues."

Railroad officials said the improved reliability was the result of their "LIRR Forward" initiative, launched in 2018, that aims to address the root causes of delays, including through infrastructure improvements.

That includes building a second track on the Ronkonkoma Branch, eliminating eight grade crossings in Nassau County, cutting back vegetation near tracks, and using laser technology to reduce slippery rail conditions caused by falling leaves in the autumn months.

The LIRR noted that delays caused by "low adhesion" between October and November fell by nearly half from 600 in 2018 to 309 last year.

"We are proactively tackling long-standing issues through aggressive measures to eliminate, mitigate and prevent problems before they can become major disruptions," LIRR president Phillip Eng said in a statement. "The LIRR Forward plan laid out the vision, but it was the LIRR workforce — working tirelessly and often thanklessly day in and day out — that deserves the credit for making the vision a reality."

The LIRR considers a train on time if it arrives at its final destination within 5 minutes and 59 seconds of its scheduled time.

Historically, crowding has been one of the largest contributors to LIRR delays, as trains wait at stations to load and unload scores of riders. When asked, a railroad spokesperson confirmed that delays due to loading have gone down.

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