Long Island Rail Road President Phillip Eng and South Fork elected officials gathered on Friday outside the LIRR station on Good Ground Road in Hampton Bays to announce the reinstatement of the South Fork Commuter Connection after the service was suspended in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The SFCC will resume on September 7, on the same schedule as prior to the pandemic, operating during peak commute hours with two eastbound trains in the morning and two westbound trains in the afternoon, making stops in Speonk, Westhampton, Hampton Bays, Southampton, Bridgehampton, East Hampton, Amagansett, and Mountauk.
Among those in attendance on Friday was State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., who said the SFCC will help to ease traffic congestion in Suffolk County while providing commuters with an affordable and time efficient alternative to driving to work.
“For two decades, the elected officials on the South Fork advocated for public transportation for the South Fork,” Mr. Thiele said. “And then there was a change in the Long Island Rail Road and that change was President Phil Eng who gave the SFCC a chance.”
The SFCC was first implemented in March 2019, and operated at full capacity for a year before the pandemic hit.
“It was a tremendous success,” Mr. Thiele said. “It was extremely popular and the only complaint I ever got about the SFCC is that we needed more of it, and that we needed more trains and of course, that is something that we are working on in the future.”
“Having worked at the Department of Transportation prior to joining the MTA and the Long Island Rail Road, I know full well how vital reliable transportation was to local businesses, to the economy, to the public and their quality of life,” Mr. Eng said. “Any chance we have to get commuters out of their cars and onto public transit is a win-win for customers, the community and the environment.”
For all customers traveling within Zone 14 (Westhampton, Hampton Bays, Southampton, Bridgehampton, Amagansett and Montauk) the SFCC fare will remain $3.25 each way. For customers traveling from Speonk, they must purchase a special SFCC ticket from a full-service ticket machine in Speonk, Westhampton, Hampton Bays or Southampton in order to take advantage of the $3.25 fare. Commuters can purchase tickets using vending machines at LIRR stations, the MTA eTix app, or via mail.
Also in attendance was Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman, who said that the service is needed now more than ever, because traffic on the East End is worse than it has ever been.
“Anyone who saw the recent census numbers for 2020 knows that this area grew by more than 20 percent, but our road capacity hasn’t grown at all,” Mr. Shneiderman said. “It’s the same road capacity, but with a lot more people; six o’clock in the morning, it’s a mess, six in the afternoon, it’s a mess, and the railroad provides an additional way to get to work and to get around.”
Also returning is the last-mile shuttle service which helps commuters complete the “last mile” of their trip by taking passengers from train stations to popular destinations; for example, the last mile shuttle bus in Southampton takes commuters from the station in Southampton to Town Hall, the Southampton Hospital, the Southampton Middle School, the Southampton High School, 596 Hampton Road, North Sea Road and Tuckahoe School.
Mr. Thiele urged community members to use the train service as an alternative to sitting in hours of traffic, especially if they hope to see more trains added to the SFCC in the future.
“We want more frequent trains, but we’re only going to get that if people actually ride the South Fork Commuter Connection,” he said. “Now that it’s back and you have the opportunity, the only way we get to keep it and the only way we get to build upon it and have even more service out here is if people ride the train.”