MANY COMMUTERS SKEPTICAL OF LONG ISLAND RAIL ROAD PROPOSAL TO USE SCOOT TRAINS ON OYSTER BAY LINE
October 3 -- On Tuesday evening, State Assemblyman Charles Lavine held a community meeting with Long Island Railroad officials at the Bryant Library in Roslyn to discuss the proposed initiative to use so-called "scoot" service to shuttle commuters between the Oyster Bay and Mineola stations. In addition to Mr. Lavine, LIRR officials Bob Brennan, Director of Government and Community Affairs, and Tim Keller, General Manager of Service Planning, were present to explain the proposal and respond to questions. Mark Epstein, the Chairman of the LIRR Commuter Council, a commuter advocacy group, was also there to offer his thoughts on this issue and others facing commuters. About 25 to 30 commuters attended the event.
Under the proposal, the LIRR would run shuttle trains between Oyster Bay and Mineola at 30 minute intervals throughout the day. Commuters, would then transfer in Mineola to catch a direct train to either Penn Station, or Hunterspoint Avenue in Queens. There would no longer be any transfers at Jamaica. Those commuters travelling to Brooklyn would have to make an additional transfer. The 6:08 am (Sea Cliff) and 6:12a.m.(Glen Head) westbound dual mode train (diesel and electric) that runs directly into Manhattan, and the 6:16 pm no transfer trip eastbound to Oyster Bay, would continue to operate and not be affected by scoot train service. The LIRR would build an additional track at the north side of the Mineola station to accommodate the scoot train, and passengers travelling west would be able to catch the train to Manhattan across the platform.
The Oyster Bay Branch is currently the most underused line in the system, with only 2500 commuters daily in a system that serves 300,000. Mr. Keller stated that the rationale for using scoot trains is that it would allow the LIRR to increase frequency of service, not the length of the ride. In addition, scoot trains are lighter than standard diesal trains, and typically run three cars, thus reducing fuel costs.
During the evening's discussion, Mr. Keller stated that this is only a proposal at this point and that the LIRR was seeking community input on the issue.
Most audience members who spoke up at the meeting expressed a great deal of skepticism of the proposal. A Roslyn resident said that he has been commuting on the Oyster Bay line for 18 years and that he thought the service was "pretty good." However, he stated that "this plan stinks," citing the lack of cover on the Mineola platform and concern over what would happen to the 6:19 diesel/electric train that provides direct service to Manhattan. Mr. Keller assured him that that particular train would continue to run.
A Roslyn Heights resident stated that he thought the proposal was a "terrible idea," and said that there would be extreme overcrowding on trains between Mineola and Penn Station going in both directions. "Expecting us to get a seat is ludicrous," he asserted. The 20 minute ride from Penn Station to Jamaica without a seat and being packed is endurable, but, he continued, that would not be the case for the longer trip from Penn station to Mineola.
Another resident said that it was inconvenient for riders going to Hunterspoint who previously did not have to transfer, but would have to do so now under the new proposal. She suggested keeping the current trains but supplementing them with the scoots.
A locomotive engineer on the Oyster Bay line stated that as part of a train crew, she listened to people complain all the time and that riders do not want scoot trains, but rather more dual mode trains that run directly into Manhattan. She continued that all those who drive to Manhasset or Syosset would then be more likely to stay on the Oyster Bay line.
Sea Cliff resident John Kenny commented that traveling on the Oyster Bay Branch in 2013 is strikingly similar to when Teddy Roosevelt lived in Oyster Bay at the turn of the 20th century and that it is time to modernize the line. "Bring this line into the 21st century," he demanded, "We are being treated like an orphan branch. This is a band-aid solution." Two-thirds of Sea Cliff commuters, he asserted, drive to stations on other lines. He continued that the poor service on the Oyster Bay line reduces property values, and he cited a professional couple he knows who wanted to move to Sea Cliff, but after researching the train commute, decided against it. "Scoot trains do not seem to be the answer." The answer, he said, is to electrify the line.
Mr. Keller later stated that electrifying the Branch would be the easiest and best for commuters, but that the cost was prohibitive. "So we are looking for an alternative," he said. "It may not be the best, but it is an option that would improve service." Assemblyman Lavine interjected that electrification would be a great solution, but that for several years the federal government has offered little meaningful help in that area.
Another commuter expressed concerned about "connectivity." While the frequency of trains running from Oyster Bay to Mineola would be greatly increased, how long would one have to wait for a connection to Manhattan, he asked. Mr. Keller replied that the LIRR currently has a 5-8 minute connection interval for transfers at Jamaica, and that he believed the same could be done at Mineola.
While the vast majority of the audience at the meeting seemed uneasy with the proposal, one commuter stated that if frequency was increased, some commuters would perhaps not drive to other stations, which could relieve parking problems at Mineola, Manhasset and Port Washington.
Mr. Brennan concluded the discussion saying that this was the first community meeting to discuss scoot service, and emphasized that it was "an informational session to get a feel from customers what future service may be." And that the LIRR "wanted to lay out the very bare bones of scoot service early on in the process." He continued that the current diesel equipment is 15 years old and has a life expectancy of approximately 35 years. "We have to crunch the numbers. This is very very early on," he said.
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