By Bruce Miller
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority is receiving $10 billion for infrastructure improvements from the federal government, and we along the Port Jefferson line need a small part of this money for better services.
As a former Port Jeff Village trustee, I spoke with the former Long Island Rail Road president, Phil Eng, and the LIRR executive planning and technical staff about this issue. They presented plans of their own: double tracking, bridge expansion and reconstruction, electrification and the possibility of battery-powered trains.
My sense of all of this: The LIRR plans are so grandiose and unrealistic that there were no plans at all, just a convenient excuse to do nothing. Rather than bells and whistles, we need a simple upgrade to some form of electric service.
Commuters all along the North Shore are taking the Ronkonkoma line. Some residents even drive to Huntington or Hicksville for decent transit.
Due to inadequate services, our local commuters sit in 10 to 20 miles of unnecessary traffic to get to an electric rail. The pollution generated along the Port Jeff line from diesel requires us to either transfer — often in inclement weather — or “commute to the commute.” This is unacceptable and very ungreen.
LIRR’s logic is to deprive the North Shore of commuters and then argue against electrification due to insufficient ridership. Because of this, we are among the farthest commuters away from New York City, paying among the highest fares, with the shabbiest service.
For decades, LIRR has demonstrated a profound disregard for our local communities. Most travelers islandwide have had electrical service for a generation … or three! The fact that we haven’t joined them should say a lot about LIRR’s priorities and its feelings for its North Shore travelers.
New York State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) and Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) have advocated for moving the Port Jefferson train station west to the 120-acre Lawrence Aviation property.
The Village of Port Jefferson needs to engage with Englebright and Hahn to negotiate an adequate tract of land with the LIRR west of Routes 25A and 112. The advantage of this is great.
It would eliminate the Main Street grade crossing and its resultant traffic. It would free up rail yards east of the existing station for a swap of land and subsequent incorporation into Port Jefferson Village. In addition, the freeing up of the existing station property could be used for parkland and recreation.
This is urgent. Decisions on that $10 billion windfall are being made now. The opportunity to electrify the line will not come for another generation.
Bruce Miller served as Port Jefferson Village trustee from 2014-2022.