In 2016, the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR), the largest commuter railroad in the nation, did not meet on-time performance goals and had 17,951 trains that were late, canceled or terminated, according to a report released today by New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli. LIRR delays and cancellations impacted an estimated 7.5 million riders and cost more than an estimated $60 million in lost productivity.
“Commuters count on the Long Island Rail Road to get them to their jobs on time and back home again,” DiNapoli said. “While the LIRR reports that only a relatively small percentage of trains were late or canceled, too many commuters had a different experience. While on-time performance improved a bit in 2016, it slipped during the first quarter of 2017. Recent derailments at Penn Station have brought attention to the role played by Amtrak, which is responsible for properly maintaining Penn Station and the four East River tunnels that connect Manhattan to Long Island.”
In 2016, the LIRR carried 89.3 million riders, the most since 1949. A total of 247,000 trains were scheduled, but 17,951 were canceled at the terminal before departing, terminated en route or were late arriving at their final destination. A train is considered on time by the LIRR if it arrives within 5 minutes and 59 seconds of its scheduled arrival time.
LIRR’s on-time performance, which peaked at 95.2 percent in 2009, has since dropped. In 2015, on-time performance across the system averaged 91.6 percent, the lowest level in 16 years. While performance improved in 2016 to reach 92.7 percent, it was still below the 94 percent target set by the LIRR. The LIRR lowered its on-time performance goal from 95.1 percent to 94 percent in 2015. Preliminary data for the first quarter of 2017 show that on-time performance slipped to 90.9 percent, down from 93.1 percent during the same period one year earlier.
The LIRR estimates that delayed trains were late by an average of 13.2 minutes (up from 12.9 minutes in 2015), but this estimate excludes canceled or terminated trains. For that reason, this measure does not capture the experience of commuters. DiNapoli’s report estimates that the passengers on canceled trains during peak periods, who were forced to take later trains, were delayed, on average, by half an hour. The report also found that performance deteriorates during the morning and evening peak periods when demand is the greatest.
DiNapoli’s report noted that:
- Last year, 16,115 trains were late, including 6,170 that were more than 10 minutes late (3,254 were more than 15 minutes late);
- A total of 234 trains were delayed by more than one hour (10 percent more than in 2015), including 25 trains that were delayed by more than two hours;
- A total of 1,269 trains were canceled at the terminal before departure, the most since 2010. Another 567 trains were terminated en route;
- Peak trains using Pennsylvania Station were almost twice as likely to be late, canceled or terminated as trains using Atlantic Avenue, the second-busiest western terminal;
- Trains arriving at Penn Station between 8:30 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. were twice as likely to be late, canceled or terminated as other Penn Station trains during the morning peak. Trains departing Penn Station between 6:00 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. were late, canceled or terminated nearly one-fifth of the time;
- The 6:05 p.m. train from Penn Station to Wantagh was the most frequently canceled train during the past three years. In 2016, this train was canceled 10.6 percent of the time, 21 times more often than the average of all other trains;
- The 6:14 p.m. and the 6:24 p.m. trains departing Penn Station on the Port Washington line were late, canceled or terminated almost 40 percent of the time. The 6:14 p.m. train was delayed 78 percent of the time when it stopped at Citi Field for Mets games; and
- Trains carrying reverse commuters to Penn Station in the evening were late, canceled or terminated one-fifth of the time. The 4:48 p.m. train from Ronkonkoma to Penn Station was late, canceled or terminated 40 percent of the time.
Trains are delayed or canceled for a number of reasons, including inclement weather, the presence of an unauthorized person on the tracks, equipment failure, police investigations, and issues arising from Amtrak, which owns Pennsylvania Station and the underwater rail tunnels that connect Manhattan to Long Island.
The LIRR was responsible for 30 percent of all delays, cancellations and terminations in 2016, mostly from unscheduled track and signal repairs, and mechanical problems with the trains. It attributed more than one-quarter of delays, cancellations and terminations to its customers. More than 80 percent of those delays were caused by passengers boarding or exiting trains at stations with short platforms or crowded trains when demand was high for special events.
The number of trains that were late, canceled or terminated because of problems with the East River underwater rail tunnels between Manhattan and Long Island (or the switches right outside those tunnels) increased by 72 percent since Superstorm Sandy. Problems with the East River tunnels were responsible for nearly one-fifth of the increase in delays, cancellations and terminations since 2011.
The LIRR has a number of capital projects planned that could improve on-time performance, but operations are constrained by platform space at Penn Station and the four East River Tunnels that connect Manhattan to Long Island. The tunnels are owned and operated by Amtrak, and the LIRR shares access to platforms in Penn Station with Amtrak and New Jersey Transit.
Additionally, these 100-year old tunnels are deteriorating, and two sustained saltwater damage from Superstorm Sandy, contributing to delays. A plan to rehabilitate all four tunnels still has not been approved by Amtrak. When work does begin, Amtrak plans to shut one tunnel at a time, reducing the number of trains able to pass under the East River. Until needed repairs are completed, the tunnels will continue to deteriorate, contributing to delays that inconvenience thousands of New Yorkers.
Read the report, or go to: osc.state.ny.us/osdc/rpt1-2018-lirr-performance.pdf
For access to state and local government spending and more than 50,000 state contracts, visit www.openbooknewyork.com.
—Submitted New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli