Elected officials throughout the Great Neck peninsula, Town of North Hempstead and Nassau County made a unified call to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to reinstate express service on the Port Washington line of the Long Island Rail Road on Tuesday.
The bipartisan call to action was made following the MTA outlining the proposed schedule changes in June as part of the agency’s $11.2 billion East Side Access Project. The proposed changes, residents and officials said, are providing commuters on the Port Washington branch of the LIRR with a decrease in express service.
“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 during a Tuesday press conference. “Their new schedule plan makes it much harder for people to plan their schedule. In effect, they’re cutting service.”
Stops on the Port Washington Line, which also includes the Great Neck, Manhasset and Plandome stations, would increase by more than 20% during morning peak hours, according to the schedule.
While 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 43% increase during the evening, local officials and town residents said the agency should prioritize the travel time of its daily commuters.
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 impact the property values of homes along the Port Washington Line, which even include parts of Plandome and North Hills. The extra few minutes each way on the train, he said, add up to hours per month where 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.”
Village of Thomaston Mayor Steven Weinberg said it’s not often when there is true bipartisan support to combat an issue, such as a lack of express service on the Long Island Rail Road.
Under the current schedule he said, there are currently six trains that run from the Great Neck station between 7-8:30 a.m. Under the changes, that will go down to just two trains during the same rush hour weekday period, he said.
“That is just a travesty,” Weinberg said. “This express service has been in place for over 100 years. People bought their homes and apartments here…they made their investment. I call on the LIRR to make the investment to actually improve service on this line.”
Town of North Hempstead Supervisor Jennifer DeSena called the proposed changes “unacceptable” and has been involved in preliminary talks with agency representatives to try and remedy the issues.
“Discussions will continue between the Long Island Rail Road and the town regarding the desire to see certain infrastructure improvements, and the town is open to these discussions,” DeSena said. “But in the meantime, the Long Island Rail Road must show some good faith and restore these express service cuts.”
MTA spokeswoman Joanna Flores 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.
Flores, in another statement to Blank Slate Media, said the agency’s investment allows for an overall increase in service by 40% and will provide hundreds of Long Island residents with enhanced travel opportunities.
“A key to this huge service increase is the completion of the historic third track project — and that project is on time, under budget and already providing benefits after decades of NIMBY opposition from some elected officials,” Flores said.
State Sen. Anna Kaplan (D-North Hills) and state Assemblywoman Gina Sillitti (D-Port Washington) said more than 2,200 responses were submitted in a survey conducted over the past three weeks, with an “overwhelming majority” being in opposition to the draft schedule.
“The proposed schedule changes and elimination of peak services will negatively impact thousands of commuters who rely on the Long Island Rail Road for their daily commute,” the assemblywoman said. “We’ve heard from countless residents who decided to move to North Hempstead because of the fast and easy commute to Manhattan, which is why we’ve seen such an overwhelming response to these proposed changes.”
“At a time when we’re trying to get people safely back to the office and using mass transportation, we should be working to make commutes easier, but this proposal by the Long Island railroad does the opposite, and we’re not going to accept it,” Kaplan said.