Local officials bash planned schedule changes to Port Washington LIRR line

Robert Pelaez

Originally published in The Island 360

Local officials throughout North Hempstead bashed proposed schedule changes from the Long Island Rail Road’s Port Washington line, claiming they will reduce express service into Grand Central Madison Terminal.

The proposed changes, published by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in June, are part of the agency’s $11.2 billion East Side Access Project and will go into effect in December.

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.

“It’s vital that our communities make their voices heard about our displeasure with the loss of peak express service,” Town of North Hempstead Supervisor Jennifer DeSena said during a Tuesday press conference. “As a Manhasset resident for 22 years whose family has relied on the Port Washington branch daily, I believe that these recently announced proposed changes are totally unacceptable.”

“If there is one thing we need to remember is this: there’s always room for compromise,” Town of North Hempstead Councilwoman Veronica Lurvey said. “We must work with the MTA towards a pragmatic solution that serves the residents’ best interests – this isn’t about the government agencies involved, but it’s about the residents who reside in these communities.”

Port Washington resident Ian Rasmussen said adding three additional stations to the line is “adding insult to injury.”

“Considering how many more people commute to the easterly stations and that before now express and local trains were roughly full to the same extent, it’s obvious that Port Washington trains will be terribly overcrowded if express service is eliminated,” Rasmussen said in a letter to state Assemblywoman Gina Sillitti (D-Port Washington).

Rasmussen also said the commutes, which could add up to eight minutes on some trains could impact the Port Washington area property values. Town Councilman Peter Zuckerman said many individuals move to the area because of the accessibility individuals have to New York City while maintaining a suburban lifestyle.

“As someone who commuted into the city for many years, I understand how upsetting it can be that the previous schedule has been changed,” Zuckerman said. “Many of my constituents have relied on this schedule for a number of years and have moved to our community because of the convenience of the LIRR to New York City.”

State Sen. Anna Kaplan (D-North Hills) and Sillitti 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, Sillitti said.

“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.

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. 

Thomaston Mayor Steven Weinberg said village residents and others who rely on the Great Neck station should not have to “shoulder the burden” of providing the LIRR with a pocket track built to allow LIRR trains to turn around and then face fare hikes in exchange for longer commutes.

Weinberg and Kensington Mayor Susan Lopatkin said express service into New York City has been a longstanding part of LIRR service that Great Neck should not have to be deprived of.

“Currently there are six trains to New York between 7:30 and 8:30 a.m. Under the proposed schedule there would be only two,” Lopatkin said. “This is totally unacceptable. Likewise, reducing the off-peak service to Penn station to hourly only is equally problematic to our residents.”

The MTA is holding a virtual meeting on Wednesday at 6 p.m. to discuss the draft schedule and hear residential concerns. More information, including the meeting link, will be available at www.mta.info.