Same old LIRR
Sometimes it feels as if there is no new news, only endless permutations of stories we have lived with for decades, if not centuries.
Such clearly is the case with the Long Island Rail Road, where modern stories of frustration are merely the latest in a never-ending cavalcade of angst.
Case in point: agita about a fare increase. It’s oh-so-very current, with Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials announcing this week that they are considering a 5.5% hike. And it also was oh-so-very current this week 67 years ago, when a different fare increase led Newsday’s editorial board to cite one angry commuter as saying, “Long Island Rail Road — phooey.”
But back in 1955, the board was more concerned about an exception to the fare hike granted by the LIRR that the board was sure would aggravate already-aggrieved commuters.
“We have no intention of adding fuel to that fire,” the board wrote in “Day at the Races” on Dec. 1, 1955. “It already burns indignantly enough.”
But the board added a log to the flames anyway. It explained that the LIRR had “embarrassedly” exempted one group of riders from any fare increase — horseplayers from Manhattan who traveled to Long Island tracks to gamble on the ponies.
“Fares on the track-trains are paid by dropping two coins into turnstiles (a quarter and a fifty-cent piece). The LIRR figured out that a 5¢ per-ride increase would not outweigh the cost of changing and servicing the additional turnstiles needed,” the board wrote. “It’s a disturbing — no, maddening — thought.”
Also maddening, said the board: The Pennsylvania Railroad, which owned the LIRR at that time, was earning “record profits” but contributed “none of these profits to the Long Island.”
As though to stoke the blaze of rider fury, the board also published a cartoon featuring an LIRR train bearing down on a man tied to the tracks and identified as “John Q. Commuter.” Watching with glee from the side of the tracks is another man with a train head labeled “The Pennsy R.R.”
Modern John Q. Commuters surely have understood the feeling — repeatedly. As did all the other generations of railroad commuters faced with fare hikes between 1955 and 2022, nearly all of those increases every bit as resented as they were inevitable. And many in those generations of commuters no doubt would nod in agreement at the board’s words in 1955, when it wrote that the LIRR is “the railroad that entwines and strangles us all.”
— Michael Dobie @mwdobie, Amanda Fiscina-Wells @adfiscina