Tags Posts tagged with "Port Jefferson train station"

Port Jefferson train station

The Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association held its Meet the Candidates forum at Comsewogue Public Library on Tuesday, Sept. 20.

The Democratic and Republican nominees for New York State’s 1st Senate District and 4th Assembly District attended this civic meeting. The candidates received time to deliver opening statements, then answered questions covering a range of local subjects, followed by closing remarks. 

(Left to right) Anthony Palumbo, Skyler Johnson, Steve Englebright, and Edward Flood. Photos by Raymond Janis

Introductions

Before entering elective office, incumbent state Sen. Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) worked as an attorney in the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office. He was in private practice for roughly 10 years before running for the state Assembly in 2013. He served the 2nd Assembly District until 2020, after which he assumed his current position.

Challenging Palumbo is Democrat Skyler Johnson, a 22-year-old Mount Sinai native and former political aide to Southampton Village Mayor Jesse Warren. If Johnson were to win this November, he would become the youngest person to serve in the state Legislature since Theodore Roosevelt.

In the Assembly race, incumbent state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) is also up for reelection. Englebright, a geologist by training, joined the state Assembly in 1992. Before that, he served as a Suffolk County legislator for nearly a decade.

Edward Flood is Englebright’s Republican challenger in this race. Flood serves as an assistant attorney for the Town of Brookhaven and is the town’s lead prosecutor for town code violations.

LIRR electrification

Each candidate supported electrifying the Port Jefferson Branch line of the Long Island Rail Road, with some variations in approach. 

Englebright advocates moving the existing Port Jefferson train station onto the county-owned Lawrence Aviation property. This plan, the assemblyman believes, would bring value to the community in the form of cleaner air and higher property values. 

“I am working to try to get the Long Island Rail Road to come into the modern age,” he said. “We will prevail. The first thing to do is to have a community that’s united. … If this community is supportive of that, that will be a big boost.”

Flood condemned the MTA for its historical neglect of Long Island communities. He seeks to pressure the MTA’s governing board and add a local representative to that body. “I don’t believe we have a local representative, and I don’t think anyone on that board cares much about us,” he said. “That needs to change.”

Johnson criticized the needless delays for residents traveling to New York City by rail. He favored allocating more state resources to address these concerns.

“It’s not the most fun trip getting onto the Long Island Rail Road,” he said. “We need to continually invest in the Long Island Rail Road because that will properly benefit our communities, it will help people commute, help people live better lives, and it will make our communities cleaner and safer.”

Palumbo underscored several of these points, backing his support behind moving the Port Jeff train station to the Lawrence Aviation property. “All of those issues are extremely important to this community,” he said. “I think we all agree that this is something that needs to be done.”

Homelessness

Another central topic for Port Jefferson Station/Terryville residents is homelessness. 

Flood proposed that many of the problems associated with homelessness stem from alcohol and substance abuse. He proposed strengthening addiction treatment programs and mental health services. 

“Unfortunately, addiction is rampant throughout the homeless community and possibly the reason why they are homeless,” the Assembly candidate said. “We need to do a better job finding resources to adequately treat people.”

Englebright approached the subject of homelessness through the lens of planning. According to him, this requires offering a coherent vision for the Port Jefferson Station area, much of that concentrated around managing the Lawrence Aviation property, followed by investment.

“That would make it possible for us to accelerate the investment into Port Jefferson Station itself,” he said. “We hear a lot of talk about transit-oriented development, and this is the appropriate place for that policy to be fully fleshed out.”

Johnson supported a “great investment into mental health” to ensure people experiencing homelessness receive the necessary tools to get off the streets. He also said the issue is tied to the affordability and housing crises on Long Island. 

“We do not have proper affordable housing, and we do not have proper workforce housing on Long Island,” the state Senate candidate said. “I’m going to make sure that we do everything that we can to bring home the funds so that we are investing in housing projects, while investing in our critical infrastructure, our public transportation, our roads to make sure that we are keeping up with the flux of people coming into our community.”

Palumbo discussed homelessness as a multifaceted issue, requiring changes in affordable housing, enforcement practices and mental health services.

“I think, generally, Long Island is unaffordable,” he said. “We need to lower the cost of living on Long Island, make it all more affordable, and most importantly do what we can to deal with an affordable housing crisis.”

Concluding remarks

During their closing statements, the candidates were asked to provide their two highest legislative priorities that would also affect Port Jefferson Station/Terryville residents.

Johnson stated his two highest priorities would be affordability and infrastructure improvements. “We need to make sure that we are putting money back in the pockets of everyday people,” he said. “And I’m going to make sure that we do that, and we’re going to make sure that we are investing in our roads and infrastructure.”

Palumbo said his two highest priorities are closely linked to one another. He first hopes to alleviate the burden of high taxes and the unaffordable cost of living on Long Island, then tackle rising crime rates.

“I think other things will fall in place if we get control of the crime issue,” the state senator said. “Coupling that with affordability … we’re losing people for a number of reasons in New York, and we shouldn’t be losing anyone.” He added, “We’re an amazing state, and we need to do what we can to save it.”

Though he did not identify the two highest priority issues, Flood highlighted several matters he would like to remediate if elected. Among these are rising crime, bail reform and better state budgeting.

“I see firsthand some of the effects the state has put into place in terms of bail reform,” Flood said. “They’ve added extra hardships to prosecutors and those in criminal justice, and you see it in an increase of crime, in the inability of a district attorney to bring cases forward, and in that, you have local governments who are handcuffed in trying to comply with a lot of these laws.”

For Englebright, his two highest priorities are the electrification of the Port Jefferson line and better community planning. The assemblyman foresees many positive effects if the existing railyard relocates to the Lawrence Aviation property.

“This is, after all, Port Jefferson Station,” he said. “Our station area should be enhanced, and the plan that we put forward for that should not just be something that looks like South Brooklyn. It should look like a vision of what this community should look like when it looks itself in the mirror.” He concluded, “It should be a place of pride. I believe it should be a public park.”

The bench above — which includes armrests arranged to prevent people from sleeping on it — is one of only two available outdoor seating options at Port Jefferson train station. Photo by Raymond Janis

By Amanda Olsen

Recent reporting on benches at the Port Jefferson train station [Port Times Record, May 26] prompted further investigation into this practice in public spaces throughout the area. 

When reached via email for comment, MTA spokesperson, Sean Butler, defended the present layout of Port Jeff station. 

“Long Island Rail Road’s Enhanced Station Initiative brought transformative renovations to the Port Jefferson station in 2019,” he said. “We are committed to working closely with the community to give our riders the best possible experience, including through the siting of station benches.”

Butler pointed to the various changes made to the layout of the station, which he suggests sufficiently assuage concerns from passengers and residents. 

“The ESI project installed three benches inside the station house in 2019,” he said. “One existing bench was also provided inside the new platform shelter shed. In response to customers, LIRR added an additional outdoor bench this year.”

This seating arrangement seems to be the standard for railroad stations across Long Island. Browsing photos on the LIRR renovation website reveals divided benches at every building.

Hostile design in perspective

While employing design elements to manage public behavior is nothing new, modern hostile architecture gained momentum in the 1980s and ’90s as homelessness in the United States reached crisis levels. 

Hostile architecture in seating is about more than just benches divided by armrests. Sometimes a bench can be too deep or too shallow, or it slopes. Often through choice of material, such as rounded metal pipes, these benches are made intentionally uncomfortable. Through hostile design, the shape of the bench causes eventual discomfort to the user, and the person moves on.

It can also mean opting for seats that aren’t seats. Select subway stations in New York City have added “leaning bars” instead of more benches. These wooden blocks are supported by a metal frame along the wall that provides little support for the elderly or the physically disabled.

Surfaces that would normally be flat can also receive this treatment. Ridges and spikes keep people from sitting or leaning against walls and also deter skateboarders. Sloping or rounding the surface has a similar effect. Longer spikes, reminiscent of bird barriers, keep people from sleeping on warm exhaust vents.

Cordoning off doorways, windowsills and stairs to prevent people from resting or loitering is a common practice, but hedges can also act as barriers. Fences with points keep dogs from investigating shrubs and other plants. 

These measures are usually implemented to keep people from lingering or sleeping in public spaces. But they also have the unintended consequence of making spaces uncomfortable for other populations. 

Changing the configuration of benches can often render them unusable for those who need them most. Seating is of particular importance for the elderly and disabled. Someone whose limitations do not allow them to get up easily might struggle in the space created by the dividing armrests. Larger people also cannot use this narrow seating. 

The only guidance for outdoor bench armrests outlined in the Americans with Disabilities Act states, “Benches will be most useful if they have full back support and armrests to assist in sitting and standing.” Placing armrests at intervals along the seat of the bench is a convenient manipulation to skirt this advice.

Mayor Margot Garant has responded to concerns about seating availability at Port Jefferson train station.

The village mayor believes the issue of seating availability cannot be divorced from public safety. “We were getting a lot of complaints about the homeless population,” Garant said. “They were using the off and on ramps and sleeping in them. And our ridership — whether it was people from Port Jeff Station or Port Jeff village — they were complaining to us about the safety at that time of getting on and off the train, especially in the early mornings and in the evening hours.”

During the 2019 redesign of the Port Jefferson train station, the village had discussed both seating availability and public safety with Long Island Rail Road. During those deliberations, the mayor said LIRR had pitched an idea to add redesigned benches to prevent individuals from sleeping on them.

“The discussion was held at that time about what the renovation plans would look like and I believe they had commented to us that they were introducing some of these other types of benches which would allow for seating but don’t allow for overnight sleeping,” she said, adding, “Since then our complaints have gone down, I would say, like 85%.”

‘So, yes, seating should be made available if they can’t sit inside the booth or they want to sit outside, but it may be the type of seating that does not allow for you to lie down on it and that’s for a reason.’  — Margot Garant

Despite the decline in complaints from residents, there remains the problem of user-friendliness at the station for some riders. As reported last week, there are only two outdoor seating areas at the station, which can present an unnecessary obstacle for people with disabilities and the elderly.

Garant acknowledged that greater accommodations at the station should be made to ensure these populations can rest comfortably while waiting for a train.

“I feel for the complications that people have,” she said. “So, yes, seating should be made available if they can’t sit inside the booth or they want to sit outside, but it may be the type of seating that does not allow for you to lie down on it and that’s for a reason.”

The quantity and style of seating at the station is largely determined by LIRR, according to the mayor. The decision to add armrests along the benches, however, was a coordinated decision between LIRR and the village to curb sleeping at the station.

“Yes, there was a conversation with respect to that because we’re trying to prevent people from using the station as a sleeping area,” Garant said. “There is a significant, conscious effort in making sure that when our ridership gets up there in the early morning to take the train to work, they are not having to step over people or deal with a certain population up there that’s going to panhandle and make them feel unsafe. That was a conversation that we had.”

Garant added that user-friendliness has not been part of her agenda primarily because she does not see the public demand to alter the present layout of the station. 

“In three years, nobody has come to us at a public meeting or raised this as a concern of theirs that they feel that the station is not user-friendly for them,” she said. “It’s not something that was brought to our attention.” She added, “Since we worked with Pax Christi and the station was renovated, it’s been a very peaceful coexistence.”

Because the railroad is not a village property, the mayor also said she is limited in her ability to change the layout. However, she agreed that if this becomes a persistent problem for riders and residents, then she would coordinate with LIRR to remedy it.

“We will certainly discuss with the Long Island Rail Road — because it is not our property — what we can do together to try and alleviate that concern,” the mayor said. “I have to be honest, that concern has not come to my desk in over three years.”

Station Street

Questions surrounding the layout of the station will continue as the village embarks upon its latest project to introduce Station Street, a one-way thoroughfare that will begin at Main Street, cut east near the parking lot and end at Oakland Street. This planned terminal will mitigate congestion on Route 112 and facilitate traffic coming in and out of the station.

Three-dimensional renderings of the proposed Station Street plaza. Graphics generated by Campani & Schwarting, courtesy of Mayor Margot Garant’s office

The Station Street project has been in the works since 2016, when the village approved a master plan to revitalize Upper Port. As part of joint efforts between the village, the Town of Brookhaven, LIRR and the state Department of Transportation, the proposed Station Street would create a plaza that will help channel traffic from the main thoroughfare, alleviating congestion as drivers enter the village. 

“We did a traffic study,” Garant said. “The traffic study and the DOT comments said the more that we can get people off of Route 112 as they’re going toward the east to work at the hospital, the better.” She added, “That will eliminate a lot of the buildup, the people waiting in line to get into Port Jeff village.”

The plan, if implemented, would eliminate two traffic concerns for the village. First it would relocate the bus stop currently placed along the train crossing into Station Street, eliminating a public safety hazard for people getting off of the bus. Relocating the bus stop will “make it much safer, get the pedestrians off that train intersection there and alleviate the traffic,” Garant said.

The plans would also introduce a driveway into the train station parking lot, where taxis and cars will have a better drop-off and pickup area. Behind the scenes, these plans are falling into place, according to Garant. Although still without a developer, the plans have been put out to bid and contracts are expected soon.

“The bid is out right now for contractors to come in and do the installation of that street,” the mayor said. “Everything is lining up and the plan is coming to fruition as we speak.”

Photo by Raymond Janis
The two benches above are the only available outdoor seating areas at Port Jefferson train station. Professor Robert Rosenberger says the armrests along the benches are a common example of hostile design. Photos by Raymond Janis

By Raymond Janis 

During our investigation of seating shortages at Port Jefferson train station, TBR News Media took a closer look at the emerging field of hostile architecture, a design movement that employs subtle and often harmful means to alter public spaces. 

Robert Rosenberger, associate professor in the School of Public Policy at the Georgia Institute of Technology, is an expert on the subject of hostile design. He said through architecture, urban designers today can manipulate the environment to ward off certain populations. 

“Hostile architecture refers to when objects in public spaces are designed in a way to control those spaces and push out or control the behavior of already vulnerable groups,” he said in a phone interview. “Benches redesigned to deter people from sleeping on them is one of the main examples of hostile architecture, and we mainly see that done through the addition of armrests.”

The issue of hostile architecture was first observed on social media, according to Rosenberger. However, the issue gained traction among journalists and academics is now being explored as its own discipline. 

Professor Setha Low is director of The Public Space Research Group at The Graduate Center, City University of New York. She researches hostile design and works with design students to envision public spaces that can be more user-friendly and inclusive. 

Hostile architecture is not only disruptive for the individuals that it targets. Low suggests that other vulnerable demographics can also get caught within the crosshairs.

“It doesn’t just make it hostile or unwelcoming for individuals who might want to sleep there,” she said. “It also doesn’t allow older people who might want a place to sit.”

Not all public spaces are equally public and accessible. In cases where hostile design is practiced, public environments can be highly restrictive and unwelcoming, and effectively private. 

“Public space is only as public as you make it,” Low said, adding. “There are a lot of ways we privatize environments and many things that can be done to reduce the publicness of the public space.”

Hostilely designed structures can be difficult to identify as they often blend into the built environment. Because they affect only certain populations, those unaffected can be oblivious to the problem. 

“People who are not targeted by these designs sometimes don’t even recognize that they are there,” Rosenberger said. “Something that’s interesting about hostile architecture is that once you see it for the first time, you start seeing it everywhere.” 

‘Our technologies are going to have values built into them. We have to actively decide the values that we want because otherwise, we have these other values creeping in that we may not even notice.’ — Robert Rosenberger

While there are laws regulating public spaces to ensure handicap accessibility, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act, there are currently no laws that prohibit hostile architecture. “I don’t see anything at the national or state level where there is some kind of prohibition on this kind of design,” Rosenberger said. 

While hostile design most noticeably includes adding materials, such as armrests along public benches, it can also take form through subtraction.

“One of the trends in hostile architecture is removing objects from spaces rather than adding things to those objects,” Rosenberger said. “It’s a kind of design through removal, an architecture that involves no architecture.” He added, “Even if you are in a space and there are no objects there, that can be a form of hostile design as well.”

For Low, hostile architecture is not a design issue. Rather, it is a human issue which speaks to the ways in which people interact with one another. Architecture, therefore, is merely the reflection of the values of a society.

“I don’t think it’s the architecture going wrong,” she said. “I think we’re in a moment in time when some of the more negative impulses and illiberal activities are being tolerated when they wouldn’t have been in other times.” She added, “How we build our environment — our villages, our benches and everything else — is directly related to how we view ourselves and our society at that moment.”

Rosenberger sees two principal values embodied by the hostile architecture movement. “The first one would be a kind of technocratic control, a value of controlling spaces and who is in those spaces,” he said. “The other is a value of washing our hands of that and saying, ‘There’s nothing to see here — the space is innocent.’” He added, “The spaces and the objects are not innocent. They may look innocent, but actually we have values built into that space.”

Low believes public space is always designed with the intent to evoke a certain feeling or experience from the user. For this reason, a public space cannot be innocent or neutral. “The built environment is never neutral,” she said. “How do you feel in different places? Why do you feel that way and what is it in the built environment that is making you feel either encouraged to come or not?”

Rosenberger suggested that to overcome hostile design, a community must first define its own values and then rebuild the environment to express them.

“Our technologies are going to have values built into them,” he said. “We have to actively decide the values that we want because otherwise, we have these other values creeping in that we may not even notice.”

By Carolyn Sackstein 

Since the renovation of Port Jefferson train station in 2019, some previously available seating has been either relocated or removed. 

One village resident, who agreed to be interviewed for this story but asked to be unnamed, suggested that a lack of available seating at the station poses an unnecessary burden for the elderly and physically disabled. 

“There is no reason we shouldn’t have access to seating, enough of it available to all,” the resident said. “We have to treat all people with dignity. People who are handicapped, those who are paying, the railroad owes us a seat as well as comfort.”

While the indoor ticket area has seating for 12, these seats are available only from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. During the time when the area is closed to the public, outdoor seating becomes limited. 

With few options to sit along the platform, some passengers have resorted to sitting on the floor or on the steps of the platform.

Gregory Adams, above, said the present layout of the train station impedes his ability to sit comfortably.
Photo by Carolyn Sackstein

Gregory Adams, a resident of Wyandanch, uses a cane to walk. He said the present layout of the train station impedes his ability to sit comfortably while waiting for a train. 

“A person like me waiting for the train needs to sit down,” he said. “Not having a place to sit has been a hardship. I have to sit on the steps over there, waiting.” 

Historical context

The Port Jefferson station has undergone a series of transformations over the last few decades.

A 2001 restoration of the station returned the facility to its 1903 design by architects John J. Petit and James C. Green. In 2019 Long Island Rail Road completed its most recent updates with a refurbished and painted ticketing area, updated restrooms, new paving, curbing and signage, electronic charging stations, parking stall painting, traffic flow markings and brick paver walkways. The restoration was much needed, according to some village residents who are pleased overall with the improvements made to the layout.

Until recently, there was only one designated outdoor seating area at the station, located on the far end of the platform. This enclosure includes a bench with armrests that designate six seats. It is located between the pedestrian bridge, which links the south parking lot to the platform north of the tracks, and the ticketing area.

Village resident Mary Dylan was sitting on the new bench when TBR News Media asked her for a comment. Dylan considered her experience of using the new seating area to be a positive one. “It is nice to see all the new improvements [at the station] and I particularly like the new bench put there,” she said. 

TBR News Media approached several other people at the station for comment on the subject of seating. While most were also unwilling to provide their names, some offered commentary of their own experiences with the facility and its amenities. 

The indoor ticketing area is manned by at least one LIRR employee during business hours. Those questioned said the presence of LIRR personnel on-site provided a sense of comfort and security for those sitting indoors. 

Other riders said they prefer to wait outside in the fresh air. One person preferred to wait outside as the indoor area is away from public view. 

Adams and some other concerned passengers were pleased to learn that the new bench was recently installed outside the ticketing area. The installation of this seating area, which lies on the east side of the ticket office, is an indicator that LIRR is responding to public concerns. 

Correction: In an earlier version of this article, famed architect Stanford White was falsely credited for the 1903 design of Port Jefferson train station. The true architects of the station were John J. Petit and James C. Green.

Local and state officials have long talked about electrification of the Port Jefferson rail line, but missed deadlines and other issues may push any real project back decades. File photo

By Larry Penner

If the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, on behalf of the Long Island Rail Road, will not progress a planning study to look into the feasibility of extending electrification from Huntington to Port Jefferson, this project may never be completed in our lifetime.  

Larry Penner

There is $4 million in real funding from the MTA $32 billion 2015 -2019 Five Year Capital Plan to pay for this study. The MTA previously promised that a contract would be awarded in the summer of 2019. They are now 15 months late in awarding a contract. There is no new recovery schedule for the contract award. If the MTA is unable to initiate a planning study, it may be an indication that this project will never go forward.  

Estimated costs for electrification are $18 million per mile. The $260 million funding provided for electrification of the 7-mile Central Branch, running east of Hicksville on the Ronkonkoma line to Babylon is also on hold. This is due to the ongoing MTA financial crisis. This capital improvement would provide additional options for thousands of Babylon riders. They could travel from the Central Branch to Jamaica via the $2.6 billion Main Line Third Track and on to either Penn Station or future Grand Central Terminal by December 2022. Electrification of the Central Branch could also afford creation of a new north/south scoot service, running from Huntington via Hicksville and to Babylon. If results from any planning studies are positive, the next step would be the environmental review process, which would cost millions more. Funding would have to be included under the next MTA 2025 to 2029 Five Year Capital Plan.

The MTA  2020 – 2040 Twenty Year Long Range Capital Needs Plan documents how much money, years or decades will be required before each MTA operating agency, including New York City Transit subway and bus, Staten Island Railway, Manhattan Bronx Surface Operating bus, MTA bus, Long Island and Metro North Rail Roads have reached a state of good repair.  Categories for each agency include such assets as existing bus, subway and commuter rail fleet, stations and elevators to meet Americans with Disabilities Act and escalators, track including switches, signals and interlockings, communications, line structures, and painting, protective netting on elevated structures and bridges, line equipment including tunnel lighting and pump rooms, traction power, power substations, yards and shops and supervisory vehicles. It would be revealing if the MTA and LIRR is serious about extending electrification to Port Jefferson over this time period, it would be included within this report. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and the MTA promised that this document would be made public by December 2019. It is now eleven months late.

Extending electrification of the Port Jefferson branch east of Huntington has been talked about for decades. In the 1980’s, discussions took place between the MTA, LIRR, Suffolk County and various elected officials over which branch should be electrified first. The Ronkonkoma branch was selected over the Port Jefferson branch. 

Without electrification east of Huntington, Port Jefferson branch riders may not have a one seat ride to the future LIRR Grand Central Terminal. Service is promised to begin by the end of December 2022. Thousands of daily LIRR riders from diesel territory branches, including those commuting from stations east of Huntington to Port Jefferson, east of East Williston to Oyster Bay, east of Babylon to Speonk and east of Ronkonkoma, will still have to change at Jamaica for travel to the future Grand Central Terminal or Atlantic Avenue to Brooklyn.    

Future opportunities for funding to progress this project beyond a planning study will be under upcoming MTA 2025 – 2029, 2030 – 2034 and 2035 -2039 Five Year Capital Plans. The estimated cost will grow over time to $1 billion or more. This is necessary to pay for planning, design and engineering, environmental review, land acquisition for construction of power substations, expansion of commuter parking, potential relocation and/or consolidation of existing stations, new stations and platforms, new electric Multiple Unit car storage yard, new track, third rail and signals. From start to finish, the project could require 15 to 20 years. Based upon my past experiences on other FTA, MTA and LIRR projects, I would not be surprised if electrification of the Port Jefferson branch is not completed until 2040. 

Larry Penner is a transportation advocate, historian and writer who previously worked for the Federal Transit Administration Region 2 New York Office. This included the development, review, approval and oversight for billions in capital projects and programs for the MTA, NYC Transit, Long Island Rail Road, Metro North Rail Road, MTA Bus, Suffolk County Transit, Town of Huntington HART Bus, New Jersey Transit along with 30 other transit agencies in NY & NJ.

by -
0 1049
File photo

Police said a car crash seriously injured a pedestrian while he was in the road just south of the Port Jefferson LIRR station Monday, Oct. 12. 6th precinct detectives are investigating.

Suffolk County Police said a man was driving a 2015 Mitsubishi sedan southbound on Route 112, north of Wilson Street, when the vehicle struck another man in the roadway at around 8 p.m. The names of both people involved were withheld by police, as the pedestrian was awaiting notification of next of kin.

Police did not reveal whether the person injured was at a crosswalk or not. The pedestrian was transported to Stony Brook University Hospital for treatment of serious injuries.

Detectives are asking anyone with information on the crash to contact the 6th Squad at 631-854-8652 or Crime Stoppers at 800-220-TIPS (8477). All calls are kept confidential.

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.”

 

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. 

Local and state officials have long talked about electrification of the Port Jefferson rail line, but missed deadlines and other issues may push any real project back decades. 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.