Long Island Rail Road commuters will have fewer rush hour options beginning Monday, as the LIRR implements another 10% cut in service aimed at addressing lagging ridership and increasing track work.
The plan comes as the railroad trumpets its improved on-time performance in 2020 — a year in which its metrics were skewed by the effects of the pandemic. The railroad is already operating with about 10% fewer trains than before the COVID-19 outbreak.
The changes taking effect Monday will impact peak travel schedules on most of the railroad’s 11 branches. Peak period schedules will be changing for service between New York City and Babylon, Far Rockaway, Hempstead, Huntington, Long Beach, Oyster Bay, Port Washington and Ronkonkoma. Some regularly scheduled rush-hour trains will be canceled on those branches.
Full information on the new schedule is available at the LIRR’s website, mta.info/lirr, and the LIRR TrainTime app.
The railroad has said the new schedules "will align train service more closely with current ridership levels," which remain at around 25% of pre-pandemic levels. They’ll also free up track capacity to allow crews to take on more infrastructure maintenance and improvement work, like the replacement of aging rail ties, LIRR officials said.
The railroad already has made some minor adjustments since announcing the new schedules, and LIRR president Phillip Eng said the agency will continue to monitor impacts on riders and adjust as necessary.
Great Neck commuter Adam Wittenstein said the originally announced schedule changes would have left him with a 111-minute gap between morning trains. After he contacted the railroad, a Great Neck stop was added to a morning train, reducing the gap to a "somewhat more reasonable" hour.
Wittenstein said that while LIRR service would be reduced to match demand, "it needs to be done with at least an ounce of competence and consideration for the actual situation and customers."
"It only takes one train ride to infect people with COVID, so this idea of trying a schedule and adjusting as needed is most inappropriate in these times," Wittenstein said.
Mindful of the need to prevent overcrowding, LIRR officials said they are adding cars to some trains. Eng noted that new weight sensor technology also allows the railroad to monitor train loading levels in real time.
Earlier this week, the railroad reported that it carried about 30.3 million riders in 2020 — a 67% drop from 2019, when the railroad carried 91.1 million riders, the most since 1949.
While the COVID-19 pandemic hurt the railroad’s ridership, it helped prop up its annual on-time performance figure, which came in at 95.9% — the highest since modern record keeping began in 1979.
With far fewer passengers onboard, delays caused by customer loading times fell by 75%, from 4,403 in 2019 to 1,109 last year. Because of the pandemic, the railroad also operated about 19,000 fewer trains than in the previous year.
While acknowledging the effect of the pandemic, Eng said reductions in delays caused by infrastructure show that the railroad’s improved on-time performance cannot be exclusively attributed to its lower ridership.
Delays caused by switch problems were down by 23%. Delays caused broken rails fell by 59%. And delays caused by track circuit failures decreased by 63%
"Those are the things that are in our control. And those are things that, whether we’re carrying record ridership or carrying the ridership we have today, could have failed, regardless," Eng said. "I am certain that we would have had a very good year, even if we were carrying 91-plus million riders."