Data Point

MTA data reveals vulnerabilities

More than 10,000 Long Island Rail Road trains were delayed or canceled between early 2020 and mid-September as a result of “major incidents,” according to data from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

While the data set is limited to events that impacted 10 or more trains at a time, it offers a glimpse at how plenty of functions involved in operating a commuter system that hundreds of thousands of riders rely on each day are prone to technical issues, weather hazards, and human error.

Keep in mind, one single incident can delay or cancel hundreds of other trains on the schedule. According to the data, over 450 trains were affected due to reports of low adhesion, a term used to denote reduced traction between train wheels and the rail. Signal trouble caused about 480 trains to be delayed and 50 to be canceled or terminated, while over 750 trains were impacted by issues with switches, the mechanical system used to change tracks. In July, a “brief confusion among employees related to an air conditioning fault,” according to an MTA spokesperson, resulted in 14 trains being delayed during peak commute hours.

Derailments caused disruption in the schedules of more than 180 LIRR trains since early 2020, the most recent one being in August this year when 13 passengers were injured after a Hempstead-headed train derailed near Jamaica.

Fatalities and injuries from trespassers on tracks remain a continuous concern for the MTA, with more than 1,200 train schedules impacted by people or vehicles being struck (or suspected of being struck) by moving trains.

Bad weather, which happens to be the single biggest cause of LIRR train cancellations, might be unavoidable. However, with ridership levels inching up again after the worst of the pandemic and new schedules in place after the opening of Grand Central Madison, will the number of incidents increase?

— Karthika Namboothiri 

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