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Senate Democrats seek more LIRR accountability, schedule public hearing

State Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach) is seen

State Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach) is seen in 2018. Credit: Howard Schnapp

State Senate Democrats, vowing to hold Long Island Rail Road leaders responsible for recent service woes, have set a public hearing for Friday  in Mineola to grill top officials about the railroad’s problems and how it can improve.

The hearing, March 1 at 3 p.m. at the Theodore Roosevelt Executive and Legislative Building in Mineola, comes amid calls from Senate Democrats on Long Island for more accountability from the MTA and the LIRR, which last year reported its worst annual on-time performance since 1999. There were nearly 2,200 more late trains in 2018 than in 2017, according to LIRR statistics, and cancellations rose by 4.7 percent.

Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach), who has led calls in Albany for LIRR reforms, said he expects the hearing to delve into such issues as how the railroad can improve its infrastructure, how it is spending state funds, its timeline for the completion of major projects and personnel concerns. The senators will solicit by email questions from riders to be asked of LIRR decision-makers at the hearing, Kaminsky said.

“There’s a lot of issues to dig into. Having a hearing just set aside for the railroad hasn’t happened in years,” Kaminsky said on Sunday. “I think that demanding accountability and having the LIRR know that there’s going to be a governmental body that they know they’re going to have to answer to consistently is an important precedent to set.”

The LIRR declined to comment on Sunday, other than to confirm that it will have representatives at the hearing. LIRR president Phillip Eng last month said he would “welcome the opportunity to continue the discussions we’ve been having with the senators, and to share information about the LIRR Forward plan and the initiatives underway to improve service for our customers.”

“The hearings will complement the unprecedented outreach we’ve been having with the public in the past year, including more than 100 meetings with civic groups and associations and weekly Meet Your Manager events at stations,” Eng said in a statement last month.

The Democratic Senate Majority said in a statement that the hearing aims to “ensure that legislative activity in 2019 addresses the needs of Long Island.”

“Improving our state’s mass transit infrastructure is a crucial challenge that we must meet,” Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers) said in a statement. “I look forward to Long Islanders having the opportunity to share their priorities and discuss these important issues directly with their elected leaders.”

The hearing is expected to include testimony from LIRR officials, riders and other interested parties, including union leader Anthony Simon, who represents most LIRR workers, and Mark Epstein, chairman of the LIRR Commuter Council. The hearings will be led by Sen. Tim Kennedy (D-Buffalo), chairman of the Transportation Committee, and Sen. Leroy Comrie (D-Queens), chairman of the Corporations, Authorities, and Commissions Committee.

“Transit connectivity and reliability across Long Island are critical issues not only for Long Island commuters, but also the well-being of our state and regional economy,” Comrie said in a statement. “I am committed to working in collaboration with my colleagues, as well as the leadership at the MTA, LIRR, riders and the larger public, to ensure that we as a state are on a trajectory toward improved transit service, as well as greater accountability and transparency.”

The Mineola meeting will be the second in a series of public hearings scheduled throughout the state to discuss transportation issues. Kennedy said that at the first hearing, held last week in Manhattan, lawmakers “listened to the concerns and priorities of many riders who rely on New York’s transit networks every day, as well as the transportation agencies and management who oversee them.”

“It is clear that significant improvements need to be made in order to sustain these aging systems, and we’re committed to addressing these issues and working collaboratively to find solutions,” Kennedy said in a statement. “We look forward to continuing this important dialogue with ridership on Long Island next week.”

The LIRR on-time performance, 2018

January: 83.9

February: 93.2

March: 88.1

April: 94

May: 92.3

June: 92.1

July: 88.9 

August: 87.4

September: 92.4

October: 93.2 

November: 86.5

December: 93.5

2018 overall: 90.45


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