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LIRR might give East End transit autonomy

Suffolk legislator Ed Romaine protests MTA plans to

Suffolk legislator Ed Romaine protests MTA plans to eliminate rail service east of Ronkonkoma. (Jan. 25, 2010) Credit: Pablo Corradi

As East End community leaders protested the Long Island Rail Road's plan to eliminate service to Greenport, LIRR officials - for the first time - said publicly Monday they would consider the idea of turning over a portion of their system to local transportation officials.

LIRR officials said the concept, which is years away from fruition, would entail the creation of a long-talked-about regional transportation authority in Eastern Suffolk. The authority would take over the LIRR's right of way between Riverhead and Greenport, and could replace it with a rapid transit bus system.

Such a system, LIRR officials said, could potentially provide some East End commuters with more frequent service than what the LIRR provides.

Under such a plan, the LIRR might restore service from Ronkonkoma to Riverhead, officials said.

"This is an opportunity to take a look at what the future could be," Williams said Monday at an MTA meeting in Manhattan. "I think it's time for us to open that question up for debate."

Williams said Greenport is a summer destination for the railroad, and MTA plans call for running trains on summer weekends. But, she added, the dramatic financial pressures forcing service cutbacks also create an opportunity to take a new look at public transportation needs on the North Fork.

MTA chief executive and chairman Jay Walder said the daily Ronkonkoma to Greenport service was targeted for elimination because of its low ridership.

The prospect of pulling out of the MTA was at the center of a rally in the rain outside the Riverhead train station Monday. Numerous town, county and state officials all charged that the MTA has failed to provide the service needed by residents of the North Fork or much of eastern Brookhaven.

There are only two round-trip trains between Ronkonkoma and Greenport each day, neither on a schedule that makes it possible to use them for a daily commute to New York City or Riverhead.

Suffolk Legis. Edward Romaine (R-Center Moriches), said he tried unsuccessfully last year to get the Long Island Rail Road to change its schedule so the eastbound train that arrives in Riverhead at 9:44 a.m. could be moved up a half-hour.

Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter and Southold Supervisor Scott Russell joined State Assemb. Marc Alessi (D-Wading River) in his call for an investigation of MTA spending.

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