Gov. Kathy Hochul joined MTA, local and state officials to celebrate the opening of the first section of the Long Island Rail Road’s 3rd Track on Monday.
The officials met at the newly upgraded New Hyde Park station and took a ceremonial ride on the three-mile stretch between the Floral Park and Merillon Avenue stations.
They included state Sen. Anna Kaplan (D-Nort Hills), New Hyde Park Mayor Christopher Devane and Floral Park Mayor Kevin Fitzgerald.
“The opening of the 3rd Track marks a huge milestone for commuters and visitors that is decades in the making,” Hochul said. “Thanks to this extraordinary project, LIRR trains will run more often and passengers will have a smoother ride than ever. Our partners at the MTA and the hard-working women and men of organized labor delivered an on-time, under budget project — and that’s something worth celebrating.”
When fully built, the $2.6 billion track will run on a 9.8-mile stretch between Floral Park and Hicksville. The second section of the track, from Garden City to Carle Place, will open in two weeks.
Local officials throughout the North Shore have recently been critical of proposed schedule changes to the Long Island Rail Road’s Port Washington branch as part of the East Side Access Project.
But Fitzgerald, whose predecessor had opposed the 3rd track, voiced his support for the enhanced service Floral Park will now receive.
Fitzgerald said Floral Park residents will “finally be able to reap the rewards” of the 3rd Track Project combined with the East Side Access Project’s direct access to Grand Central Station.
Fitzgerald, during a Thursday night hearing hosted by the agency, said the proposed changes for the Floral Park station will result in a 50% increase in midday trains, a 20% increase in weekend train service and more frequent stops at the station post-p.m. rush hour.
“This will allow our residents to be able to stay in the city longer, enjoying whatever event they were attending and not having to worry about making a train back home,” Fitzgerald said.
In recent years, he said, Floral Park residents have been subjected to various restraints and disturbances as a result of the construction of the 3rd track and station upgrades.
Previous Floral Park board meetings were flooded with concerns and complaints about crews working on tracks longer than anticipated, excess noise coming from construction and transportation of materials, along with claims that environmental studies were not properly submitted.
“Over the past few years, the Village of Floral Park along with its neighboring villages on the main line have endured significant construction and disturbances to our daily lives,” Fitzgerald said. “The new schedules, as presented, will allow for the residents of Floral Park to reap the benefits from the aforementioned inconveniences. The draft schedules now make living in Floral Park even more attractive than it already is.”
North Shore officials pleaded with agency officials during the meeting to restore the express service trains eliminated in proposed schedule changes.
Long Island Rail Road officials said a majority of Port Washington line commuters would benefit from the updated schedule, saying that there will be a 70% increase in service during the morning and a 43% increase during the evening.
But local officials and North Hempstead residents said the agency should prioritize the travel time of its daily commuters.
They said the proposed schedule would shortchange commuters throughout Port Washington, Plandome, Manhasset and Great Neck by decreasing express service.
Under the current schedule, six trains run from Great Neck between 7-8:30 a.m., according to officials. Under the changes, that will go down to just two trains during the same rush hour weekday period.
Town of North Hempstead Supervisor and Manhasset resident Jennifer DeSena said she has a direct impact on these changes with family members relying on the Long Island Rail Road for their commutes.
Countless amounts of residents, she said, have brought their respective concerns about the project to her and implored the agency to restore the longstanding express service in its schedule.
“These proposed service cuts will impact thousands of riders across the town, and would potentially lead to decreased home values, increased congestion, and an overall negative effect on quality of life,” DeSena said.
The supervisor said she hosted a meeting between the town and Long Island Rail Road Interim President Catherine Rinaldi and other representatives from her office, making it known that the town is willing to mend allegedly “strained” relationships with the organization.
DeSena said that despite a “lack of foresight and an unwillingness by previous town boards to make compromises,” she is willing to hear what mutually-beneficial agreements can be reached between the two parties.
“As discussions continue between the LIRR and the Town regarding this, I am urging the LIRR to show some good faith and restore these peak express service cuts,” DeSena said. “This can very easily be done by a few minor shifts in the proposed schedule, reestablishing Great Neck as the location for the local/express split on trains to Penn, instead of shifting it to Bayside.”
MTA spokesperson Sean Butler said the agency welcomes residential comments and concerns to better understand what changes need to be made to the proposed schedule, which will be finalized in December, according to officials.
“We are pleased to be receiving so much feedback on our new schedules as part of an extensive public engagement process, including multiple public sessions, as we prepare to launch LIRR service to the East Side of Manhattan by the end of 2022,” Butler said in a statement. “The MTA’s multibillion-dollar investment in Grand Central Madison will increase service by 40%, provide hundreds of thousands of Long Island commuters with more service options, and improve both service reliability and on-time performance.”
MTA spokeswoman Joanna Flores previously said in a statement the agency is “prepared to work with the Town” to “provide even more service” on the Port Washington branch, noting that improvements would rely on the town supporting efforts to expand train storage along the line.
Pocket tracks, typically located at or near stations, are a place for trains to pull over and park without using the main tracks.
Nassau officials have been united in their opposition to the proposed changes. A press conference held last week in Great Neck featured bipartisan calls for the MTA to maintain the quality level of service LIRR commuters have seen for years.
“Every day, thousands of Nassau County residents depend on the Long Island Rail Road to commute to work and come home,” Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman said. “Their new schedule plan makes it much harder for people to plan their schedule. In effect, they’re cutting service.”
Village of Great Neck Mayor Pedram Bral said the LIRR is a “lifeline” for many of the peninsula’s residents and local officials who work throughout New York City.
The proposed schedule changes, he said, are going to negatively affect the property values of homes along the Port Washington Line, which include parts of Plandome and North Hills. The extra few minutes each way on the train, he said, add up to hours per month when adults are away from their families.
“These are minutes that are going to pile up and become hours we are not spending with our loved ones,” Bral said. “We urge, collectively for everyone… to fight and ask the MTA… to bring us higher quality transit because we’re paying premium prices to live here.”
“It’s also a quality of life issue,” North Hills Mayor Marvin Natiss said. “If you have to go into the city and you have to spend an extra half an hour on a train or an extra 20 minutes on the train each way, it’s less time that you have to spend with your family.”