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Upstate MTA board members take issue with proposed LIRR funding

The MTA's proposed 2020-24 capital plan would fund

The MTA's proposed 2020-24 capital plan would fund major infrastructure investment including $5.7 billion for the LIRR, compared with $4.6 billion for Metro-North. Photo Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials representing Metro-North riders are crying foul that the Long Island Rail Road stands to receive about a billion dollars more than its sister railroad in the MTA’s proposed $51 billion Capital Program.

At a Manhattan meeting of the MTA Board on Monday morning, board members representing Metro-North’s Upstate service area protested the disparity between the allotments to the two commuter railroads, which both have a similar-sized ridership. The LIRR carried about 89 million riders last year, while Metro-North carried about 87 million.

And yet, the MTA’s proposed 2020-24 Capital Program, which would fund major transportation infrastructure investments throughout the authority, allots $5.7 billion to the LIRR, as compared with $4.6 billion for Metro-North.

Board member Susan Metzger, who represents Orange County, noted that while Metro-North has made progress in increasing capital funds through the years, it continues to trail the LIRR.

“ … Everybody has a tipping point. And a billion-dollar discrepancy is a tipping point,” said Metzger, who has pushed unsuccessfully for the construction of several storage tracks and a new rail yard for Metro-North. “It’s too big a discrepancy, especially when some of our asks are so small.”

Neal Zuckerman, who represents Putnam County on the board, similarly balked at the financial split between the two railroads in the MTA Capital Program, which will be voted on by the full MTA Board on Wednesday. If approved, it will then be sent to the state’s Capital Program Review Board for final approval.

“Where’s our Moynihan [Station]? Where’s our East Side Access?” Zuckerman said, referencing two major LIRR infrastructure projects funded in the plan. “This is one system … But, at some point, the system has to have a minimum threshold for quality across all of it.”

MTA Board member Kevin Law, who represents Suffolk County, said the comments from the upstate board members left him “feeling like Long Island was ganged up on.”

“That’s not fair,” said Law, who noted that, excluding about $1 billion in funding for megaprojects like East Side Access — which technically is allotted to the MTA’s Capital Construction department, and not to the LIRR — the proposed funding amounts for the two railroads are much closer: $3.7 billion for the LIRR and $3.6 billion for Metro-North.

Law also said that Metro-North also stands to gain from East Side Access, because once the LIRR links to Grand Central Terminal, Penn Station will have enough extra capacity to allow for trains on Metro-North’s New Haven Line to stop there.

“We need to view the East Side Access project as a project that’s going to benefit the entire system,” Law said. “We can’t be pitting the Long Island Rail Road vs. Metro-North. We are one system.”

At the same meeting Monday, LIRR president Phillip Eng revealed recent performance figures for the railroad. Last month, 92.1% of trains operated on time — a significant improvement over August 2018, when the railroad reported an on-time performance rate of 87.4%.

“These figures are even more significant considering we’re accomplishing unprecedented work and carrying a record number of riders,” Eng said.

The railroad carried 214,000 more riders last month than in August of last year, Eng said.

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