Some of the deepest service cuts in the 176-year history of the Long Island Rail Road are set to take effect Monday - trims that will eliminate weekend service to nearly a dozen stations, cancel and delay some morning and evening rush hour trains, and force hundreds of Brooklyn commuters onto subways.
The service cuts, part of a larger package of reductions adopted by the MTA's board of directors in March, will impact more than 14,000 LIRR riders. They aim to save the LIRR $950,000 this year and $3.8 million annually beginning next year.
The cuts represent only a fraction of the pain that Long Island commuters could be feeling soon. Fare hikes are expected to take effect across the MTA in January, including LIRR ticket price increases of as much as 9.4 percent.
In addition, commuters who use Long Island Bus, whose service changes to four lines went into effect Saturday, are in danger of losing their ride to work because the Nassau-owned bus system could shut down altogether without a major increase in funding from Nassau County.
"If that's not moving in the wrong direction, I don't know what is," Maureen Michaels, chairwoman of the LIRR Commuter's Council, said of the most recent cuts. She expects widespread confusion and frustration from commuters beginning Monday. "This plan has denigrated Long Island Rail Road service in profound ways."
What's being cut
Among some of the LIRR's planned cuts: The reduction of off-peak service on the busy Port Washington line from half-hourly to hourly, resulting in the cancellation of 14 trains on weekdays and 32 on weekends; the elimination of all service to and from Brooklyn between midnight and around 5 a.m.; and the elimination of one westbound morning peak train and two eastbound evening peak trains.
The cuts follow a round of service cuts in May that included the elimination of six trains.
"These service reductions and layoffs are painful for our customers and employees but are necessary," LIRR spokesman Joe Calderone said in a statement. "The LIRR is working hard to become a more efficient and cost-conscious organization. We have reduced administrative overhead at the LIRR by 15 percent and are cutting overtime costs as well. The service cuts are needed to help close a $900-million MTA budget shortfall."
Riders hit hard
Among the hardest hit commuters are those on the Port Washington line, where 7,700 branch riders will be affected by the changes.
"It doesn't make getting in easy. It makes it so difficult, I'll probably end up driving in," Koehler said.
Ronkonkoma commuter Richard Siotta is none too happy about his usual 4:24 p.m. train out of Penn Station making extra stops starting Monday, but said his options are few. "When you're on the train and you look out the window and see the traffic on the highways bumper to bumper, the train is still a better deal," Siotta said.
MTA board member Mitchell Pally, of Stony Brook, said he is hopeful that the LIRR will be able to restore its cuts once the economy improves. Until then, reducing service is one of the weapons at the MTA's disposal to trim its deficit.
"Any reduction in service has an impact on some customers. All of us are very frustrated having to do those. We tried to find ones that will impact the least amount of people, but everyone is important," said Pally, who acknowledged that convincing customers that the MTA and LIRR are doing all it can to soften the blow to customers is a losing battle.
"The perception is that it's mismanagement and bloated salaries and inefficiencies, and I don't think no matter what anybody ever does or what audits are performed by anybody, that perception will ever go away," he said.
Employees losing out, too
Nobody has been more vocal in pointing out possible administrative waste in the LIRR than its labor force. The LIRR is expected to lay off 98 employees this month, although 65 will transfer into other vacant positions in the LIRR, while 33 will be out of work altogether.
"It is very troubling to me that front-line employees will be furloughed and customers will be deprived the full services they are entitled," said Anthony Simon, general chairman of the United Transportation Union, the LIRR's largest labor organization. "My organization will not rest until every furloughed employee is either saved or brought back to work, which in turn will provide the safe and reliable service Long Island Rail Road customers deserve."
MTA management has said unions could help cut the deficit by agreeing to concessions.
Christopher Natale, general chairman of the Brotherhood of Rail Road Signal Men, said management's pleas are insincere and come at the same time that they are wasting billions. And the commuters "always get stuck in the middle," Natale said.
"It's not fair to them," he said.
The Service Cuts
Midday weekday service and all weekend service is reduced from every half-hour to every hour.
On weekdays, 14 trains are being eliminated.
On weekends, 32 trains are being eliminated.
(beginning Saturday, Sept. 18): all weekend service to and from West Hempstead is being eliminated.
The 6:09 a.m. train to Atlantic Terminal has been canceled.
The 4:34 p.m. train to Ronkonkoma from Atlantic Terminal is canceled.
The 4:30 p.m. trains from Hunterspoint Avenue to Montauk will only operate on Fridays from May through October.
All overnight trains to and from Atlantic Terminal are being eliminated.
Service will be suspended from midnight until 5 a.m. on weeknights, and until around 5:49 a.m. on weekends.
For more information, visit www.mta.info/lirr