Thiele Advances Commuter Connection Funding in State Assembly Budget

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The South Fork Commuter Connection is on track to becoming a reality.

New York State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. last week announced the Assembly had passed a budget that included $500,000 for East Hampton and Southampton towns for what’s known as “last mile” transportation in the proposed commuter train plan.

While the Long Island Rail Road has committed to providing three weekday commuter trains each in the morning and evening between Speonk and Montauk, “last mile” transportation is the critical step, Mr. Thiele has said, that would get the trains’ riders to their jobs from the train stations.

It is anticipated that East Hampton and Southampton towns would contract with one or more transportation companies to provide that “last mile” service in the form of bus shuttles, ride sharing or other options, according to a news release. The $500,000 included in the Assembly budget – which must go through a similar process of adoption in the State Senate, and then approval by the governor by April 1 – must be matched by East Hampton and Southampton towns.

Mr. Thiele said he anticipates the South Fork Commuter Connection will be up-and-running starting in February of 2019.

“We continue to get closer to making commuter rail service for South Fork workers a reality. The benefits are substantial,” he said in a statement. “The plan will reduce traffic congestion to the South Fork, including the adverse impacts from automobile congestion on the environment. The service will also make it easier for South Fork businesses to recruit and retain employees by providing an alternative, faster and less stressful commute to the South Fork.”

Meanwhile, the New York State comptroller’s office last week released an audit of the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR), which showed some of the worst-performing trains in 2017 ran on the Montauk branch.

Of the top 10 longest-delayed trains in 2017, four of them either originated in Montauk and were bound for Jamaica or originated in Jamaica and were bound for Montauk. For instance, on November 19, the 7:04 a.m. train departing from Montauk was delayed by two hours and 46 minutes. That was the longest delay of any train on any branch in all of 2017.

When it came to morning peak train performance, the 5:39 a.m. train from Montauk to Long Island City was on time only 76.4 percent of the time.

According to LIRR policy, a train is considered “on time” if it comes within 5 minutes and 59 seconds of its scheduled arrival time. Overall, according to the comptroller’s report, the number of late trains increased by 20 percent in 2017 over 2016.

Four days after the comptroller’s audit was released, the LIRR released a 60-step “performance improvement plan” to improve its riders’ experiences. Those steps include better maintenance, more upgrades, increased monitoring of conditions on and around tracks and seasonal actions such as managing vegetation on train routes.

“This plan lays out the steps toward doing everything we can to prevent incidents that can impact service and when incidents do occur, to recover service faster by improving our response times to the issues impacting us and our customers,” LIRR President Patrick Nowakowski said in a statement.

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