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LIRR train cancellations highest in at least decade, comptroller says

An eastbound train pulls into the Hicksville LIRR

An eastbound train pulls into the Hicksville LIRR station. The LIRR's on-time performance data for October improved over the same time last year. Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara

The average number of canceled LIRR trains each month in 2018 is the highest in at least a decade, and could get worse by year’s end, according to a state report.

The report by the office of state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli examines the financial outlook for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority — the LIRR’s parent organization — but also includes new figures quantifying the misery railroad commuters have endured in 2018, which is on pace to deliver the railroad’s worst annual on-time performance in 19 years.

According to the report, through August, the Long Island Rail Road averaged 141 canceled trains each month, significantly higher than the 115 monthly cancellations in 2017 — “the highest monthly average in at least 10 years.”

The report noted the LIRR suffered last year, in part, because of a “sharp increase” in the number of delays caused by Amtrak, which owns and maintains Penn Station and its connecting tunnels. However, the report said, while Amtrak-related delays have fallen by 51 percent in 2018, the number of delays caused by the LIRR has jumped 22 percent to 690 in the first eight months of 2018, from 567 during the same period in 2017.

“In the absence of substantial improvement in the last four months of the year, the number of train delays attributed to the LIRR will exceed last year’s level,” the report said.

Responding to the report Thursday, MTA officials said LIRR president Phillip Eng was hired in April to address systemic challenges at the railroad and is doing so through his LIRR Forward initiative, which targets the root causes of delays. They also said the agency is spending more than $6 billion in infrastructure projects to improve the LIRR, including the recently completed Double Track between Farmingdale and Ronkonkoma.

“LIRR Forward and the unprecedented state investments in the LIRR through 100 capital projects shown on are designed to directly address the causes of delays and reduce them,” MTA spokesman Jon Weinstein said. “We are pursuing quick solutions to delays, as well as lasting solutions, and the LIRR Forward plan and the unprecedented levels of state investment in the railroad will bring noticeable results.”

Although figures have not yet been released, the LIRR’s preliminary performance data in September did show improvement, according to the report.

But less than two weeks into the month, the railroad already has experienced several major rush-hour service meltdowns. The latest occurred Thursday morning, when an unauthorized person on the tracks inside one of the East River tunnels caused the LIRR to temporarily suspend service into Penn Station.

With service deteriorating on its railroads, subways and buses, DiNapoli’s report concluded the MTA faces “its greatest challenges in decades.” The report pointed out that, even with planned fare increases of 4 percent next year and again in 2021, the authority faces growing budget deficits that could reach $634 million by 2022.

“Our regional transit system is in crisis,” said DiNapoli, who noted that subway ridership has fallen despite an expansion of jobs in New York City and the recent infusion of $836 million by the city and state. “Riders are leaving the system in frustration and deserve better, especially considering the proposed increase in fares.”

Weinstein said the MTA is focusing on solutions to its challenges during “every minute of every day.”

State Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach), a frequent critic of the LIRR, released a statement saying: “While LIRR management fails to acknowledge this dire situation, this report lays bare what all LIRR commuters know: things have not been this bad in recent memory, or maybe ever. A serious commitment to funding upgrades to the aging system is necessary moving forward, but money alone will not resolve this awful situation. A sense of urgency and a willingness to cut through red tape is critical so the agency can be responsive to commuters who are completely fed up.”

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