LIRR woes lead to its president’s resignation, and new chief being named

WOODSIDE STATION, Queens — The head of the Long Island Railroad has just been replaced under less than ideal circumstances. The change at the controls comes as on-time performance for the nation's largest commuter railroad is at its worst point since the 1990s.

Patrick Nowakowski is stepping down after nearly four years at the helm.

"If he has to go, he has to go," commuter Joshua Bey said at Penn Station on Thursday. He's among the 300,000 daily commuters on the LIRR. They've come to expect low performance from the railway, even though some of them pay hundreds of dollars every month for service.

In 2017,  more than 21,000 LIRR trains were late, according to the New York State Comptroller's Office. The railroad defines late as being more than six minutes behind schedule.

The delays cost $75 million to commuters like Joe Lardaro.

"It's the norm," he told PIX11 News, about late LIRR trains. "It should be the exception, but it's not. It's the norm, especially when you're trying to get into the city for a meeting. You're always late."

John Jay College commuter student Hayley Alvarado echoed his point.

"I take morning classes, so I have to be there at 8:00 a.m.," she said. "Sometimes I have to leave at 5:00 a.m. just to get there."

Todd Kaminsky, a South Shore Long Island state senator and long-time advocate for LIRR customers, said that Nowakowski's resignation is helpful, but not necessarily important to commuters.

"At the end of the day, people don't care who the president of the LIRR is," Kaminsky said. "They just want their trains to run on time."

He said that there will be challenges going forward.

"Whoever comes in next really has to light a fire under the agency," Kaminsky said.

On Thursday afternoon, the MTA named a new LIRR president. Phillip Eng was the chief operating officer of the MTA, and had also served for three months as interim president of New York City transit, beginning last fall.

"Maybe he can assemble a team and the public will accept it, and we can have a nice summer, unlike the last two summers we've had," commuter Richard Gallagher said.

The so-called Summer of Hell in 2017 saw LIRR delays almost weekly, on average, and multiple times per week sometimes. The delays were largely due to Amtrak rail upgrades. The nationwide railway owns the tracks at Penn Station, the LIRR hub.