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.