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Railroad

In November, state Sen. Ken LaValle gave his blessing to a feasibility study for the electrification of the Port Jefferson LIRR line east of Huntington. File photo

A technological upgrade in Port Jefferson almost four decades in the making got a jolt of life this month.

The Port Jefferson Long Island Rail Road line was electrified as far east as Huntington in 1970, and despite calls ever since, electrification of the line further east to Port Jeff has yet to take place. State Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) met with Metropolitan Transportation Authority board member Mitchell Pally during 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. Trains used on the line east of Huntington currently run on diesel fuel.

“I believe it’s something we could get done,” LaValle said of electrification during a phone interview. “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.”

The feasibility study would be conducted by the LIRR and MTA, according to LaValle, and he said he’s not sure what the study would cost.

“Conducting a feasibility study makes a great deal of sense,” LIRR spokesperson Aaron Donovan said in a statement. “Additional electrification has long been part of the discussion for future improvements. We look forward to working with Senator LaValle about the possibility of obtaining funding for such a study.”

In November, state Sen. Ken LaValle gave his blessing to a feasibility study for the electrification of the Port Jefferson LIRR line east of Huntington. File photo

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.

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.

Stadler said in an email he considered the feasibility study “a big step forward,” and said he’s optimistic it could get the ball rolling. However, he added the discussion has heated and cooled in the past as well.

Port Jefferson Village Mayor Margot Garant said during a Nov. 20 board of trustees meeting she and Deputy Mayor Larry LaPointe recently met with LaValle, and the topic of electrification of the Port Jeff line came up as well.

“It would be critical to electrify the North Shore line,” Garant said during the meeting. The village is in the process of examining transportation improvements that could among other benefits, increase LIRR ridership and better coordinate the schedules of the railroad, Suffolk County buses and the Bridgeport-Port Jefferson ferry.

LaValle said the process of obtaining money to actually complete the electrification work wouldn’t be done prior to the feasibility study, though he said he believes funding could be attainable.

“We want to move people as quickly as possible east to west and build the same rate of success as Ronkonkoma is enjoying in terms of availability of trains into not only New York City, but west,” he said. “Before we do that we need to know with specificity — communities need to know what it means for their community.”

The state senator also mentioned discussions with the MTA concerning the possible usage of Lawrence Aviation Industries Superfund site in Port Jefferson Station as a possible LIRR rail yard.

Both LaValle and Donovan declined to share specifics about the timetable of a feasibility study.

Huntington riders may experience some problems with upcoming station work. File photo by Rohma Abbas

Huntington Long Island Rail Road commuters may face some additional strain in their usual commute in the coming weeks.

The elevator at the South Parking Garage at the Huntington LIRR station is now out of service and is being replaced, with construction that began July 11. According to a press release from the town, this project is “much-needed,” to increase the reliability, safety and comfort for those who regularly use the elevator. The town said it estimates that the elevator will be out of service for about four months, with construction wrapping in November.

“We realize that no matter what the alternative, riders will be inconvenienced,” the press release said. “Please be assured that our contractor will endeavor to complete the project as quickly as possible.”

In an effort to make the change as painless as possible, the town asked for input from residents to help create options for those who, because of physical handicaps, find the elevator necessary.

“I guess we should consider ourselves lucky that we’re not on the first page of Newsday, but we do have real problems,” Georgina White, a Huntington resident said at the June town meeting where the input was gathered. “This is really a hardship. I did go online and take the survey, but the proposed suggestions are really poor. The handicapped and the elderly, and the people with strollers are going to be held. I suggest that you try to put the shuttle, that’s handicapped accessible, from 6 a.m. to 12 a.m. It needs to happen.

She acknowledged the elevator has had a lot of issues in recent years, including breakdowns and filth, and commended the town for finally getting a new elevator. But She encouraged the town to improve its ways of getting the motive out, as she feared not enough residents realized the changes that were going to soon occur.

Based on those responses and the town’s recommendations, the following actions will be taken:

1. The town has added handicapped parking spaces on both sides of the tracks. On the north side, the additional spaces are on ground level in the parking garage. On the south side, the additional spaces are on level 2 of the parking garage. Both locations will provide easy access to the handicapped ramps. If at all possible, the town suggests users should try to arrange their trip so eastbound and westbound trips depart and arrive on the same track. Information on which platforms trains usually depart from or arrive on is contained in the full Port Jefferson line LIRR schedule.

2. Consider alternate stations. In particular, parking is available at the Northport station, which has only one track.

3. A town Public Safety vehicle will be available at the station during peak hours — 5:30 to 8:30 a.m. and 5:30 to 9 p.m. — to transport persons with disabilities from one side of the tracks to the other. To arrange a ride during those or other times, call Public Safety at 631-351-3234. Riders can call from the train to make Public Safety aware of their need in advance.

4. The town has reached out to the LIRR and asked that announcements about track changes be made as early as possible, so commuters will know if there is an issue before they board the train.

5. If a rider has questions or a problem, they should call the Department of Transportation and Traffic Safety at 631-351-3053.

“I appreciate all you’re trying to do,” White said. “Could we work together to communicate some better things for people in our town?”
After she spoke at the meeting, Huntington Town Supervisor Frank Petrone (D) thanked her for her suggestions and encouraged her to meet with the town’s director of transportation to continue a dialogue.
The news adds to rider woes, as those dealing with Huntington’s maintenance may also be delayed by Long Island Rail Road work at Pennsylvania Station.

Residents and Brookhaven officials will address ways to improve Route 25A near the Stony Brook train station, above, in the first phase of the study. Photo by Giselle Barkley

After decades of waiting, Brookhaven officials said they were taking legitimate steps toward giving Route 25A a face-lift — starting with Stony Brook.

The town board approved a resolution on Thursday, Jan. 14, to conduct land use studies for Route 25A in Three Village and Port Jefferson Station. The town said it would be holding several meetings over the coming months at which residents can suggest ways to improve the de facto Main Street, especially near the Stony Brook Long Island Rail Road station and where Route 25A meets Nicolls Road.

This three-phase study will start with the Smithtown line to Nicolls Road. The two other phases, including the Port Jefferson Station study, will follow. Route 25A near the Stony Brook train station is part of the first phase.

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) said the town will use money from a contingency fund in its operating and capital budgets to fund the study. The town hasn’t established dates, times and location, but Romaine said meetings will begin once the weather gets warmer in March or April.

“It’s long overdue,” Romaine said about the study. “We will be sending letters to [the Department of Transportation]  and ask them to participate because a lot of the work we’re going to comment on are things [DOT has] to do, like additional sidewalks.”

Several civic leaders across the Three Village and greater North Shore community came out in full support of the land use study on Thursday with hopes of spurring the town board to expedite progress along 25A.

“The intersection of Nicolls Road and Route 25A is really the gateway to the communities of the Three Village community, and quite frankly it’s sort of a hodge-podge of commercial and retail buildings,” said George Hoffman, vice president of the Three Village Civic Association. “We also have a real problem with safety … because the corridor is really lacking crosswalks and sidewalks.”

The town also asked Stony Brook University to participate in this study. Similar land use studies and plans for Route 25A were conducted in 1963 and 1975 according to Robert de Zafra, former president of the Civic Association of the Setaukets and Stony Brook. A third study was conducted around 20 years ago.

Current civic leaders like Shawn Nuzzo, president of the Civic Association of the Setaukets and Stony Brook, have tried kick-starting revitalization efforts for Route 25A near the Stony Brook train station for several years. Nuzzo has often been at the forefront of all discussions relating to upgrading 25A and ushering in a new era of commercial and residential prosperity across the main road.

At Thursday’s town board meeting, Nuzzo said the town was finally taking a different approach when working with civic groups.

“There’s been a lot of false starts with this area because it was based in the past on this old top-down model, where the people at the top were going to tell the people at the bottom what they’re going to live with for the next 50 years,” Nuzzo said at Town Hall before Brookhaven passed the resolution. “But this model now with this corridor study and community visioning, this is a bottom-up model.”

Over the last several years, Stony Brook University students have worked with their professors to propose idealistic and practical ways to improve the area by the train station. The groups have been hosting events with residents at the Bates House in Frank Melville Memorial Park in Setauket and other locations, where they have pitched their plans based on various land studies of the 25A corridor.

Professor Marc Fasanella from Stony Brook University has been leading entire classes on the revisioning of Route 25A and challenging his students with finding realistic ways to make the corridor more appealing visually and logistically.

In a previous interview with Times Beacon Record Newspapers, he said the crux of the challenge was to think outside the box, no matter how outlandish the plans might seem.

“We looked at this as a tremendous opportunity for our students and for the community moving forward,” Fasanella said. “Are we dreaming? Of course we’re dreaming.”

Nuzzo said the area by the train station has united people throughout the community, but the entire corridor, especially near the LIRR, can not only be safer but also more visually appealing to the community.

“This is an issue that transcends political lines,” he said. “This is an issue that has unified both the civic association and the Chamber of Commerce who have historically been at odds with one another. We’re in that redevelopment phase of this corridor and this is really a once in a lifetime opportunity to have a community vision to have something nice for 75 to 100 years.”

Phil Corso contributed to this report.

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