The Long Island Rail Road plays a key role in the local economy, with its riders bringing home about $30 billion in wages each year from New York City.
The railroad for decades has connected local residents and businesses to the high-paying jobs and opportunities offered by the city.
So major LIRR service disruptions can lower productivity and cause commuters to lose out on earnings as they wait out train delays or sit in traffic on the Long Island Expressway.
Large repair projects – such as the summerlong track work at Penn Station that will reduce rush-hour service starting July 10 and future work on two of four East River tunnels that will last a couple of years – could result in less money getting funneled into the Long Island economy.
A railroad bringing home billions
The LIRR transports tens of thousands of Island residents daily to their jobs in New York City. Those workers bring home billions of dollars in earnings each year, helping to fuel the region’s $160 billion economy.
Daily LIRR commuters going to NYC jobs
Estimated annual earnings from LIRR commuters with NYC jobs
Size of Long Island’s economy, 2016
Sources: LIRR, Regional Plan Association, IHS Global Insight
This $30 billion forms a critical pillar for the Long Island economy as LIRR riders spend their wages at restaurants and shops in downtowns across Nassau and Suffolk counties.
Commuters’ wages also go toward purchasing and maintaining homes here. Houses that are close to a train station have higher values than those farther away.
Commuters to Manhattan earn 34 percent more, on average, than Long Island residents who work close to home, according to the U.S. Census Bureau:
The railroad has also served as an impetus for the construction of apartment buildings near stations designed to keep young people on the Island by giving them easy access to employment and nightlife in Manhattan and Brooklyn.
Island employers are counting on more LIRR reverse commuters to fill jobs with the local workforce aging.
Lost worker productivity
LIRR service disruptions rob commuters and the businesses where they work of time.
Thousands of delayed and canceled LIRR trains during the morning and evening rush hours in 2016 resulted in the loss of millions of dollars in worker productivity last year, according to an estimate from the office of state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli:
Delayed or canceled trains
Cost of lost productivity
Where LIRR riders work
The LIRR carries commuters to New York City who work in high-paying professions. Forty-five percent work as stock brokers, investment bankers, lawyers, accountants and other professional service providers.
Source: NYS Comptroller’s Office
The faces of lost earnings
Written by Daysi Calavia-Robertson and Vincent Barone
Marissa O’Connor, Bethpage
Delayed Long Island Rail Road trains cost O’Connor her job as a waitress at a midtown Manhattan restaurant.
The 25-year-old said she was fired the third time, in three months, that she missed a shift. She lost her job, where she earned $7.50 an hour plus tips, in October.
O’Connor’s 45-minute commute “usually doubled” to about an hour-and-a-half. She was about 40 minutes late to work or The New School, where she earned a master’s degree in psychology in May, each time a train was delayed or canceled.
“It took me seven months to financially recover from being fired,” she said. “I got behind on my rent and had to borrow money to pay it.”
Erica Lam, South Hempstead
Lam, an NBC news producer and a mother to two young boys, said delayed and canceled LIRR trains led her nanny to quit. “On average, I’d get home about an hour or two late,” said Lam. “But one night I was three hours late.”
Lam, who said she paid her nanny about $600 in overtime pay, is now looking for a new nanny and may have to pay overtime to a new hire.
Train delays also take away time she could be spending with her children: “These delayed and canceled trains are robbing me of tucking them in and kissing them good night.”
Gerard Joseph, Valley Stream
Joseph, a financial controller, pays a nanny to watch his younger daughter and a day care for his older daughter.
For every half-hour he’s late to pick up his older daughter, the day care charges $20. With the nanny, he also has to pay more or tip more to compensate for being late.
“If it happens two or three times in a week — that’s good money right there,” Joseph said.
Read more about the impact of LIRR delays on these commuters.