Oped: LIRR Coping With More Ferocious Weather

Commuters deal with delays caused by heavy rainfall and flooding in the New York City subway during the morning rush after the remnants of Tropical Storm Ida brought drenching rain and the threat of flash floods to parts of the northern mid-Atlantic, in New York City, U.S., September 2, 2021. REUTERS/Caitlin Ochs

It seems like the storms that come our way keep getting more ferocious – but they’re no match for the skill and dedication of our workforce.

Last week, the remnants of Hurricane Ida dropped a historic amount of rain over a short period of time Wednesday into Thursday, causing flash flooding, fallen trees, power outages, and track damage across our service area.

When visibility became near zero, we knew we needed to suspend service to keep customers and our employees safe. We’ve dealt with rain-heavy storms before, and we knew the kind of devastation that Ida was causing elsewhere. So we suspended service systemwide around 12:30 a.m. Thursday – but, in less than four hours, the brave men and women of the LIRR did what they do best: they responded in harrowing conditions to get service up and running again as quickly as possible.

Working around the clock, we restored full service to nine of our 11 branches before noon on Thursday. Crews worked nonstop Thursday to bring the Port Washington Branch back online, a successful effort that allowed us to run with partial service restored on the entire branch by the PM peak.

Damage from the massive amount of rain was widespread: crews cleared debris that flooded down onto the tracks as well as in switches. At several locations, they addressed what we call “wash-outs,” where the ballast beneath the tracks has been washed away, as well as “wash-ins,” where sand and mud washed over and covered the tracks in several areas.

While we had extra crews and equipment at the ready to respond, our storm prep does not start mere hours or days before we know a storm is about to hit. As we’ve seen more and more in recent years, weather threats facing the entire MTA system aren’t just about coastal flooding.

Climate change has led to flash floods that have severely impacted the entire system, including at higher elevations. Over the past three years, our heroic workforce has been working with determination to make our system the most resilient it’s ever been, which helps us mitigate impacts from Mother Nature and prepare for the storms like Ida. This important work will continue throughout the entire system.

I’m certain that because of these efforts, we were able to avoid and limit many impacts that we would have otherwise expected from this record rainfall, enabling us to more quickly restore service for those that need it.

I’m immensely proud of the team and the work that gets done – before, during, and after major weather events. As we move on from Ida, we’ll continue to fortify our system for whatever Mother Nature throws our way. You can rest assured that the people of the Long Island Rail Road will keep you safe and get you where you need to go. It’s a way of life for us, 24/7, and we do it with great pride.

Phil Eng is president of MTA Long Island Rail Road.

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