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LIRR should build on its success with extra South Fork service

Passengers board a westbound Long Island Rail Road

Passengers board a westbound Long Island Rail Road train at the Speonk station on May 27. Credit: John Roca

For more than two decades, South Fork residents dreamed of a vigorous public transportation system that would take cars off roads and reduce traffic bottlenecks.  In March, they got it — a beefed-up network of Long Island Rail Road trains and shuttles that gives commuters, in particular, more options. And it has worked, spectacularly.

Now it's time to open the throttle on progress.

The LIRR added six trains — three eastbound in the morning leaving from Speonk and Hampton Bays, three westbound in the afternoon returning from Montauk — and ridership more than doubled. From March to July, ridership was 24,974, compared with 10,943 in 2018 and 10,845 in 2017. Assemb. Fred Thiele, who pushed for more trains for years, says most of the new riders were commuters, from tradespeople to school and hospital workers. He makes the common-sense argument that additional trains will boost ridership even further.

The LIRR, not coincidentally, has identified the East End as ripe for growth and already has invested in signal work there. But the system is constrained by its single track. So the next step is to build sidings to let one train pull over so another can pass in the opposite direction. Thiele got sidings into the LIRR's 5-year capital plan in this year's state budget negotiations, less than $10 million for four or five, he says.  Eliminating a $1 charge for last-mile bus shuttle service, part of the basic $4.25 one-way fare, also would increase ridership.

Let's get it done, and turn the "trade parade" into a relic of the past. — The editorial board