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March 29, 2010

LIMBA Recap March 26, 2010 Helena Williams, President of the Long Island Rail Road, East Side Access Update

Ms. Williams last came to LIMBA during her stint as the Interim Executive Director of the MTA.  Today, she opened her talk with the tale of helping to recruit Jay Walder from Transport of London to the MTA, bringing him from the frying pan into the fire.    Her introduction was a good segue into a description of that fire, and the dire circumstances that the MTA and its member agencies are facing.  Preservation of some service to Greenport was a small victory, to give that up would have severed a long standing historical tie for the LIRR.   Right now, Ms. Williams is fighting a holding action to keep the LIRR in good shape while waiting for the economy to turn around and be robust again.

Addressing some of the transit-oriented development advocates and freight rail enthusiasts in the audience,  she spoke of Transit Oriented Development as bringing future LIRR customers into the fold and having plenty of capacity to support more rail freight to take more trucks off Long Island roads.  More rail freight means more revenue for the LIRR.

The main topic of her talk, East Side Access, helps the Suffolk County housing market because it makes commuting from eastern long island more possible to the east side of Manhattan,  preserving that quality of life in the suburbs.  The new LIRR terminal in Grand Central Terminal will be served by the current M7 electric cars, which the railroad is very happy with, and they are beginning to design the next generation of cars, the M9 fleet.  The entire railroad is eagerly anticipating the connecting of the LIRR and Metro-North Railroads, but there is lots of system integration work to do.  Harold Interlocking needs a tremendous amount of work to connect the new tracks that will run to GCT, and a new platform will be built in Jamaica to serve Brooklyn with a new type of shuttle service.  The creation of Moynihan station will primarily benefit intercity rail run by Amtrak, but the LIRR is looking to get some Penn Station improvements out of that project, particularly an expansion of the main Penn Corridor that runs between the E and 2&3 subway lines to increase pedestrian capacity.

The next phase of her talk was the presentation of a great video on the progress and methods of construction of ESA.  Animations of the tunnel boring, maps of the rail routes, and depictions of the new concourse were shown.  It is a great project that Ms. Williams is justifiably proud of being a part of.  It is a grand new public works project, a great expansion of the railroad, a very positive development.  Funding for the next two years is fully in place, for the present capital program, but the final years of the project need to be implemented and funded in the next MTA capital program.  Ms. Williams asked us for our support for this funding.  Another project that will require financial support is the double tracking of the mainline between Ronkonkoma and Farmingdale.  Unlike the third track project, this does not require additional land, and will help reverse commuting and take better advantage of East Side Access.

Closing her talk, she referred to the upcoming collective bargaining negotiations;  where there really needs to be some relief for the railroad around work rules and penalty pay.  These efforts will help the LIRR ease some of its costs.  The Q &  A portion of the program opened with a tough assault on the MTA taxes and some large ticket projects by the MTA, which Ms. Williams ably handled, although the projects mentioned were not LIRR projects.

A follow up question on disability reform progress was again tackled by a frank discussion of what the LIRR could and could not control.  The LIRR has entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with the State AG’s office to cooperate in its investigation of disability fraud.  A lot of this is out of the control of the LIRR and under the jurisdiction of the Federal Rail Road Retirement board.

Again, a well spent Friday morning at LIMBA, where we got to hear from and talk to an important leader of one of the most vital links in our region’s economic health and stability. 

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