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LIRR commuters bracing for strike take a sigh of relief

Commuters Christine Desanti, right, and Jeanne Yonkers, both

Commuters Christine Desanti, right, and Jeanne Yonkers, both of Bethpage, wait for the 7:01 a.m. train at the Bethpage LIRR station on Thursday, July 17, 2014. Credit: Barry Sloan

Business as usual had never seemed so sweet to many Long Island Rail Road commuters who were bracing for a Sunday strike and found out Thursday that the trains will run after all.

Riders who told of a variety of Plan B scenarios -- from couch-surfing near their workplaces and carpooling to taking shuttle buses, ferries and city subways -- now can look forward to just another manic Monday.

The work stoppage was avoided with a tentative deal between union leaders and transit officials, announced by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo Thursday afternoon.

"It would have been a catastrophe," said Rick Montemurro, 35, a Kings Park resident who takes the train to get to construction job sites in New York City. "I would have lost money," he added. "I would have been part of the $50 million lost during the strike," citing a state comptroller's estimate of daily economic losses to the region. He said he would have stayed home to avoid the madness.

Subway plans not needed

Christine Desanti, a legal secretary from Bethpage, had been planning to drive to Hicksville, catch a shuttle, then take the R train to her job in midtown Manhattan.

"I am relieved," said Desanti, 46. "It would have been horrible to try to maneuver through all these stops and traffic."

Sam Varughese, an information technology professional from Elmont, was going to drive to Citi Field in Queens to catch a No. 7 train to Manhattan. He had visions of the nightmare that was the 1994 strike, in which he spent hours stuck in buses as they inched their way through the city.

If the strike had gone forward, he said, he would have had to "spend the whole time thinking about Monday." Now, he said, he can get "a little bit more sleep" before leaving for work -- and sitting on the train -- that day.

"I feel so great that my life will be back to normal," said Varughese, 54.

Nicky Rodriguez, 47, of Huntington, was so elated when she heard the news that she had an outburst of praise: "Oh Lord, mercy, God bless Cuomo! I'm so happy."

She relies on the train every day to get to cleaning jobs, Rodriguez said.

In making the announcement at a news conference, Cuomo recognized that "Long Island by its configuration doesn't allow many options for commuters" and said that "if the Long Island Rail Road goes down all of Long Island suffers."

Some LIRR workers said they were relieved as well, but were waiting to hear the agreement's details.

"I'm glad we are not striking," said John Guskan Jr., a conductor at Huntington Station Thursday afternoon. "They haven't disclosed anything to the members."

A Babylon station ticket-seller, who spoke on condition that her name was not used, said, "The people need the train and we need to work."

Al Pennetti, who takes the train to visit friends and go to medical appointments, said his concerns were for the economy of the region. People would miss work, businesses near train stations would suffer and gas prices could have spiked.

Grumbling resonated

He was glad that officials from all sides listened to the grumbling from system users like himself, who said they wanted a fair deal, if not at their expense.

"Once there was a lot of negative talk from commuters, once the governor got wind of that, then the discussion changed," said Pennetti, 54, a former hardware store employee.

"I am happy this didn't happen," Ricardo Hernández, 44, said in Spanish. The Dominican immigrant who lives in Baldwin needs the train to get to and from his night shift at a Seaford restaurant.

He was planning to ask friends for rides to work and pay cab fares to return home, but at $30 a night that would be prohibitive in the long run. "I was worried that I could possibly lose my job if I couldn't show up to work," he added.

Joe Nichols, 47, of Mineola, said the strike made him re-think his options. He was going to stick with his Plan B to take a ferry from Glen Cove to Manhattan.

He can never find open seats on his 4:53 a.m. train during normal commuting days. "I am just tired of the LIRR having no seats. I mean I work standing all day long," said Nichols, a carpenter with Local 157. "If anything, they should be adding more cars ... because there's a lot of people who ride the train."

Farmingdale resident Candace Foster, who works in finance in Midtown, sighed when she learned the strike was called off.

Foster, 29, was going to stay with her brothers in Brooklyn if the stoppage lasted, but she wasn't looking forward to feeling displaced.

"We can now go into the weekend knowing that we have means to come to work on Monday," she said.

She had no exciting plans for the extra hours she was gaining from sticking with her commuting routine. She said she would just get household chores done.

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