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MTA plan cuts LIRR trains from Ronkonkoma to Greenport

A LIRR train in Bellport. (March 4, 2009)

A LIRR train in Bellport. (March 4, 2009) Credit: Newsday/Ana P. Gutierrez

It may be the end of the line for the end of the line.

Long Island Rail Road trains from Ronkonkoma to Greenport - the branch's terminus for 166 long years - would run only on summer weekends under the latest round of sweeping service cuts proposed by the financially strapped Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

Riders on other LIRR lines, including late-night travelers from and to Brooklyn, also would be left trainless, and several other lines would see trains eliminated or actually shortened by two cars if the proposed cuts become reality.

"To cut Greenport? This is not progress," said an irate LIRR Commuter Council chairwoman Maureen Michaels, blasting Long Island's legislative delegation for not doing enough to protect the region's transit system. "They're just hurting Long Island over and over and over again," she said.

The latest proposed cuts - like the "Doomsday II" slashings in service approved just last month when the MTA board unanimously passed its 2010 operating budget - are not confined to the nation's largest commuter railroad. Long Island Bus would be hit hard as well, with the MTA proposing elimination of nine entire bus lines.

Ridership figures supplied by the agencies showed the cuts proposed Friday would affect 3,120 LIRR riders and 1,722 riders of Long Island Bus.

The proposed cutbacks require approval of the MTA board. After that approval, some changes would begin to take effect in May, while others would not be implemented until September, officials said.

On the East End, local leaders expressed outrage.

State Sen. Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), whose district includes Greenport, said the proposed elimination of the historic railroad terminus is "a travesty," and cited the unfairness of the payroll tax that Suffolk employers - like others in the MTA's 12-county service area - now must pay. "We're going from a little service to a little less," LaValle said. "We're being treated on the East End of Long Island like stepchildren, and it's not right."

Under the earlier cuts approved last month, the LIRR will reduce off-peak service on the Port Washington branch and eliminate weekend service to West Hempstead. From the December cuts, Long Island Bus faces elimination of eight bus lines.

Despite a state rescue package adopted last spring, the MTA reported last month that it had discovered an additional $400-million shortfall. The gap was due in part to additional cuts in state aid and lower-than-expected revenue from a new payroll tax aimed to fund the MTA.

Then, earlier this week, Gov. David A. Paterson released his proposed state budget for the new fiscal year, which included what MTA officials said amounted to an additional $104 million in reductions to the agency.

"While the cuts in funding to the MTA require painful actions, we have worked hard to limit the impact on customers," MTA chairman and chief executive Jay H. Walder said Friday in a statement.

The MTA has scheduled several public hearings regarding the service cuts, including one in Carle Place on March 10.

Walder last week proposed several ways to make the MTA more efficient, including by consolidating departments and service among various agencies. But he has said it will take time to realize savings from those plans, and that service cuts are necessary.

LIRR employees, too, were angered. Anthony Simon, general chairman of the United Transportation Union, said the reduced service will inevitably lead to layoffs of LIRR conductors.

The union "will not stand by and watch service cuts be put in place until the Long Island Rail Road has shown it has cut every ounce of fat it has created in management and administration over the past decade," Simon wrote in a letter to LIRR president Helena Williams.

Long Island Bus advocates said its riders may be hit harder than any other MTA area. The proposed cuts would mean elimination of all bus service to and from Jones Beach in the summer and ax several bus lines that serve school students, including the N95 serving Farmingdale State College. "The impacts are going to be disastrous," said Kate Slevin, executive director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign.

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