The LIRR’s on time-performance in 2019 is off to a good start, as the railroad reported its best January numbers in six years, the railroad’s president said.
Although the figures are yet to be published, LIRR president Phillip Eng, speaking at a customer forum in Hicksville on Wednesday night, said the railroad operated 92.7 percent of its trains on time in January.
That would be well above the 83.9 percent on-time performance in January 2018 — the railroad’s worst month in 22 years. Notably, it’s also higher than any other January since 2013, which came in at 93 percent.
Overall for 2018, the LIRR had its worst year since 1999.
Historically, January can be an especially trying month for the railroad because of snow, which presents several challenges to running trains on time. Snowfall totals last month measured just 0.9 inch at Long Island MacArthur Airport in Ronkonkoma — well below the average of 6.7 inches for the month.
But, while acknowledging that the lack of snow helped, Eng said the railroad’s solid performance in January — and in December — was a testament to the new initiatives and management strategies implemented in his LIRR Forward service program.
“I believe it’s an indication that we’re going in the right direction,” Eng said in an interview Thursday. "Long Island Rail Road Forward is not just a list of 'to-do's.' It's a new philosophy. It's a new sense of urgency. If there's an issue, we'll find a solution to it. Let's figure out how we can take care of it now, and not let funding be the reason we don't do it."
Eng said one key to the LIRR’s performance last month included decisions it made in November, when trains were operating at the height of “low adhesion season.” Fallen leaves combine with rain in the fall months to make for slippery conditions on tracks, which can damage wheels and force the railroad to take trains out of service.
Problems with wet leaves late in 2017 carried over into January and February of last year. But, through improved cleaning of rails and reduced train speeds last fall, Eng said the impact of the leaves was contained, and cancellations caused by trains being taken out of service for wheel repairs are down 73 percent.
Eng said the railroad has found other ways to mitigate the impact of weather events, including protecting switches and addressing overgrown vegetation and vulnerable utility poles that can fall onto tracks during a storm.
While there was little snowfall in January, Eng noted the LIRR was still challenged by weather, including rain and windstorms and arctic temperatures that resulted in broken rails.
Hicksville commuter Anthony Salerno said he hasn’t noticed an improvement in the performance of the railroad, which ran late more often in 2018 than in any year since 1999. Salerno said he continues to struggle with delays caused by overcrowding on short trains and infrastructure that is “a mess.”
Salerno said railroad management “is delusional if they think their Forward initiative is making a difference.”
“It’s not to the daily commuter,” he said.
The railroad’s year-ending on-time performance for 2018 was 90.4 percent — the lowest since 1999, when 90 percent of trains ran on time. It was the second year in a row — 91.4 percent for 2017 — the railroad had delivered its lowest on-time numbers since 1999.
The 19-year low came despite the railroad having a relatively strong showing in December, when 93.5 percent of trains ran on time. The railroad reported 1,354 delays in December.
A train is considered late if it arrives at its final destination 6 minutes or more after its scheduled time, according to the railroad.
LIRR on-time performance
January: 83.9 percent
February: 93.2 percent
March: 88.1 percent
April: 94 percent
May: 92.3 percent
June: 92.1 percent
July: 88.9 percent
August: 87.4 percent
September: 92.4 percent
October: 93.2 percent
November: 86.5 percent
December: 93.5 percent
Overall: 90.4 percent
January: 92.7 percent