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Comptroller report: LIRR did not follow its 'playbook' during service disruptions

Thomas DiNapoli's office reviewed the railroad's responses to 49 events between 2015 and 2017. LIRR president Phillip Eng took issue with many of the report's findings.

LIRR President Phillip Eng, shown in Woodbury Jan.

LIRR President Phillip Eng, shown in Woodbury Jan. 22, defended the agency's "fluid" response to emergencies and took issue with many of the report's findings. Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

The Long Island Rail Road's failure to comply with its own internal procedures has contributed to riders being left in the dark during major service disruptions, according to a new state report.

The audit from State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli reviewed the LIRR’s response to 49 events between Jan. 1, 2015, and July 31, 2017, and found “all notifications or appropriate communications were not always made, alternative transportation arrangements were not documented, and procedures were not clear.”

“The LIRR can do a lot more to reduce riders’ frustration during delays,” DiNapoli said in a statement. “This audit found too many instances in which [the] LIRR failed to follow its own playbook for responding to service problems. [The] LIRR promises on-time, reliable service, but too often riders are not getting what they paid for.”

The report comes as the railroad works to rebound from its lowest annual on-time performance in 19 years in 2018, and as riders await the agency's latest fare hike later this month. 

While saying the railroad is taking steps to improve how it handles such unexpected events, LIRR president Phillip Eng defended the agency's "fluid" response to emergencies and took issue with many of the report's findings.

According to the audit, in eight of the 49 events reviewed, customers were either not informed about delays or were told about them after their train was supposed to arrive. Auditors also found no record of the railroad designating an “On-Site Supervisor-In-Charge” in most of the incidents, including at four out of 13 incidents involving fatalities, like trains striking trespassers on the tracks.

And although the railroad said it secured buses to help transport displaced riders in 24 different incidents, there was no documentation of any LIRR “on-scene representative” to help coordinate riders and the buses, and therefore, “no evidence showing that buses actually arrived and how they were deployed and used to accommodate passengers.”

The audit also criticized the railroad for not having a written agreement with the New York City Transit system for cross-honoring LIRR fares during railroad service disruptions, nor any set parameters for when cross-honoring is allowed.

Auditors also found that, while the railroad did frequently hold “lessons learned” meetings after the incidents, it did not compile, nor track, the status of the recommendations coming out of those meetings.

DiNapoli’s office suggested the railroad keep a list of recommendations coming out of the meetings and document when and how each was implemented. In a written response to the audit, Eng said the railroad already does that.

Eng also took issue with the report stating the LIRR failed to designate on-site supervisors at the incidents. He said such designations are sometimes made verbally “because of the fast-paced and dynamic environment resulting from the emergency event.”

The railroad also pointed to the praise it received from many riders and public officials for its response to the fatal accident last month involving a sport utility vehicle driving around downed gates at a Westbury crossing and being hit by two trains. 

“At the forefront of any emergency or unexpected event is the safety of our customers and employees,” said Eng, adding that employees’ management of such incidents “can be fluid and requires the responders’ full attention.”

Eng, who joined the railroad in April 2018 — after the period considered in the audit — said the LIRR also recently has made changes to its “incident response structure,” including implementing a new coding system that classifies events depending on their anticipated impact on service, and by documenting who is in charge during major incidents.

Eng noted that many of the underlying problems that cause major service disruptions are being addressed through his LIRR Forward service improvement initiative. The program includes efforts to replace faulty track switches, protect vulnerable infrastructure from severe weather, and improve safety at grade crossings.

The railroad also has taken steps to improve communications with customers, including by recently releasing an online tool that allows riders to track the arrival of their train in real time, and also to pinpoint trouble spots on a virtual map of the LIRR system.

DiNapoli's report

Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli's office routinely conducts audits of state agencies "to ensure that they use taxpayer money effectively and efficiently to promote the common good," according to the comptroller's website. Auditors reviewed the LIRR's response to 49 incidents between Jan. 1, 2015, and July 31, 2017.

  • In 8 incidents, customers "either were not informed about late trains or were told about late trains after the train was supposed to arrive."
  • In 24 incidents, the LIRR secured buses to transport displaced riders,  but "could not document that the buses had actually arrived at the scene" because there were no on-scene representatives.
  • The LIRR held 24 “Lessons Learned” meetings and generated 217 recommendations, but "did not compile and track the status of these recommendations."

Source: Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli audit

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