Mitigation for Extreme Weather Conditions and Flooding

Issued Date
March 13, 2024
Metropolitan Transportation Authority - Long Island Rail Road


To determine whether the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) performed a systemwide risk assessment to identify potential risks to its system from extreme weather conditions and flooding and developed plans to mitigate their effects. We also determined whether the LIRR tested and updated the plans and inspected/maintained the equipment to ensure they can be deployed when needed. The audit covered the period from April 2009 to January 2023.

About the Program

The LIRR was founded in 1834 and comprises over 700 miles of track on 11 different branches, stretching 120 miles from Montauk in Long Island to Penn Station and Grand Central Madison in Manhattan, to Atlantic Terminal in Brooklyn, and to Hunterspoint Avenue in Queens. The LIRR is the busiest commuter railroad in North America, with an average weekday ridership of about 198,200 customers from March 21, 2023 to April 3, 2023. The LIRR’s western terminals (Penn Station, Atlantic Terminal, Hunterspoint Avenue, and Grand Central Madison) and the tunnels leading to them are underground; however, the remaining track is entirely outdoors, exposed to the elements. The LIRR is the primary means of transportation between Long Island and New York City. Therefore, the LIRR must be prepared to operate as effectively as possible during minor to severe weather conditions.

Severe weather includes thunderstorms, tornadoes, hail, lightning, floods, damaging winds, and winter weather. Such events can create hazardous travel conditions throughout the LIRR region and can hamper the LIRR’s ability to provide regular train service. Additionally, hurricane season can bring high winds, heavy rain, and lightning, which can result in mudslides, fallen trees, and downed power lines along the right-of-way (tracks).

The LIRR developed an Operating Plan for Winter Storms and Other Contingencies (referred to as the WSOP). It includes standard operating procedures for winter, which are in effect annually from November 15 through April 1. The procedures outlined in this book detail each involved department’s procedures for what is required before, during, and after all levels of snowstorms. The WSOP also details each department’s responsibilities for heat, high winds, heavy rains, and washouts. The LIRR’s Hurricane Guide provides direction for safely maintaining the most service possible during varying hurricane stages. The plan evaluates potential storm effects and implements service plans based on the projected storm category and path.

In September 2007, the MTA established the Blue-Ribbon Commission on Sustainability to develop sustainability-related recommendations for the MTA and its operating agencies. In April 2009, the MTA released the Commission’s Final Report, which predicted that, without an adequate investment in adaptation measures, climate change will have even greater adverse impacts on the MTA’s vital infrastructure, operations, and revenue streams in the future. The primary risks to the metropolitan region and the MTA service area include more extreme precipitation events, coastal storms and storm surges, flooding, and, in the longer term, rising sea levels.

Key Findings

  • The LIRR did not perform a systemwide assessment of its transportation facilities to identify weather-related risks. LIRR officials advised us that a risk assessment was being conducted and was to be completed by the fourth quarter of 2023.
  • The Transportation, Engineering, and Maintenance of Equipment departments either were not in compliance or did not provide documentation to support compliance with the WSOP requirements. For example:
    • Engineering’s Signals sub-unit was supposed to have 11 portable generators and four chainsaws; however, we observed only eight portable generators and three chainsaws.
    • Engineering’s Track sub-unit was supposed to have one backhoe loader, 10 front loaders, and 12 light towers; however, the backhoe loader, five of the front loaders, and two of the light towers were not at the site. Officials stated that the equipment was currently being used in the field; however, there was no documentation showing the location.
  • Engineering sub-units Power and Track did not complete maintenance, inspections, and testing of equipment for the winter season. For example:
    • Our review of 13 pieces of snow-fighting equipment found there was no documentation to support that two pieces of equipment were prepared for five winter seasons (2018–19 through 2022–23). Another 11 pieces of equipment were missing records for at least one winter season.
  • The WSOP states that the Maintenance of Equipment department winter preparation begins on or before April 30 annually and ends by the second Friday of October. However, Maintenance of Equipment officials stated that they procure winter operation materials and rental equipment almost year-round, which is not in conformance with the WSOP. In addition, the 45-day inspections required by the WSOP are no longer performed. However, the WSOP was not revised to reflect the actual practices.
  • Our review of four Superstorm Sandy capital projects designed to mitigate potential damage from weather found that none were completed on time. For example:
    • One project was supposed be completed in August 2019; however, it will not be completed until December 2024 – over 5 years later. We were advised that delays occurred due to changes in priorities, which resulted in reassigning employees to other projects, as well as issues with access to tracks that are also used by internal and external entities such as Amtrak.

Key Recommendations

  • Ensure that the systemwide risk assessment of the LIRR is completed on schedule and documented.
  • Ensure that the LIRR operation departments comply with seasonal (winter) preparation guidance.
  • Ensure all equipment is maintained, inspected, and tested regularly in a timely manner and documented.
  • Review and revise the WSOP, where appropriate, to ensure uniformity between the agency’s guidelines and department practices.
  • Ensure that all projects include provisions for working with internal and external agencies to expedite the project’s completion.

Carmen Maldonado

State Government Accountability Contact Information:
Audit Director: Carmen Maldonado
Phone: (212) 417-5200; Email: [email protected]
Address: Office of the State Comptroller; Division of State Government Accountability; 110 State Street, 11th Floor; Albany, NY 12236