NYC increasing staff on LIRR trains when fewer NYers ride

The Long Island Rail Road is staffing weekend trains more heavily than it does weekday service, even though Saturdays and Sundays account for just a fraction of its ridership, a Post investigation has found.

The pre-pandemic log of staffing assignments for the LIRR’s 1,200-plus trains raises new questions about the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s management of the railroad as it has been hit by a slew of scandals and suffered a week-long meltdown following the poorly planned rollout of a its new schedule.

“Many city riders are struggling every day to get where we need to go,” said Danny Pearlstein, the top spokesman for the Riders Alliance..

“And we depend on the MTA to get us there. We need the governor and legislature to ensure the MTA has the resources necessary — and deploys the resources effectively — to save us time and bring New York back.”

A conductor punches a ticket for the Long Island Rail Road's first shuttle service to Grand Central, when it launched in January.
The MTA is bolstering its staffing on LIRR trains on weekends.
Brian Zak/NYPost

The Post’s analysis revealed that by almost any measure the LIRR staffs its weekend service far more generously than weekdays.

The most heavily staffed train in the entire system before the pandemic struck was a weekend afternoon train, 6102, running between between Penn Station and Babylon, LI, which had 11 LIRR workers on it, the records show.

There were seven ticket collectors working the entire length of the run, plus an eighth assigned to help cover part of the route in addition to an assistant conductor, who also collects tickets, a conductor and the engineer, who drives the train.

Another weekend train between Penn and Babylon, 6108, was staffed by eight: four ticket collectors — and a fifth for part of the way — in addition to the crew of three.

Five of the ten most heavily-staffed trains ran on the weekends.

And a greater percentage of weekend trains ran with staffing in excess of the contractually-required minimums than weekday trains — 70 percent versus 66 percent, the documents reveal.

Overall, weekend trains averaged two LIRR employees dedicated to collecting tickets, which is slightly more than the 1.9 averaged by the railroad during the week.

Those equal levels of staffing came even though the LIRR carried an estimated 100,000 New Yorkers per day on the weekends before the pandemic struck — roughly one-third of its commuter-fueled weekday ridership.

The findings stand in contrast to previous statements by the MTA that it assigns multiple collectors to trains “to efficiently collect fares” based on a formula that based on a formula “that accounts for ridership, ticket types, and stopping patters, as well as the need to return employees to their station of origin.”

A conductor waits onboard a train at the LIRR's new Grand Central terminal.
The majority of New Yorkers take LIRR on weekdays, not weekends.

The MTA has refused to release the formula in response to inquiries from The Post and has yet to rule on a Freedom of Information Law request made for the records.

The agency has also refused to release recent copies of its crew books in response to a FOIL request by the paper.

The findings raise new questions about the long-standing practices and MTA oversight at the railroad.

A conductor punches tickets on one of the LIRR's first trains bound for its new terminal beneath Grand Central on the East Side.
On average, weekend trains had two attendants — in comparison to the 1.9 attendants averaged on weekday trains.

The LIRR has been struck by a pensions and disability scandal and overtime scandal in recent years, both of which resulted in convictions or guilty please in federal court.

And a recent series in The Post exposed wasteful labor practices at the railroad and revealed that MTA could save more than $200 million annually just by making the LIRR as efficient as its other major commuter railroad, Metro-North.

MTA officials responded to the series by saying they would re-examine their labor agreements and seek reforms in the next round negotiation with the LIRR’s powerful unions.

Additionally, the series revealed the MTA could save millions more by switching the railroads from their labor intensive ticket-punching system to a tap-and-pay system like the new OMNY setup used by the subways.

Philadelphia’s major commuter railroad recently made the transition.

However, even with the switch to tap payment, their railroad still uses conductors and assistant conductors to check tickets and help passengers board and disembark because many of their station platforms are not at the same height as the train’s doors.

Most recently, the LIRR has suffered repeated service meltdowns over the last week as it struggled to run a new schedule that provides service to its $11 billion new terminal beneath Grand Central.

Documents obtained by The Post show that officials were warned a decade ago that a proposed schedule similar to the one they launched would overwhelm the LIRR’s hub at Jamaica without major capacity improvements — which are set to be completed in 2027.

In a response to the Post’s staffing analysis, the MTA confirmed that some weekend trains are continuing to work with crews of up to seven, including five positions — both assistant conductors and collectors — with the primary responsibility of punching tickets.

But, it refused to say how many of those richly staffed trains it is running.

Commuters pile onto a platform at the LIRR's Jamaica hub while waiting for a train after the rollout of the railroad's controversial new schedule.
The LIRR has been criticized for the large waits experienced by those taking the New Grand Central terminal.
Gregory P. Mango

The spokesman also added that 90 percent of weekday trains have crews of five or fewer.

“A crew book that expired in 2019 has zero relevance to the current LIRR schedule, which includes hundreds of additional trains and service to three major New York City terminals,” said agency representative Sean Butler.