Rail service improvements are coming to the East End, says State Assemblyman Fred Thiele, including an extra weekday and weekend train and a “Fisherman’s Train” on the North Fork and extra commuter trains and infrastructure improvements on the South Fork.
East End state, county and local government officials met with executives from the Long Island Rail Road to discuss the improvements on Jan. 26. The group first met in July of 2016, and East End representatives sent their short and long-term requests to the LIRR in November of 2016.
Mr. Thiele said in a press release Monday that the LIRR plans to implement the North Fork’s requests by the end of 2017 and the South Fork’s requests by early 2018.
The North Fork’s requests include increasing the number of weekday departures from Greenport from 3 to 4, by repurposing the so-called “Jury Train” from Deer Park to Riverhead, which currently has low ridership.
“The LIRR will provide a draft schedule which includes 4 departures from Greenport for consideration by North Fork local governments,” said Mr. Thiele.
A request for one more weekend train to Greenport (there are currently two weekend trains), “could be accommodated with existing equipment” but the LIRR “will review the cost of providing the needed crew and will provide a draft schedule for consideration by the North Fork local governments,” said Mr. Thiele.
Currently the LIRR runs an equipment train, which does not pick up passengers, from Ronkonkoma to Greenport, arriving at 5 a.m. in order to have a train in Greenport for the weekday 5:30 a.m. departure heading westbound.
“The LIRR has proposed that, on a seasonal basis, this train could service passengers to Greenport and be marketed as a “Fishermen Train” to enhance the tourism marketing on the North Fork and bring customers to Greenport on a seasonal basis to enjoy the fishing industry,” said Mr. Thiele.
South Fork officials asked the LIRR for the restoration of the South Fork Commuter Connection, originally implemented on a trial basis in 2006 and 2007 during the County Road 39 widening project.
This service provided 2 eastbound commuter trains in the morning from Speonk to Montauk and an afternoon westbound commuter train from Montauk to Speonk. There was also a “last chance” bus from Montauk to Speonk in the late afternoon.
During the trial implementation, the towns had provided shuttle buses to transport commuters from train stations to employment centers in the morning and back to the train stations in the afternoon.
Mr. Thiele said “it was agreed that such a service could be accommodated, though some service modifications for Mondays and Fridays may be needed during the summer season.”
The group is also looking into replacing the “last chance bus” with a train, and accommodating the Commuter Connection service year round.
“It is recognized that the summer schedule would need to take into account the existing summer schedule and demand where there is already increased service, including the Cannonball,” said Mr. Thiele. “The LIRR will provide South Fork local governments with a potential schedule for this service so that the joint planning needed for this to be a success can take place.”
South Fork officials’ long-term goal is to provide service every half hour eastbound during the morning commute and westbound during the afternoon commute, said Mr. Thiele, but “lack of infrastructure and equipment precludes such additional service.”
“A second track from Sayville to Montauk or at least additional siding(s) on the South Fork would be required to provide for more frequent service,” said Mr. Thiele. “It was agreed that there should be a study completed to create a plan for these longer term capital needs. It was agreed that state legislators would seek funding to undertake such a study. LIRR agreed to work with East End officials on the scope of such a study and to provide available information regarding infrastructure costs.”
The South Fork commuter service will take longer to implement than the North Fork, said Mr. Thiele, in part because “the towns must also implement a transit service to get commuters to and from train stations to employment centers. This will require funding and planning to establish. It will also require cooperation with the local business community. An aggressive marketing campaign will be required to educate the public about the new service.”
The state legislators at the meeting agreed to seek funding for the creation of a long-term capital plan during the 2017 State Budget process.
Mr. Thiele and North Fork Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo attended the meeting, along with County Legislator Bridget Fleming, East Hampton Town Council Members Peter Van Scoyac and Kathee Burke-Gonzalez, and Shelter Island Council Member Christine Lewis. Representatives of State Senator LaValle and County Legislator Krupski were also present, along with planning officials of all five East End towns and the villages of East Hampton and Greenport.
Mr. Thiele said the group will meet in early March 2017 to “hopefully agree to the new services, establish train schedules, and needed additional actions to finalize the new services.”