The Long Island Rail Road (reporting mark LI), legally known as the Long Island Rail Road Company and often abbreviated as the LIRR, is a commuter rail system in the southeastern part of the U.S. state of New York, stretching from Manhattan to the eastern tip of Suffolk County on Long Island. With an average weekday ridership of 337,800 passengers in 2014, it is the busiest commuter railroad in North America. It is also one of the world’s few commuter systems that runs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, year-round. It is publicly owned by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, who refer to it as MTA Long Island Rail Road.
The LIRR logo combines the circular MTA logo with the text Long Island Rail Road, and appears on the sides of trains. The LIRR is one of two commuter rail systems owned by the MTA, the other being the Metro-North Railroad. Established in 1834 and having operated continuously since then, it is the second-oldest US railroad still operating under its original name and charter.
There are 124 stations, and more than 700 miles (1,100 km) of track, on its two lines to the two forks of the island and eight major branches, with the passenger railroad system totaling 319 miles (513 km) of route.
The Long Island Rail Road Company was chartered in 1834 to provide a daily service between New York and Boston via a ferry connection between its Greenport, New York, terminal on Long Island’s North Fork and Stonington, Connecticut. This service was superseded in 1849 by the land route through Connecticut that became part of the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad. The LIRR refocused its attentions towards serving Long Island, in competition with other railroads on the island. In the 1870s, railroad president Conrad Poppenhusen and his successor Austin Corbin acquired all the railroads and consolidated them into the LIRR.
The LIRR was unprofitable for much of its history. In 1900, the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) bought a controlling interest as part of its plan for direct access to Manhattan which began on September 8, 1910. The wealthy PRR subsidized the LIRR during the first half of the new century, allowing expansion and modernization. Electric operation began in 1905.
After the Second World War, the railroad industry’s downturn and dwindling profits caused the PRR to stop subsidizing the LIRR, and the LIRR went into receivership in 1949. The State of New York, realizing how important the railroad was to Long Island’s future, began to subsidize the railroad in the 1950s and 1960s. In 1966, New York State bought the railroad’s controlling stock from the PRR and put it under the newly formed Metropolitan Commuter Transportation Authority (renamed Metropolitan Transportation Authority in 1968). With MTA subsidies the LIRR modernized further, continuing to be the busiest commuter railroad in the United States.
The LIRR is one of the few railroads that has survived as an intact company from its original charter to the present.
Criticism and controversy
The LIRR has a long history of rocky relations with its passengers, especially daily commuters. Various commuter advocacy groups have been formed to try to represent those interests, in addition to the state mandated LIRR Commuters Council.
One criticism of the LIRR is that it has not improved service to the “east end” of Long Island as the twin forks continue to grow in popularity as a year-round tourist and residential destination. Demand is evidenced by flourishing for-profit bus services such as the Hampton Jitney and the Hampton Luxury Liner and the early formative stages of a new East End Transportation Authority. Local politicians have joined the public outcry for the LIRR to either improve the frequency of east end services, or turn the operation over to a local transportation authority.
Critics claim that the on-time performance (OTP) calculated by the LIRR is manipulated to be artificially high. Because the LIRR does not release any raw timing data nor does it have independent (non-MTA) audits it is impossible to verify this claim, or the accuracy of the current On Time Performance measurement. The “percentage” measure is used by many other US passenger railroads but the criticism over accuracy is specific to the LIRR. As defined by the LIRR, a train is “on time” if it arrives at a station within 5 minutes and 59 seconds of the scheduled time. The criterion was 4 minutes and 59 seconds until the LIRR changed it because of a bug in their computer systems. Critics believe the OTP measure does not reflect what commuters experience on a daily basis. The LIRR publishes the current OTP in a monthly booklet called TrainTalk. TrainTalk was previously known as “Keeping Track.”
A more accurate way to measure delays and OTP has been proposed. Called the “Passenger Hours Delayed” index it can measure total person-hours of a specific delay. This would be useful in comparing performance of specific days or incidents, day-to-day (or week-to-week) periods, something the current measure cannot do. This ‘PHD’ index measure is used by some transportation research organizations and would be more meaningful to commuters. As of March 2016 it has not been adopted. The two methods are not mutually exclusive and could be kept and published simultaneously.
Ridership has increased from 81 million passengers in 2011 to 89.3 million passengers in 2016, which is the railroad’s highest ridership since 1949. The all-time highest ridership was in 1929, when 119 million passengers rode 1.89 billion passenger miles. This increase in ridership has been attributed to the increased usage of the LIRR by millennials, and the increase of reverse-peak travel.
Pension and disability fraud scandal
A New York Times investigation in 2008 showed that 25% of LIRR employees who had retired since 2000 filed for disability payments from the federal Railroad Retirement Board and 97% of them were approved to receive disability pension. The total collected was more than $250,000,000 over eight years. As a result, Railroad Retirement agents from Chicago inspected the Long Island office of the Railroad Retirement Board on September 23, 2008. New York Governor David Paterson issued a statement calling for Congress to conduct a full review of the board’s mission and daily activities. Officials at the board’s headquarters responded to the investigation stating that all occupational disability annuities were issued in accordance with applicable laws.
On November 17, 2008, a former LIRR pension manager was arrested and charged with official misconduct for performing outside work without permission. However, these charges were all dismissed for “no merit” by Supreme Court Judge Kase on December 11, 2009 on the grounds that the prosecution had misled the grand jury in the indictment.
A report produced in September 2009 by the Government Accountability Office stated that the rate at which retirees were rewarded disability claims was above the norm for the industry in general and indicated “troubling” practices that may indicate fraud, such as the use of a very small group of physicians in making diagnoses.
Another series of arrests on October 27, 2011 included two doctors and a former union official.
According to court documents, from 1998 through 2011, 79% of LIRR retirees obtained federal disability when they retired. On August 6, 2013, a doctor and two consultants were found guilty in connection with the accusations and sentenced to prison.