On Wednesday, Sept. 28, New York State Senator Anna M. Kaplan (D-Port Washington) and Assemblywoman Gina L. Sillitti (D-Port Washington) joined Long Island Rail Road Interim President and Metro-North Railroad President Catherine Rinaldi for a press conference at the Port Washington LIRR Station. They announced that LIRR officials have heard the concerns of the community and are abandoning plans to eliminate express train service to Penn Station on the Port Washington Branch of the LIRR.
Months ago the LIRR released its draft schedules showing train service to Grand Central after the East Side Access Project is complete. Elected officials and commuters were unhappy with the proposed changes to the Port Washington branch, affecting commuters in Great Neck, Manhasset, Plandome and Port Washington. The changes included increased commute time and elimination of peak-hour express train services.
While the local officials and commuters were grateful for the East Side Access Project, which gives commuters two entry points to Manhattan, Penn Station and Grand Central, the issues arising from this project were deemed unacceptable. Senator Kaplan, Assemblywoman Sillitti and Town of North Hempstead officials urged North Shore residents to voice their concerns.
Senator Kaplan and Assemblywoman Sillitti held “Save Our Express Trains” press conferences and public hearings. According to a press release from the office of Senator Kaplan, “outreach efforts engaged over 3,100 community members to fill out a survey. The results were shared with MTA leadership.”
In July, public feedback sessions were held virtually where residents detailed their concerns to MTA leadership. After two scheduled public sessions, the MTA had to offer additional sessions to hear all of the residents who wished to speak.
The town of North Hempstead’s elected officials, various village mayors and many residents supported the “Save Our Express Trains” movement and after months of fighting their voices were heard.
“When the MTA proposed cutting our express train service on the north shore, I asked my neighbors to join me in speaking out by making their voices heard,” said Senator Kaplan. “Thousands of residents have spoken up about the impact of the proposed cuts on their daily lives and the MTA has heard us and taken action to address our concerns.”
“I want to say thank you to the commuters, residents, and community leaders who made their voices heard,” said Assemblywoman Sillitti. “ When the draft timetables were released, I listened to the thousands of commuters who were outraged to see the elimination of the express trains. I am grateful that the MTA and the LIRR heard the concerns and restored express train service back to the Port Washington Line.”
At the end of July, the Village of Thomaston Mayor Steven Weinberg joined with other Village Mayors to host a press conference regarding the draft LIRR schedules. Now that their efforts have been recognized, they are looking forward to what will come next.
“I think this is a good start. I truly appreciate all the hard work from not only our officials but the residents that spoke out about this very directly,” said Mayor Weinberg. “And I thank the railroad for actually listening to the entire community and making the adjustments for the North Shore of Long Island.”
“I am pleased that our service planners were able to find ways to create express service within the envelope of existing train and track capacity constraints,” said LIRR Interim President and Metro-North Railroad President Rinaldi.
While the LIRR announcement is good news, Kaplan and Sillitti still advocate for further express train service expansions which requires investing in infrastructure at the Port Washington Rail Yard. The Port Rail Yard expansion project has been on pause. Both Kaplan and Sillitti support investments to get the project back on track and help build on the improving LIRR service.
“I applaud the MTA and LIRR for working to ensure our community has express train service to Penn Station even after Grand Central Madison opens, but there is still more to be done to ensure our communities get the level of service we need and deserve,” said Senator Kaplan. “I’m calling for the MTA and the Town of North Hempstead to find a path forward.”
Great Neck resident Larry Penner, a retired federal transit employee, thinks that the expansion of the Port Washington rail yard is not enough and urges the LIRR to consider other additions to the tracks.
“Adding passing sidings or double tracking is the only solution for improved bi-directional service between Port Washington and Great Neck,” Penner wrote to the Great Neck Record. “Even with expansion of the Port Washington yard, at some point you run out of trains to run west bound in the a.m. peak. It would also not solve the problem of bi-directional service gaps for reverse peak services between Great Neck and Port Washington to and from both Penn Station and Grand Central Madison. Double tracking between Great Neck and Port Washington would support the MTA’s promised 40% increase in reverse rush hour service as well.”
Mayor Weinberg recognizes the need to continue advocating for the train service adjustments to assure commuters are getting the same services they have always relied on.
“I think what’s critical moving forward is that they monitor the ridership,” said Mayor Weinberg. “It’s great that they did studies, went to the drawing board and listened to the community for reasons as to why and how the express service is important to our lives. But, hopefully, they will continue to monitor and continue the dialogue. We really need to see where the ridership goes.”
According to the office of Senator Kaplan, “the Long Island Rail Road has committed to monitor travel patterns and train capacity after opening and make adjustments as necessary. Final schedules are expected to be released this fall.”
“The true key to the addition of future service increases is expanding track capacity at Port Washington yard,” said Rinaldi at the recent press conference. “The Town of North Hempstead has committed to working with Senator Kaplan and Assemblymember Sillitti to advance this sought-after project that is the bottleneck to having more service on the branch.”
The office of Senator Kaplan has provided the following figures regarding adjustments to the Port LIRR branch.
Morning Rush Hour: 36% service increase includes three express trains. Under the revised draft timetables, express trains would depart Port Washington at 7:14 a.m., 7:54 a.m., and 8:28 a.m., stopping at Plandome, Manhasset and Great Neck before running express to Penn Station with no intermediate stops. Compared with the first draft timetables, the schedules quicken trip times by up to nine minutes from all four stations.
The revised draft timetables’ overall morning rush hour service includes 15 trains arriving in Manhattan between 6:16 a.m. and 9:51 a.m., up 36% from the current 11 that arrive at Penn Station between 6:21 a.m. and 9:34 a.m. The proposed rush hour arrivals include six trains arriving at Grand Central Madison between 6:37 a.m. and 9:20 a.m. and nine arriving at Penn Station between 6:16 a.m. and 9:51 a.m.
Afternoon/Evening Rush Hour: 43% service increase includes three express trains. The LIRR is proposing to transform three afternoon/evening rush hour trains scheduled under earlier draft timetables to depart Penn Station at 4:16 p.m., 5:52 p.m. and 6:25 p.m. into express trains that make a single intermediate stop at Bayside before running express again to Great Neck, Manhasset, Plandome and Port Washington.
Overall afternoon/evening rush hour service would include 20 trains departing Manhattan between 4:06 p.m. and 7:43 p.m., a 43% increase from the current 14 that depart Penn Station between 4:21 p.m. and 7:49 p.m. The proposed rush hour departures include 10 trains departing Grand Central Madison between 4:06 p.m. and 7:43 p.m., and 10 trains that depart Penn Station between 4:16 p.m. and 7:35 p.m.
Port Washington branch timetables boost overall service 11% from current levels. The revised draft Port Washington branch timetables include 10 more trains each weekday than current timetables, increasing service by 14% to 103 trains per day. On weekends, the timetables add five trains per day, to 81 trains each Saturday and Sunday, up 16% from the 76 that operates currently.
The new east side terminal at Grand Central Madison is allowing the LIRR to add nearly 275 trains per weekday, increasing service 41% systemwide and saving up to 40 minutes per day for those traveling to the east side. The length of time LIRR trains need to reach Grand Central is the same as it is to Penn Station.