2014 0714 LIRR

The Long Island Railroad plans to restore year-round weekend service to Greenport as part of an action plan agreed to at last week’s meeting between local officials and LIRR representatives, State Assemblyman Fred Thiele told RiverheadLOCAL yesterday.

The LIRR will make the recommendation to the board of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which must approve the service change. Thiele said he expects the MTA to give its approval. “It’s basically a fait accompli,” the assemblyman said.

It’s the first to be implemented in a series of measures agreed to by LIRR president Patrick Nowakowski during a closed-door meeting last week with East End officials at Riverhead Town Hall, Thiele said.

The LIRR also agreed to immediately begin a short-term planning process with North Fork elected officials utilizing the East End Transportation Council, to provide increased service to the North Fork in addition to the restoration of year-round weekend service, Thiele said.

“This is in my opinion a major change in the way the railroad is looking at the East End, both in short-term and long-term planning. I finally feel we’re truly part of the system and not just the stepchild,” Thiele said in an interview. “It’s a commitment to a planning process that will lead to greater service on both the north and south forks. I’ve been dealing with the railroad a long time. This marks a major shift in how they view the East End.”

Assemblyman Fred Thiele was joined by congressional candidate Anna Throne-Holst at a press conference in Riverhead last month announcing a July 8 meeting with the LIRR to discuss expanded service on the East End. Photo: Katie Blasl
Assemblyman Fred Thiele was joined by congressional candidate Anna Throne-Holst at a press conference in Riverhead last month announcing a July 8 meeting with the LIRR to discuss expanded service on the East End. Photo: Katie Blasl

Greenport Village Mayor George Hubbard said the service restoration and any subsequent expansion will be good for the village, which is experiencing unprecedented levels of traffic congestion.

“It will be a huge boost,” Hubbard said this morning.  He said he hoped additional service will make it feasible for local oystermen to use rail for shipping their product to market, too.

Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter said the meeting last week was “very productive.”

“I think the Long Island Railroad president took our needs seriously and wants to meet them,” Walter said.  “Some things aren’t going to happen until infrastructure upgrades are accomplished,” he noted,  but the railroad understands what needs to happen.

Thiele said another shift is the railroad’s new interest in an East End “scoot” service. Nowakowski told officials last week the LIRR could utilize its existing diesel cars. In the past, the LIRR has said it would have to buy light rail cars for such a service, which was potentially cost-prohibitive.  “They still need sidings and on the South  Fork, a second track,” Thiele said, but the “scoot” plan, which would connect points on both forks with a local rail service, became more feasible with the LIRR’s shift in attitude.

Southold Town planning director Heather Lanza will lead the planning effort on behalf of the transportation council, Southold Transportation Commission Chairman Neb Brashich said yesterday.

“Fred Thiele called for an action plan,” Brashich said. “He told the railroad there is no need for further studies.”

Thiele, whose district encompasses the South Fork and a portion of southeastern Brookhaven, called for the meeting last Friday to discuss improvements needed in train service on both forks. It was attended by elected officials representing constituencies throughout the region, as well as numerous LIRR officials, planners and other government representatives.

Brashich said he’s attended other meetings over the years and heard many promises, “but nothing really transpired after that,” he said.

“This is the first time I’ve seen the railroad’s top dog coming to the East End and discussing the problems he faces as well as the expectations of the North and South Forks,” Brashich said.

“So this time, I’m hoping for more.”

Southold Supervisor Scott Russell called the agreement to restore year-round weekend service “a good start.”

“It looks like the LIRR is listening,” Russell said. “Year-round service recognizes that we’re not just a summer community anymore.” However, he said, he hopes the LIRR will increase service by offering more trips each weekend.

The LIRR currently provides two eastbound trains and three westbound trains between Greenport and Penn Station on weekdays year-round and two trains in each direction on weekends from the first weekend in May through Thanksgiving weekend.

Weekend service on the Greenport line was year-round until 2010. Citing low ridership and its dire financial straits, the MTA in February 2010 proposed virtually eliminating all service on east of Ronkonkoma — with only summer weekend service to Greenport. The proposed cut sparked an uproar from local elected officials and residents, coming as it did on the heels of the 2009 enactment of the MTA payroll tax. Local officials blasted the tax — 34 cents on every $100 of payroll — especially in light of low service levels provided on the East End.

Following the outcry — including a public hearing where 150 people showed up to complain about the proposal — the MTA back-pedaled on its plan and instead eliminated weekend service during the “off-season.” That was originally the defined as the period between Columbus Day and Memorial Day, but in 2013 was shortened by 10 weeks, from the weekend after Thanksgiving to the last weekend in April.

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Denise Civiletti
Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.