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.