For New York City travelers headed out east on Friday afternoons in the summer, the Cannonball is a fast, fun and frugal option. The 4:06 p.m. express train from Penn Station makes it to Westhampton in 95 minutes, then stops at three more Hamptons stations on the way to Montauk.
The trip is less than $50 each way. Reserved seats in some cars come with bar service. Now in its second summer of originating at Penn Station, the Cannonball is fantastically popular and regularly sells more tickets than it has seats. That's fine: Long Island Rail Road policy allows passengers to stand in the aisles. What it no longer allows is huge suitcases blocking the aisles or people sitting on them.
That had become a problem recently, as illustrated in a WCBS/2 report last week. But a LIRR crackdown this past weekend and calls from the Federal Railroad Administration to eliminate big bags and to properly stow smaller ones seem to have helped. The agency and LIRR are right to make changes. For safety, aisles must not be blocked.
But the bigger issue is how to meet the ever-growing demand for transportation to and from the East End. The Cannonball is one of 10 trains that run to the Hamptons on Fridays. All are packed. The LIRR can't run more because of equipment and scheduling limitations. So it's worth looking at what's needed to increase service.
MTA officials say a second track from Sayville to Montauk and more diesel engines are necessary. That would be a big commitment, but it might be one that, over time, makes sense. Consider that if the LIRR were able to offer 95-minute commutes to the East End and back to Penn Station every day year-round, there could be many people and businesses ready to make beautiful eastern Suffolk County their full-time home.