LIRR outlines performance improvement plan

LIRR outlines performance improvement plan
A Long Island Rail Road train pulls into the East Williston station on the Oyster Bay branch. (Photo by Noah Manskar)

Long Island Rail Road officials disclosed nearly 60 actions they plan to take to improve the railroad’s performance at an MTA LIRR committee meeting and news release on Monday, focusing on improving infrastructure, staff and communication.

The plan, which builds on ideas LIRR President Patrick Nowakowski offered at previous MTA board meetings, comes after a state comptroller’s report that the LIRR had its worst yearly on-time performance in nearly two decades.

Among the infrastructure upgrades would be upgrading the Atlantic Avenue Tunnel in Brooklyn and ties in Queens at high-speed crossovers, strengthening PSEG utility poles near tracks and installing flexible delineators at certain railroad crossings to prevent unauthorized track access.

The plan also calls for an increase in both the quality and quantity of rail inspections, as well as installing monitoring systems at key points and adding more crews to better implement repairs.

Additionally, the plan also attempts to protect the LIRR from weather extremes and slippery rails.

Year-round improvements include adding signal personnel, nighttime track emergency crews, better lightning protection for the signal systems and new drainage systems.

Specifically during the winter, the LIRR is also eyeing switch snow covers, more third rail heaters and improving special trains to combat ice.

Autumn improvements would include more train handling training and making sure the Arch Street device called a truer that grinds wheels to keep them perfectly round is always online while the West Side Yard wheel truer comes to fruition.

Nowakowski had previously mentioned slippery rails, which can create flat wheels, and other weather extremes as causes of poorer service in December and early January.

“This plan lays out the steps toward doing everything we can to prevent incidents that can impact service and when incidents do occur, to recover service faster by improving our response times to the issues impacting us and our customers,” Nowakowski said.

The improvement plan also calls for creating a chief customer advocate, encouraging MTA staff to be more “proactive,” and a host of technical upgrades.

These upgrades include adding digital countdown clocks at suburban stations, making WiFi available in Penn Station and Atlantic Terminal, and publicizing apps like TrainTime.

Additionally, it calls for further market research, focus groups and “LIRR Listens” sessions to gauge consumer sentiment and improve communications.

“Just as important, whether we have a disruption or are providing normal service, we know that improved communication with customers is vital,” Nowakowski said. “That extends to this plan itself.”

Nowakowski estimated that the plan would cost between $15 million and $20 million, with roughly three-quarters of the cost going toward the increased staff.

Overall, MTA Trustee Ira Greenberg said he believes the plan will help.

“I think this is very good,” Greenberg said. “This is a meat and potatoes list of things that are going to be done that will result in on-time increased performance.”

But Scott Rechler, who represents Gov. Andrew Cuomo on the MTA board, said that while there may be “a lot of good ideas here,” he was “disappointed” and recommended stepping back to repackage how it is presented.

“We need a well thought out plan that could be easily communicated, that reflects the type of sense of urgency that this performance deserves,” Rechler said at the MTA meeting.

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