“Save Our Express Trains”

Julie Prisco

Originally published in Great Neck Record

Local officials and commuters are speaking out about the issues regarding the proposed train schedules

The Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) has released its draft schedules of train service to Grand Central after the East Side Access Project is complete, to take effect in December 2022. Elected officials and local commuters are unhappy with the proposed changes coming to the Port Washington branch, affecting commuters and residents in Great Neck, Manhasset, Plandome and Port Washington. The problematic changes include increased commute time and elimination of peak-hour express train services.

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. Splitting the train service between Penn Station and Grand Central will reduce rush hour trains to once an hour to either terminal. In addition, train rides to Penn and Grand Central are increasing by approximately 7 minutes.

While officials and commuters are grateful for the East Side Access Project, which gives commuters two entry points to Manhattan, at Penn Station and Grand Central, the issues arising from this project are deemed unacceptable.

On July 11, NYS Senator Anna Kaplan and NYS Assemblywoman Gina Sillitti hosted a press conference to fight to “Save Our Express Trains.” Town of North Hempstead Supervisor Jennifer DeSena, Councilmember Mariann Dalimonte, Councilmember Veronica Lurvey and Councilmember Peter J. Zuckerman attended the press conference to speak up for their respective districts.

“The changes proposed allow users to use the new Grand Central Madison terminal, which is great news for people who plan on using Grand Central Madison,” said Senator Kaplan. “But it cannot be at the expense of people who still plan to travel to Penn Station. We want to ensure that our residents on this peninsula also have the service they have relied on for the last decade.”

Senator Kaplan and Assemblywoman Sillitti created a survey based on the MTA information sessions, and the LIRR proposed schedule for residents and commuters, to take and provide feedback. Assemblywoman SIllitti also made information cards about the changes to pass out and inform residents of changes coming to the Port Washington Branch.
“Through our outreach efforts, we were able to get more than 2,200 responses in three short weeks,” said Assemblywoman Sillitti. “And out of those 2,200 responses, an overwhelming majority were in opposition to the timetable changes.”

Resident Concerns

Port Washington residents and commuters Ariana Parasco and Ian Rasmussen have been voicing their worries, rallying residents and working with local officials to change the proposed schedules.

“As far back as the 1970’s and certainly when most of us bought our homes in this town, a commute to Manhattan would take about 35 minutes on the train to Penn,” said Rasmussen. “On the proposed timetable for East Side access, that very same train ride takes 42 minutes. While we are very excited about the accessibility that service to Grand Central will offer us, it’s a mystery as to why a 35-minute train ride will now take 42 minutes.”

Rasmussen is a former LIRR conductor and current commuter using the Port Washington Station branch. With his understanding of the trains and experience, Rasmussen looks forward to working with local officials and the MTA on making necessary adjustments.
While to some, a few minutes of a schedule difference here and there may not seem like a big deal; the reality is that those additional seven minutes drastically affect commuter times. As a young mother and full-time commuter, Parasco finds the schedule changes infuriating.

“This is a major quality of life issue for everyone that lives in Port Washington, Manhasset and Great Neck,” said Parasco. “I’ve received an overwhelming response from residents across the three towns about what the LIRR is proposing.”

“Many other parents and residents have expressed their disbelief that the commute time is going up tremendously, which will take away so much time from their families and take a big chunk out of their day,” explained Parasco. “The LIRR is saying it is just a few more minutes, but a few more minutes turns into 10, 20 or 30 minutes when you’re factoring in transfer times and walking to the subway.”

Senator Kaplan, Assemblywoman Sillitti, and Town of North Hempstead councilmembers have had meetings with the MTA to discuss the proposed schedules and how to fix the issues. They have scheduled more meetings in the coming weeks and are hoping for action.“We are just looking for more openness and transparency from the LIRR at this point, which we really haven’t seen to date,” said Parasco. “There seems to be a lot of deflection and avoidance of the schedule shift that has caused us all to scratch our heads. So we hope the LIRR comes to the table and is willing to make some simple schedule shifts to make this right. We carry 80% of the ridership on this branch to the city, and they are doing the majority of the riders a huge disservice by cutting our service.”

Town of North Hempstead Responses

“These service cuts will impact thousands of riders across the town and potentially lead to decreased home values, increased congestion and an overall decreased quality of life,” said Supervisor DeSena. “It’s vital that our communities make their voices heard about our displeasure with the loss of peak express service. To all residents, keep speaking out and reaching out to us.”

“Together, we have made it abundantly clear to MTA and LIRR officials that the draft schedule needs to be revisited,” said Councilmember Dalimonte. “It is imperative that we continue working collectively to develop a solution that is best for the residents who depend on these trains every day.”

“In a recent meeting with MTA and LIRR, Dalimonte and I made several suggestions that we believe can reduce the impact of the proposed schedule changes on the residents using the Port Washington line while maintaining the expansion of service,” said Councilmember Lurvy. “If there is one thing we need to remember, there’s always room for compromise.”

“The Port Washington line is very important to residents in my district,” said Councilmember Zuckerman. “As someone who commuted into the city for many years, I understand how upsetting it can be that the previous schedule has been changed. Many of my constituents have relied on this schedule for many years and have moved to our community because of the convenience of the LIRR to New York City.”

Village Mayors

In a press release from the office of Senator Kaplan, Village of Thomaston Mayor Steven Weinberg and Village of Kensington Mayor Susan Lopatkin expressed their displeasure with the draft schedule. The Village Mayors in Great Neck have banded together to fight for their residents and commuters.

“Express service from Great Neck has been an intrinsic part of the fabric and infrastructure of our community on the Port Washington line for over 100 years,” said Mayor Weinberg. “Thomaston residents continue to shoulder the burden of higher fares and endure the extended pocket track with the storage of trains for real improvements in service to NYC, not longer train commutes.”

“Great Neck has been the hub for express service to and from Manhattan for decades,” said Mayor Lopatkin. “East side access should not mean a wholesale reduction of train service to the Great Neck community.”

MTA Statement

Spokesperson Joana Flores: “The MTA’s multibillion-dollar investment to the Long Island Rail Road will increase overall service by 40%, provide hundreds of thousands of Long Island commuters with more service options and improved service reliability, and has improved on-time performance. Port Washington Branch morning rush hour service is increasing by 70% and by 43% during the evening rush hour under the new schedules. We appreciate Senator Kaplan’s leadership and we are prepared to work with the town, should it be willing to reconsider its earlier denial of storage space for additional trains that could provide even more service.”

Senator Kaplan, Assemblywoman Sillitti, the Town of North Hempstead officials, Village Mayors and residents urge residents to keep making their voices heard to help them continue their fight to save express trains and restore the train schedules.