After proposing changes to the Long Island Rail Road’s Port Washington branch that would have eliminated express service as part of the agency’s East Side Access project, transit officials announced Thursday that they have abandoned their plans to do so.
The draft timetable changes, residents and officials said, would shortchange commuters throughout Port Washington, Plandome, Manhasset and Great Neck by decreasing express service. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority held multiple virtual sessions to hear feedback from North Shore residents and officials, a majority of which was in opposition to the proposed cutbacks.
State Sen. Anna Kaplan (D-North Hills) and state Assemblywoman Gina Sillitti (D-Port Washington) helped lead a charge that encouraged residents and other elected officials throughout the North Shore areas to express their concerns to transit officials so that the longstanding express service could be retained. The two expressed their excitement following the announcement that the plans to eliminate the express service would not come to fruition.
“Thousands of residents in this community have spoken up about the impact of the proposed cuts on their daily lives, and today, the MTA has heard us, and taken action to address our concerns,” Kaplan said in a statement. “I applaud the MTA and LIRR for working to ensure our community still has express train service to Penn Station even after Grand Central Madison opens this winter, but there is still more to be done to ensure our communities get the level of service we need and deserve.”
“When the draft timetables were released at the beginning of the summer, I listened to the thousands of commuters who were outraged to see the elimination of the express trains,” Sillitti said. “After thousands of public comments, three packed public hearings, and hours of testimony, I am grateful that the MTA and the LIRR heard the concerns and restored express train service back to the Port Washington Line.”
Overall, the branch will receive an 11% boost in service, with more trains becoming available for commuters on the Port Washington Branch, according to the draft schedules following the agency’s announcement. A total of 103 trains per day will be servicing the branch, 10 more than the current schedule has, officials said. On weekends, a total of five more trains, 81 total, will be operating along the branch.
The draft morning rush hour schedule includes 15 trains arriving in Manhattan between 6:16 a.m. and 9:51 a.m., a 36% increase from the current 11 that arrive at Penn Station between 6:21 a.m. and 9:34 a.m., according to officials.
The branch’s afternoon and evening rush hour schedule will also see a 43% increase in service, including three express trains. A total of 20 trains will leave Manhattan between 4:06 p.m. and 7:43 p.m., six more than the 14 trains that currently provided that service to commuters on the Port Washington branch, according to officials.
Long Island Rail Road Interim President Catherine Rinaldi said she was pleased to hear the concerns from North Shore commuters, but said more work will need to be done to help the overall expansion of the Long Island Rail Road.
“The true key to the addition of future service increases is expanding track capacity at Port Washington Yard,” Rinaldi said in a statement. “The Town of North Hempstead has committed to working with Senator Kaplan and Assemblymember Sillitti to advance this long sought-after project that is the bottleneck to having more service on the branch.”
Town of North Hempstead Supervisor Jennifer DeSena said she had been involved in preliminary talks with agency representatives to remedy various issues and work with the Long Island Rail Road if they restored the express service. DeSena, in a statement on Facebook, thanked Rinaldi for meeting with her and town officials to restore the branch’s longstanding service.
“Thank you to the thousands of residents who spoke out against these plans, and thank you to Interim LIRR President Cathy Rinaldi for meeting with me and my team over the last few months, listening to our feedback, and finding ways to compromise on a solution in the best interest of our residents,” DeSena said. “I look forward to discussions continuing between the Town and MTA regarding future improvements at Port Washington Station.”
Kaplan echoed Rinaldi’s comments regarding the need to enhance the Port Washington Rail Yard.
“It’s time to get the long-derailed Port Washington Yard expansion project back on track to ensure that we can build on today’s announcement and deliver even more express train service down the road,” Kaplan said. “I’m calling for the MTA and the Town of North Hempstead to find a path forward without further delay.”