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Editorial: LIRR, MTA on the right track

RIders on a LIRR train at Penn Station

RIders on a LIRR train at Penn Station (Feb 27, 2012) Photo Credit: JASON DECROW

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the Long Island Rail Road get their share of grief when they screw up, so when they do well, they deserve a pat on the back. There's been progress in four very disparate areas.

Last week the LIRR announced it would be returning weekday service on the Port Washington line to every half-hour, having changed to hourly trains in September 2010. The switch, which eliminated seven midday trains, is estimated to have cost the railroad 412,000 of the 522,000 riders it lost between 2010 and 2011, sending them into their automobiles, increasing traffic and angering some of the LIRR's most loyal customers.

Port Washington service has traditionally been considered the most convenient on Long Island, and many who live there consider the smooth commute one of the area's biggest draws. Cutting that service was clearly a mistake. The railroad tried the switch, it didn't work, and as of May 14, it will be fixed.

This week there was news that the LIRR achieved its best first-quarter on-time performance ever, with 96.17 percent of trains arriving within six minutes of their scheduled times. The previous record was 95.4 percent, set in the first quarter of 2010. There's no doubt that the lack of bad weather this winter helped, but setting a record for getting people where they need to go on time is noteworthy.

The railroad also reported its seventh consecutive month of ridership growth in March, following a steady three-year decline. That shows the economy is improving, but it also may well reflect improved service.

But the LIRR is not entirely without issues, which is why it has decided to ban the drinking of alcoholic beverages on its weekend trains between midnight and 5 a.m. The hope is that the move will help control the legendary rowdiness of the weekend late trains and end assaults on conductors, two of which occurred last month.

The truth is it may not, because the obnoxiousness and violence may come more from the 16 drinks folks have before they board the train than the one they quaff while riding. But it's certainly worth trying. The railroad will begin enforcing the ban on May 14, and continue for an indeterminate amount of time -- or in other words, until the effects are clear. One problem: According to MTA officials, the ban also includes unopened bottles and cans, which could well be in late-night commuters' grocery bags as they take the train home. Some discretion will likely be called for here.

The last positive is Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's nomination of former Gov. David A. Paterson for a spot on the MTA board. Paterson wasn't the perfect governor, but he's very well suited to serve in this capacity. He's handled budgets, he uses transit himself, he understands issues faced by disabled riders and he gets the politics. Now Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano has to get moving on his nominee; he's known since January that he would have to fill the spot.

We hope the MTA and the LIRR can keep the good news coming. If they can't, they'll certainly hear about it.

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