ROCKVILLE CENTRE, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — Fed up Long Island Rail Road commuters are voicing their frustrations with the agency Saturday with a protest in Nassau County.
It comes after Amtrak announced repair plans at Penn Station that could disrupt commutes for most of the summer.
That repair work is expected to cause even more delays. In response, LIRR commuters are gathering Saturday morning at the Rockville Centre station, demanding better management from the transit agency.
More than 100 commuters and elected officials, huddled underneath a train track overpass to avoid the rain, came out to show just how unacceptable things have gotten at Penn Station under Amtrak’s leadership, WCBS 880’s Mike Smeltz reported.
“You can imagine the level of anger that people are feeling to come to a train station on a day they’re not commuting, in the rain, to stand with us,” State Senator Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Island) said.
Long Island workers worry it’s going to be a slow summer once Amtrak’s rail repair plan begins, and potentially cancels one in four trains to Long Island from Penn Station.
“It’s what our business waits for all year and pretty much how we survive,” local deli owner Joe Brand tells CBS2.
“Long Island Rail Road riders who pay a ton, first of all in taxes to live here and then again to commute into the city back and forth are being treated like second class citizens,” Kaminsky said. “I have constituents standing in the bathrooms on trains, missing important work events, missing important family occasions.”
“A lot of people are thinking of leaving Long Island, and I’m one of them. I grew up here, I love Long Island, I love the Long Island beaches, I have family here, but I realized we are at the mercy of a monopoly who appears not to care about us,” Rockville Centre resident Barbara Lepetri said.
According to the plan, outages — meaning some tracks out of service — will start July 7th for 19 days, and then again August 4th for 25 days. It’s expected to cut NJ TRANSIT service by 25 percent.
But that’s just the beginning. Phase three would begin some time in 2018. Amtrak’s CEO says the repairs are necessary to avoid more unplanned disruptions.
“What exists today in terms of reliability is below what everyone desires and needs,” Charles Moorman. “We sincerely apologize for the disruptions caused by these events.”
Twelve hours before the CEO went before the New York State Assembly on Thursday, Assemblywoman Michaelee Solage shot a video of her crowded train. She said there’s no wiggle room for less service.
“They can reroute the trains to other stations, they can provide some sort of alternate transportation,” she said.
“There’s going to be inconvenience, but inconvenience and just saying, ’25 percent across the board, that’s all, take it or leave it,’ there’s a big difference there,” Kaminsky added. “I’m hoping they can be creative in terms of where they run trains in and out of and what hours they do it.”
Earlier this week, Governors Chris Christie and Andrew Cuomo released a joint letter calling for a private operator to take over Penn Station from Amtrak. Many fed up riders from New York to New Jersey agree.
“Right now, Amtrak runs Penn Station even though they only have eight percent of the riders. LIRR has about 53 percent of riders and they have no say over anything,” Kaminsky said.
Amtrak responded to calls for its removal in a statement, saying the company agrees dramatic action is needed, but made no mention of a willingness to pass the baton to another entity.
Two options being considered would be to bring in a private operator to oversee Penn Station, or to create a joint-management team made up of officials from NJ TRANSIT and the MTA, Smeltz reported.
“Amtrak has fallen down on the job, and they’re trying to cram 20 years of necessary infrastructure repairs into two months this summer,” Kaminsky said.
“It’s about time,” one NJ TRANSIT rider told CBS2. “A private operator would run it better than New Jersey Transit or Amtrak would.”
“It just gets worse,” one woman said. “You yell at the person in the booth or the person walking around on the platform. It’s not their fault, there’s no accountability.”