LIRR says its on-time statistics for 2019 best in three years

Alfonso A. Castillo for Newsday

January 20, 2020

Originally published in Newsday on January 20, 2020.

Long Island Rail Road trains ran on time more often in 2019 than in the previous three years, statistics show.

With 92.4% of its trains running punctually, the LIRR’s on-time performance for 2019 was its best since 2016, when 92.7% of its trains were on time, according to the agency's figures. The railroad’s performance was 2 percentage points better than in 2018, when the railroad set a 20-year low for being on schedule. The LIRR considers a train on time if it arrived at its final destination within 5 minutes and 59 seconds of its scheduled time.

The LIRR’s on-time performance came as the railroad carried more riders than in 70 years, according to figures to be released at the MTA's board meeting Tuesday . The improvement was registered in the first full year after railroad president Phillip Eng, who was hired in 2018, implemented his “LIRR Forward” initiative.

“There’s a renewed sense of enthusiasm at the railroad for doing everything we can to put ourselves in a stronger position,” Eng said . “ . . . This is about proactively hardening infrastructure to reduce the risk of failures that impact our customers. It’s about challenging industry to find new ways to effectively solve long-standing problems. It’s also about hard work of our employees.”

The LIRR Forward program sought to tackle the root causes of many of the railroad’s most persistent problems, including by expediting the replacement of aging track switches, installing new safety devices at grade crossings to prevent cars from accidentally driving onto tracks, and more aggressively cutting back vegetation to prevent tree limbs from falling onto tracks during storms.

According to the railroad’s stats, the LIRR experienced 18,976 delays in 2019 — 4,575 fewer than in 2018.

Hicksville commuter Kathy Sivon said while her evening commute remains a “nightmare,” she “most definitely” noticed an improvement in service on her way to work.

“I very rarely in 2019 had a problem with the 7:29 in the morning,” said Sivon, who has been riding the LIRR for 30 years and also has noticed a reduction in the kind of major service meltdowns that routinely plagued the rush hours a few years back. “It’s been quite a while since I’ve been caught up in that, which is a good thing.”

According to the stats, on-time performance improved during morning and evening rush hours, weekday off-peak hours and on weekends in 2019. Overall on-time performance grew in 10 out of the railroad’s 11 branches, with only Port Jefferson dipping from 87.8% in 2018 to 87.6% in 2019.

Other performance metrics also improved for the LIRR. The average length of a delay fell from 12.8 minutes in 2018 to 11.7 minutes in 2019. Delays lasting more than 15 minutes fell by more than 40%, from 4,039 in 2018 to 2,868 last year. And cancellations were cut nearly in half from 1,442 in 2018 to 757 last year.

Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach), who for years has pushed for LIRR service improvements, said Sunday that the improved metrics “show what is possible when there’s real focus, dedication of resources, and, also, oversight.”

“There’s no doubt that the emails I used to get about people’s lives being turned upside down have decreased dramatically, and that certainly tracks with the news,” said Kaminsky, who recalled the LIRR “hitting a crisis level” in 2017.

Other factors appeared to contribute to the LIRR’s improved performance, including less-severe weather throughout the year and Amtrak’s ongoing infrastructure renewal work at Penn Station. Delays attributed to “weather and environmental” factors fell by 42%, and delays attributed to “3rd party operations” — namely, Amtrak — fell by 54%.

However, delays caused by the time needed to load and unload passengers grew from 4,132 to 4,400 in 2019, a year in which the railroad set a modern ridership record.

The 91.1 million passengers carried by the railroad last year was 1.5% higher than in 2018, and the most since 1949, when it carried 91.8 million people.

LIRR officials have attributed the growing ridership, in part, to the emergence of a generation that is more reliant on public transportation. 

LIRR ON-TIME PERFORMANCE

2019: 92.4%
2018: 90.4%
2017: 91.4%
2016: 92.7%