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LIRR’s on-time figures mask lingering ills, new report says

The Long Island Rail Road's method of measuring

The Long Island Rail Road's method of measuring on-time performance does not capture railroad commuters' experience, a new report says. Above, commuters in Mineola wait for the train doors to open on Aug. 4, 2016. Credit: Howard Schnapp

The Long Island Rail Road’s method of measuring its on-time performance “does not capture the experience of LIRR riders” who deal with frequent disruptions and cancellations, such as those that plagued commuters all last week, according to a new state comptroller’s report.

The report from state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli on the LIRR’s on-time performance found that although the LIRR reported that 92.7 percent of its trains were on time in 2016, those figures mask more persistent issues, including the length of delays and the disproportionately high rate of problems for certain trains, routes and times of the day.

“Commuters count on the Long Island Rail Road to get them to their jobs on time and back home again,” DiNapoli said in a statement. “While the LIRR reports that only a relatively small percentage of trains were late or canceled, too many commuters had a different experience.”

In one example provided in the report, the LIRR estimated that its delayed trains were late by an average of 13.2 minutes in 2016, up from 12.9 minutes in 2015, but the railroad did not consider the impact of canceled trains in that figure.

The report estimated that riders on trains that are canceled during peak travel hours are delayed, in average, by a half-hour. A total of 234 trains were delayed by more than one hour in 2016, 10 percent more than in the previous year, according to the report. Of the 234 trains, 25 were delayed by more than two hours.

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

In a statement, Metropolitan Transportation Authority spokeswoman Beth DeFalco said the agency is spending billions of dollars on projects that will reduce delays, increase capacity and improve safety, including through its proposed construction of a third track between Floral Park and Hicksville and a second track between Farmingdale and Ronkonkoma.

“As recent events show, not all delays are under our control,” added DeFalco, referring to disruptions caused by recent NJ Transit and Amtrak derailments at Penn Station. “However, we are working to improve the maintenance procedures and protocols at Penn Station to ensure the best service possible.”

The report found that rush-hour trains departing from or arriving at Penn Station were almost twice as likely to be late, canceled or terminated as trains using Atlantic Terminal in Brooklyn.

The likelihood of running into service problems was even higher on some specific branches and trains, according to the report. The 5:39 a.m. train from Montauk to Long Island City was on time less than 58 percent of the time in 2016. The 6:14 p.m. and the 6:24 p.m. Port Washington trains out of Penn were either late, canceled or terminated almost 40 percent of the time, according to the report — nearly six times more often than the systemwide average.

And the 6:05 p.m. train from Penn Station to Wantagh was canceled 10.6 percent of the time — about once every other week and 21 times more often than the average of all other trains.

Kate Massa, who has been commuting on the LIRR from Sayville for five years, said she was gratified that DiNapoli’s report provided a more accurate picture than the railroad’s “ridiculous” metrics.

“For the five days a week I travel — 10 trips — I’ll be lucky if maybe two trips are seamless. On the other eight, there’s an issue. It could be slight . . . Or it could be extreme,” said Massa, 37, who works in sales. “It’s been false results that they’ve been presenting to make it look like it’s not as bad as it is. But to be honest with you, it’s really bad.”

DiNapoli said Wednesday that while the report does not offer recommendations for better ways of measuring on-time performance, he hopes that it will get the LIRR “to focus a little bit more on what seem to be the trouble spots.”

The LIRR Commuter Council, which has pushed the railroad for years for more meaningful measures on how late trains impact riders, also thanked DiNapoli for the report.

“A missed connection means riders are not on time to work even if the original train made up time and was on time at the end,” council chairman Mark Epstein said.

The report noted that the LIRR was responsible for about 30 percent of all delays, cancellations and terminations in 2016, “mostly from unscheduled track and signal repairs, and mechanical problems with the trains.” About a quarter of all delays were attributed to customers, including those boarding or exiting at stations with short platforms or crowded trains during special events.

DiNapoli’s office pointed out in the report that the LIRR has several infrastructure projects planned that could improve on-time performance, but added that the railroad’s operations are “constrained” by limited space at Penn Station and in the East River tunnels, which are all owned and maintained by Amtrak.

Those constraints were evident last week when an NJ Transit derailment in Penn Station on April 3 caused a week of major service disruptions for the LIRR, which relinquished four tracks at Penn Station to allow Amtrak and NJ Transit trains to operate.

According to the report, train delays, cancellations and terminations because of problems in or around the century-old tunnels have risen 72 percent since 2012’s superstorm Sandy, which flooded them with corrosive saltwater.


Number of riders carried by LIRR in 2016: 89.3 million

2016 Average train delays: 13.2 minutes

2015 Average train delays: 12.9 minutes

Number of trains scheduled in 2016: 247,000

Number of trains late, canceled or terminated in 2016: 17,951

Cost of delays: $60 million in lost productivity in 2016

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