Beginning in March of 2019, the Long Island Rail Road is embarking on an endeavor to provide eastbound commuter service on the South Fork, in an attempt to alleviate the overwhelming weekday traffic congestion that has grown unbearable in recent years.
With the spring schedule beginning March 4, 2019, the railroad plans to add two morning eastbound trains and two afternoon westbound trains to its South Fork schedule, and the New York State Department of Transportation has awarded Southampton and East Hampton Towns $500,000 to implement commuter connections helping to solve the “last mile” problem of getting commuters from the trains to their ultimate destinations.
The additional weekday schedules includes a 6:16 a.m. eastbound train departing Speonk, with stops out to Montauk, and an 8:26 a.m. eastbound train originating in Hampton Bays, with stops out to Amagansett. East Hampton Town is working on adding a bus to extend the 8:26 run out to Montauk.
Two additional westbound trains will depart Montauk at 2:48 and 4:50 p.m., with the 2:48 train ending in Speonk and the 4:50 terminating in Hampton Bays.
The South Fork’s rail infrastructure suffers from a lack of sidings, which will complicate the route in the summer, when the Friday afternoon eastbound Cannonball, which carries beetween 500 and 1,000 passengers, will preempt the local commuter service, Southampton Town Director of Public Transportation and Traffic Safety Tom Neely told the Southampton Town Board at its July 19 work session.
Mr. Neely said the town is planning to address the issue with a Friday afternoon bus for commuters.
Southampton and East Hampton towns are working together on a joint request for proposals for solving the “last mile” issue, which Mr. Neely said could be accomplished through a variety of methods, including shuttle buses, taxi vans and subsidized rideshare fares meeting up with the commuter trains.
The LIRR had worked with Southampton Town to implement a similar commuter train during the widening of County Road 39 about 10 years ago.
At the time, Mr. Neely said 50 to 60 people who worked for Southampton Town and Southampton schools got off the train in Southampton.
He added that 85 percent of the people who used the train at the time also used associated shuttle buses. During the nine months of the program, Mr. Neely said ridership peaked at 400 riders per day, with 40,000 total trips taken.
State Assemblyman Fred Thiele, who has been working with the towns on the project, said he would like to see the Stony Brook Southampton College train stop reinstated. There are 600 students currently attending the campus, he said, and enrollment is increasing. The campus is also bound to get busier after Stony Brook Southampton Hospital breaks ground on a new hospital there.
The towns are also working with the LIRR to change the zone pricing for the commuter line, because Speonk is currently in a different price zone than the rest of the South Fork line. Mr. Neely said the LIRR has agreed to charge a flat one-way fare of $3.25 from Speonk to Montauk, with the commuter bus connections adding $1 to the cost.
The commuter line could make a dramatic difference in commute times. The train will take just 14 minutes to travel from Hampton Bays to Southampton, a trip that easily takes upward of 45 minutes by car during the height of commuting hours. And the train would take just eight minutes to get from Southampton to Bridgehampton.
Southampton Town is looking into adding a parking lot near the Hampton Bays train station on property owned by the town that is used by the Hampton Bays Water District.
Mr. Neely said the spot, which could yield about 30 parking spaces, is currently covered with small scrubby growth, and would need to be cleared and paved, with appropriate drainage, at a cost of about $125,000.
“Through the years, there’s been an increasing pattern of labor demand going up and high housing costs creating an eastbound commute,” said Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman. “I think this is a game-changer.”