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 cell phone. “I stepped out on track 20 to the stench of sewage,” he said. “It was disgusting.”
Meredith Jacobs, of Wantagh, collects the email blasts of cancellations that she receives from the Long Island Rail Road. “Every night at 4:30 p.m. they come in,” she said. On May 11, her 6:36 p.m. eastbound train sat in a tunnel for an hour before returning to Penn due to mechanical issues. She didn’t get home until after 9 p.m.
Eric Cohen, of Kew Gardens, who commutes east, was delayed for two and a half hours on May 10 when Amtrak-related signal trouble caused 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.
And on Saturday they all 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 the senator and a group of local elected officials from both major parties.
Responding to the April 28 announcement by Amtrak that it was planning to close several tracks throughout the summer for repairs, while declining to specify the number of tracks or how long the repairs would take, Kaminsky presented his argument.
“Here’s what we know,” he said, surrounded by the group. “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, jointly involving agencies from New York and New Jersey, could take over. “We are open to all suggestions. But the current managers have fallen down on the job,” he said. “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!”
The crowd of people behind him repeated the call. “No more!” they shouted.
Sen. John Brooks, Rockville Centre Mayor Francis X. Murray, Long Beach City Manager Jack Schnirman, County Legislator Laura Curran and State Assembly members Brian Curran, David McDonough and Michaelle Solages all stood around Kaminsky and echoed his complaints.
For their part, Amtrak officials have said that despite booming ridership, ongoing financial problems have forced the long-distance rail service to defer repairs until they become absolutely necessary. They have blamed the issues 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.
These issues remain a distant concern to LIRR riders, however. Meredith Jacobs brandished a “Long Island Failroad” sign at the rally, and said 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.
And for the coming weeks and months, riders will be faced with the reality of frequent delays becoming the norm. Not looking forward to the repair-related disruptions, Cohen remarked, “This summer is going to be hell.”