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North Fork commuters lament planned LIRR service cut

Come September, Herman Demirciyan might be a man without a train, and he isn't happy.

The Greenport resident and Manhattan jewelry designer has frequently been the first, last and sometimes only person on the last stretch of the Greenport-Ronkonkoma line.

If the Metropolitan Transportation Authority has its way, the LIRR line will be eliminated for all but summer weekends next September, to save $991,000 a year as part of a larger cost-cutting move.

For the scores of commuters like Demirciyan who depend on the line, its elimination would bring "devastation."

"I know it's not a lot of people who ride on the train, but it's a service that should be provided," said Demirciyan, who is not sure how he'd get to Manhattan, though he is sure he won't be driving.

The MTA said around 190 weekday riders would be bumped by the move, as would 160 on the weekends. The MTA board must still approve the measure.

As the double-decker diesel rumbled back and forth through the rain-soaked North Fork backcountry Monday, riders expressed shock and anger that the line could be cut.

Colin Fitzgerald, 3, wore an engineer's hat as a group of 10 family members boarded at Cutchogue for the ride to Greenport to celebrate his birthday. "It's unfortunate," said his dad, Shawn Fitzgerald, of the threatened closure.

Evamarie Jimenez of Aquebogue said she and her boss essentially built her work schedule at Winthrop-University Hospital in Mineola around the North Fork train schedule (she gets on at Riverhead). "There's no way I'm driving to Mineola," she said.

While banker Meinrad Danzer sometimes drives the 40 miles from Southold to Ronkonkoma to start his Manhattan commute, he said losing the train option would put a crimp in his lifestyle. "I've been doing it more and more as I get lazier," he said.

Michael Arnone of Southold, a junior at Chaminade High School in Mineola, said he might have to relocate during the week to relatives' homes in Babylon or Westhampton to be nearer trains. "Plan C is driving to Ronkonkoma," something his mom would prefer to avoid.

Erin Quinn, 14, of Riverhead, a freshman at Kellenberg Memorial High School in Uniondale, said a social group has built up around the commute. Also, she said, "This is one of the best studying places."

Students estimate some 20 teens from Chaminade, Kellenberg and Sacred Heart Academy in Hempstead ride the line.

"It's going to be a hardship for a lot of people," said LIRR conductor Eileen Denn. "A lot of them don't have cars."

One nondriver is Nancy Williams Watt, a soap opera writer who has been riding the line for 24 years between Manhattan and Greenport. "It's really an awful idea," she said of the cuts. "They should be increasing rail service rather than road travel," for environmental reasons.

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