High Hopes for Expanded Commuter Train Service

A new commuter train service planned to be in place by late next winter would add eastbound trains on the East End in the morning and extra westbound trains in the afternoon in the hope of alleviating some of the traffic caused by the daily “trade parade.” Durell Godfrey

A long-awaited effort to alleviate traffic by adding Long Island Rail Road service between Speonk and Montauk in the morning and afternoon is to begin late in the winter of 2019, officials confirmed on Tuesday. 

Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. was on hand at the East Hampton Town Board’s meeting on Tuesday when Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc announced that the railroad has agreed to increase commuter service to the South Fork by adding two eastbound trains in the morning and three westbound in the afternoon. 

A key component of the plan is the “last mile shuttle,” through which commuters would get from train stations to their workplaces and back, and for which the Towns of East Hampton and Southampton will issue a joint request for proposals. Mr. Thiele and State Senator Kenneth P. LaValle helped to secure $500,000 to fund shuttle services. 

A pilot program of additional trains was conducted in 2007, Mr. Van Scoyoc said, when County Road 39 in Southampton was being widened. “Capacity was eaten up pretty quickly” on the road, he said, but the “limited experiment was pretty successful.” Expanded rail service “is not going to replace the automobile,” he said, but is intended to “mitigate some issues we suffer from traffic.” 

Expansion of rail service is limited by the single-track system on the South Fork, he said, but whatever can be done will help to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions by shrinking the “trade parade” of workers contributing to heavy traffic year round. 

“Having train service is great,” Mr. Thiele said, but “you have to get people the last mile . . . from the train station to their place of work.” The Towns of East Hampton and Southampton will be expected to jointly match the $500,000 in funding for the shuttle service, he said. 

“This is where we turn it over to Southampton and East Hampton Towns to come up with a solution of how they want to provide last mile service,” Mr. Thiele said, adding that the towns must work together to administer that component. The next step, he said, is to devise and submit a request for proposals for shuttle service, as well as a marketing plan to alert the public.

Much of the housing stock on the South Fork is second homes, JoAnne Pawhul, a town planner, told the board, and real estate costs have skyrocketed, driving many former residents westward and resulting in heavy truck volume. Being stuck in traffic impacts quality of life, she said, and town businesses are facing staffing shortages. The same is true in Southampton, she said. 

When the new shuttle schedule is implemented, there will not be westbound service on Friday afternoons during the summer, Ms. Pawhul said, due to the eastbound “Cannonball” train from Manhattan. To make up for that, the request for proposals will include a Montauk-to-Speonk bus. 

The added trains’ schedules are in draft form and subject to change, but the L.I.R.R. has committed to the pilot program, which is to be assessed after a year. 

A single fare for the train and shuttle is tentatively set at $4.25 each way, based on the $3.25 fare within the zone encompassing Westhampton and Montauk — Speonk will be brought into the zone, Ms. Pawhul said — plus $1 for the shuttle. 

“We expect we will be using a variety of service types” for shuttle service, she said. In Montauk, that could include taxi services that feature vans among their fleets. “There may be different types of vehicles and options that fit different needs of different stations,” she said. 

Southampton is to issue the request for proposals, and the town has set a goal of approving the language of the request by the middle of next month, she said. The towns would request that bids be returned by mid-October, and would award contracts by December. 

Employers will be encouraged to be flexible with work schedules to accommodate employees’ use of public transportation, Ms. Pawhul said. 

“This isn’t going to solve the traffic issue,” Mr. Thiele said, “but success here will lead to even greater improvements in public transportation that can yield a system that people will be able to commute to work here by ways other than County Road 39.”