What is the future for the LIRR?
There is more to “A new LIRR is in all our futures” (Kremer’s Corner by Jerry Kramer — June 10). A decline began after World War II of the LIRR with a corresponding loss of farebox revenues.
The Pennsylvania Railroad began to reduce financial support as well. This played a part in the LIRR going into receivership in 1949. In recognition of the role the LIRR played in the economy of both Long Island and NYC, New York state began providing financial assistance to the LIRR in the 1950s and 1960s.
The “Line of the Dashing Dan” was officially chartered on April 24, 1965, by the state of New York. Prior to 1965, the LIRR derived almost 100% of its funding for both capital and operating expenses from fares. Chartered by the state Legislature in 1965 as the Metropolitan Commuter Transportation Authority, it was created to purchase and operate the bankrupt LIRR.
In 1966, Albany bought the railroad’s controlling stock from the Pennsylvania Rail Road and put it under the newly formed Metropolitan Commuter Transportation Authority. The MCTA changed its name to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in 1968 when it took over operations of the NYC Transit Authority.
With MTA subsidies, the LIRR modernized further and grew into the busiest commuter railroad in the United States. Over the past 56 years, several billion dollars in combined county, city, state and federal taxpayers generated dollars have subsidized both the capital and operating costs for the LIRR.
Fast forward to today. It is very doubtful that most pre COVID-19 riders will save anywhere near 40 minutes on most lines.
The MTA/LIRR corporate party line to help justify construction of East Side Access to Grand Central Terminal was a promised 40-minute savings on the average commuters daily round trip travel to Grand Central Madison. The time savings was never intended to apply to the majority of riders who will continue using Penn Station, Atlantic Terminal, Hunters Point or Long Island City.
Remember that for riders who utilize Grand Central Madison saving 40 minutes depends upon how long it takes to exit (this new LIRR terminal is the equivalent of 15 stories below ground) followed by how many blocks to walk or transfer to a subway or bus before reaching their final destination.
Travel time from Jamaica to Grand Central Terminal will be similar to Penn Station. Add several minutes for trains that make intermediate stops at Kew Gardens, Forest Hills or Woodside. Add several minutes for rush hour Port Washington branch trains that stop at Woodside and Mets Willets Point.
For those exiting east at Penn station, closer to 7th Avenue (the equivalent of 3 stories below ground), taking the uptown 7th Avenue subway one stop to Times Square, then transferring to the 42nd Street Shuttle could mean arriving in GCT is less than 10 minutes. NYC Transit spent $200 million to upgrade and modernize the 42nd Street Shuttle.
Those exiting west at Penn Station closer to 8th Avenue and transferring to the uptown E subway line can arrive at 5th Avenue and 53rd Street in 10 minutes.
Many LIRR riders continue telecommuting from home part or full time. This contributes to fewer face-to-face meetings, conferences, with growing use of Zoom and other teleconference technologies. When renewing office space leases, many Manhattan firms continue downsizing.
Others have employees report to suburban offices closer to home. This will clearly adversely impact the pre-COVID-19 LIRR prediction for 60,000 new ridership using Grand Central Madison Station The same may hold true for tens of thousands of new reverse rush hour commuters..
No one can predict over the coming years and decades if spending $11.2 billion for ESA plus $4 billion more in other support projects will deliver the promised return on the investment. It will not be the same world that Jerry Kramer and I grew up and worked in decades earlier.
Larry Penner is a transportation advocate, historian and writer who previously worked for the Federal Transit Administration Region 2 NY Office.