The Long Island Rail Road has to keep pace with the times, with its service as well as its cost.
Ticket prices will rise about 4 percent on March 19, in line with the LIRR’s policy of hiking prices every two years to keep abreast of inflation, although the costs that are increasing are in good part from labor contracts. These ticket increases are sure to hurt some pockets. So as prices must rise, passengers must get value in return.
The railroad’s equipment, service frequency and reliability need to improve, and in some cases, be brought into the modern era.
Too often, the trains and schedules are like something from Theodore Roosevelt’s day, with infrequent service and diesel engines chugging up with noise and fumes like Thomas the Tank Engine.
LIRR officials and East End political leaders met in Riverhead on Thursday to discuss improvements that are crucial to the population, economy and quality of life of eastern Suffolk County. The requests from local officials, which they say the LIRR has been very receptive to, include:
- Better year-round weekend service to the North Fork. In July, the LIRR agreed to expand service so that weekend trains would run year-round, continuing to restore service that was cut to only the summer because of budget cuts in 2010. Local officials say they need three eastbound trains to Greenport every Saturday and every Sunday and four westbound ones every weekday, an increase of one a day in each case, to serve businesses and workers in a growing area.
- More service to Montauk, with peak-period service increased to every 30 minutes and an additional late train westbound, preferably at 11:30 p.m., to serve the many hospitality industry employees who live west of the tourist hotbed. Railroad and local officials agree some improvements are possible with the current rail setup, but serious increases would demand either a second track from Sayville to Montauk, which would be politically, operationally and financially very difficult, or the construction of more sidings on the route, which is easier.
- A South Fork commuter connection between Speonk and Montauk, like the one the LIRR ran for several years when County Route 39 was under construction. That service would reduce heavy traffic and add a much-needed transportation option.
These are important improvements, but they aren’t the only ones the LIRR should look at. Four lines — those running to Oyster Bay, Port Jefferson, Montauk and Greenport — run diesel locomotives that are less reliable, less environmentally sound and less pleasant than electric trains. LIRR officials have said for years that electrifying rail lines costs $18 million per mile. But the LIRR has set aside $8 million to plan a new rail yard for the Port Jefferson line that would be needed to accommodate more trains if the track were electrified. Hopefully, that’s just the start. Ideally, the current cost of electrification and other enhancements will also be assessed in the plan.
The East End is going to get only busier. If that’s to happen without growth destroying its appeal, aggressive investment in great train service is crucial. — The editorial board