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Romaine: North Fork Businesses Lose Without LIRR Services

Suffolk County Legislator Ed Romaine said the $60 million East End towns provides the MTA is not being used to address transportation needs in eastern Suffolk.

The North Fork needs an alternative railroad service to the Metropolitan Transit Authority, especially during the winter when businesses need it the most, say local tourism advocates.

Suffolk County Legislator Ed Romaine blasted the MTA for the lack of East End train service during a Friday afternoon press conference at the Greenport Train Station.

Pointing to the tracks across from the , Romaine expressed his anger over the lack of weekend service to the East End.

“I don’t want to look at these tracks one day and say ‘this is a museum,’’ Romaine said.

Romaine, joined by Greenport Mayor David Nyce, Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter, and Southold Supervisor Scott Russell, called the press conference to reiterate his dissatisfaction with the MTA over not providing train service to the East End on weekends, especially during Long Island’s Winterfest.

After Long Island Railroad cut service out to the North Fork down to two trains last October, Romaine said this winter has seen service deteriorate further with lack of on-time performance, unannounced cancellations, and lack of bus transportation to other stations. For the $347 each person on the North Fork pays in payroll taxes to the MTA, Romaine said the North Fork residents are not getting the service they are paying for.

“As far as the railroad is concerned, the world ends at Ronkonkoma,” Romaine said.

What concerns Romaine the most is the negative impact it has on East End businesses. Since its inception in 2006, special trains were run in conjunction with Winterfest to encourage tourism, but without the weekend service the local businesses are losing out.

“Where’s the wine train that should be running on weekends? Unless we start making noise we’re not going to get service with our money,” Romaine said.

Nyce added the Hampton Jitney and North Fork Express do try to fill in the gaps left by the MTA, but he does not understand why the railroad is no longer even being used for the commercial purposes it was originally built for. He challenged the MTA as to why the subject of a light rail system was not considered when the MTA had money and was rebuilding a decade ago.

“It’s just a poor use of money,” said Nyce.

Russell agreed with his colleagues and said train service is not a luxury and pointed out Southold Town is still in litigation regarding the MTA tax.

“The tracks stop in Greenport but the MTA tax goes all the way to Orient,” he said;

Over the years, Romaine has worked to keep train service in his district. He fought against the elimination of all trains east of Yaphank, and helped established a schedule to accommodate jurors at the Riverhead courts.

Romaine has approached the MTA with the idea of a weekend wine train that would leave New York around 9 a.m. and reach the North Fork around 11:30 a.m. The wineries would provide local transportation and would return the riders to the trains around 5:30 p.m. Romaine said this idea would “create jobs, provide economic development, and real economic stimulus” to the area. MTA representatives never responded to the idea.

Despite the MTA’s lack of cooperation, Romaine is not giving up and is encouraging local residents and business owners to speak up.

“The squeaky railroad wheel gets the grease,” Romaine said.

Walter  took the debate a step further and said he did not believe the business model of the MTA worked any more. Walter was frustrated over the amount of money his town sends to Suffolk County and the MTA and said he wants the money back, and for that matter, Peconic County back on the table as well.

“I would like to see the railroad end in Yaphank and run a light rail on the East End,” Walter said.

In fact, Walter believes the next step should be to find an operator of a light rail system to give the East End a quote. A study does “nothing,” according to Walter and believes towns should work together to form a business plan.

Romaine agreed the tax dollars should be used to create a better public transportation system.

“We need a county-wide bus system that ties in with the train. We have underestimated the need for public transportation on the East End,” he said.

Romaine will meet next week at the Medford Train Station with fellow Suffolk Legislator Jack Eddington to build a coalition for Suffolk County transportation.

Amy K. Martin February 19, 2011 at 04:39 PM
Just a few years ago, the LIRR had to be coerced to improve the quality & service of even the RR cars that were available to the East End. They had special non-electric double deckers, each stop had to have raised platforms etc all requiring each hamlet & village hours of meetings & expense to coordinate their design and construction...FOR WHAT? It's almost as if this expense was politically engineered by the MTA to help the bean counters say it isn't affordable to provide service out here. Then they changed the schedule so the early morning train left too early for weekend commuters from Shelter Island. 2 trains a day is not service. How can you cut the services and then complain that ridership is down? We need the Railroad, & not just as a museum piece. We need service and use of the wonderful Vistas riding these rails provides...a beautiful view of the North Fork not available to cars....If the MTA will not provide service of regular trains even if just between Riverhead & Greenport but better yet to at least Hauppauge where so many East Enders work then, yes please replace them with light rail...& maybe a even add a Dinner train. In these days of trying to reuse resources in energy efficient ways, this is a no brainer. (As is the insult of paying taxes for services we don't receive) Thank you Ed Romaine, our Village & Town leaders for addressing this extremely important problem. This is an asset we can no longer waste. Year Round Business Owner
Terry Karamanos February 21, 2011 at 11:17 AM
Reduction of service by the MTA is both short-sighted and a reaffirmation of the need for a local service that is energy efficient and meets local and regional needs. Agreed with all of the above!
Linda Slezak May 17, 2011 at 01:48 PM
I applaud the addition of a morning stop to the Riverhead Station. That's a start to improving needed rail service to the NF. There's more to be done and Romaine, Nyce, et al are doing their part. We, as potential riders need to do ours by transfering our use of the Jitney to the LIRR when possible.

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