New York State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr. today reported that the LIRR has rejected the April 8th request of South Fork elected, school, and hospital officials to provide at least one morning commuter train between Speonk and Montauk during summer Fridays. There already exists a westbound return train for commuters to use on summer Friday afternoons.
The request focused on the increasingly popular South Fork Commuter Connection (SFCC) which provides two eastbound commuter trains on the South Fork every weekday morning and two return westbound trains every afternoon. Thiele stated that since the reinstatement of the SFCC last Fall, after a COVID-19 suspension, the commuter service has become increasing popular. “The SFCC has provided a reliable alternative to the “Trade Parade” and has been discovered by an increasing number of commuters traveling to work daily on the South Fork.”
However, starting Memorial Day weekend, the LIRR announced that there would be no SFCC service on Fridays during the summer because the LIRR could not provide the equipment to run the ONE TRAIN requested by South Fork officials. The LIRR has stated the equipment was needed elsewhere for increased seasonal service.
South Fork elected officials pointed out in the letter (attached) that there should be at least ONE TRAIN in the morning to service residents commuting on the South Fork. There already exists one westbound afternoon train that could serve commuters.
In their response letter (attached) received on May 18th, more than five weeks after the South Fork officials made the request, the LIRR rejected the request.
Thiele stated, “To make it crystal clear, South Fork officials were willing to accept one commuter train in the morning to go with the existing one train in the afternoon, rather than the normal two trains that run on other weekdays. We recognized the need to not conflict with the “Cannonball” which runs on summer Fridays. However, South Fork commuters also need service. All we asked for was ONE TRAIN.
Thiele added that the decision not to provide the ONE TRAIN for the South Fork was foolish and short sited, “The LIRR is asleep at the switch. The growth on Long Island is happening out east, especially since the pandemic. The SFCC was a first step to grow LIRR ridership to meet that growth and the increasing demand for service. There is great potential to grow the commuter service and increase LIRR ridership as an alternative to the “Trade Parade,” but not if the LIRR is going to take this anti-commuter approach. The institution of the SFCC has been one of the most popular decisions the frequently criticized LIRR has made. In response, the LIRR has told these commuters to drop dead. You can’t grow ridership if a commuter can only take the train four days out of five, especially when the fifth day is the busiest traffic day of the week.”
Thiele added, “When the traffic congestion on summer Fridays is extra-long and it takes up to two hours to get from Hampton Bays to East Hampton, commuters should remember that the LIRR made it worse by not finding ONE TRAIN for basic service on summer Fridays.
Thiele also added that the LIRR has also failed to take promised steps to improve infrastructure by adding sidings on the South Fork so that more service could be provided on the South Fork, avoiding conflicts like the one with the “Cannonball.” He said, “The LIRR and MTA committed to funding South Fork sidings during the MTA’s lobbying efforts on congestion pricing. They have done nothing. These infrastructure improvements are exactly the kind of transformative project that should now be funded with the $350 million in capital funding that was included in the 2022 State Budget. Imagine providing four or five sidings on the South Fork so that multiple trains can run simultaneously coupled with battery operated electric cars which the LIRR also says it is investigating. This would be a gamechanger for the South Fork and all diesel territories.
Thiele concluded that the rejection of SFCC summer Friday service is a symptom of a bigger problem at the LIRR. “I note a complete lack of discussion with the LIRR regarding the SFCC service request. Long Island has no voice on the MTA. Instead, we currently have an interim LIRR President who has another day job and no Long Island representation on the MTA Board. That is no way to run a railroad.”