08/02/13 7:00pm
08/02/2013 7:00 PM

STEVE ROSSIN PHOTO | LIRR riders board an train out of Riverhead about 1:30 p.m. last week.

The Long Island Rail Road will extend its summer schedule on the Greenport to Ronkonkoma line by 10 weeks, stretching into November, Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials said.

The Long Island Rail Road, through its parent company, the MTA,  has been discontinuing all weekend service between Greenport and Ronkonkoma after Columbus Day and before Memorial Day since 2010.

Summer service, as it’s now called, will now begin in April and end in November, said LIRR spokesman Sal Arena.

After November, there will again be no weekend service between Greenport and Ronkonkoma, he said.

“The MTA was able to identify additional money, revenue from dedicated state taxes as well as internal cost-savings, that could be used to enhance train service and other customer amenities,” Mr. Arena said. “The LIRR is making a number of improvements with its share of that money, including the extension of weekend service on the North Fork.

“It made this decision based on customer demand and specifically to expend service to the fall harvest period, an important tourist season for the region.”

About seven years ago, the LIRR was considering discontinuing service between Greenport and Ronkonkoma altogether, but backed off that plan.

“This service investment shows that the MTA and LIRR are committed to expanding and improving service to the East End,” South Fork state Assemblyman Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor) said of the move.

Mr. Thiele has been an advocate for increasing train service on the East End, and one of the projects he has touted also got some money from the MTA. A proposal to establish a network of smaller “scoot” trains between Greenport and Ronkonkoma, as well as in other areas on Long Island, received $37.2 million from the state.

Currently, the LIRR is exploring the possibility of diesel-powered Scoot service on the Oyster Bay Branch and on the Main Line east of Ronkonkoma, Mr. Arena said.

The $37.2 million funding for such a purchase is in the current (2010-2014) MTA Capital Program, and will remain available even if it is not expended by the end of 2014, Mr. Arena said.

“Scoot” is a railroad industry term used to describe a train that would shuttle regularly between the first and last stops on a particular branch or branch segment, according to Mr. Arena.

Currently, the LIRR runs only about two trains per day in each directions between Greenport and Riverhead on weekends in the summer, and about three trains per day between Greenport and Riverhead during weekdays, prompting calls from East End residents and officials for better service.

“As envisioned by the LIRR, scoot service would allow for more frequent train service than currently provided,” Mr. Arena said. It “would encourage intra-branch and intra-Island travel, but also would require a transfer to electric trains for those traveling on to New York City.

“The LIRR is currently looking for alternate (smaller) diesel trains that would be more cost-effective to operate and maintain, as compared with both the LIRR’s existing diesel fleet and with electric trains.”

The LIRR does not have specific timeline or start date for either purchasing the alternate diesel fleet and/or initiating expanded Scoot service for East of Ronkonkoma, he said.

“The scoot train could be much smaller to than the standard 10 or 12 car consist,” Mr. Arena said, “perhaps just one, two cars or three coach cars, depending on demand.”

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03/29/13 11:00am
03/29/2013 11:00 AM

TIM GANNON FILE PHOTO | Don Fisher, president of the Railroad Museum of Long Island, with what’s left of the historic Engine 39 in Riverhead.

After sitting in Riverhead for 33 years, waiting to be restored, Engine 39, a steam engine built in 1929 and operated by the Long Island Rail Road through 1955, may be headed for Pennsylvania.

The Railroad Museum of Long Island has signed a contract with the Strasburg Rail Road Company in Ronks, Pa., to essentially split the cost of restoring the steam engine. Strasburg would do the work within three years of receiving the money and the restored train would remain with Strasburg, where it would operate on the company’s property for 44 years.

The deal was bittersweet, according to museum president Don Fisher of Southold.

Train enthusiasts brought Engine 39 to Railroad Avenue in Riverhead on a flatbed truck in 1980, with the goal of restoring it to operating condition and then running tourist trips between the railroad museum’s two locations in Riverhead and Greenport.

But the group and its predecessors never had enough money to finish the job, even after getting an $800,000 grant in 1996. The engine’s boiler and firebox are already in Strasburg, where they were being repaired until the money ran out. Only the bottom part of Engine 39, the wheel assembly, is currently in Riverhead.

“It is a bittersweet thing, because they were people who were hoping to see it running here, but the challenges on Long Island were great,” Mr. Fisher said. “We don’t have a place to get water here, there’s coaling facilities, the museum doesn’t own a service facility, we’re more than 100 miles from the nearest class-one railroad [Amtrak] and there are no more steam-qualified skilled mechanics to keep it running. The challenges against us running it here on the North Fork as a regular service have grown to the point of being monumental.”

The contract with Strasburg, which was signed March 14 after more than five months of negotiation, call for the museum to raise $900,000 in 2013 and transport the locomotive to the Strasburg property. Strasburg, in turn, will contribute about $1.1 million toward the project, Mr. Fisher said.

Once the $900,000 from the railroad museum is raised, Strasburg will complete restoration of the engine in three years and will then operate the locomotive on its property for a period of 44 years, according to the agreement.

While the Railroad Museum of Long Island has 15 years to come up with the $900,000, the contract calls for that amount to increase by 3.5 percent per year, so it’s imperative to raise the money quickly, said Mr. Fisher.

Museum officials originally planned to initiate a fundraising campaign for the entire $2 million. The new deal cuts that number in half, Mr. Fisher said.

The group plans to begin a $1 million fundraising campaign targeting foundations, railroad preservationists and individuals, he said.

“If we can get a million people to give a dollar, that’s a million dollars,” Mr. Fisher said.

Strasburg operates a steam locomotive repair and restoration facility on its property and runs a four-mile “heritage” railroad with five locomotives even older than Engine 39.

The oldest was built in 1906 and the newest in 1926, according to Linn Moedinger, president of Strasburg Railroad.

The Strasburg Railroad is the oldest railroad in the country that’s still operating under its original charter, although it operates mostly within its own property and not on public railroad tracks like Amtrak, Mr. Moedinger said. The trains run throughout the Pennsylvania Dutch Country in Lancaster County, southwest of Philadelphia, he said.

“It’s a shame that it’s been sitting for so long, it’s a nice engine and it will fit in nice right here,” Mr. Moedinger said. “Strasburg presents the best shot for the most number of people seeing it on a regular basis.”

It is very difficult to get permission to run a steam locomotive on tracks used by public railroads, he added.

The last time Strasburg ran on public rails was in 1998 — and that was for the purposes of filming, he said.

Mr. Fisher said the local railroad museum never had a guarantee that the LIRR would allow Engine 39 to run on its tracks.

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08/31/12 2:04pm
08/31/2012 2:04 PM


Hometown Taxi owner Bryan DaPalma of Southampton and Supervisor Sean Walter talked about relocating part of his taxi business to the Riverhead train station.

Media members outnumbered prospective tenants at Friday’s tour of the 102-year-old Riverhead train station, which the Metropolitan Transportation Authority is trying to lease out.

The MTA has issued a request for proposals from companies who might want to lease space at the station, which hasn’t been used as a railroad station since 1972. The station has been vacant for most of the time since then.

The deadline for submitting proposals is Sept. 28.

The MTA gave a tour of the building at noon, and only two prospective renters showed, though representatives from three media outlets did, along with some Riverhead Town officials, including town historian Georgette Case.

One company that is definitely interested is Southampton-based Hometown Taxi, which runs cars throughout the East End.

Owner Bryan Deparma said he’d like to use the building to dispatch cabs. The company currently runs cars in Riverhead but has to monitor them from an office in either Southold or Southampton, he said. It also has contracts for medical transport to local hospitals, and a contract Maureen’s Haven to transport homeless to local shelters in the winter, he said.

“This is perfect for what we want to do,” he said of the train station, though he said the building might be a bit big for his needs.

“I don’t need a big space,” he said. “If I just could use the ticket counter” and someone else could occupy the rest of the station, “that would work”, he said.

The only other prospective tenant to take the tour was Ike Israel of Riverhead-based Richmond Realty Corp., who said the company just wanted to see what was available.

Anthony Coates of Riverhead, an adviser to the town supervisor, did not take Friday’s tour, but told the News-Review in an interview that he and his 20-year-old daughter, Courtney, who is a business student at Stony Brook University, plan to submit a proposal to rent the train station as a restaurant/cafe type establishment.

Mr. Coates, who has been involved in the restaurant business in the past, said that with the recent closure of Riverhead establishments like East Enders and Off Main,  “there’s no place to capture a quick doughnut or muffin in town.”

John Coyne of the MTA’s real estate department, who gave the tour, said the public authority has contacted some businesses, such as Dunkin’ Donuts, about the possibility of leasing space in the Riverhead station, as well as in other MTA train stations.

The MTA doesn’t usually receive proposals to rent its stations until its close to the deadline for submissions, he said, adding that depending on what the response is, the MTA may push the deadline back.

A decision on whether to rent the entire site to one company or subdivide it among more than one company also will depend on the response, he said.

Mr. Coyne said he’s grateful Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter was able to get publicity for the tour and the lease opportunity by reaching out to the local media.

The MTA undertook about $1 million in renovations to the Railroad Avenue station and then leased it to the town at no charge in 2002, with a condition that it be occupied by a nonprofit organization. But the town has had little success in finding a tenant since then, even when it offered the building rent-free.

Mr. Walter said the conditions the MTA had put on the lease in the past made it difficult to find a tenant.

The MTA taking the lead in looking for tenants is a new strategy, he said.

“I was getting ready to write a letter to the MTA telling them we were condemning the building because of the condition it was in,” Mr. Walter said in an interview. But before he got the chance to send the letter, Police Chief David Hegermiller suggested he talk to Long Island Rail Road president Helena Williams, whom the chief knows.

Mr. Walter said he called Ms. Williams earlier this year and she told him she would issue the RFP for the train station. Of the town’s inability to get anywhere with the MTA in the past, she told him he wasn’t talking to the right people, the supervisor said.

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05/25/12 10:00pm
05/25/2012 10:00 PM

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON FILE PHOTO | Save $10 on admission to Tall Ships when you purchase a roundtrip LIRR ticket.

The Long Island Rail Road will provide extra train service to Greenport this Memorial Day weekend and is offering a discount for admission to the Tall Ships event with the purchase of a roundtrip ticket, according to an MTA press release.

Although Greenport Village is having a pre-sale for Tall Ship tickets, adult admission will increase from $7 to $15 May 15.

That $15 cost will be reduced to $5 when customers purchase the LIRR Greenport Tall Ships Package, which is good for Saturday and Sunday.

The package will not be sold onboard trains and bicycles will not be permitted on trains to and from Greenport on those days, MTA officials said.

The LIRR will not be able to provide additional service to Greenport or the $10 voucher on Memorial Day due to anticipated heavy travel that day, MTA officials saidHere’s the LIRR train schedule:


• 8:40 a.m. from Ronkonkoma, arriving Medford 8:51 a.m., Yaphank 8:59 a.m., Riverhead 9:25 a.m., Mattituck 9:41 a.m., Southold 9:55 a.m. and Greenport 10:05 a.m.

• 10:40 a.m. from Ronkonkoma, arriving Medford 10:51 a.m., Yaphank 10:59 a.m., Riverhead 11:25 a.m., Mattituck 11:41 a.m., Southold 11:55 a.m. and Greenport 12:05 p.m.

• 12:15 p.m. from Riverhead, arriving Mattituck 12:31 p.m., Southold 12:45 p.m. and Greenport 12:55 p.m.

• 3:40 p.m. from Ronkonkoma, arriving Medford at 3:51 p.m., Yaphank 3:59 p.m., Riverhead 4:25 p.m., Mattituck 4:41 p.m., Southold 4:55 p.m., Greenport 5:05 p.m.

• 3:25 p.m. from Riverhead, arriving Mattituck 3:41 p.m., Southold 3:55 p.m., Greenport 4:05 p.m.


• 1:11 p.m. from Greenport, arriving Southold 1:21 p.m., Mattituck 1:34 p.m., Riverhead 1:50 p.m., Yaphank 2:16 p.m., Medford 2:24 p.m. and Ronkonkoma 2:35 p.m.

• 2:11 p.m. from Greenport, arriving Southold 2:21 p.m., Mattituck 2:34 p.m. and Riverhead 2:50 p.m. Customers will board buses at Riverhead to continue to Yaphank, Medford and Ronkonkoma.

• 5:11 p.m. from Greenport, arriving Southold 5:21 p.m., Mattituck 5:34 p.m., Riverhead 5:50 p.m., Yaphank 6:16 p.m., Medford 6:24 p.m. and Ronkonkoma 6:35 p.m.

• 6:11 p.m. from Greenport, arriving Southold 6:21 p.m., Mattituck 6:34 p.m., Riverhead 6:50 p.m., Yaphank 7:16 p.m., Medford 7:24 p.m. and Ronkonkoma 7:35 p.m..

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02/08/12 9:00am
02/08/2012 9:00 AM

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON FILE PHOTO | New smaller, faster scoot trains could be used to improve LIRR service to the East End.

For several years, a group called Five Town Rural Transit has been advocating for the creation of East End Shuttle, a coordinated shuttle train and bus network solely for the five East End towns. The plan was to use smaller, two-car shuttle trains on the existing East End railroad tracks, instead of Long Island Rail Road trains, to provide a more frequent rail service back and forth.

Now, the MTA appears to have embraced at least a part of that vision.

According to Assemblyman Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor), the MTA has included a $37.2 million expenditure in its five-year capital plan for the purchase of smaller, more reliable diesel trains for LIRR.

The new trains, known as “diesel multiple units,” or “scoot” trains, have smaller engines, are lighter, more cost effective and will travel shorter distances, Mr. Thiele said.

“The Long Island Rail Road is committed to exploring the possibility of providing “scoot” service as a way to increase service opportunities and ridership in eastern Suffolk County,” said Salvatore Arena, a spokesman for the MTA.

“We’re glad to hear this,” said Vince Taldone of Riverhead, who is a member of Five Town Rural Transit. “These trains would be smaller, more energy efficient and would provide more frequent service to the East End.”

The other key component to Five Town Rural Transit’s plan is to establish a network of feeder buses that meet passengers at the trains, Mr. Taldone said. However, getting the so-called scoot trains in place is a good first step, he said.

The LIRR’s East End lines, which end at Montauk on the South Fork and Greenport on the North Fork, have far less frequent train service than points west of Ronkonkoma, and are mostly single-tracks that are not electrified, so only diesel engines can run on them.

The proposed expenditure will permit the LIRR to purchase five of the new trains, which come in sets of two cars, Mr. Thiele said.

When ridership is heavier, another pair of cars can be attached.

According to the LIRR the new trains could “increase frequency of service, increase reliability, and promote intra-island commuting. The new diesels will be ideal to provide additional service in the non-electrified areas of the LIRR east of Ronkonkoma.”

“We are closer than ever to increasing public transportation opportunities for East End residents,” Mr. Thiele said, adding that the region “has clamored for increased service through the implementation of an integrated rail/bus shuttle service.”

“This could be very significant if it happens, and we’re hoping it does,” said Jim Ellwood of Riverhead, who is also a member of Five Town Rural Transit. He said he’d like to get more information, along with confirmation that the LIRR is actually going to move forward with the plan.

But he said getting the shuttles in place is a first step.

“The East End Shuttle was really an ideal,” he said. “If we can get half of that, or even a third of that, it would be welcome.”

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02/19/11 12:00pm
02/19/2011 12:00 PM

JULIE LANE PHOTO | Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter (left), Greenport Mayor David Nyce, County Legislator Ed Romaine and Southold Supervisor Scott Russell are calling for the MTA to restore winter weekend train service to the North Fork.

County Legislator Ed Romaine came to the Greenport Long Island Rail Road station with other local elected officials Friday afternoon to call for restoration and expansion of weekend Long Island Rail Road service to the North Fork.

“We are the stepchild of the Long Island Rail Road,” Mr. Romaine said. With the Winterfest: Jazz on the Vine concerts taking place on weekends at area wineries, the railroad should be poised to offer weekend service, he said.

Facing a yawning budget deficit, the MTA last year imposed a payroll tax on businesses and governments within its service area. The MTA also curtailed train service to the East End, a move Southold Supervisor Scott Russell described as “taxation without transportation.”

At a time when there’s so much emphasis on green environmental initiatives, it doesn’t make sense to force tourists to use their own vehicles rather than the railroad to visit the East End, Mr. Romaine said.

Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter said the solution is establishing an East End light rail service. That would cost an estimated $48 million. The East End towns pay a combined $60 million annually in payroll taxes to the MTA.

“The business model for the railroad doesn’t work,” Mr. Walter said. “The amount of money we send up west is staggering. Let me keep the payroll and property tax and cut service at Yaphank” and provide service east through light rail trains.

That message resonates with North Fork Environmental Council president Bill Toedter, who called for a comprehensive East End transportation plan.

North Fork Promotion Council managing director Andrea Parks said that her organization’s mission to improve tourism is thwarted by a lack of public transportation.

Mr. Romaine said he will continue to speak out until service is enhanced by the Long Island Rail Road or the money going to the MTA is instead put to use operating an East End light rail service.

“We’re giving them our money; they’re supposed to give us service and they’ve failed,” he said.

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10/31/10 7:41pm
10/31/2010 7:41 PM

Looking to board a train to Ronkonkoma or Greenport Village this weekend? Seek alternative plans.

This Saturday marks the first weekend until Memorial Day that the MTA will not be running LIRR trains to the North Fork.

The service cuts, along with other measures, come as part of the MTA’s efforts to close a looming $900 million budget gap. The reductions, in total, will save approximately $950,000 this year and $3.8 million annually starting in 2011, MTA officials said. The cuts have affected train and subway schedules across the 12 counties, including five in New York City, served by the agency.

“The LIRR will be monitoring the changes in the new timetable and will make schedule adjustments, as necessary, based on additional ridership and possible crowding on trains,” the MTA website now reads, though no changes are expected for the Greenport Line, which runs from Ronkonkoma to Greenport.

But the cuts in services to eastern Long Island, which many locals feel has been underserved by the MTA, were not has harsh as originally proposed.

In late January, the agency announced it was planning to halt nearly all train service to the North Fork along the Greenport Line, and eliminate one westbound train on its Montauk line serving the South Fork. It had only planned to run trains to the North Fork on summer weekends.

That news — delivered just eight months after state lawmakers approved a payroll tax in 2009 — was immediately decried by locally elected leaders. The tax, which took effect on Sept. 1, 2009, charges 34 cents on every $100 in employee wages for all businesses, governments and nonprofit groups operating in counties served by the MTA.

Facing public outcry that seemed to intensify by the day, the MTA in March scrapped its drastic plans for the Greenport Line, and approved cuts that would apply just for weekends between Memorial and Columbus days.

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This post was originally published Oct. 15, 2010