A new commuter rail shuttle serving the traffic-burdened South Fork is to start in February, allowing riders to avoid the morning rush at a cost of $8.50 per day, state and East Hampton Town officials announced.
Long Island Rail Road officials said earlier this year the agency will provide two additional eastbound and two additional westbound trains between Speonk and Montauk as part of the service dubbed the South Fork Commuter Connection. East Hampton and Southampton towns will provide shuttles between the train stations and workplaces using a $500,000 state grant, which requires a 50 percent match from the towns.
The geography of the South Fork and high real estate prices creates lengthy commutes for much of the Hamptons workforce who live farther west, leading to the call for improved public transit in the region.
“Providing some commuter rail service is not going to replace the automobile as a means to get to the East End, but [it will] try to mitigate some of the issues,” Assemb. Fred Thiele Jr. (I-Sag Harbor) said during an East Hampton Town Board work session last Tuesday.
A schedule has not been set, but trains would likely arrive at the East Hampton Village station about 7 a.m. and 9 a.m. and one would depart from there about 5 p.m., town planning director JoAnne Pahwul said. It is not clear when the second westbound train would depart.
Pahwul noted the program’s success is contingent on a marketing campaign and employers modifying staff schedules.
“The train schedule is not going to be ideal for a strict 9-to-5 work schedule,” Pahwul said. “You may not be able to get to your job from the train station until 9:15.”
A LIRR trip between Westhampton and Montauk is expected to cost $3.25 each way, plus an additional $1 to use the connecting shuttle, totaling $8.50 per day or $42.50 per week, Pahwul said. Boarding the train in Speonk and using the shuttle would cost $7.25 each way under current LIRR fares as that station is in a separate zone.
East Hampton and Southampton officials are expected to submit a request for proposals soon to provide the last leg of the trip, which could be a taxi or bus service to major workplaces such as medical centers and government offices.
The commuter shuttle will run via bus instead of train on Friday evenings to make way for an afternoon express train known as the Cannonball that brings weekend visitors to the Hamptons from Manhattan. Thiele said he is working with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to allocate funding in its capital budget to build track sidings, allowing trains to pass one another on the single track.
A similar program also dubbed the South Fork Commuter Connection was offered in 2007 and 2008 during a widening project on County Road 39, Southampton’s main thoroughfare. Four hundred people used the services during the expansion, dropping to 150 people when the roadway reopened. Officials hope the new service will be more widely used.
“It was a temporary service so people didn’t change their travel plans,” Pahwul said of the previous plan.