Just to clarify my earlier post... it was not meant to be a personal insult to any LIRR employee. I realise some older guys worked freight. As a matter of fact, I learned most of what I know from ex-LIRR employees. All I mean is that a busy tool stays sharp, and NYA tools (ha ha just kidding) are very busy. Take your average LIRR T&E employee, put him on the NYA for a year, and he too will be better than 90% of his peers. And by the way, those old guys are going fast, and taking their RR knowlege and experience with them. I see it on NJT where I work, too... the results are yard moves that take forever, run through switches galore, guys going OOS for stupid mental mistakes, etc.
Notonedime, good luck whatever you do. If you do get a job with a commuter agency or Amtrak first, you will have to be extremely vigilant for about the first five years after being qualified, as you will be on your own most of the time... and one mistake can mean injury, time off, loss of job, or worse. Statistics show that years 2-5 are when you'll be most likely to screw up, I guess due to overconfidence plus inexperience.
Do not underestimate the joy of standing at a switch watching bees pollinate weeds! Not all compensation is monetary.