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Few East Enders seem upset by proposed MTA rail cuts

A dozen people stood outside the Riverhead railroad station Friday afternoon, just waiting to leave town.

Then, the bus came. And all of them were gone.

That was why few East Enders seemed upset Friday to hear of the MTA's proposal to end regular rail service between Ronkonkoma and Greenport - two trains a day.

Trains leave Greenport for Ronkonkoma at 5:30 a.m. and 9:44 p.m. They leave Ronkonkoma for Greenport at 9:02 a.m. and 6:13 p.m. Two additional daily trains serve some stations on the line but do not go all the way to Greenport.

Shelter Island Supervisor James Dougherty - the ferry to Shelter Island is a short walk from the Greenport railroad station - said bus service has become "the mode of choice" for people not using their own cars.

County buses provide local service, while the Hampton Jitney's luxury buses run to Manhattan. "I took it [the train] a few times, just as a train buff. It was pretty slow, and you had to change in Ronkonkoma and Jamaica as well," he said.

Janine Nebons, general manager of the Tanger outlet mall in Riverhead, said none of her customers ride the railroad. "We encourage everybody to use the Hampton Jitney, they run seven days a week and have multiple trips. It's very convenient."

Still, there was some concern that ending regular daily rail service would - if nothing else - be bad for the image of the North Fork.

"We're trying to turn downtown Riverhead around . . . we want to be the shining jewel of the East End," said town Councilman George Gabrielsen. "This hurts the perception of Riverhead."

The proposed elimination of service infuriated Suffolk Legis. Edward Romaine (R-Center Moriches), who planned to hold a protest in front of the Riverhead railroad station on Monday at 10 a.m. "This is a private utility with a massive public subsidy," he said. A payroll tax raises an estimated $200 million a year from Long Island for the MTA.

Romaine said he supported efforts by the five East End towns to become independent of the MTA and form their own East End transportation authority. The county legislator, whose district covers Riverhead, Southold and Shelter Island, said a light rail line should serve the North Fork, with frequent local bus service from train stations.

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