The future of the Long Island Rail Road could include direct rides to and from stations in New Jersey, transportation experts said Friday.
The proposal to erase some boundaries between the LIRR and New Jersey Transit came up at a panel discussion about the future of commuter rail hosted by the Regional Plan Association, a Manhattan-based think tank that makes planning and policy recommendations for the tri-state area.
Richard Barone, the association’s vice president for transportation, said one idea being considered by the group as it prepares its latest long-range planning study is for “through-running service” between the region’s three commuter railroads: LIRR, NJT and Metro-North.
“When you hit Penn Station, you’re at a dead end. It operates like a terminal, even though, quite frankly, it’s a station. There should be service through it,” said Barone, who singled out Hicksville to Morristown as one possible route. “We’re thinking about it, and we’ve been thinking about it for a while.”
Barone said running LIRR trains through Penn Station and across the Hudson River would provide riders better access to the region’s international airports, including in Newark.
Coming short of shooting down the idea, MTA Chairman Thomas Prendergast, who was part of the panel discussion, said there are “a host of issues” in its way, including negotiating with LIRR and NJ Transit unions that would operate the trains and reconciling incompatible equipment. LIRR trains are powered by electrified third rails. NJ Transit trains draw power from overhead catenary wires.
Prendergast and Interim NJ Transit Executive Director Dennis Martin both said they would support studying the idea to see if and where such a demand exists.
“You always have to have a vision out there that is past the horizon,” Prendergast said. “If you don’t, you die.”
In the nearer future, Prendergast said addressing capacity constraints on railroads will mean directing riders to times and places in the system that could still handle more riders.
One idea discussed by speakers would increase LIRR service to lesser-used stations in Queens and Brooklyn, while also providing discounted fares for those stations. That could provide new transit options for some city residents who are priced out of the LIRR, while also easing the burden on crowded subways.
The MTA has said it would be willing to look at creating such a “freedom ticket,” as some transit advocates have called it. Polly Trottenberg, New York City Transportation Commissioner and a member of the MTA Board, said giving New Yorkers an incentive to take the LIRR to work could be “transformative.”
“There are some real equity issues there and some real opportunity,” Trottenberg said.