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Long Island Rail Road

Port Jefferson Station LIRR depot

By Daniel Dunaief

The development of steel highways beginning in the early 1800s has had an enormous impact on our society, especially on Long Island, where the Long Island Rail Road was chartered in 1834. To commemorate the 185-year history of trains in Suffolk and Nassau counties, the Port Jefferson Village Center will host a new exhibit titled Railroads: Tracking the History on Long Island from Sept. 5 to Oct. 30.

Sponsored by the Port Jefferson Harbor Education and Arts Conservancy and the Incorporated Village of Port Jefferson, the unique show perfectly captures generations of railroad history with unique photos of trains, tracks and commuters from the Village of Port Jefferson archives, the Long Island Railroad Museum and the Queens Public Library’s Digital Collection.

Port Jefferson Station LIRR depot

In addition to the numerous images, the exhibit, which was curated by Port Jefferson village historian Chris Ryon, will also feature artifacts and a 50-foot time line, starting in 1834, that shows the history of a railroad that is the oldest in the country operating under its original name and with its original charter.

Currently, the train system carries over 350,000 commuters back and forth around the area each day, ranking it first among railroads in shuttling commuters.

According to Don Fisher, the president of the Railroad Museum of Long Island, laborers came from numerous countries to build the railroad. Initially, many of the workers were English and German, said Fisher. As more immigrants arrived, the workers included people of Italian and Irish descent as well as African Americans.

The railroad was originally designed to help people travel from New York to Boston. The trains brought people to Orient Point, where they took the ferry to Connecticut, which was harder to cross because many of its rivers didn’t have bridges.

Port Jefferson Station LIRR depot

One of the featured artifacts is a huge lantern that has its own serendipitous story. A resident of Wading River donated the lantern three years ago to the railroad museum. Initially, the railroad experts at the museum weren’t sure where it came from or how old it was. Later, they received a call from a resident of Toms River, New Jersey, who had a picture of a steam engine from the late 1800s. The picture features a kerosene, whale oil-burning lantern that looked incredibly similar to the one donated.

“While this is not the exact same lantern, it likely came off a locomotive like this, so we could make the story come to life,” said Fisher who suggested that the LIRR is “our railroad, which we love to hate.”

While he thinks typical commuters who ride the trains each day may not be as drawn to the exhibit, Fisher expects families with young children enthralled by Thomas the Tank Engine or by stories and photos of railroads may find numerous train treasures at the upcoming exhibit. He also expects that some senior residents will come and reminisce about everything from the horror of a snowstorm to a ride aboard a steamy train without air conditioning on a hot day to stories about friends they met aboard the train.

Port Jefferson Station LIRR depot

“The history of the Long Island Rail Road is the history of Long Island,” said Stephen Quigley, president of the Long Island Sunrise Trail Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society, who added that one of the many noteworthy railroad riders includes President Theodore Roosevelt who frequently took the LIRR to Oyster Bay while in office.

Quigley said he plans on contributing memorabilia to the exhibit, including a Dashing Dan logo, which is a popular feature from the 1950s trains. The typical Dashing Dan logo featured a commuter running with a briefcase, with half of his striped tie flying behind his head, as he’s checking his watch. The tagline on the logo was: The Route of the Dashing Commuter, which appeared above an LIRR placard.

The exhibit will also include numerous other versions of the Dashing Dan family, including a Dashing Sportsman, a Dashing Dottie and a Dashing Dan Weekend Chief, which features a commuter heading out aboard the train on the way to the beach.

Fisher and Quigley each have numerous stories about the history of the railroad and of their time aboard the trains.

In more modern times, Fisher said the Oakdale Station has featured at least two weddings. The LIRR has also been the setting for movies. The Mark Wahlberg film “Broken City,” which also stars Russell Crowe and Catherine Zeta-Jones, included scenes filmed aboard a train going back and forth from Long Island City to Montauk. During the filming, the LIRR added two extra cars, Fisher said.

Quigley recalled how one commuter, who had become friends with several other riders during his trek back and forth from Babylon to Mineola, had a baby shower on board the train.

Fisher added that many people are aware of some of the stories related to the Transcontinental Railroad, which involved moving Native Americans and gerrymandering properties. What people don’t often know, however, is that the “shenanigans with Congress and political bodies, the payoffs to get property so the railroad could be built, the sweetheart deals with companies, all happened here [on Long Island] first.”

Railroads, Fisher said, were the “dot.com of the time. Anybody with a few bucks wanted to invest. It was a hot commodity. More people worked for the railroad than any other industry. It was an economic generator.”

The community is invited to an opening reception of the new exhibit on Thursday, Sept. 12 from 6 to 9 p.m. Ryon said he hopes to have a panel discussion featuring railroad experts at the reception and is in the process of reaching out to a number of train executives.

The Port Jefferson Village Center, located at 101A East Broadway in Port Jefferson, is open seven days a week, except holidays, from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.. For more information, call 631-802-2160.

Photos  from the Kenneth Brady Collection

the Metropolitan Transportation Authority will create a task force to combat the ongoing issue of homelessness in New York City subway system with similar plans underway for the Long Island Rail Road. File photo

As a part of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s transformation plan announced July 24, the agency will create a task force to combat the ongoing issue of homelessness in New York City subway system with similar plans underway for the Long Island Rail Road. 

The announcement comes on the heels of a recent audit done by the NYS State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli (D), which revealed that Bowery Residents’ Committee, the nonprofit provider of homeless housing and services for the MTA, had only done limited outreach to the homeless. On multiple occasions, workers appeared to intentionally close their office and isolate themselves, closing off services to clients seeking assistance, the audit found.

The newly announced task force will look at new metrics for measuring homelessness, updating subway rules and regulations to provide more clarity on what is a violation of the rules, enhanced enforcement of rules, improved coordination among agencies, the potential benefit of establishing a dedicated homeless outreach office within the MTA and additional access to resources for those in need. 

According to the MTA, the homeless population in the subway system has risen 23 percent in 2019 to date.

“Homelessness is a growing problem on the subway, with a growing impact,” said Veronique Hakim, MTA managing director. “Through this task force we’re going to bring together a broad and empowered group that will help us to develop an expedited plan to keep our customers and workers safe and our trains moving — while providing much-needed resources and assistance to this vulnerable population.” 

The task force will have 30 days to design a plan, focusing on housing alternatives and increased resources that MTA officials believe will lead to a significant reduction in homelessness and panhandling by the end of 2019. 

Similarly, the Long Island Rail Road has faced criticism from the state comptroller on the issue of homelessness at its stations. In an audit sent to the LIRR earlier this year, DiNapoli found that the company that the agency contracts, Services for the UnderServed, were not doing an adequate job. 

In the report, officials said that SUS failed to assist homeless people to the extent possible under its contract responsibilities and clients were not receiving the services they needed. 

During one visit, the comptroller’s office observed SUS workers drive up to a train station parking lot and sit in the vehicle for approximately three minutes before leaving. The workers neither walked the platforms nor visited the station’s waiting room, according to the audit.

In a response to the comptroller’s finding, the LIRR responded saying that are already complying with DiNapoli’s recommendations and are implementing steps to improve oversight and performance of SUS.

 

State Sen. Jim Gaughran (D-Northport) hands out survey cards at local rail stations and seeks commuter input. Photo by Donna Deedy

The electrification of the Long Island Rail Road’s Port Jefferson Branch is back on the table, and government officials say they’re optimistic about the prospect, since now there’s some money to fund the idea.

New York State Sen. Jim Gaughran (D-Northport) during an informal interview May 9 at the Huntington train station, where he was personally handing out commuter surveys, said he predicts that the line will become fully electrified within the next five years. 

Morning commuters at the Huntington station where many switch trains to go both east and west. Photo by Donna Deedy

“It’s been talked about for decades,” he said. “It’s time to make it happen.”

Currently, the branch east of Huntington uses diesel or double-decker, dual-fuel trains, that are prohibited in Manhattan. Commuters between New York City and points east of Huntington on the Port Jefferson Branch must change from diesel to electric trains, or vice versa for the reverse commute, at various junctions, typically in Huntington. The process is time consuming and inconvenient for passengers, who are often subject to inclement weather on an open platform. Electric trains would eliminate the need to change trains and would create a time-saving, one-seat ride to Manhattan. 

Gaughran, who is serving his first term in the state Senate, has been a major proponent of the MTA Rail Act, an overhaul plan, which Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signed into law last month. New York State’s 2019-20 budget funds the overhaul and includes an expected $1.5 billion in capital projects for the Long Island Rail Road. Funds will be used for a variety of needs, but new trains and increased service are top priorities, according to Gaughran’s office. 

Electrification makes sense now, Gaughran said, because it would help address both congestion at Huntington’s station, which serves 41,440 daily weekday riders, while speeding up the slow commute to New York City.

Gaughran said that he’s already taken steps to advocate for electrification. He’s also conducted mobile town halls on trains during the morning commute to solicit passenger input on all rail service issues and will present passengers comments from his surveys to railroad officials later this year. 

Details from the Long Island Rail Road 

The LIRR is currently evaluating proposals, according to its spokesperson, and will soon award contracts to begin the electrification studies for both the Port Jefferson Branch and the Central Branch, which connects Babylon to Hicksville via Bethpage. The studies will determine what is required to complete each project.

Overall, the electrification project, in addition to a new fleet, would require significant investments in infrastructure such as new substations, a third rail and a second track between Huntington and Port Jefferson, upgrades to half-dozen platforms and work on bridges, viaducts and crossings, according to LIRR’s spokesperson. Additional train storage yard(s) will also be needed. 

The railroad does not yet have funding for construction but is seeking it for the Central Branch electrification in its 2020-24 capital program. Port Jefferson electrification would require additional funding in several other future programs. 

A faster, one-seat ride 

A common complaint among passengers interviewed for this report during the May 9 morning commute aboard trains on the Port Jefferson line supported the need for more rapid service. 

“It takes two hours to get to New York City from Stony Brook,” said John Morgan, a mathematician at Stony Brook University’s Simons Center for Geometry and Physics, who uses the train twice a week. “It’s too slow.” 

Larry Penner, a former Federal Transit Administration director in the New York region, who is familiar with MTA operations, capital projects and programs, said the one-seat ride to Manhattan in general is the best bang-for-the-buck idea for improving rail service for riders. 

“That would be a regional game changer for us.”

— Margot Garant

“Electrification of Ronkonkoma was selected over Port Jefferson back in the early 1980s,” Penner said. “Perhaps this time, Port Jefferson will come out on top this go-around almost 40 years later.”

Penner noted that the electrification of the railroad’s Central Branch east of Hicksville to Babylon holds the potential of creating a new north/south service route, which will provide detours to Jamaica during major service disruptions on the main line between Hicksville and Jamaica. 

For years, local elected representatives have recognized the commercial value and the resulting tax revenue benefits of electrification. 

“That would be a regional game changer for us,” Port Jefferson Village Mayor Margot Garant said during a phone interview.

The Long Island Rail Road is the busiest commuter railroad in North America, carrying an average of 301,000 customers each weekday on 735 daily trains. It’s comprised of more than 700 miles of rails on 11 different branches. For most lines, the terminus is Penn Station in Manhattan, with some lines originating or ending in Queens and Brooklyn.

The Huntington line, in addition to serving 41,440 daily weekday riders, serves another 11,210 travelers on the Port Jefferson line. 

State Sen. Ken LaValle (R). By Kyle Barr

While Democrat Greg Fischer has a lot of interesting ideas and enthusiasm, state Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) made a point during their debate that his challenger’s goals are philosophical. While Fischer looks to create a brand-new transportation system for New York state to create jobs, LaValle is looking right in Long Island’s backyard and has already started the procedure to study the possibility of electrification of the Long Island Rail Road from Huntington to Port Jefferson.

LaValle said he believes “1st District first” when it comes to making decisions. His recent efforts led to securing $25 million in funds along with state Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) for the initial phases for developing a new engineering building on the Stony Brook University campus. The move is to attract more engineering students to Long Island with the hopes they will remain and work in the area after graduating.

We believe that since being elected as state senator in 1976, LaValle has proven time and time again he has Long Island’s best interests in mind, works across party lines and gets the job done.

For New York State 1st Senate District, our endorsement goes to state Sen. Ken LaValle.

Businessman Greg Fischer (D) is challenging Sen. Ken LaValle (R) for his seat in New York State’s 1st District. Photos by Kyle Barr

It’s déjà vu in New York State’s 1st Senate District.

State Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) finds himself once again being challenged by Democrat Greg Fischer to retain his seat representing the district. The two squared off in 2016 when LaValle won with more than 67 percent of the vote.

“We’ve created literally a generation of homeless people.”

— Greg Fischer

Fischer, a Calverton resident and businessman who specializes in strategizing and consulting, said during a debate featuring the candidates at the TBR News Media office in Setauket he is concerned that no one on either side of the political aisle is doing anything to increase personal incomes in the state. He said this lack of progress is leading to a brain drain on Long Island where residents pay the overhead to educate the youth but get none of the benefits when they move on for better opportunities.

“We’ve created literally a generation of homeless people,” Fischer said. “Those are people that can’t leave their houses and have their own homes. But they’re not necessarily on the streets — they’re on the couches or they’re still in their childhood bedrooms.”

When it comes to strengthening the economy, LaValle said he sees potential in places like the Research and Development Park at Stony Brook University and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory as economic centers on Long Island. He said he supports more high-tech parks being constructed along the expressway to connect to these centers.

“We cannot afford one system for all.”

— Ken LaValle

The two had differing opinions on how to improve transportation for Long Islanders. While LaValle is looking locally, Fisher is thinking more statewide.

Fischer is proposing a bond-funded transportation system which would produce jobs statewide to connect New York City and Long Island to places like Quebec in Canada and Buffalo, and everywhere in between. He said the system would use subterranean vehicles able to go 150 mph on tracks that curve and 600 mph on straight tracks.

“It creates tens of thousands of jobs,” Fischer said, adding the use of bonds to fund such a project would see immediate payback.

The incumbent said he has led the charge in getting a state investment of $150,000 to conduct a feasibility study of electrifying the northern Long Island Rail Road line between Huntington and Port Jefferson, something he said people have talked about since before he took office 42 years ago.

“I believe, especially considering the economics of our day, that health care becomes a right.”

— Greg Fischer

“It’s something that I think that we’re finally, with money that I put in, that we’re going to get some attention,” the incumbent said.

Fischer criticized the idea of committing funds to invest in what he called “outdated technology.”

“No matter how much money we spend on horses and buggies it’s not going to help us,” Fischer said.

Both candidates said they believe better health care should be accessible to all.

“I believe, especially considering the economics of our day, that health care becomes a right,” Fischer said.

LaValle said the goal of the senate is to ensure access to health care for all. However, there are obstacles.

“We cannot afford one system for all,” LaValle said. “We tried. We looked at Obamacare and other types of things. I think we need to tweak what we have and make sure that no person goes without health care.”

“Waste, fraud and abuse cannot be tolerated at any time.”

— Ken LaValle

When it comes to education, Fischer said he believes there should be an inspector general assigned to NYS Education Department to investigate departmental waste, as its expenses are more than 50 percent of the state budget. He said currently any waste and mismanagement falls to the attorney general while other departments have inspector generals. Fischer, who has done audits of school districts, said he has found a lot of waste including not using best-value contracting.

LaValle said he has no problem looking into an inspector general for education.

“Waste, fraud and abuse cannot be tolerated at any time,” LaValle said.

Both candidates agreed more could be done for those suffering from drug addiction, especially in schools and colleges, including organizing public forums.

“Young people growing up today have lots of pressures, and it’s starting to show in so many ways, opioids being one of them,” LaValle said.

Fischer said he believes addiction comes from helplessness many young people feel from not being able to make a decent living and afford their own homes.

“As you become less and less of a stakeholder in the future, you destroy yourself,” Fischer said.

 

Port Jefferson's stop on the Long Island Rail Road. File photo by Erika Karp

An idea decades in the making could take a major step forward by the end of 2018.

It still may be years before electrification happens, if it ever happens at all, but momentum is building toward funding being secured for a study determining the feasibility of electrifying the Long Island Rail Road on the Port Jefferson line from Huntington to the stations east by the end of this year.

Mitchell Pally, the Suffolk County representative on the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s board of trustees, said the LIRR has already appropriated funds to support the study, adding state Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) has also succeeded in appropriating state funds toward the plan.

“The support of the communities involved is essential to making this work,” Pally said in an interview. “The railroad is very supportive.”

Community support for exploring the possibility of electrifying the line, which currently allows trains to run on diesel fuel east of Huntington, has been building in recent years, although the idea has been on the radar for North Shore residents at least as far back as the 1980s.

Anthony Figliola, an East Setauket resident, former Brookhaven Town deputy supervisor and vice president of Empire Government Strategies, a company that provides strategic counsel on governmental relations and practices to municipalities, has been leading a community coalition advocating for a feasibility study for about the last year, he said. The group, which Figliola said has been informally calling itself the North Shore Business Alliance, has been lobbying elected officials and community organizations like civic associations and chambers of commerce throughout the relevant territories in an effort to build public support for and attention on the idea. Figliola said he hopes the funding for a study will be in place by the end of the year. The study is expected to cost approximately $12 million, he said.

“It’s ripe, the community wants it,” Figliola said. “We’re very grateful for all that Mitch is doing to advocate on behalf of this.”

Figliola identified Charlie Lefkowitz, vice president of the Three Village Chamber of Commerce and real estate developer, as one of the other community members leading the charge for electrification.

“It’s a long time coming,” Lefkowitz said of progress on the feasibility study. “It was a collaborative effort on many fronts. The direct beneficiaries of it will be the communities.”

The study would examine how much faster trains on the North Shore line would reach Penn Station in Manhattan with electrification from Port Jeff, select a new rail yard to house the electric trains among other logistical particulars. Currently, the LIRR rail yard is off Hallock Avenue in Port Jefferson, though several officials have indicated electrification would require the relocation of that yard and the Port Jeff train station. The former site of Lawrence Aviation Industries has been suggested as a possible new rail yard and train station.

On April 4 Huntington Town Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R), Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) and Smithtown Town Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) sent a joint letter to the New York State Legislature’s Long Island delegation to express their support for the feasibility study due to potential economic and environmental benefits. They cited that the Port Jefferson and Huntington branch lines have the highest ridership, about 18.7 million annually, of any line in the LIRR service territory, according to the most recent LIRR Annual Ridership Report released in 2015. Figliola said his coalition had lobbied for the support of the three supervisors.

“I think it has legs,” state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) said of electrification. “It’s such a good idea that I think it should happen.”

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The MTA is currently updating the Stony Brook train station, which will lead to modern amenities and more security. Photo by Rita J. Egan

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority is giving the Stony Brook Long Island Rail Road train station a makeover.

The MTA began renovations on the station’s train house July 23 and will continue working on the station into the fall. In addition to being renovated, the station house will receive modern enhancements and upgrades, according to Aaron Donovan, MTA deputy communications director.

The station house was built around 1888,
according to the book “Images of America: Stony Brook,” and rebuilt in 1917, according to the MTA. The one-story structure will be completely renovated inside and out, and there will be the addition of a Wi-Fi network and charging ports, according to Donovan. Commuters will soon see improved signage and digital information displays, including electronic information columns, and bicyclists will have new bike racks.

The station platforms will be updated with new lighting and closed-circuit television security cameras, according to Donovan. Plans also include sidewalk improvements and a new sculpture in the plaza area.

The MTA has upgraded the station throughout the decades, Donovan said, including the station’s high-level platforms being installed in 1985 and targeted renovation work done to platform railings, lighting and platform shelters in 2011.

Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) said in a statement she was pleased that work began this summer.

“The Stony Brook train station is one of the most recognizable community landmarks in the Three Village area,” Cartright said. “There have been requests for upgrades over the years. I am pleased that the MTA saw the importance of meeting with community members including civic leaders, town Historic District Advisory Committee members and government officials to collaborate and develop a renovation plan. It is important that renovations to the station are in keeping with the historical character of the area while meeting the needs of modern travelers.”

Robert Reuter, a member of Brookhaven’s Historic District Advisory Committee, said he provided input but not officially on behalf of HDAC. 

“We encouraged them to preserve the existing and familiar green and beige color scheme, locate planned new ticketing machines away from the bay window, improve handicap accessibility both at the station and crossing the tracks, and minimize signage,” Reuter said.

In 2017, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) introduced a proposal to invest $120 million to provide state-of-the-art enhancements to 16 LIRR stations, including Stony Brook — and also at Port Jefferson. The MTA covered $35 million of the investment to the railroad stations, according to its website. It is estimated by the LIRR that 2,330 customers use the Stony Brook train station daily.

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The Port Jefferson ferry. Photo by Alex Petroski

By Amanda Perelli

Using public transportation in downtown Port Jefferson is no easy task, especially for those with vision, hearing or mobility impairments.

On April 17, Stony Brook University occupational therapy students evaluated the accessibility of the Suffolk County bus line, Long Island Rail Road and The Bridgeport & Port Jefferson Steamboat Company ferry in downtown Port Jeff, for their capstone project. Richard Brenza, Paulina Chrostowski, Shirley Lin, Puja Rai, Eric Wong and Wendy York were the students conducting the evaluation. Their goal was to see how difficult it would be for people with various impairments to navigate from the ferry to the train station a mile-and-a-half south on Main Street. They worked with five Suffolk Independent Living Organization volunteers — a nonprofit organization dedicated to aiding the disabled live independently — with visual, hearing and or mobility impairments, and presented their report at Village Hall in a private meeting May 22, which included representatives from Suffolk County Transit. Trustee Bruce D’Abramo attended the meeting on behalf of the village.

Students from Stony Brook University evaluate the accessibility of transportation services from the ferry to the train station in Port Jeff for people with various impairments. Photo from SBU

“Port Jefferson village is right next to our campus, it’s basically a college town,” Lin said. “Being that it is a place where a lot of us hangout, it was appropriate for us to see how accessible it is for individuals, or our classmates, who may have vision, hearing — any mobility impairments.”

The students received help in executing the evaluation from Pamela Linden, clinical associate professor, and Karen DeChello, clinical assistant professor — both of the occupational therapy program at SBU — and Amy Menditto, SILO’s NY Connects director.

“Our service learning projects are benefiting organizations and communities, rather than clinical practice,” Linden said.

Justin Ainsworth, outreach advocate at SILO, participated in the project alongside the other volunteers. Ainsworth has a power wheelchair and said he has no prior experience trying to ride the bus and was surprised he could.

“The [village] is fairly accessible, but there are always things that’ll make it easier,” Ainsworth said.

Before the group attempted to get on the bus, they came across an unexpected problem and asked themselves, “How would the visually impaired members cross the street alone?”

“I am a blind person who goes all over and for me to actually cross the street I have to put my hand up, put my foot out on the street and say ‘stop’ — and pray that they would stop so I could get to the other side,” said Marilyn Tucci, outreach and advocacy coordinator at SILO and one of the visually impaired volunteers.

“People with mobility impairments or vision impairments or hearing impairments, it’s not as easy for them to run down the corner to where the bus was.”

— Wendy York

The three-way intersection crossing from south to north on East Broadway adjacent to Main Street lacks a traffic stop light and audible walk signal, but the hurdles didn’t stop there.

The S61 Suffolk County Transit bus, which travels from the ferry dock to Patchogue railroad station and back, stopped down the street from its posted location, creating an added obstacle for the group of 11,
according to York.

“For us able bodies that are young, we can go to that bus that stops at a different place around the corner down the street,” York said. “People with mobility impairments or vision impairments or hearing impairments, it’s not as easy for them to run down the corner to where the bus was.”

The group arrived at the Port Jeff LIRR station, but struggled to board the train with ease as they had hoped, York said. They needed to track down the conductor and set up a ramp, which is the only way a person in a wheelchair can access the train.

“The gap that is in between the train car and the platform on the LIRR was, like, 8 inches and according to [Americans with Disabilities Act] standards it should be no more than 3,” York said. “I was with someone who was visually impaired so I helped her cross that gap, but she had told me previously — when she was alone — that there was a gap like that and her foot actually fell in between the car and she was stuck for a minute, which is obviously scary if the train were to move and no one knew. Luckily it didn’t.”

The students recommended small changes in consistency in their final report, like adding visual and audible traffic announcements for individuals to rely on.

“I think the most eye-opening part about it was seeing how many flaws there are in the system that still need to be worked out,” Brenza said. “It’s a lot better than it used to be, but there’s still a long way to go.”

Port Jefferson’s stop on the Long Island Rail Road. File photo by Erika Karp

The students got the chance to present their findings and interact with people from different transportation organizations at the meeting at Village Hall. Members of Suffolk County Transit told them the best way for something broken to get fixed is to call the company line directly and report it, according to Wong.

“They wanted to understand why the problem occurred and wanted to fix it, so it wouldn’t happen at another time,” Wong said. “We learned that it is not entirely Port Jeff’s responsibly to make all of the changes.”

The six students graduated June 22, earning master’s degrees in occupational therapy. The volunteers said they were grateful for the students efforts and both groups said they hoped the findings would make a lasting impact on the community.

“It’s a beautiful village and people with disabilities want to enjoy it, and it’s almost impossible to them to enjoy it unless they have sighted help,” Tucci said. “I hope the village and county and the town will really do something to put more lights there — and audible lights, especially by the ferry.”

D’Abramo said at a public meeting June 4 he told the students and SILO representatives he was eager to hear their findings, and reassured them the village would be an advocate in helping to deal with the transportation agencies involved.

“I tried to give them an idea of how many different agencies we were dealing with here — the MTA, the ferry, New York State Department of Transportation and Suffolk County busing,” he said.

Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci, Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim and Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine send joint letter to state representatives

Huntington commuters board train. File photo by Rohma Abbas

The spark of hope given to electrifying the North Shore branch of the Long Island Rail Road last November convinced local leaders to take up the charge.

Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) has joined with other town supervisors to urge state lawmakers to moved forward with a feasibility study on the electrification of the LIRR service line from Huntington Station east to Port Jefferson Station. Currently, trains on the line east of Huntington run on diesel fuel.

“It will have a strong affect on Huntington, Smithtown and Brookhaven,” Lupinacci (R) said. “For the commuters in all three towns this is something that’s critically needed in the area.”

“It will have a strong affect on Huntington, Smithtown and Brookhaven, for the commuters in all three towns this is something that’s critically needed in the area.”
—Chad Lupinacci

On April 4, Lupinacci along with Brookhaven Supervisor Edward Romaine (R) and Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) sent a joint letter to New York State Legislature’s Long Island delegation to express their support for the feasibility study due to potential economic and environmental benefits. They cited that the Port Jefferson and Huntington branch lines have the highest ridership, about 18.7 million annually, of any line in the LIRR service territory, according to the most recent LIRR Annual Ridership Report released in 2015.

“For decades this project has been a concept that could not reach the critical mass necessary to become a reality,” reads the April 4 letter. “However, we believe the time is now given the many roadblocks that prevented this project from moving forward have now been solved — including where to site the train cars.”

The letter details the beneficial impacts electrification of the Port Jeff branch would have for each of the townships.

In Huntington, the five stations — Greenlawn, Northport, Centerport, Fort Salonga and Commack — would benefit from additional transportation options and commuters heading east, according to Lupinacci.

Wehrheim stressed in the Town of Smithtown the infrastructural investment is a key pillar in the revitalization of Kings Park, Smithtown and St. James business areas. The town has invested significant funds in this year’s capital budget to these areas.

However, we believe the time is now given the many roadblocks that
prevented this project from moving forward have now been solved.”
— April 4 letter

In Brookhaven, Romaine said electrification of the rails would foster revitalization of Port Jefferson Station and allow for an easier commute to Stony Brook University, which has approximately 40,000 students and staff members. He also noted it would help ease traffic congestion on local roadways in the communities near SBU.

The project has received support from groups such as the Long Island Association in the past, and a more recent push from state Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson). LaValle met with Metropolitan Transportation
Authority board member Mitchell Paley last November, wherein the sides agreed to pursue a feasibility study to determine the potential cost and impact of electrifying the line out to Port Jeff.

“I believe it’s something we could get done,” LaValle said, in a November interview with TBR News Media. “I think it’s critically important that we can demonstrate to communities with specificity where electric substations are going. Communities need to know that before we make that decision. I’m supporting electrification that starts in Port Jeff but also goes through Smithtown and Huntington.”

Calls and initiatives to electrify the line east of Huntington go back to at least the 1980s. According to an article by researcher Derek Stadler published by the Long Island History Journal in 2016 entitled “The Modernization of the Long Island Rail Road,” in 1984, electrification of the branch was included in a nearly $600 million MTA spending package that was meant to serve as a five-year plan for LIRR improvements. However, the plans were postponed indefinitely just two years later due to a budget gap.

“This is a good time to put it out there. Now you can have serious conversations for next [budget] year.”
— Chad Lupinacci

The establishment of a one-seat ride from Port Jefferson to Penn Station has long been a goal for elected officials and LIRR riders as well, though that would require electrification as diesel engines cannot travel to the Manhattan station. In the mid-90s, a brief pilot program was tested on the Port Jeff line using dual-mode locomotive cars that could run using both diesel engines and third-rail electrification. According to Stadler’s research, in 2000 it was estimated that electrification east of Huntington could cost as much as $500 million.

“You are looking at several millions per mile of track,” Lupinacci affirmed. “This is a good time to put it out there. Now you can have serious conversations for next [budget] year.”

There is renewed hope that with a newlyannounced LIRR president, Philip Eng of Smithtown, that a feasibility study willEd be funded.

“New leadership brings in a different perspective,” Lupinacci said. “I think this is a good situation for us to be in with new leadership taking over the helm.”

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Historian Beverly C. Tyler, third from right, in front of a replica of a Union Pacific engine, takes part in the reenactment of the joining of the rails in Golden Spike National Historic Site. Photo from Beverly C. Tyler

By Beverly C. Tyler

The changes in transportation that began in the early 1800s were dramatic and far-reaching. They made it possible to lower costs of food and fuel, expand settlements, open western New York and the Midwest, and provide employment for thousands of immigrants. Before steam power, transportation on land was limited to walking, riding horses and going by horse and wagon. Canals and steamboats made long distance transportation viable, but canals were a temporary solution. The railroads became the vehicle that united America with steam power.

Wood was the first fuel used by steam trains, but coal was the fuel that made commerce by rail a reality. The early trains, including the Long Island Rail Road, fueled with wood, were only strong enough to carry passengers. Before 1844 the Norwich & Worcester and Boston & Worcester railroads ran a water-to-rail route from Manhattan to Boston. Steamboats left Manhattan at 5 p.m. Eleven hours later, they arrived at Allyn’s Point in Norwich, Connecticut. There the passengers were escorted to the waiting train. Two hours later they arrived in Boston, a total trip of 13 hours, under the best of conditions.

To compete on the route from Manhattan to Boston the LIRR built a rail line west to east on Long Island from Brooklyn to Greenport. Cornelius Vanderbilt joined with the LIRR to provide steamboats for crossing Long Island Sound, between Greenport and the docks at Stonington and Norwich, Connecticut, where trains then took passengers to Boston. The LIRR felt that as this was the longest rail route and the shortest water crossing it would get passengers to and from Boston more rapidly, and it did, with a time of about 10-and-a-half hours. The first train left Brooklyn Aug. 8, 1844. The route was initially a popular success and even had a contract to carry the U.S. mail. The new LIRR and N&W route offered early morning departures which assured arrival in one’s destination city by evening. Thus, for the first time, travelers passing between the two cities could avoid having to spend a night on the steamboat/train connection.

Vanderbilt in his quest against his competitors kept lowering the cost of the LIRR route, and when the board of directors balked at his aggressive stance, Vanderbilt abandoned the LIRR, making it impossible to compete financially. To get needed funds the railroad sold their steamboats Cleopatra and Worcester to the N&W allowing it to compete with LIRR on its own water routes. As a result, the LIRR abandoned its Brooklyn to Boston route in March 1847.

A reproduction of the Central Pacific engine Jupiter in Utah. Photo by Beverly C. Tyler

The LIRR now had tracks running through the center of the Island where few people lived. It would be nearly three decades before the railroad completed lines along the North and South shores to more effectively serve Long Island residents. In the meantime, the LIRR began a campaign to encourage New York City residents to take the rails to the shores of Lake Ronkonkoma as well as connections to stage coaches that would take them to vacation spots on the North and South shores of the Island.

The rise of American railroads coincided with a flood of immigrants. In 1842 more than 100,000 immigrants arrived in American ports, the overwhelming majority in New York City. By 1847, immigrants from just Ireland exceeded 100,000 and over the next decade more than a million Irish came to America. Germans also came to America to escape the wars and revolutions in Europe. As railroads grew and tracks crisscrossed Eastern and Midwest states they needed more and more laborers to lay tracks and do many new jobs associated with this new booming transportation infrastructure. The flood of immigrants had come at just the right time for America.

In Ohio, Illinois, Indiana and Michigan, railroads connected the waterways of the Great Lakes, and the Ohio, Mississippi and other rivers with port cities, especially New York and New Orleans. During the 1850s Midwest cities grew rapidly as immigrants, cattle, hogs and wheat from the great plains flooded into Chicago and other developing Midwest cities.

By the late 1840s, the telegraph and the railroads were developing together and relying on each other. The possibility of instantaneous information altered the entire logistics of the railroad industry. For the telegraph operators, the benefits were obvious. The telegraph company would hoist its poles along the tracks. The railroad would then provide ongoing maintenance of the telegraph wires.

In the summer of 1862, the federal government, in the absence of Southern elements in Congress due to the Civil War, approved the Pacific Railway Act, with a combination of land grants and bond guarantees, allowed for private interest to begin construction of a railroad to connect across the entire country. It was the California Gold Rush that made the construction work possible and men such as John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, J.P. Morgan and Joseph Pulitzer made it work.

From the time of the gold rush in 1848 to 1849 the idea of connecting the Pacific Coast to the East via a large railroad had been a dream of both capitalists and politicians. Finally in 1869, the golden spike was driven in the last rail as west met east at Promontory, Utah, where the two trains met, the western train fueled by wood and the eastern train fueled by coal.

In October 2012 my wife Barbara and I dove to the Golden Spike National Historic Site in Corinne, Utah. It is really a desolate area except for the national park. We were there for the last ceremonial reenactment of the year, the joining of the rails across America at Promontory, Utah.

Two reproduction engines, the Central Pacific engine Jupiter and the Union Pacific engine 119 came together as the golden spike was gently driven in and then removed and replaced with an iron spike. Costumed actors and visitors then gathered together for a picture of this monumental event that joined our country together with steel rails and instant communication.

Beverly C. Tyler is Three Village Historical Society historian and author of books available from the society at 93 North Country Road, Setauket. For more information, call 631-751-3730 or visit www.tvhs.org.