Long Island Rail Road commuters on the North Fork have gotten an 11th-hour reprieve, with the MTA reversing its plans to cut weekday service between Ronkonkoma and Greenport, the agency announced Friday.
In January, the MTA proposed cutting service to Greenport - the LIRR's Main Line terminus for 166 years - on all days but summer weekends. The proposal was decried by Suffolk lawmakers, business owners and riders who said it was the latest blow in a long history of mistreatment of East End riders.
"The East End community and elected officials made it clear during the public hearing process that keeping weekday service to Greenport was of vital importance to them, and we are pleased that we are able to restore this cut," LIRR president Helena Williams said. "We are going to be working closely with local communities on the North Fork to try and increase ridership to make it a more viable service economically."
State Sen. Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) said the MTA agreed to restore the service on the condition that East End lawmakers work harder to increase ridership on the line, which carries less than 200 people east of Ronkonkoma on weekdays. That could include improving Suffolk County Transit bus service in the area.
"It's always great when people realize they did not make a good decision, and we will certainly work with the MTA to try and build ridership," said LaValle, who credited Assemb. Marc Alessi (D-Wading River) and Assemb. Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor) with working alongside him to restore the cut.
"It's good news for that line," said Sen. Brian Foley (D-Blue Point), who was the first to announce the restoration after getting the news Friday morning from MTA Chairman Jay Walder. "They need to find ways to cut costs, but this was an unwise proposal."
The railroad still intends to cut service between Ronkonkoma and Greenport on non-summer weekends, affecting about 160 riders.
East End leaders greeted the news Friday with mixed emotion, and noted that the LIRR still is proposing to run fewer trains to Greenport than it does now. Legis. Ed Romaine (R-Center Moriches) pointed out that many Manhattan residents travel by train on weekends throughout the year to get to their weekend homes on the North Fork.
"It's a small victory that they heard our voice," said Romaine, who recommended that the MTA consider using buses, instead of trains, to supplement its transportation plan on the East End.
He also supports studying the formation of a Peconic Bay Transportation Authority that would be separate from the MTA. "They've been exposed as people that really don't understand transportation on the East End," he said.
Anthony Simon, chairman of the United Transportation Union which represents LIRR conductors, heralded the announcement as "good news" and vowed to continue fighting to maintain service on the LIRR. He also commended Rep. Steve Israel and Rep. Tim Bishop for their work in fighting the proposed service cuts.
LIRR riders face numerous other proposed service cuts. They include the elimination of weekend service on the West Hempstead Branch, shifting weekday off-peak service on the Port Washington line from half-hourly to hourly, and the cancellation and combining of several trains, including during peak hours.
Other previously proposed service cuts no longer being considered are the elimination of the N88 bus, which travels between Freeport and Jones Beach in the summer. Under the proposed cuts, LI Bus still would discontinue 11 lines.
In addition, the weekday 8:28 a.m. westbound train out of West Hempstead - previously pegged for elimination - will be replaced with an 8:55 a.m. train.