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State Looks To Designate Funds For Expansion Of The LIRR Montauk Branch

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A proposal to expand and improve the single-track Montauk Branch of the Long Island Rail Road by installing infrastructure allowing trains to pass one another is gaining traction in Albany, and is expected to receive funding.

State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. said on Tuesday that the 2019-20 state budget is expected to include dedicated funding that could be used for the planning process of expanding the Montauk Branch, although the amount of money was not disclosed.

The expansion would include adding interlocked sidings along with sections of double track that will allow trains to pass.

“That would be great,” Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman said on Tuesday after hearing the news. “That really is our technical roadblock. Maybe it’s not a roadblock but a train block.”

He said he believes the LIRR is looking at identifying three places to create a parallel track where one train could pull off to allow another to go by. “It would be as if we had a second set of tracks,” Mr. Schneiderman said.

Only one train at a time can be on the track between Speonk and Montauk, going in either direction, under the current configuration. So if there is an eastbound train heading to Montauk from Hampton Bays, there could not be a westbound train heading in the opposite direction to Hampton Bays. That severely limits scheduling.

The LIRR, in partnership with the towns of East Hampton and Southampton, kicked off the South Fork Commuter Connection in March. For $3.25 each way, riders have the ability to ride one of eight new trains to get to and from the station closest to their place of work. For $1 more, the commuters can take a shuttle, provided by either the Hampton Jitney or Hampton Hopper, to get even closer to their workplace.

Although service started out slow, nearly 130 riders per week are taking advantage of the service.

The proposed track expansion would allow the LIRR to add additional trains to the Commuter Connection.

“Ridership numbers on the South Fork Commuter Connection increased dramatically during its first month of service, and these infrastructure improvements will only build on that success and further alleviate traffic congestion on the East End, particularly during peak commuting hours,” Mr. Thiele said in a press release.

MTA President Patrick Foye told the Assembly in a letter that the improvements to the Montauk Branch were identified in the LIRR’s 20-year needs assessment, according to the press release, and noted that the money would be used to begin designing the rail-siding plan.

Calls to Mr. Thiele seeking information about any additional hurdles the funding could run into were not immediately returned.

“I am pleased with the continued efforts of the MTA and LIRR to increase and improve train services to the East End,” the assemblyman said in the release. “I look forward to our continued cooperation in making these necessary improvements to reduce traffic congestion and make it easier for businesses to recruit and retain employees by providing an alternative, faster and less stressful commute to the South Fork.”

Mr. Schneiderman said he completely supports Mr. Thiele’s efforts.

Since the commuter service started, he said he has heard criticism regarding the scheduling of trains. If trains had the ability to pass, he said, the schedule could be more flexible.

The estimated time frame of when the sidings and additional track would be installed has not been released, nor has the cost.

“It’s costly,” Mr. Schneiderman said. “I’m sure creating those sidings will be millions and millions of dollars. But I think it would give us the infrastructure we need to meet the current demand, and the flexibility.”

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