Federal railroad officials faced off with Nassau and Suffolk residents Tuesday over a $290 billion proposal to bring high-speed, intercity rail onto Long Island, and off it via a bridge or tunnel across the Sound.
The Federal Railroad Administration hosted its only planned Long Island public hearing Tuesday on its Northeast Corridor Future program, which aims to improve and expand the busy rail network stretching from Boston to Washington D.C. by 2040.
“We want to see what the appetite is for it: put the options on the table and see how folks feel,” project manager Rebecca Reyes-Alicea said at the Mineola meeting. “We have a lot of technical experts that can do a lot of the analysis and legwork. But when it really hits the ground, we want to be sure we understand what the issues are for the localities across the region.”
In November, the federal agency whittled down nearly 98 options to just four — ranging from doing nothing to the corridor used by more than 700,000 rail riders each day, to its most ambitious proposal: a major redesign of the corridor that could include extending it onto the Island.
Under the plan, a “second spine” of two new train tracks would be built near the Long Island Rail Road’s Main Line. The tracks would be laid along a trench in some areas, elevated in others, and even sink underground at some segments. At Ronkonkoma, they would extend north, across the Long Island Sound to New Haven, Conn.
Trains on the new stretch of tracks could travel at speeds of 125 mph, making stops at Penn Station, Jamaica, the Nassau Hub and Ronkonkoma.
The proposal drew clashing reactions from the approximately 50 people in attendance. Transportation experts and advocates praised its potential to transform rail transportation in the Northeast, and on Long Island, while homeowners expressed deep concern over the proposal’s scope and cost.
“The MTA is contemplating putting in a third track. Now we’re talking about five tracks,” said Russell Sutherland, of Mineola. “To run Amtrak right through the middle of Long Island would disrupt one of the densest residential, suburban properties in the country. I just can’t conceive that . . . not to mention the expense.”
Paul Floroff of Glen Head, a self-professed “staunch supporter of Amtrak,” said the proposal was well worth its potential expense.
“It would be a lot more convenient for me to go to and from anywhere in the country, without having to go into New York City,” Floroff, 33, said. “From my house to the Nassau Hub takes about 20 minutes. To go from my house to Penn Station, regardless of what station I use, takes over an hour.”
The FRA is accepting public comments, including through the project’s website necfuture.com, through Jan. 30, and expects to select a final proposal this spring.
But several speakers, noting the sparse turnout for yesterday’s hearing and lack of awareness by most Long Island residents and public officials, implored the FRA to slow down and hold more public hearings, including in Suffolk.
“Where is everyone?” a land use and planning writer on Long Island said at the hearing. “This is a big deal for the Island, and nobody’s talking about it.”