They had all had bad commutes.
Doug Goodstein, of Rockville Centre, said he had seen what appeared to be wastewater cascading from the ceiling of Pennsylvania Station on May 3, and recorded video of the incident on his cellphone. “I stepped out on Track 20 to the stench of sewage,” he said. “It was disgusting.”
“I’ve been commuting since 1984,” Long Beach resident Pete Meyers said, “and this is by far the worst it’s ever been.” He recounted trying to get home from Penn Station on May 10, when Amtrak-related signal problems resulted in the cancellation of nearly 80 trains and snarled the commutes of thousands, leaving them stranded in dangerously overcrowded corridors of the nation’s busiest transit hub.
Meyers’s commute usually takes about an hour, but it took him two and a half hours to get home. “They really do need to sack Amtrak,” he said. “They’re horrible.”
Last Saturday, frustrated commuters gathered in Rockville Centre and stood underneath its train platform for a rally — organized by State Sen. Todd Kaminsky — to protest the poor service and to demand the ouster of Amtrak as the steward of Penn Station.
As rain poured down just beyond the eaves of the crumbling concrete structure, roughly two dozen commuters stood behind Kaminsky and a group of local elected officials from both parties.
“Here’s what we know,” Kaminsky said, responding to the April 28 announcement by Amtrak that it planned to close several tracks throughout the summer for repairs, while declining to specify the number of tracks or how long the repairs would take. “We know that Amtrak is trying to cram 20 years of infrastructure repairs into two months. We know their plan of ‘get ready for a terrible summer’ stinks. We know that they have not been creative or consulted with anyone down here on how that’s going to go.
“For the long term,” he continued, “we know that Amtrak needs to leave Penn Station.” Kaminsky said that a private operator or new state-run entity, involving agencies from both New York and New Jersey, could take over. “We are open to all suggestions,” he said. “But the current managers have fallen down on the job. Long Island commuters pay exorbitant amounts to travel, beyond the taxes they already exorbitantly pay to live here, and are being treated like complete garbage. Today we say no more!”
“No more!” The crowd behind him shouted.
Long Beach City Manager Jack Schnirman, State Sen. John Brooks, Rockville Centre Mayor Francis X. Murray, County Legislator Laura Curran and State Assembly members Brian Curran, David McDonough and Michaelle Solages all stood with the senator and echoed his complaints.
“As a summer seasonal city, we rely on the Long Island Rail Road to get people from New York City to Long Beach safely to support our local businesses, and we’re concerned,” said Schnirman, a Democrat who is running for Nassau County comptroller. “That’s why we and our City Council have stood with Senator Kaminsky and everybody here to say enough is enough.”
Amtrak officials have said that despite booming ridership, ongoing financial problems have forced it to defer repairs until they become absolutely necessary. It has blamed the problems on a shortfall in federal funding, which has remained flat in recent years at around $1.3 billion, according to Amtrak’s financial reports.
Additionally, the Trump administration has proposed slashing federal funding to the agency, which could endanger service to as many as 220 cities nationwide. Amtrak was granted ownership of Penn Station in 1976.
Those issues remain distant concerns to LIRR riders, however. Meredith Jacobs, who waved a “Long Island Failroad” sign at the rally, claimed that in her nearly 24 years of commuting, the delays have never been as bad as they are now. “At $300 a month, we deserve better, but it’s the only game in town,” she said of the lack of transportation alternatives.
In the coming weeks and months, riders will faced the likelihood that frequent delays will become the norm.
“We seem to pay more and get less for it every year,” said Long Beach resident John Bendo. “We have third-world infrastructure here because, for whatever reason, we decided not to invest in maintaining it,” he added of the track work scheduled for the summer.
“It’s a double-edged sword. It’s work that desperately needs to be done, but, of course, in doing it, it’s going to create a lot of inconvenience for commuters that use the railroad.”
LIRR commuters react to delays
By Bridget Downes and Diana Colapietro
“It’s totally unsafe,” said Veronica Treston, of Long Beach. It took her almost three hours to get home from Penn Station on May 10. “People are standing in bathrooms, pushing and shoving. It’s not just once a week, or once every two weeks — it’s every single day there’s an issue.”
“Every week there seems to be an issue either going in or coming home,” said Mitchell Zohar, of Hewlett. He added that as ticket prices rise, customers do not see any improvements. “It seems to be going backwards,” said Zohar, who has been riding the LIRR for 20 years.
“For what we pay and the service we get, it’s just not a good customer experience,” said Long Beach commuter Angelo Lomonte. “It’s another example of what happens when you ignore your infrastructure and let it collapse around you, as opposed to doing periodic and needed maintenance.”
Jasmine Rosario, of Far Rockaway, said she lives across the street from the LIRR station there and has been riding the railroad on and off for the last seven years to get to her job on Wall Street. She recommended more trains. “It’s packed — you don’t get a seat and you’re a paying customer,” she said, adding that the MTA raised the fare “at the worst time,” given recent service issues.
“When the train comes on time, it’s a good and decent experience compared to the subway,” said Grant Phillips, an attorney from Inwood, who has been taking the train for the past two years. “I’d like to see Penn Station taken from Amtrak.”