Your Train is (Much) Later Than You Think

We here at Trainjotting have been harping on this for years: the railroad’s “on-time performance” is a very misleading figure.

Metro-North touts an “on-time” percentage in its monthly Mileposts mouthpiece that’s about as high as the temps this past weekend–the Harlem line is “on-time” 98.7% of the time so far this year, and the Hudson is 98.3%.

Of course, “on-time” means any train arriving within six minutes of when it’s supposed to.

The New York Times pushed the MTA to release its full on-time records, and found the trains were much later than the railroads reported in 2009. Rush-hour trains may be late as much as 25% of the time.

The good news is, and you probably already know this, Metro-North is best of the local bunch. New Jersey Transit is the worst, and the LIRR is somewhere in the middle.

At the peak of the rush, from 8:30 to 9:30 a.m., about 25 percent of New Jersey Transit trains entering Manhattan arrived late; about 2 in 5 of the late trains were tardy by at least 15 minutes.

Things are better for Metro-North riders–at least those who don’t live along the Sound shore.

Metro-North’s lines to Connecticut and Westchester, which have the best performance in the region, benefit from having spacious Grand Central Terminal to themselves. Still, trains on the New Haven line perform worse than the others, primarily because the cars are holdovers from the 1970s and some of the track uses overhead electrical wires that are nearly a century old and prone to damage.

The various railroads’ on-time percentages look sweet because the non-rush hour trains are mostly on time, boosting the overall percentages. The rush-hour trains–the ones that affect most of us–are a much different story, as crowded tracks, tunnels and platforms make for significant delays.

Give it up for the Times, they did their homework on this one.

These are among the findings of an examination by The New York Times of the more than 685,000 trips in 2009 involving the region’s three major commuter railroads, using records requested by The Times that had not previously been made available to the public.

The review found that the official figures for on-time performance, often used as a promotional tool, contrasted sharply with the experience of tens of thousands of passengers who regularly ride the trains at peak hours. In fact, the most important trips for daily commuters, those that can make or break breakfast with a client or dinner with a spouse, experience far more delays than the statistics may let on.

Trips to and from Penn Station during rush hours, for instance, were two and a half times as likely to be late as trips taken at any other time. The disappointment among riders can be further appreciated by considering the record of specific commuter lines. For example, morning commuters on New Jersey Transit who passed through the Summit station were late on 1 of every 6 trips, nearly a third by more than 20 minutes. And Long Island Rail Road commuters who traveled from Huntington to Manhattan at rush hour arrived late on 1 of every 10 trips, twice the average for the railroad.

This entry was posted in Metro North, Mileposts, New Haven Line, New Jersey Transit, On-Time Challenge. Bookmark the permalink.

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