The Long Island Rail Road won’t be running trains between Ronkonkoma and Greenport on Saturday, the first day of the Maritime Festival in Greenport. The two-day event draws an estimated 40,000 people to the village and stresses already-overburdened North Fork roads.
The LIRR is performing scheduled track work in Riverhead, replacing a switch at the Mill Road grade crossing. It will replace two round-trip trains between Ronkonkoma and Greenport with buses, according to a LIRR service change notice.
The LIRR’s decision took local officials and Maritime Festival organizers by surprise; the railroad did not consult with anyone — or even notify anyone — of the decision.
“I didn’t know anything about this,” said a surprised Greenport Village Mayor George Hubbard. “This is very poor planning on their part,” he said.
“I don’t even know where they’re planning to unload passengers,” Hubbard said. He noted that festival-related road closures on Saturday will make the LIRR parking lot difficult or impossible to access. “Did they even think about the roads that will be closed off?” he asked.
“With everything we’ve been trying to do to ease congestion,” Hubbard said, “this is just really bad planning on the busiest weekend of the year.”
Hubbard and others spoke of the ongoing communication between officials and the railroad that have at least tentatively resulted in increased weekend train service to Greenport during the so-called off-season.
“They committed to expanding service to Greenport each weekend. I didn’t realize that the promise was one of those ‘yes — but’ promises,” Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell said. ”Running buses is a good faith effort on the authority’s part but their timing is bad —very bad,” he said.
“That’s the dumbest idea I ever heard,” said Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter. “What are they thinking?” Walter said the MTA should at least consider busing people to the Riverhead train station and then run a train from Riverhead to Greenport. “The last thing we need is more vehicular traffic on the North Fork this weekend.
County Legislator Al Krupski said he spoke with LIRR representatives who said “they looked at the schedule and the ridership and this was the day they picked.” He said there was no indication that the repais were an emergency.
“They said the train doesn’t go out there at a time when most people would use it anyway. I said, ‘Well that’s the problem,’” Krupski said.
North Fork Promotion Council president Duncan Kennedy said the LIRR’s decision “doesn’t make any sense.” Maritime Festival weekend is the busiest weekend of the season, he said.
“Hopefully they will change this.”
A spokesperson for State Sen. Ken LaValle said, “He’s reached out to the railroad to stress that this is not a good weekend to do this.” He’s waiting for a response, she said.
A Metropolitan Transportation Authority spokesperson said this afternoon the MTA will “work closely with the community and organizers over the course of the weekend.”
But officials and organizers have not yet had any communication from the MTA or the LIRR.
“It’s very distressing,” said Arlene Klein, executive director of the East End Seaport Museum, which puts on the Maritime Festival. She said the museum heard nothing of the LIRR service change until this afternoon.
“I’m concerned it will discourage people who would have taken public transportation to utilize public transportation,” she said.
The North Fork Promotion Council and the Town of Southold have launched a trolley service on a pilot basis this fall. A trolley is running from Peconic to Greenport during the month of September. The schedule was devised with the Maritime Festival specifically in mind.
LIRR deputy general manager George Fletcher attended a joint meeting of the North Fork Promotion Council, North Fork Chamber of Commerce and Mattituck Chamber of Commerce on July 25 at the Peconic Community Center, where the need for additional trains to Greenport during the fall months — and on Maritime Festival weekend in particular — was discussed in detail.
“Maritime weekend creates a particular crisis,” then-executive director of North Fork Promotion Council Abigail Field said at the July meeting.
An MTA spokesperson today noted that no work is scheduled for Friday evening, “when the Maritime Festival begins or for Sunday, the last day of festivities.”
Buses will substitute for two round-trip trains on Saturday and we will provide enough bus seats to accommodate all customers, the spokesperson said.
“Providing reliable and safe service to our customers are our top priorities and the switch replacement at Mill Road in Riverhead must be completed this Saturday,” she said.