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Brookhaven Town officials, with Supervisor Ed Romaine at the microphone, join local representatives from the state and nearby townships to protest the LIRR’s planned fare hike. Photo from TOB

Local and state officials, along with citizen advocates voiced a collective message to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and New York City during a press conference at Ronkonkoma train station on March 2: “Stop shortchanging Long Island.” 

The group called on the MTA to abandon its plan for a systemwide 4 percent fare increase in 2021 for Long Island Rail Road customers, including those in Nassau and Suffolk counties. The decision was a part of the NYC Outer Borough Rail Discount plan which offers an up to 20 percent discount for city riders. 

“Everything is being pushed out to Long Island in terms of expenses and it won’t be long until you’re expected to buy them a coffee and a bagel as well.”

— Ed Smyth

“Long Island is not the cash cow for New York City,” said Ed Romaine (R), Brookhaven Town supervisor. “This is unconscionable, this is a handout to the city at the expense of Long Island.”

Romaine said a typical Ronkonkoma LIRR commuter who purchases a monthly parking pass, monthly train ticket and unlimited ride Metrocard would have to pay $7,224 annually. 

“The MTA has not made the capital investments it should on Long island — what about our riders?” Romaine said. 

The supervisor added that Long Island has already been shortchanged regarding electrification, as there is no electrification east of Huntington and none past the Ronkonkoma station.

The discounts were mandated by the state Legislature as a condition of its approval of congestion pricing legislation, which would create new tolls for drivers in Manhattan to help fund the authority’s $51.5 billion capital program. The plan will go into effect in May of this year. 

Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) also took issue with the MTA’s decision. 

“We had the congestion pricing vote, which I voted against it,” he said. “This is completely counterintuitive to the folks using the trains. Congestion pricing was meant to get individuals to start using public transportation and not use their vehicles.”

He added that the MTA has billions of dollars of subsidies from the state and federal government. 

“This is a New York City problem — we should not bear the brunt of it,” he said. “Mayor [Bill] de Blasio [D] should pay for this — they are overwhelmingly serviced [by the MTA].”

The MTA board is made up of 21 stakeholders appointed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), including people recommended by unions and municipalities such as the city and surrounding counties. Kevin Law represents Suffolk County, and was nominated by Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D). The other Long Island representative, David Mack, represents Nassau.

Despite their differences, officials continued to agree with the planned change at a Feb. 26 board meeting, saying they expect the up to 20 percent discount to entice Queens and Brooklyn commuters to use the LIRR if they live far from a subway line.

MTA officials say this is a pilot program up to one year’s duration. 

However, on Long Island, other local officials voiced their displeasures. 

“This is unconscionable, this is a handout to the city at the expense of Long Island.”

— Ed Romaine

Ed Smyth (R), Huntington Town councilman, said commuters will essentially be paying for their ticket and for somebody in NYC. 

“Everything is being pushed out to Long Island in terms of expenses and it won’t be long until you’re expected to buy them a coffee and a bagel as well,” he said. 

Kevin LaValle (R-Selden), Brookhaven Town councilman, said the MTA plan would negatively affect the progress they’ve made to bring transit-oriented development to the area. 

“On a town level, this is something we’ve been working on for years,” he said. “The Tritec [Ronkonkoma Hub] development is an example of that. It will make it easier for Long islanders to get into the city. With these fee increases it will make it harder for them to afford to live here and ride here.”

Palumbo added he will be writing a letter to Cuomo in the coming days and will ask Long Island representatives from both political parties to sign it. The assemblyman is hopeful the plan can be changed before the NYS budget deadline next month. 

“Hopefully he can see it, and this can be fixed on April 1 — I’m just hoping that it doesn’t fall on deaf ears,” he said. 

Outside the Port Jefferson LIRR Station. The ticketing office was subject to closure as part of the LIRR'S plan. Photo by Kyle Barr.

After initially proposing to prohibit cash transactions on trains, the Long Island Rail Road announced it has decided to shelve its plan temporarily at a Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s LIRR Committee meeting Dec. 16.

Phillip Eng, LIRR president, disclosed at the meeting that the plan would be put on hold until the MTA’s new fare payment system, OMNY, is in place. The system is expected to be implemented into the LIRR and MetroNorth in early 2021.

The plan was meant to save the LIRR money by eliminating several tickets agent positions, as well as close of station ticket offices in Patchogue and Port Jefferson. This is despite recent renovations to the Port Jefferson station, which included additions to the ticket office.

Mederith Daniels, MTA spokesperson, confirmed the two ticket offices would no longer be closing in 2020. She also said the LIRR regularly reassesses customer usage of ticket windows and that the ticket offices could be considered for closure in the future.

the MTA spokesperson said these ticket offices were mainly used for conductor remittances and had a relatively small number of customers utilizing them. At Port Jeff and Patchogue – a full service ticket machine and daily ticket machine are located outside each of the station buildings.

Port Jefferson LIRR station serves 1,375 weekday riders, according to the MTA.

In November, OMNY surpassed three million taps from New York City bus and subway riders as well as riders from the Staten Island Railway.

 

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. 

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.”

A newly finished community mural that spans the bridge between the Huntington Station and South Huntington communities was unveiled on Huntington Awareness day.

The Town of Huntington celebrated the completion of Birchwood Intermediate School’s community mural painted on the Long Island Rail Road overpass over New York Avenue Sept. 22.

It’s a day our community celebrates not an individual’s, but our collective achievements,” Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) said. “This beautification project delights and inspires us, it continues the beautification that we’ve done. It helps bring us forward, inspires us, and let’s us know that we are one community working together.”

Annie Michaelian, former assistant principal at Birchwood, and Barbara Wright, a fifth-grade teacher at Birchwood, led a team of students, teachers and staff to painting a mural along the LIRR overpass that highlights Huntington’s unique landmarks, features and cultural diversity.

Area residents should be able to easily identify some of the iconic landmarks painted on the overpass including the Huntington Lighthouse and the southwest entrance to Heckscher Park, and a stylized version of the park’s fountains and bridges. These items are depicted as drawn by Birchwood’s students.

The best part of this experience was as we were painting our community members are walking past us and thanking us for beauitfying the train station,” Birchwood principal Anthony Ciccarelli said. “It was touching to all of us, it put smile on our faces. We did it for the love of our community.”

In the last few weeks since TBR News Media first reported on the mural, the finishing touches including the names of the schools in Huntington and South Huntington school districts have been added along with a quote by Walt Whitman, Huntington’s famous poet and journalist.  A flag was also added to an airplane to thank Aboff’s Paints in Huntington for donating all the paint, brushes, rollers and supplies needed.

See more photos of the new Huntington Station LIRR mural while in progress, click here. 

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Kings Park train station. Photo by Kyle Barr

Tired of delays, cancellations, safety issues and general stress of commuting on the Long Island Rail Road, several thousand Long Islanders have signed a petition asking for refunds and an investigation of the venerable rail system.

Nearly 3,000 people have signed an online petition demanding the LIRR investigate the rail line’s safety and inefficiency problems as well as institute refunds for canceled service. More are signing the petition every day.

For Commack resident and three-year LIRR commuter Eric Trinagel, 42, who started the petition, it displays just how fed up commuters have become.

People are worried that they’re going to lose jobs because the train makes them late.”

— Eric Trinagel

“If they’re working on construction, if they are going to short schedules, at least increase the cars,” he said. “Instead they’re reducing schedules and reducing car lengths from 12 cars to eight. Everybody standing and standing uncomfortably.”

Trinagel, a technical manager for Viacom, said he didn’t expect so many people to join the petition, originally only expecting he and his wife would support it, if that. Within a few hours, he said he watched as more than 1,000 people signed their names to his Change.org petition.

The current total of 2,781 petitioners as of Wednesday is only a drop in the bucket of the LIRR’s 355,000 average weekday ridership, according to the LIRR’s 2016 data. Still, its creator believes these issues of constant delays for riders is coming to a head. He said commuters are sick and tired of delays, especially if it means being late for work.

“People are worried that they’re going to lose jobs because the train makes them late,” Trinagel said. “People are looking for jobs outside of the city because of the LIRR.”

The LIRR is taking my hard-earned money and giving me next to nothing in return.”

Lorraine Mastronardi

Data on LIRR’s website shows July 2018 had an 88.9 percent on-time performance compared to 93.1 percent in July 2017.

Trinagel also said that the LIRR should look to reimburse at least a small part of commuter’s tickets if there are service delays, especially because of recent fare hikes. In March 2017, fares rose 4 percent across the board for train users, though the increase did not affect New York City subways. Another 4 percent fare hike has been proposed for 2019.

Many who signed the petition decried the amount they pay for their commutes compared to the level of service. People complained of overcrowded cars, rising fares and an overall feeling of being uncared for, especially when the railroad could be the determining factor if they are late for their jobs.

“Chronic lateness to work can jeopardize one’s career stability,” Mount Sinai resident Cynthia French wrote as she signed the petition. “Their traffic and weather reporters rattle off delays with a smile, but commuter stress is real.”

As the country heads into election season, multiple incumbents and candidates have also criticized LIRR’s recent performance. U.S. Congressman Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) and his Republican opponent, Dan DeBono, have both criticized LIRR’s inefficiencies and called for an overhaul of the rail system.

We can’t be sitting on a train for an hour saying it’s just a signal issue, meanwhile on Facebook there’s a picture of two trains parked face to face a few feet away from each other.”

— Eric Trinagel

“The LIRR is taking my hard-earned money and giving me next to nothing in return,” Port Jeff resident Lorraine Mastronardi wrote. “I’ve been riding the LIRR as a commuter since 1988 and it has never been this horrendous.”

This comes as Phil Eng, the newly appointed president of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s LIRR, is overseeing several major changes to the rail system, including the Double Track Project, which would add a second track to the Ronkonkoma branch between Farmingdale and Ronkonkoma train stations. The LIRR is also dealing with increasing calls for the electrification of the Port Jefferson to Huntington line.

LIRR officials did not response to request for comments by this publication’s press time.

The LIRR has outlined several changes with the intention of increasing customer satisfaction in its March Performance Improvement Plan. It called for an increase in rail inspections, improved rail monitoring systems, increased maintenance, hiring a new chief customer advocate and increased communication between LIRR leadership and customers.

Trinagel said he has spoken to Eng and they talked for approximately 40 minutes. While Trinagel said he respects Eng , he still calls for better communication between the railroad and commuters.

“We can’t be sitting on a train for an hour saying it’s just a signal issue, meanwhile on Facebook there’s a picture of two trains parked face to face a few feet away from each other,” Trinagel said. “We’re smarter than that.”

View the petition at www.change.org/p/andrew-cuomo-demand-better-safety-practices-and-fare-
refunds-from-the-long-island-railroad.

Traffic patterns will be altered as of June 11, with part of Level 2 coming under construction

Huntington's south parking garage at the Long Island Rail Road station. File photo by Rohma Abbas

Starting June 11, Huntington Station commuters may want to leave themselves a little additional time to park their cars at the railroad station.

The Town of Huntington announced that it has hired a new contractor to finish up waterproofing the concrete parking deck on Level 2 of the south parking garage at the Huntington Long Island Rail Road station.

“This is one of the many improvements the town has been coordinating with the LIRR at the Huntington train station,” Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) said. “This project will make the south parking garage safer for Huntington commuters.”

This project will make the south parking garage safer for Huntington commuters.”
– Chad Lupinacci

The work will include replacement of some of the structure’s construction joints, waterproofing of the concrete deck, and then painting on new pavement markings once the waterproofing is complete. It is anticipated the work will take approximately four to six weeks to complete.

The south parking garage will remain open for public use while under construction, according to Lauren Lembo, Huntington public information officer, as the necessary work will affect only a portion of the second floor and all three stairwells. Those areas the town anticipates will be closed or impacted include: the western half of parking Level 2, including the eight handicapped accessible parking stalls; a portion of the entry ramp to Level 2; the ramp from Level 2 up to Level 3; and all three stairwells from the ground floor to Level 5.

“Traffic patterns within the garage will be modified to bypass the construction zones,” Lembo said in a statement.

Those commuters affected should be able to find additional parking across the street from the south parking garage, according to Lembo, and in the town-owned parking lots north of the railroad tracks on the west side of Route 110.

Traffic patterns within the garage will be modified to bypass the construction zones.”
– Lauren Lembo

Waterproofing the parking garage’s second level is the last step in long-awaited renovations in a project that has been left unfinished for more than two years. In 2015, the town hired Tonawanda-based general contractor Patterson-Stevens to oversee several improvements to parking garage including waterproofing of the entire structure. Work on the second level of the train station parking was slated to begin the first week in May 2016.

After less than two weeks, the Patterson-Stevens contract was suspended May 9 by the town, who said the company was allegedly violating New York State’s apprenticeship training program. Upon further investigation, town officials terminated the contract Aug. 8, 2016, according to Lembo, claiming that
issues had not been resolved with the general contractor within 90 days.

Lembo said Huntington town officials decided to take over these remaining renovations in-house, having town employees act in place of a general contractor. The list of projects that was undertaken by town employees included painting parking stall lines and traffic signals on the second floor and roof (Level 5), installing handrails and guards for the stairs between floors, and the conversion of some ground-level parking spots to handicapped accessible slots.

The waterproofing of the second floor is the last step that has yet to be completed at this time. The renovations are expected to be finished in July.

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.”

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

A Smithtown resident will take the lead in determining the future of the Long Island Rail Road.
Phillip Eng was appointed the next president of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s LIRR April 12 by MTA Chairman Joseph Lhota and MTA Managing Director Ronnie Hakim.

“Phil has shown exceptional leadership and dedication during his time at the MTA, and I know he will bring his enthusiasm for developing a world-class transportation system to the LIRR,” Lhota said.

“As a Smithtown resident and Suffolk County native, Phil Eng understands the importance of transportation on Long Island.”

— Steve Bellone

Eng will take over for Patrick Nowakowski, who served as LIRR president for nearly four years. He submitted his resignation less than a month after the LIRR had its worst on-time performance in the last 18 years, according to a March 15 report released by the Office of State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli in March. The report had found that nearly 21,400 trains were delayed, cancelled or terminated in 2017; a 20 percent increase from 2016.

“As millions of commuters can attest, the performance of the Long Island Rail Road has become unacceptable,” DiNapoli said in a March statement. “On-time performance has fallen to the lowest level in nearly two decades, hurting riders. While Amtrak was a big factor behind the deterioration in service last year, the LIRR was responsible for more than twice as many delays.”

Eng first joined the MTA in March 2017 when he was appointed its chief operating officer. His role as chief operating officer was leading major initiatives across all of the MTA’s agencies, particularly with a focus on using innovation and technology to modernize the transportation systems and improve customer reliability, according to the MTA. From October 2017 to January 2018, he held the position of acting president at New York City Transit.

“The LIRR couldn’t have a found a more qualified person for this role,” Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said in a statement. “As a Smithtown resident and Suffolk County native, Phil Eng understands the importance of transportation on Long Island.”

“My life’s work has centered on conceptualizing the best possible options to make transportation options more reliable.”

— Phil Eng

He is now expected to use his 35 years of experience in the New York State’s transportation sector to get the LIRR’s performance back on track. Prior to joining the MTA, Eng started his career with New York State Department of Transportation in 1983 as a junior engineer. He worked his way up, rising through the ranks to become the state DOT’s executive deputy commissioner. While there, Eng was responsible for delivering on the $2.5 billion annual capital construction program and was involved in the environmental impact study on the LIRR Mainline Expansion Project.

“My life’s work has centered on conceptualizing the best possible options to make transportation options more reliable, allowing commuters to get where they need to go safely and quickly,” Eng said in a statement. “I am honored to be chosen to lead the LIRR and its team of talented women and men as we work together to make the daily experience on the trains a better one.”

In his new position, Eng will be expected to manage several major infrastructural changes underway on the LIRR including the Double Track Project, which adds a second track to the Ronkonkoma branch between Farmingdale and Ronkonkoma stations and is scheduled for completion later this year. He will also be expected to implement the Performance Improvement Plan, unveiled March 19, which aims to improve the LIRR’s service reliability, seasonal preparedness and communications with its customers. Public calls from elected officials to expand electrification on the Port Jefferson line east of the Huntington station, a long sought technological improvement, are also intensifying.

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

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.