Many commuters on the Long Island Rail Road’s Oyster Bay line did not celebrate Monday’s launch of the new schedules, adjusted to accommodate service to the second Manhattan terminal, Grand Central Madison.
Service on the line has always been bad, they say, but now, with some trains canceled, it will be even worse. Passengers on only two trains avoid a change at Jamaica — and even those trains still stop there. Additionally, the line uses diesel trains, which are slower than electric lines. The average ride time has always been over an hour, and now it will be longer.
Commuters like J.D. Patrick, of Glen Cove, have found a different way to get to Manhattan. “The Oyster Bay line has never helped residents or bolstered the towns on it,” Patrick said. “I gave up on the Long Island Rail Road. I drive to Forest Hills, park and take the subway.”
Roger Donnelly worked for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority from 1992 until 2019, when he retired. A subway electrical supervisor, the Sea Cliff resident commuted to Manhattan on the Oyster Bay
line. Donnelly remembers his excitement when he heard about the East Side Access project, which he expected would make his commute easier. Ten years ago, he watched the work being done underground in Long Island City.
“I wish I had stayed at work long enough to try it,” Donnelly said. “Originally, they said they wanted to run the Oyster Bay branch every half hour. We’ve always felt like the red-headed stepchild in Nassau County, compared to the Port Washington branch, which runs like a subway.”
Seasoned Oyster Bay line commuter Sara Director, of Locust Valley, gave the Syosset line a try on Monday, though she worried that it would be hard to find parking. The new schedules are an inconvenience, she said, and will affect not only riders, but businesses near train stations, too.
People want to take the train where they live, Director said. She stops at local businesses near the station regularly for a cup of coffee or a bottle of wine, or buys a pizza for her family before driving home.
She’ll miss doing so, but said she had to abandon the Oyster Bay line because the train she ordinarily takes home from Penn Station — the 4:49 p.m. — has been canceled, replaced by one at 4:24. Although the trip to Locust Valley on the 4:49 took 81 minutes, she had enough time to take her two children to sports events. The new train is too early for many people to leave work, and there isn’t another train for an hour. That would get her in at 6:40, too late to take her children to their activities.
Although it seems to commuters as though trains have been cut from the Oyster Bay line, David Steckel, media liaison for the MTA, said that isn’t the case. The number of trains will increase to 32 on weekdays, up from 28, Steckel wrote in an email. And there will continue to be off-peak, midday, weekday service every one to two hours, with weekend service every two hours.
Director signed a petition on change.org, which, as of press time, had garnered more than 1,700 signatures. It requests that the MTA create schedules that reduce travel time on the Oyster Bay line to Penn Station and Grand Central Madison during rush hour, among other suggestions. The petition states, “In the ‘draft schedules,’ all morning rush hour trains to Grand Central or Penn will take between 80-83 minutes. That is not improved from the legacy schedules to Penn (76-81 minutes) and some commutes will actually be lengthened.” (See box.)
According to Steckel, commuters will benefit from a 41 percent increase in service. “We will review, monitor and assess ridership patterns with customer feedback, and consider adjustments to the schedule where appropriate,” he wrote.
The opening of the 700,000-square-foot Grand Central Madison terminal marks the conclusion of the MTA’s $11.1 billion East Side Access project.
Glen Cove Mayor Pam Panzenbeck said that residents were hoping that after so much money was spent on the project, they would benefit. Although there are three LIRR stations in Glen Cove, commuters say that the service is so bad on the Oyster Bay line that they often use the Manhasset station.
“I think they’d take the Oyster Bay line if it was beneficial,” Panzenbeck said. “People are very disappointed. They’ve been contacting me.”
Frank Ferrante, of Glen Cove, works in Midtown Manhattan. Although the MTA needs to do a better job for commuters on the Oyster Bay line, Ferrante said, he is hopeful that, with the new terminal, there will be positive changes ahead.
First on his list is a genuine express train. The LIRR’s version now saves only four minutes, he said. “It would be nice to get a true express train that skips a few stops,” Ferrante said, “so we could have, like, a 45-minute ride.”
As for traveling to another station, Ferrante said it isn’t worth it. Once in a while he’ll drive to the Manhasset station to experience a 30-minute train ride, but it takes 15 minutes to get there, he said.
On Feb. 21, Glen Cove Councilwoman Danielle Fugazy Scagliola cosigned a letter with Assemblyman Charles Lavine, addressed to Janno Lieber, chair and CEO of the MTA, and Catherine Rinaldi, interim LIRR president, sharing their concerns about the impact of the new schedules on North Shore commuters. Fugazy Scagliola and Lavine also asked for an increase in service on the Oyster Bay branch. They have not received a reply.
Fugazy Scagliola has ridden the Oyster Bay line for 25 years. “After spending billions of dollars, no one’s commute should be worse,” she said. “When the MTA works on a line, we’re like the forgotten line.”
Fugazy Scagliola went to the first meeting between the MTA and area municipalities about service changes to accommodate the trains going to Grand Central Madison in 2020, but when the coronavirus pandemic hit, the meetings were discontinued. When she saw the new schedules, she called Lavine and asked for help.
“The East Side Access is an historic development, but some commuters are being disadvantaged,” Lavine said. “I want to work with the MTA to take steps so riders are pleased with the experience. It’s a democracy, and our voices will be heard, and in the end, there will be accommodations.”
What incenses longtime Glen Cove commuter Dawn Bartolotta is that people using the Oyster Bay branch pay just as much as other riders and get less. “At this point, I want a discount on my ticket for having half the service as other lines,” Bartolotta said. “It’s so unfair.”