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Op-ed | Moving the LIRR ‘Forward’ during the COVID-19 pandemic

Long Island Rail Road President Phillip Eng (Courtesy MTA)

BY PHIL ENG

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 4 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.

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