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Long Island Rail Road

Clothing items and other miscellaneous items left near the Port Jefferson train station. Photo by Kyle Barr

At 7 in the morning, the Port Jefferson Train Station is largely deserted. At such an early hour, the morning frost glistened as the sun peaked over the horizon. It’s 39 degrees outside. By 7:30 a.m., the few commuters who travel on the morning’s last scheduled peak train simply stuck their hands in their pockets and waited outside. They were not drawn to the warmth and seats found in the nearby station office.

Port Jeff resident Gordon Keefer arrived at around 7:25 with his small dog, a maltese, carried in the bag beside him. He walks to the station from his home and takes the train from Port Jeff to Penn Station several days a week, but he can’t even remember a time when there were benches outside of the station or on the platform. He said the ticket building gets crowded when the temperature drops low enough, but he’s never seen it be too much of a problem.

“There’s a pro and a con to that,” he said about the prospect of benches. “Otherwise you would have some of the ‘regulars’ coming by.”

Many of those who stood outside waiting for the train did not feel too concerned about the lack of seating, but many understood “why” they weren’t there. As Port Jefferson village, Brookhaven town and Suffolk County continue to look for means to help the homeless population in Upper Port and Port Jefferson Station, village officials said there wouldn’t be any outdoor seating until they can get more support from the state and MTA.

“I hate to think those who are less fortunate are not afforded the same opportunities.”

Michael Mart

At the last Port Jefferson village meeting Jan. 6, one resident’s call for benches at the local train station led to a heated argument between him and local officials.

Michael Mart, a local firebrand, asked why the station lacked outdoor seating compared to other stations on the line. He said the lack of benches was very unfair to the elderly or infirm who want to use the station.

“I hate to think those who are less fortunate are not afforded the same opportunities,” Mart said. 

According to an MTA spokesperson, the LIRR coordinated with the mayor and other local residents to not include the benches when the train station was remodeled “as they were attracting homeless and others who could compromise the safety of customers and cleanliness of the station.”

There are 12 benches in the station’s ticket office, which is open from 5 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. daily except Thursday when open until 7:15 p.m. 

Mayor Margot Garant said that although the current master plan does not eliminate seating at the train station, she does not support benches that would facilitate the homeless loitering or sleeping on them. Brookhaven Town’s Quality of Life Task Force held a public meeting in December to discuss what’s currently being done, but members described the need for further legislation at every level of government that could better get the homeless population off the streets and into shelters. 

“I have been doing this for 11 years, every concern [with which] people have come to me I have addressed and done everything I can do about it,” the mayor said. “But I will not tolerate the people panhandling, making beds … We have a task force of 40 people around the table, we have been working on this every other week.”

She added there have been multiple calls about homeless in the area, from those sleeping under the tracks, in planters, or in the area surrounding the parking lot. Remnants of clothes and other discarded items are evident in the gravel lot behind what was once known as the Bada Bing restaurant. 

Pax Christi, a temporary homeless shelter located just feet from the station for men aged 16 and up, has come up in conversation during meetings multiple times recently. It’s one of the few shelters in the area that provides lodging for those who need it, but it can only contain people for a short time, as per state law. Residents have complained about people going outside into Pax Christi’s backyard through an unlocked security door, where they say they have harassed and heckled those standing on the platform.

The village has moved to create a higher fence between the platform and the Pax Christi building. The shelter’s director, Stephen Brazeau, told TBR News Media he has no problem with such a fence.

Part of the issue, the mayor said, is due to a lack of MTA police presence at the station, adding there are only a handful on the entire length of the northern rail lines. The MTA has said more officers will be deployed along the LIRR, but no number has yet been specified, the spokesperson said.

Sal Pitti, the president of the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association and member of the town task force, said the problem is perhaps even more prevalent on his side of the tracks.

“I’ve gotten hundreds of complaints about benches at the train station, we don’t need them,” he said. “The task force physically told the MTA don’t put benches back there.”

“The majority of problems stem from homeless mentally ill people, people who prefer living on the street without restrictions to people who want to use the system to get out of that.” 

Barbara Sabatino

Barbara Sabatino, who along with her husband once owned the Port Jeff Army Navy surplus store before it closed in 2018, said homeless who used to occupy those nearby benches across from her shop at the station negatively impacted her business.

“The majority of problems stem from homeless mentally ill people, people who prefer living on the street without restrictions to people who want to use the system to get out of that,” she said.

Members of Suffolk County Department of Social Services have said one of the hardest tasks of trying to help the homeless is to build trust, and to convince homeless individuals to be taken to a county shelter. It takes time, patience and having the right person there at the right time. 

Mart said part of the issue is too many people have the attitude they don’t wish to deal with or interact with the homeless. 

“If we feel uncomfortable dealing with people that are different, then that’s another issue, and that’s what I’ve seen most up there and heard everywhere else,” he said. “To deprive everyone else of an opportunity to use the train station comfortably is unfair.”

 

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.

 

As the saying goes, the squeaky wheel gets the grease. So, the Sierra Club, state and local elected officials in Brookhaven are making noise, calling on Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles and target the Long Island Rail Road for electrification.

So far, the group, which held a press conference in Stony Brook Dec. 9, has accumulated more than 7,500 signatures, and hopes for 10,000 from Long Islanders by Dec. 12. It may be enough to grab the governor’s attention, but why not help expand the campaign, since people from many other communities along the line benefit from such a long-awaited move.

We ask readers, and their affiliated organizations, to join the effort. The Town of Smithtown, for example, recently announced the construction of a new apartment complex to be built across from Town Hall on Main Street in Smithtown. The appeal of that project was promoted as a good housing option for young professionals who regularly commute into Manhattan. 

Town Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) and town council members should push for electrification. Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) attended the groundbreaking to applaud that project. He and the other legislators should also appeal to the governor for electrification of the Huntington-Port Jeff line. 

In Huntington, state Sen. Jim Gaughran (D-Northport) has been involved with the MTA overhaul. He is pushing for the idea, and it might help if industries and businesses along the commuter rail line organize their own letter writing campaign. 

Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and Stony Brook University are both along the Port Jefferson Branch. The governor has acknowledged, when he delivered this year’s budget plan, that both institutions were key components to growing Long Island and the state’s economy, extolling his intent to make the area a premier research hub in the United States. So, why not address that slow commute with high-speed service between these research centers, New York City and the region’s airports? Let’s not forget it might also reduce the number of cars on our busy roads.

Grassroot efforts are impactful and should be regularly exercised. On this and many other issues it has a way of instilling a community’s faith in the democratic form of government. 

The outcome can not only reduce emissions in the transportation sector and benefit the economy. It will also improve quality of life. For example, the 4:18 train on Dec. 10 from Stony Brook to Penn Station was 35 minutes late from Port Jeff, effectively making the journey to New York an unacceptable 2 1/2 hours. As a result two staff members had their respective evening’s entertainment truncated. 

The Sierra Club has an online petition which can be found at: sc.org/55×35. To submit petitions from a letter writing campaign to the governor directly, his press office recommends using the postal address: Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, New York State Capitol, State Street and Washington Avenue, Albany, NY 12224. 

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.