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Long Island Rail Road needs to get its act together

Commuters at Penn Station wait for train service

Commuters at Penn Station wait for train service to resume on Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2015, after the Long Island Rail Road suspended service into and out of Penn Station for 90 minutes during the height of Wednesday morning's rush hour. Credit: Charles Eckert

Based on performance, it can feel like the Long Island Rail Road is going the wrong way.

On Wednesday, a picture of train doors opening to no platform and a dangerous drop was widely circulated. Wednesday, a broken rail on the Main Line caused delays and cancellations on the Port Jefferson, Ronkonkoma and Oyster Bay branches. Too often the weather is an excuse. The Twitter hashtag #wedeservebetter is a cry from commuters.

Two weeks ago, the LIRR reported that its performance for 2015 was the railroad’s worst since 2000. On-time performance, trains arriving within six minutes of the schedule, fell to 91.6 percent, down for the third straight year. And the LIRR can’t credibly blame the weather, because performance on its sister railroad, Metro-North, improved to 93.5 percent in 2015, a 2 percent rise over 2014.

LIRR officials say that while they’re not happy with the trend, there are reasons for it: record ridership, riders boarding and exiting too slowly, troubles in Amtrak-owned tunnels and other events beyond their control. No one’s going to accept that all of the time. The LIRR has to do better.

And commuters and residents can help the railroad do better. Efforts to improve and better fund the ancient and venerable LIRR should be supported. Some equipment is more than 100 years old. None of it was planned with 87 million rides a year in mind. Serious improvements in service won’t happen without serious improvements in operations and infrastructure.

Practically every necessary LIRR project stirs up opposition. The LIRR needs a rail yard on the Port Jefferson branch, but past efforts to build one were crushed by community complaints. Hopefully, the newest idea to utilize a Superfund site there will be more acceptable. The LIRR needs an almost 10-mile third track on its Main Line to add train frequency and reliability, but past efforts to build it were crushed by local oppostion. A new plan that includes eliminating seven at-grade crossings at dangerous intersections, and doesn’t require the taking of any homes, should be better received.

Long Islanders deserve better service from the LIRR. And sometimes the LIRR needs help bringing new projects to fruition.

— The editorial board