As another week has passed, and as we fight through this pandemic together, I continue to think about our Long Island Rail Road workforce, which continually rises to the challenge.
They are on the front lines, playing a key role in the response to this emergency as the LIRR provides a vital service to Long Island and the region, currently the nation’s epicenter of a global health crisis.
Our employees are heroes moving heroes. The workforce shows up each day to ensure that we can safely transport fellow front-line workers — the nurses, doctors, police and other first responders, as well as the grocery store, pharmacy and transportation workers, and so many others who are helping us live.
Together with our labor partners, we’re ensuring that employees and customers alike remain safe.
Since this pandemic began hitting our state, the LIRR has seen a decline in ridership of about 90 percent. Adjusting to this drop, while ensuring that we’re able to care for our employees and still provide critical service, we enacted the MTA Essential Service Plan, which began March 27. We are still running over 500 weekday trains, maintaining a 65 percent service level compared with a typical weekday. We also have crews and equipment on standby to supplement service if necessary.
We’re constantly monitoring this new service, and staying engaged with our customers and local elected officials and community leaders, listening to their feedback and adjusting where we need to. We’ve added trains strategically where the need was greater to enable customers to maintain safe social distancing.
We have eliminated cash transactions, closed all station waiting rooms and ticket windows, shut down our Lost & Found Office and the West End concourse of Penn Station.
We continue to distribute masks and gloves to employees, and provide washing stations, hand sanitizers, disinfected work areas and other protections they need, and deserve, to stay healthy. Our courageous workforce is doing what public servants do. They aren’t just doing a job; they are doing a true service to their fellow New Yorkers. I simply can’t thank them enough.
I ask my fellow Long Islanders to continue to practice good hygiene. Social distancing is key. We cannot stress enough the importance of flattening the curve and what it will mean to the recovery of New York, New Yorkers and the rest of the country.
We know how trying these times are. But it is the efforts of our customers and LIRR employees that are an uplifting boost to us as management and labor leaders. They are the backbone of this pandemic response.
LIRR management and local labor leaders are in contact daily. They’re sharing important feedback, too, and this open dialogue has enabled us to better support the LIRR workforce, as our employees and as union members. Thank you to those who have been providing us the feedback that helps us better protect you. Please know that this line of communication remains open, always, and we’re all better for your thoughts and suggestions.
Even with all the precautions we’re taking, it’s crucial that we continue to focus on reducing the spread of the coronavirus. This means that unless you’re an essential worker, stay home. Do not ride public transportation unless it’s absolutely necessary.
Whether you’re at home or reporting to work, wash your hands often for at least 20 seconds, and use hand sanitizer if soap and water aren’t available. Cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve if you don’t have a tissue, and, most important, if you’re feeling sick, stay home.
My heart goes out to all who are affected by this illness, especially those in our MTA family. To those who are currently being treated for Covid-19, please know that you are in our thoughts, and we wish you a speedy recovery. Take good care of yourselves.
If there is a bright side to all of this, it’s that a large percentage of people, including many railroad employees, who have contracted the virus are recovering from it and returning to their daily lives. Of the 378 LIRR employees who were on home quarantine as of last Thursday, 103 have returned to work.
I look forward to the day our LIRR family is all back together, standing side by side and marching forward, together.
Phillip Eng is president of the Long Island Rail Road.