Officials from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) announced ridership on the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) was 28,089 on June 8, the first day of New York City’s Phase 1 reopening, totaling 13% of the agency's pre-pandemic ridership figures, up from 3% mid-pandemic.
On Metro-North Railroad, ridership increased to 20,140 riders on June 8, equaling 10% of Metro-North’s pre-pandemic ridership, up from 4% mid-pandemic. Ridership continues to trend upward as the Hudson Valley region began Phase 2 on June 9 and Long Island’s Phase 2 started June 10.
The LIRR introduced new timetables on June 8 that increase service to 90% of normal weekday service, with off-peak fares remaining in effect at all times. To accommodate an increase in riders as part of the Phase 1 reopening on Long Island, MTA LIRR announced essential service plan enhancements on May 26; 105 cars were added, adding 15% capacity and lengthening trains, bringing the daily in-service car total to more than 800 cars.
Beginning June 15, Metro-North will return to approximately 61% of the normal weekday service with a new schedule supporting supplement peak inbound and reverse peak service, while still maintaining hourly service during off-peak hours. The schedule will bring Metro-North to 50 trains arriving at Grand Central Terminal during the a.m. peak and 68 trains departing during the p.m. peak. This marks a 115% capacity increase from the current schedule, which sees 24 trains in the morning peak and 24 in the evening peak. Off-peak fares will continue to apply at all times. Additional trains and crews will be available in all yard locations to add trains into service should the demand warrant.
On the LIRR, roughly 110 LIRR employees were deployed to 54 stations throughout the system, where 2,500 masks were distributed to riders. In the 5:30 a.m. to 6 a.m. time period on June 8, arrivals at Penn Station were counted at 34% of normal volumes, likely signaling the return of construction workers under the NYC Phase 1 worker plan. The LIRR continues to urge business leaders to consider staggering work hours to help with adequate distancing onboard trains.
LIRR stations have been cleaned more than 10,000 times since May 1 and LIRR train cars have been cleaned more than 36,000 times during that time. Daily disinfecting and cleaning will continue with all LIRR train cars being sanitized at least once a day and stations at least twice daily.
Metro-North personnel distributed 250 masks and 200 hand sanitizer packets on June 8, and touchless hand sanitizer dispensers are being installed at all Metro-North stations. Face covering signage has been posted at all stations to remind riders they need one to travel. Floor decals have been placed near ticket windows and information booths to encourage proper social distancing on lines. Similar decals can also be found on the platforms at the Fordham, Pelham, Scarsdale and Tarrytown stations so riders can properly social distance while waiting for their train.
Daily disinfecting and cleaning will continue with all Metro-North train cars being sanitized at least once a day and stations at least twice daily. To date, Metro-North stations have been cleaned more than 9,500 times, train cars have been cleaned more than 17,000 times.
“With Monday’s milestone of the Phase 1 reopening of NYC and today’s beginning of Phase 2 on Long Island, it is with great pride and admiration I have of our workforce,” said LIRR President Phil Eng. “It is their heroic efforts that has allowed LIRR to move essential workers such as doctors, nurses, first responders, grocery store clerks and our own MTA workforce to bend the curve and save lives. Not only are we performing unprecedented levels of disinfecting throughout the system, but our ability to increase service and run the essential service plan at 90% of our full schedule allows all that need to use the LIRR an added level of comfort with additional capacity and options to safely travel. The light at the end of the tunnel is both brighter and closer as LIRR is here for you. They are truly heroes moving heroes.”
“As the number of riders traveling from Metro-North’s service region to New York City continues to grow, the safety of our customers and employees is our number one priority,” said Metro-North Railroad President Catherine Rinaldi. “We continue our unprecedented, 24/7 cleaning regimen as well as providing masks and hand sanitizer in stations for our riders.”
Retired Federal Transit Administration Region 2 official and frequent Railway Age contributor Larry Penner, “The Federal Transit Man,” comments:
“Both the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North Rail Road have added extra cars on existing scheduled trains to promote social distancing as a response to COVID-19. This is easier to do when you are not running the same number of rush hour trains as pre-COVID-19.
“The problem is that neither have the ability to quickly add more cars to trainsets when providing the previous 100% level of rush hour service. Both railroads have a limited spare fleet of MUs. Over coming months, when ridership returns to 50% or more of pre-COVID-19, it will be more and more difficult to maintain social distancing of six feet between customers on platforms and trains during rush hour. Virtually no one will want to occupy the center seat. Few will want to sit face to face. A long hot summer with air conditioning malfunctions could add to the shortage of rush hour equipment.
“The LIRR will continue to face periodic equipment malfunction, inclement weather, switching or crossing protection problems. Add to that, service disruptions due to storm and signal problems in the East River Tunnels feeding Penn Station New York. Other problems periodically occur between the Tunnel Portals and Harold Interlocking west of Woodside Station All result in cancelled and combined trains. People stand in the aisles. Conductors can’t check tickets. Train trips take longer with more boarding time needed. Metro-North faces similar challenges in and out of Grand Central Terminal. Imagine the crowds shoulder to shoulder waiting for the next train.
“Current LIRR procurements for new M9 and M9A electric multiple-units are two years or more behind schedule. LIR previously made clear that the oldest cars, the M3s, would have to remain in service several more years before new cars would arrive.
“The LIRR M3 fleet was originally going to be retired. It will be needed for post COVID-19 and initial East Side Access to Grand Central Terminal starting in December 2022. This assumes the most recent recovery schedule holding.”