Readers Write: Amtrak service to L.I. a long road away

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“Study eyes bringing Amtrak service to L.I.” (Jessica Parks — Feb. 1) to be conducted jointly by Amtrak and the MTA is nothing new. Never shy around a camera or photo op, Gov. Cuomo and the accompanying elected officials were more than happy to pose with shovels for an idea that will never reach fruition. 

The concept of Long Island Amtrak service was already looked at several years ago under a Federal Rail Road Administration comprehensive plan for Amtrak Northeast Corridor service between Washington and Boston.  This included a proposal for new high speed rail between Floral Park and Port Jefferson and on to New Haven via a 22-mile tunnel under the Long Island Sound.  This would have involved building two new tracks around the Main Line Third Track and existing tracks between Hicksville and Port Jefferson.  No one could figure out how to find up to $40 billion to pay for this consultants dream so it died.

The MTA has both Five Year 2015-2019 and Twenty Year Long Range Capital Plans 2014-2034 which are periodically updated.  Amtrak has similar short- and long-range capital plans.  These documents clearly outline what capital funding is needed to maintain both a state of good repair for existing equipment, facilities and services along with safety, security and any future system expansion projects and programs.  

The State Department of Transportation maintains the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program.  Each metropolitan planning organization for every urbanized area affiliated with NYSDOT maintains a local Transportation Improvement Program.  The New York Metropolitan Transportation Council, which also includes the Nassau-Suffolk Transportation Coordinating Council, maintains a listing of proposed transportation projects updated yearly. 

The MTA and LIRR participate in this process.  Both the STIP and TIP documents contain a complete inventory of transportation improvement projects, sponsoring agency and estimated cost. Both the MPO and NYSDOT maintain five-year short-range and 20-year long-range lists of potential capital transportation improvement projects by recipient and operating agency. 

Millions of dollars are spent yearly for planning studies to research the potential for new transportation capital investments and system expansion. This includes Cuomo’s Department of Transportation and Empire State Development Corporation, Metropolitan Planning Organizations in every major urbanized area, including NYMTC which serves New York City; the Port Authority of NY and NJ, the MTA along with operating agencies including NYC Transit, LIRR, Metro North Rail Road and MTA Bus; Mayor Bill de Blasio’s own NYC DOT, NYC Department of City Planning and NYC Economic Development Corporation, the Regional Planning Association, Nassau County Planning Department and other private entities.  All of them conduct transportation planning feasibility studies.  

Collectively, every decade a complete inventory of all these agencies would reveal dozens and dozens of transportation studies worth close to $100 million in costs have been completed.  Funding for these studies comes from a variety of city, county, state and federal sources.

Has anyone ever taken a complete inventory of all these studies?  Have they checked out the recommendations, estimated project costs, time line for implementation and identification of potential funding sources for going forward? Who checks to see that one study is not just a duplication of a previous study for the same issue?

Too many transportation studies championed by numerous elected officials are nothing more than placebos designed to placate demagogues, who are not regular users of the numerous public transportation alternatives that have been available for decades.

The real problem is finding money to make things happen.  All too often funding for many studies would have been better spent on real capital and operating service improvements instead of just lining the pockets of consultants.  How many studies end up on the shelf of planners just collecting dust?  How many times do we end up with a series of press conferences and news releases designed to provide free publicity for elected officials to assist them in greasing the wheels of future elections?  These same elected officials promise a bright future but leave riders holding an empty bag.

Funding for this latest study would be better spent as a down payment toward building a joint Amtrak-LIRR Sunnyside Yard Queens station.  Riders could avoid crowded Penn Station and save 10 minutes of travel time by making connections at this new station.  This station was suppose to be built as part of the LIRR Eastside Access to Grand Central Terminal.  No contract has been awarded to date.  In the meantime, don’t count riding any Amtrak train originating from Long Island in your lifetime. You will still change at Penn Station.

Larry Penner

Great Neck

(Larry Penner is a transportation historian and advocate who previously worked 31 years for the US Department of Transportation Federal Transit Administration Region 2 NY Office) .

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