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electrification

State Assemblyman Steve Englebright, Town of Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine and Port Jefferson Village trustee Bruce Miller speak at a Dec. 9 press conference calling for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and the electrification of public transportation, including the Long Island Rail Road. Photo by Rita J. Egan

Representatives from the national environmental advocacy group Sierra Club along with local representatives are calling for the electrification of Long Island’s transportation, especially its trains.

“This is a challenge, but we need to accept it.” —Charles Bevington

On Dec. 9, the Sierra Club was joined by local representatives at a press conference at the Long Island Rail Road’s Stony Brook train station. The event was part of the Get Set, Go Green! relay, where people from across the state, including Buffalo, Rochester, Lower Hudson Valley, New York City and Plattsburgh, are traveling to Albany on multiple modes of low-carbon transportation. The goal is to deliver a petition signed by thousands of New Yorkers to Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) by Dec. 12.

The Dec. 9 event included a send-off for relayer Edgar Cid, 25, of Lindenhurst, who was set to take the 1:19 p.m. train from Stony Brook to Penn Station to deliver petitions to the next relayer in New York City. Cid said he was happy to participate as he realizes the importance of moving toward more electric-based transportation on the Island, including trains.

Charles Bevington, chair of Sierra Club Long Island Group, said so far more than 7,500 signatures have been collected and the hope is to get to 10,000.

“This is a challenge, but we need to accept it,” Bevington said. “We need to move forward on it.”

Mothers Out Front volunteer leader, Billii Roberti, talks about the benefits of electrifying school buses. Photo by Rita J. Egan

State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R), Port Jefferson Village trustee Bruce Miller and Mothers Out Front volunteer leader Billii Roberti, of Huntington, joined Bevington and other environmental activists to support the relay.

The petition urges Cuomo to adopt a statewide target to reduce emissions 55 percent from transportation by 2035 in his 2020 State of the State address. According to Englebright, the largest amount of state greenhouse gas emissions, 36 percent, comes from transportation. He said the governor recently signed the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, which sets a statewide goal to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. He added that for the state to reach the climate goals detailed in the act, a reduction of emissions must begin now.

The assemblyman said the frequency of hurricanes, invasion of species harmful to our ecosystems and warming waters that have destroyed lobsters point to being “in the midst already of a climate crisis.”

The act sets a goal for 70 percent of the state’s electricity to come from renewable energy within 11 years and 100 percent of the state’s electricity supply must be emissions free by 2040. Englebright said he is concerned that the LIRR is in the process of replacing its old diesel fleet with new diesel engines.

“That’s not only inconsistent with the new law, it is incoherent,” he said. “We have talked for years about electrifying the north line of the rail road, making it more efficient, making it possible to pull more cars off the roads and to use mass transit. This is an investment that we need to make into electrification, not into [20th]-century diesel locomotives.”

Three train branches transverse Brookhaven — Port Jefferson, Ronkonkoma (including Greenport) and Montauk. Romaine said each of the branches depends on diesel at some point, and he and the Town Board have advocated converting to electrification since he entered office.

“The MTA is not spending the money that it should be spending on electrifying these lines,” he said. “Imagine less diesel flowing into our atmosphere because our lines are electrified.”

“It’s long overdue. We’ve relied on diesel since forever it seems like, except for the first [steam] locomotive, but it’s a hundred year old technology.” — Ed Romaine

Miller said he knows many from Calverton to Greenlawn commute by car to the Ronkonkoma line.

“This is completely environmentally inappropriate and unsustainable,” he said.

In addition to the electrification of trains, Roberti called for school districts and bus companies to transition to all-electric fleets by 2030 and asked the governor and state legislators to assist them with funding.

The activist cited health concerns from diesel fuel emissions including increased cancer-causing soot and incidences of pneumonia and asthma attacks.

For years, officials have pleaded for the electrification of the LIRR branches that require diesel. State Sen. Jim Gaughran (D-Northport) said in an email that he hears complaints about poor and insufficient service and realizes the environmental benefits of electrification.

“Electrification, including of the Oyster Bay and Port Jefferson lines, would greatly improve service and provide riders desperately needed relief,” Gaughran said. “It is also tremendously beneficial for our environment. I am not optimistic the MTA is taking the urgency of electrification seriously and I urge them to seriously consider electrification.”

Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory officials recognize the environmental as well as other benefits of electrification of the LIRR.

“The proposed improvements to the LIRR, including purchases of new trains, electrification of the Port Jefferson tracks and the addition of a third track between Floral Park and Hicksville will all serve to increase the frequency of trains and the efficient use of clean energy for transportation,” said Bruce Stillman, CSHL president and CEO. “Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory has a close relationship with Stony Brook University and improving rail transportation between our two institutions will help to advance science and education.”

Romaine said the rough estimate for electrification of the railroad was about $18 million a mile. There will be a need for a new rail yard, which the town already has plans in place, and electrification stations along the branches to ensure the rails are electrified along with other signal and communications upgrades.

“It’s an expensive project,” he said. “It’s long overdue. We’ve relied on diesel since forever it seems like, except for the first [steam] locomotive, but it’s a hundred year old technology.”

Jane Fasullo, former chair of the local Sierra Club, said the offset of the costs will be improved health, and in the long term as the cost of the infrastructure of wind and solar goes down, the cost of electrifying vehicles will go down.

“It’s one of those things where you put money into it today to save a lot of money later on,” Fasullo said.

In an email statement, LIRR spokesman Aaron Donovan said the railroad shares the Sierra Club’s concern.

“We recognize our service is one of the most significant ways that Long Islanders can lower their carbon footprint, and we strive to continuously improve our service delivery,” Donovan said. “Public transportation, even when powered by diesel, is greener per passenger mile than private, single-occupancy electric vehicles.”

A copy of the petition can be found at sc.org/55×35.

Huntington commuters board train. File photo by Rohma Abbas

By Donna Deedy

The New York State Senate passed April 1 legislation that will overhaul the Metropolitan Transit Authority and transform its operations. The legislation, included in the 2019-20 New York State budget, authorizes into law key changes to increase MTA transparency and reform its operations. This includes a comprehensive, independent forensic audit of MTA, improvements to long-term capital planning, and requires public reporting on MTA performance metrics.

New York State Sen. James Gaughran (D-Northport) said that he aggressively lobbied for passage of these reforms and committed himself to their inclusion in the final state budget.  

“I am thrilled that this year’s budget will include a core component of the MTA Rail Act: a comprehensive, independent forensic audit of the MTA,” he said. “This, coupled with a $1 billion investment into the LIRR, are critical first steps toward making Long Island’s mass transit finally work for riders.”

The reforms were also supported by railroad watchdogs and public transit commuters, fed up by years of late trains, poor communication by the MTA and rising train fares.

“The biggest complaint I hear is overcrowding as a result of cars taken out of service,” said Larry Silverman, former chair of the LIRR Commuter Council. “Monies have already been allocated for the expansion projects such as East Side Access and Third Track Main Line, so I would expect that the railroad would use the funds to keep the system in a state of good repair.”

Larry Penner, former Federal Transit Administration director in the New York region, is familiar with MTA operations, capital projects and programs. The devil, he said, is in the missing details yet to be worked out concerning passage of congestion pricing and the MTA Rail Act. The promised MTA “forensic audit” in his view is a waste of time and money. 

“Another audit will not result in significant change,” Penner said. “How many internal MTA, MTA Office of the Inspector General, state comptroller, city controller, NYC Office of Management and Budget, Federal Transit Administration OIG and other audits have come and gone.”

The best bang for the buck, he said, is for the Long Island Rail Road to further electrify rail service for five branches: Port Jefferson, Oyster Bay, Montauk, Ronkonkoma and the central branch which runs between Hicksville, Bethpage and Babylon. Investing in a one-seat-ride service to Penn Station, and eventually Grand Central, would benefit the most people. 

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Most passengers on the Long Island Rail Road probably have one wish — to get to their destination quicker. This desire has been uttered for decades on the Port Jefferson line where commuters headed to the Big Apple or Nassau County need to change trains since tracks are only electrified west of Huntington, with diesel fuel powering all trains east.

While we’re more optimistic than ever that the wish may be granted, we must admit we’re only cautiously optimistic.

While the Long Island trains may never reach speeds of those in Japan, China and France, which travel at more than 200 mph, officials and community members are working harder than ever toward the goal of electrification. Both the Metropolitan Transit Authority and state Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) have appropriated funds to support a study of the feasibility of electrifying the line, and a group of community members, informally called the North Shore Business Alliance, is advocating for the study by not only lobbying elected officials, but also presenting the benefits to civic associations and chambers of commerce along Suffolk County’s North Shore. There are a lot of people on board to move things forward.

Electrifying the rails means more than getting in and out of the city quicker, it also means living on Long Island and community would be more appealing. Hopefully, it would keep people here and draw more to the area. It would make commuting to work in the city easier, where salaries tend to be higher and opportunities more abundant. For those traveling east, it would decrease the time for traveling to Stony Brook University.

However, as we have said before, we are cautiously optimistic. While the study will look at how much faster trains can go, it will also look to see if electrification makes sense financially, something we Long Islanders need to understand. The winding nature of the Port Jeff line presents a set of logistical troubles as well. There is still a possibility electrification may not make economic sense, which stands to reason as it has been discussed for generations. In 2000, one study estimated it would cost $500 million to electrify the Port Jefferson line from Huntington to the end.

There’s also a change some communities may not welcome as they may foresee problems that might arise from faster trains, one being that many towns may not want more people living in their areas, citing traffic problems and perhaps more multihouse units being constructed or development.

But back to the positive side of the coin, faster trains may actually mean less cars on the road especially on the Long Island Expressway and Northern State Parkway as more may find taking the train easier. There will also be those who now live on the North Shore who opt to take trains out of Ronkonkoma but now can head to the station closer to their home.

We may not know what the feasibility study will turn up but moving it forward will increase the odds of one day either riding a faster train or finally putting the dream to rest.

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.”

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 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.