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LIRR has worst on-time performance since '99 despite improved December

Riders board a Long Island Rail Road train

Riders board a Long Island Rail Road train in Mineola in December. Credit: Barry Sloan

The Long Island Rail Road had one of its best months of 2018 in December, but it wasn’t enough to keep the railroad from recording its lowest annual on-time performance in nearly two decades.

According to newly published LIRR statistics, the railroad’s year-ending on-time performance for 2018 was 90.4 percent — the lowest since 1999, when 90 percent of trains ran on time. It’s the second year in a row — 91.4 percent for 2017 — that the railroad has delivered its lowest on-time numbers since 1999.

The LIRR considers a train late if it arrives at its final destination 6 minutes or more after its scheduled time.

The 19-year low comes despite the railroad having a relatively strong showing in December, when 93.5 percent of trains ran on time — the most since April. The railroad's on-time performance in December 2017 was 89.7 percent.

The railroad reported 1,354 delays last month. Both the Far Rockaway and Montauk branches operated above their respective on-time performance goals.

LIRR officials said Monday that the railroad’s performance last month was evidence of its LIRR Forward service improvement initiative taking hold. The program, unveiled in May 2018,   aims to tackle the railroad’s most persistent problems, including by more quickly upgrading failing infrastructure and by hardening the system against severe weather.

The railroad noted the strong December numbers came during the height of “slip-slide” season, when wet leaves on the tracks can cause wheel damage and put trains out of service. That results in shorter trains and more delays. Increased efforts to address the problem, including increasing its wheel repairing capacity by 50 percent, helped keep “low adhesion” problems to a minimum.

"The December OTP figures speak to the new sense of urgency the LIRR is taking to improving reliability through the LIRR Forward plan by identifying the root causes of delays and working to minimize them as quickly as possible," LIRR president Phillip Eng said Monday. "By prioritizing those things we can control, we will be better able to minimize the likelihood and frequency of incidents caused by Mother Nature’s challenges."

Mark Epstein, chairman of the LIRR Commuter Council, the railroad’s official watchdog group, said he hoped the improved statistics last month mark “the beginning of a change.”

“The problem is that whatever the numbers show the riders don’t feel that difference yet,” Epstein said. “So if the numbers are showing a change, we’re looking forward to riders feeling that change.”

The railroad’s solid performance last month wasn’t enough to make up for several months throughout the year during which the railroad struggled. The railroad closed out 2018 with 23,551 delays — 2,189 more than the previous year. The railroad also canceled 1,442 trains in 2018 — 105 more than in 2017.

For all of 2018, LIRR trains were punctual 88.3 percent of the time during the morning rush, and 86.9 percent of the time during the evening rush.

A group of seven Democratic state senators, including the chairs of the Senate Committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions and the Transportation Committee, on Thursday sent a letter to Eng informing him of their intent to hold hearings regarding the LIRR’s recent performance, which they described as “subpar and in desperate need of thorough review.”

Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach), who has led efforts in Albany to reform the LIRR, said last week he hopes the hearings push the railroad to go beyond its LIRR Forward plan in addressing the system’s problems.

“ . . . Hardware, mechanics, new cars — all that stuff matters. But management matters, too,” Kaminsky said. “We want to know that that sense of urgency is existing and they understand how bad it is. And if the hearings just do that, I think they’ll be worthwhile.”

Eng is expected to discuss the railroad's recent performance further at a meeting Tuesday of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's LIRR committee. Also on Tuesday, the MTA's finance committee is expected to vote on a fare increase proposal that would raise the cost of a monthly LIRR ticket by as much as $15. If approved by the committee, the proposal would be forwarded to the full MTA board for a final vote on Thursday. 

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misstated how December's LIRR on-time performance stacked up against the rest of the year.

The Long Island Rail Road's on-time performance 2018

The LIRR considers a train late if it arrives at its final destination 6 minutes or more after its scheduled time.

January: 83.9 percent

February: 93.2 percent

March: 88.1 percent

April: 94 percent

May: 92.3 percent

June: 92.1 percent

July: 88.9 percent 

August: 87.4 percent

September: 92.4 percent

October: 93.2 percent

November: 86.5 percent

December: 93.5 percent

2018 overall: 90.4 percent

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