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Phillip Eng

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OpEd: LIRR, Back on Track and Vaccinating Employees

LIRR
Long Island Rail Road Station. (Photo by Joe Abate)

Covid-19 has affected us all in so many ways and battling it for the past year has pushed us all to our limits.  Personally, professionally and socially, we’ve all made sacrifices and been touched at all corners of our lives. We’ve lost loved ones and have had to adjust our routines and way of life to fight the virus.

But all of this will make us stronger, and for a moment I want to focus on what’s ahead of us. With vaccination programs across New York State getting shots into the arms of millions of New Yorkers, I say we’re well on our way to getting back to the way things used to be. Or at least a version of it.

At the LIRR specifically, we’ve been steadily vaccinating our own employees. At last count, 2,300 employees (almost 33% of our total workforce) have gotten at least one shot. I’m proud of this effort and continue to encourage all employees to get vaccinated as we continue to work to keep our workforce and our customers safe.

Restaurants in New York City are now allowed indoor dining capacity at 50%, with 75% capacity permitted on Long Island. Just last week, Governor Cuomo announced that the Mets and Yankees will start allowing fans to return to the stands, with limited capacity on April 1, alongside large outdoor venues for live concerts and shows. These reopening announcements are the good news we’ve all been waiting for. But it’s also a stark reminder that what we’ve been doing to keep COVID-19 transmission rates low has been working. So please, keep wearing your mask, keep washing your hands, and get a vaccine when it’s your turn.

We have been adjusting service throughout the pandemic to meet the needs of LIRR customers, and on March 29, we’ll be adding additional service back to our schedules. As more and more people rejoin the system, we’ll be keeping track of ridership figures and will add service as necessary to keep New York moving. We’ll continue working with our local elected officials as well as engaging with our ridership about service as we work to serve the diverse ridership needs across Long Island.

Haven’t ridden public transportation in a while? Don’t worry, we have your back. Plan your trip ahead of time using the new features in our TrainTime app that show you how crowded a particular train was over the last several days, along with real-time loading data that can help you find the least crowded car on a currently running train. Our aim is to arm you with all the information you need to have a safe, comfortable ride.

As we well know, the weather only gets better from here. Let’s all help New York’s economy by getting back on the LIRR, Metro-North, the subways and the buses. Let’s take advantage of everything our diverse and wonderful state has to offer. Your hometown train is ready for the ‘great New York comeback.’ Join us. We can’t wait to see you.

Phil Eng is president of the MTA Long Island Rail Road.

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OpEd: LIRR and MTA Are Bouncing Back

LIRR
Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

The world is changing in more ways than we’ve ever seen in our lifetime – but we’re keeping up. At the MTA and LIRR, we’re meeting these new challenges, adapting to current circumstances while strategically planning and building for the future.

We energized our commitment to customer satisfaction in 2020 as we shattered several records at the LIRR: our on-time performance for the year was 95.9% (3.5 percentage points above 2019’s figures), maintenance and state-of-good repair work was completed at a pace not seen before in recent history, and we launched a total revamp of our LIRR TrainTime app to include industry-leading features to help customers navigate the system with more information than they’ve ever had before.

This year we’re continuing this momentum and we’re off to a great start. In mid-January, we launched a brand-new feature in the TrainTime app that connects users via chat to one of our customer service agents, who are at the ready to answer your train-related questions seven days a week, from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Initial signs point to the success of this latest feature, with agents answering nearly 450 chats on our busiest day so far – during the Feb. 1 snowstorm – and more than 1,150 chats since the January 18 launch.

This latest effort is helping us build on a robust customer service effort we launched shortly after I joined the railroad in spring 2018. That summer, we launched LIRR Care, a service that allows us to better serve customers with limited mobility who need an extra hand while using the LIRR. It’s proving vital as ever, with more than 6,000 customers helped to date – with more than 1,500 helped last year. Simply give us a call at 718-LIRR-CARE before you travel, and we’ll be there with a smile to help you along your way.

To us, delivering premium customer service includes managing several key criteria: safety, reliability, accessibility, and robust, clear communication. Our teams across the entire agency are hard at work ensuring, even during this global pandemic, that our customers have public transportation they can count on to get them to and from where they need to go.

Our goal is to help customers navigate our system the safest, easiest, and quickest way possible. Innovative features like the app chat and programs like LIRR Care help us accomplish just that. We want to bring LIRR to even greater heights but through this pandemic we’re going to need significant additional emergency aid from the federal government to do so. With their partnership, we can make the LIRR the best commuter railroad our region has ever seen. I look forward to seeing you back on our trains – and I know you’ll see the difference.

Phillip Eng is president of MTA LIRR.

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OpEd: LIRR Essential Workers Begin to Receive Vaccines

LIRR
Long Island Rail Road Station. (Photo by Joe Abate)

As we start 2021 with new hope, I’m grateful that LIRR employees are beginning to receive vaccines as part of the coordinated MTA effort. This will ensure the continued health of our frontline heroes, allowing them to continue to safely deliver essential service supporting our region’s economic rebound as we continue the fight against this deadly pandemic.  

We look forward this year to ongoing accomplishments of mainline expansion and to providing eastbound service to the new Belmont station ahead of the Islanders 2021-22 season.

While we are optimistic about 2021, I want to recount what was achieved in 2020. To do this amount of work in any year is a great accomplishment, but to do it in the midst of a global pandemic makes this even more remarkable. The efforts by our workforce and management are reflected now in on-time performance, and will be felt by customers for many years to come. 

Our engineering department fortified and renewed our system, ensuring its continued safety today and for the future. We broke a number of installation records in 2020, including more than 287,000 feet of continuous welded rail, and more than 73,000 concrete ties. Every day, we ensure that this work is executed as safely as possible, while constantly looking for ways to minimize costs and achieve efficiencies to make available funding go further. 

This all leads to better and more reliable service for the public. For 2020, our entire system collectively operated on-time at 95.9%, reaching an increase of 3.5 percentage points over 2019. Customers on all our branches benefitted as each of our 11 branches made or exceeded our goal of 94%.

We’ve made great strides toward our goal of cutting down delays that have notoriously frustrated our riders. In just two examples, compared to 2019, our efforts decreased switch trouble delays (down 75%) and broken rails (down 59%). All this was in addition to completing Positive Train Control on schedule, providing an additional layer of safety for riders and employees.

I’m proud that we are continuously improving and have been able to provide safe, reliable service to our customers who have needed us during this pandemic, and for being a vital source of transportation to medical workers, and other frontline employees.  When others return they will find a more efficient and reliable railroad.  None of this could be possible if not for everyone working together as a team.   Battling the pandemic, delivering service, performing vital work, and building for the future has truly been an all-hands effort as we take care of each other. Thanks to the public, all our employees, and labor leaders for their partnership in helping us continue to build the best railroad Long Island has ever seen.

Phillip Eng is president of the Long Island Rail Road.

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OpEd: Long Island Rail Road Is Safer Than Ever, Ready For 2021

LIRR
Long Island Rail Road Station. (Photo by Joe Abate)

By Phil Eng, MTA LIRR President

With 2020 over and with the Covid-19 vaccine distribution underway, I know we’re all hopeful for a fresh start in 2021. 

And I’m proud to say that going into the new year, the Long Island Rail Road is the safest it’s ever been. In December, the Long Island Rail Road, alongside our sister railroad Metro-North, successfully completed a nationally mandated safety project called Positive Train Control, designed to protect against human error while operating trains to help prevent accidents. 

This effort could not have been done without our incredible PTC project team, led by Debbie Chin and Andrew Arenth, whose leadership, expertise, and innovative thinking ensured that we met the federal deadline amid a year of unprecedented challenges. 

This team worked tirelessly to install equipment on 305 route miles across the entire LIRR territory, along with equipment on 1,055 train cars, 151 wayside interface units, 108 communication locations, and more than 4,200 transponders. More than 3,000 LIRR personnel are now trained on this PTC system, ensuring a safer ride for all. 

This important accomplishment adds to the roster of recent safety improvements we’ve made, including the installation of new safety measures at all 289 railroad crossings; the first-of-its-kind partnership with GPS navigation app WAZE to alert motorists to upcoming railroad crossings; and the continuing efforts to modernize infrastructure and our signal systems, along with concrete tie replacements, enhanced rail testing, and the installation of continuous welded rail. 

As we embark on new infrastructure activity for 2021, flowing into the spring months, we are looking forward to another successful year of delivering critical projects, and will continue to keep safety at the forefront of everything we do. 

Despite all the new challenges we faced and had to overcome in 2020, I’m thankful for all the significant accomplishments that we have been able to deliver. Looking ahead, all of us here at the railroad remain committed to continuous improvement for our customers and our employees. 

Let’s all watch out for each other, have a safe and healthy holiday season, and a promising start to 2021.

This op-ed first appeared on amNY.com.

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OpEd: Despite Pandemic, LIRR’s Future is Bright

LIRR's diesel electric No. 421 passing the site of the former Bayport Station on the Montauk Line on Nov. 27, 2010. (Photo by Lexcie)

As difficult as this year has been, there’s another side to this story that we can’t lose sight of: the progress and success we’ve made at the Long Island Rail Road, delivering critical infrastructure work resulting in improved service delivery for our customers.

Several of the innovations our teams here at LIRR have conceptualized, tested, and executed with success have led the way in the global railroading industry. We know we have to continue to think outside the box and adapt to problems and issues that arise so we can continue to deliver the service our customers deserve, no matter what Mother Nature or a global pandemic throws at us.

The finish line is in sight for Positive Train Control that already covers 98% of LIRR’s 305 route miles. Remaining implementation is in the area between Jamaica and Penn Station which is expected to be finished ahead of schedule before the end of the year. Positive Train Control enhances train safety behind the scenes by reducing the potential for human error to contribute to train-to-train collisions, trains traveling into zones where railroad employees are working on tracks, and other types of accidental mishaps.

Last year we piloted a first-in the-world laser train to combat leaf fall season, which has historically been a major source of delays during autumn. This year we added a second laser train and increased the speeds. In conjunction with our improved pressure washers, we’ve hit record on-time performance figures this fall. So far this year, trains were on time 96% of the time, 3.6 percentage points higher compared to the same period last year. This shows what we’re doing is working.

And as part of LIRR Forward, we made several delay-causing issues a priority. Take a look at these figures relating to just one element: we had 86 track circuit failures that led to delays in 2018; decreased to 44 in 2019; and so far this year, 17, more than a 77% reduction from 2018. This means less delays and more on-time trains for our customers. A promise made and a promise delivered.

If you haven’t already, download our free newly revamped TrainTime app that includes features serving as critical tools as we ride the rails during this pandemic. These industry-pioneering features can help you plan your trip to take the least crowded trains, while providing real-time information about your travels to help you stay informed.

As our workforce has shown day-in and day-out this year, I know we have the talent among our ranks to get us through these dark times. But as we take some time this holiday season to remember what we do have and what we are thankful for, let’s remember how vital our public transportation network and our employees are to the fabric of society.

From all of us here at the railroad, we wish you and your families the best in health this holiday season. Know that we’re gearing up for another successful year in 2021 to serve all of you.

Phil Eng is president of the MTA Long Island Rail Road.

This OpEd first appeared on amNY.com

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Cleaner-than-ever LIRR Wants You Riding Again

A Car Appearance Maintainer with the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) demonstrates the disinfecting methods of a train car from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at the Hicksville Station on Long Island in New York, U.S., March 19, 2020. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

To those who have been riding with us throughout the pandemic, thank you for all you’ve done for our region — and to those who recently rejoined us, we welcome you back to our system with (socially distanced) open arms. 

For those yet to join us: let me fill you in on all we’ve been doing to make sure you feel comfortable and confident to ride the rails once again. 

The MTA is leading the way as we at the LIRR, alongside our sister railroad Metro-North, are the first two railroads in North America to test a new, innovative multi-stage air purification system for our train cars that’s certified by an EPA-approved facility and claims to effectively kill 99.998% of all airborne viruses, including COVID-19. We are optimistic that the pilot will be successful and can be installed on our entire fleet. 

In the meantime, have no fear: our current systems continuously filter and circulate air with fresh, outside air fully replacing air within the car every 5 minutes. Translation: You can ride safely. 

We’re encouraged by our steadily growing ridership: with weekdays at 28% of our pre-pandemic levels, exceeding projections of 22.5%. But the statistic that gives me even more optimism: up to 50% of weekend customers have returned. While many may be working from home as business models continue to evolve, a significant portion of our customers are using the railroad again for leisure travel, and I expect more to follow as businesses find safe ways to reopen and welcome visitors. 

To me, that’s a positive sign that people know the LIRR is safe and remains the most convenient way to travel. And when you ride LIRR, remember to use our recently revamped TrainTime App with real-time location, car-by-car crowding and historical ridership data allowing you decide best when to travel. 

No doubt, it’s been a tough year so far for all of us in New York. And it’s not over yet. But we’re sticking together at the Rail Road and across the MTA; not just to make it through, but to get to the other side stronger, better, and tougher than ever before. 

Because of our dedicated workforce, we’re keeping a clean, safe system day in and day out for our returning customers. We’re seeing respect amongst one another with mask compliance at 97%, according to our latest survey of more than 5,000 travelers. If you didn’t know, masks are mandatory on board and in stations. Need one? Just ask. To date, the MTA has made six million masks available to customers for free. 

So, New York, come on back. We’re here, and we’re ready for you. 

Phillip Eng is president of MTA Long Island Rail Road.

This OpEd first appeared in amny.com 

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OpEd: Thanks, LIRR Workers, For Keeping Trains Rolling During Pandemic

A Car Appearance Maintainer with the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) demonstrates the disinfecting methods of a train car from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at the Hicksville Station on Long Island in New York, U.S., March 19, 2020. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

There aren’t enough thanks I could give the LIRR workforce for all the efforts and strides they’ve collectively made over the past six months to keep our region safe, and to keep Long Island moving. 

And that goes for you too — the public — for doing your part in helping us stop the spread. But as we see clusters of COVID-19 positive cases popping up in communities around the New York metropolitan area, it’s important that we stay vigilant. We must continue to protect one another. 

It was with a heavy heart that I shared the news Friday with colleagues that a member of the LIRR family, Kyle Fulcher, succumbed to COVID-19 Oct. 1. Kyle joined the LIRR almost two decades ago, working first as an electrician, and more recently as a training specialist.

Upon learning of Kyle’s positive COVID test, we moved quickly to protect the health and safety of those who worked with him. I hope you’ll join me in keeping Kyle’s family in your thoughts and prayers. 

As circumstances continue to evolve in our work lives and our personal lives, with many children across our region returning to in-person school instruction, we must continue to practice everything we’ve been doing, both at work and at home: wearing masks, washing hands, using hand sanitizer, giving each other extra space when we’re able to, and staying home if we don’t feel well. 

Riding public transportation remains a safe way to get around. We’re doing our part to keep it that way with increased cleaning and disinfection efforts at stations and on our trains, and handing out masks to riders who need one.

Now we need final enactment of the second HEROES Act passed by the House Thursday night to ensure our region continues to have critically robust and safe public transportation as we rebuild.

Since the height of the first wave of COVID-19 through New York, there has been much talk about preventing a second wave, which some experts have said is inevitable. But it doesn’t have to be, if we stay smart. 

Don’t let down your guard. Everything we did to flatten the curve is even more vital now. We cannot lose sight of all the losses we’ve already incurred and all the suffering that’s gone on.  

We owe it to everyone to do our best to avoid a surge in new cases. And it’s important to remember that you, yes you, have the power to stem this virus and help save lives. We must all contribute to this effort. 

Wear a mask. Wash your hands. Stay home if you’re sick. It’s not complicated, but it is imperative. 

Stay tough, New York. 

Phillip Eng is president of MTA Long Island Rail Road.

This OpEd first appeared on amNY.com

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OpEd: LIRR Desperately Needs Federal Help

Commuters leave a Long Island Railroad train at Pennsylvania Station in New York July 15, 2014. (Reuters)

It is fair to say that there’s no Long Island without the Long Island Rail Road.

It’s no secret that we keep Long Island moving – and not just to the world-class beaches. We moved – and continue to move – the frontline workers of this pandemic that helped New York weather some of our darkest days.

But federal government inaction — in failing to allocate $12 billion in emergency funds to the MTA — is showing New Yorkers that our economic viability doesn’t matter. Making matters worse, they’ve now crossed a line no government agency should cross when we all serve the public: FEMA is set to cut critical funding that helps keep our system clean and disinfected amid this ongoing global pandemic. 

Denying help is one thing. But it’s unconscionable to take steps that intentionally hurt the public.

It’s because of the leadership of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, and the heroic efforts of the frontline workers, including the LIRR and entire MTA workforce, and the public for doing their part in staying home and wearing masks, that New York crushed the curve.

We’ve been doing our part: cleaning and disinfecting our trains and stations at a rate and level never before seen in our history. We’ve set up hand sanitizer dispensers as our ambassadors hand out free masks at stations. We have one of the most robust public health campaigns currently out there. We’re keeping up these efforts in anticipation of a possible second wave. We need to be prepared. The latest cleaning funding cuts from the federal government put us all at risk.

New York is and will continue to be resilient. Because of all our efforts, I’m grateful now to see a slow and steady resurgence of the great state we call home. And I remain hopeful as we welcome customers back to our system.

We need to keep this momentum and we need to keep going. And we need to make sure our employees and customers remain safe. We know the value of public transportation in our densely populated corner of the world. It cannot be underestimated what commuter rail – that served more than 91 million trips last year – means to a metropolis like ours. And we wouldn’t be what the Governor rightly calls New York Tough without fighting for what’s right.

Washington: we need major federal funding. Now. Our future, New York’s future, and, quite frankly, the nation’s future, lies in the balance.

Phillip Eng is president of the Long Island Rail Road.

This OpEd first appeared on amNY.com

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OpEd: Moving the LIRR Forward Amid The COVID-19 Pandemic

LIRR's diesel electric No. 421 passing the site of the former Bayport Station on the Montauk Line on Nov. 27, 2010. (Photo by Lexcie)

As we welcome more and more customers back onto the Long Island Rail Road, it’s clearer than ever that the progress we’ve made over the past two years through “LIRR Forward” can’t stop now.  

We continue to follow the philosophy of the LIRR Forward blueprint to provide robust reliability and exemplary customer service, while at the same time finding ways to cut costs and innovate instead of following decades-old industry standards that have long fallen short of our needs and those of our customers.    

We’ve executed project and maintenance delivery in ways many people haven’t witnessed in decades. How did we get this done? Smart decisions and the hard work, dedication, and pride of our 7,600-strong workforce. Even as the novel coronavirus slammed New York and affected our own ranks, we’ve been working creatively to embrace new ways to get work done efficiently. 

Over the past several months, we banded together once again, as heroes moving heroes, with management teams across Maintenance of Equipment, Transportation, and Engineering departments that focused on controlling costs while delivering robust, safe, and reliable Essential Service for frontline workers.  

A partnership with the Transportation Communications Union (TCU) leadership helped create new roles using existing staff. At the height of the pandemic, a newly formed ‘GO Team’ was deployed to employee facilities whenever a worker was suspected of having been exposed to the virus to disinfect that workspace. As the number of cases dwindled on LI, this team was repurposed to disinfect smaller, remote employee facilities like trailers and signal huts (previously cleaned by contractors), saving money. 

When the virus forced us to close ticket windows, we reassigned ticket agents as Station Ambassadors at nearly 30 stations, engaging with customers and assisting station maintainers in disinfecting key touchpoints to supplement aggressive cleaning protocols. They also provide masks to customers who left home without face coverings and monitor hand sanitizer dispensers, among other duties. 

We didn’t take our job in this lightly. And now we need the federal government to step up so we can continue to do our part to help bring back New York’s economy, and in turn, the nation’s economy. 

Each one of us did our part to take Long Island from one of the country’s hot spots to phase four reopening. New York: Help keep the curve flattened by doing the right thing. Wear a face covering. You never know whose life it’s going to save. 

Let’s keep this progress up.

Phil Eng is president of the Long Island Rail Road.

This OpEd first appeared on amny.com

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LIRR Keeps Up With Growing Demand While Protecting Riders

Long Island Rail Road
Long Island Rail Road riders board a train in Long Beach (Photo by Joseph Abate).

Summertime on Long Island is looking a whole lot different this year. While the days are longer and the air is hotter, the reality is we’re still in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

We’re all yearning for a sense of normalcy. But we know this has been a tough road, and this crisis is not over yet. There’s still much to be done as we work together to rebuild and help prevent a second wave.

Last week, NYC had its Phase 1 reopening, while Long Island’s Phase 2 came a few days later. These were milestone days for us all; and the LIRR was prepared for the return of more workers as we increased service to 90% of a normal weekday schedule. We’re monitoring ridership patterns and we’re ready to adjust and flex where possible to support essential workers.

As we ramp up service to coincide with phased reopenings across Long Island and New York City, the LIRR workforce is working around the clock to keep customers and employees safe.

LIRR stations have been cleaned more than 7,400 times since May 1, and LIRR train cars have been cleaned more than 27,300 times. Daily disinfecting and cleaning will continue with all LIRR train cars being sanitized at least once a day and stations at least twice daily.

We saw ridership inch up last week, to more than 28,000 on the first day of NYC’s reopening. As we follow ridership patterns, we’re continuing to urge business leaders across LI and NYC to consider staggering work hours to help with adequate distancing onboard trains.

We deployed more than 100 employees to stations across our system, distributing masks to riders and having NYS Clean hand sanitizing stations available to promote the messages of good hygiene and safe travel. Remember, wearing a mask or face covering is mandatory while riding on public transpiration.

I have great pride and admiration in the LIRR workforce and all they’ve accomplished throughout this pandemic. It is their heroic efforts that have allowed LIRR to move essential workers to bend the curve and save lives. The light at the end of the tunnel is both brighter and closer — and we want you to know if you have to get to work, the LIRR is here for you, and rest assured that your safety and the safety of our workforce will always remain our top priority.

Phillip Eng is president of the Long Island Rail Road.

This OpEd first appeared on amNY.com

For more editorials visit longislandpress.com/category/perspectives

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