Editorial: Electrify our line
The decades-old plan to electrify the Port Jefferson Branch line of the Long Island Rail Road has transformational implications for our community, region and state. Yet for far too long, this critical infrastructure need has gone unmet, passed over repeatedly for other projects.
The MTA’s long pattern of negligence has condemned our commuters to ride in rickety train cars powered by diesel, an antiquated, environmentally hazardous fuel source. For a better ride, our residents often travel inland to Ronkonkoma, the MTA siphoning ridership to the main line and adding cars to our already congested roadways.
A fully electrified rail would provide the necessary recharge for downtowns still recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic. It would free up mobility for our residents, connecting them to every restaurant, bar and storefront along the North Shore within walking distance of a train station.
Electrification would give students and faculty at Stony Brook University swift access to Manhattan, producing even stronger ties between the southern flagship of our state university system and the global capital. This project would unlock the full commercial, environmental and educational potential of our region.
Throughout history, generations of New Yorkers have participated in engineering feats of great scope and vision. In the early 1800s, our citizens constructed the Erie Canal, bridging the world’s oceans to the American frontier. A century later, we built the state parkway system, laying thousands of miles of road, linking Montauk Point and Niagara Falls along a continuous stretch of pavement.
Generations have taken part in our state’s rich public works tradition, which has united New Yorkers around herculean aims, facilitated greater movement and improved the lives of ordinary people.
Yet, at every stage, the North Shore has been systematically shut out from any public investment of considerable scale. MTA has continually repurposed our tax dollars with no giveback to North Shore communities.
With our money, MTA recently opened its Grand Central Madison terminal ($11 billion), opened the 9.8 mile Third Track between Hicksville and Floral Park ($2.5 billion) and laid the groundwork for a proposed Interborough Express between Brooklyn and Queens ($5.5 billion estimated).
For us, Port Jefferson Branch electrification is our shared vision of change. This is our noble cause, our generational investment, our Erie Canal. The funds for the projected $3.6 billion Port Jeff electrification project are there if we can start getting them to come our way. And to do that, we must begin applying maximum pressure upon our elected officials.
From village and town boards to the county and state legislatures to the United States Congress, every public representative between Huntington and Port Jeff must be in alignment, letting out one common cry, “Electrify our line.”
We must treat electrification as the paramount infrastructure concern of our region, demanding our elected representatives and public railroad match our level of conviction. We should cast no vote nor contribute a single campaign dollar for any candidate without their unyielding support of this project.
This October, MTA will publish its 20-year Capital Needs Assessment. Port Jefferson Branch electrification must be included within that document for it to have any shot to prevail over the next two decades.
Write to your congressman and state reps in Albany. Write to the MTA and LIRR. Tell them to electrify this line, lest there be consequences at the ballot box. With all our might, let us get this project underway once and for all.