Photo courtesy Austin Shafran
By Phil Corso

Straphangers who rely on peak rush-hour trains on the Long Island Rail Road in Queens were given less than one week’s notice of temporary but potentially devastating cuts to some of their service.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority announced this week it would be suspending weekday service starting Monday, July 22, for five westbound peak a.m. trains, including three along the Port Washington line, and four eastbound peak p.m. trains, including two from Long Island City. The trains will remain closed through Friday, Aug. 16, MTA spokesman Salvatore Arena said.

“The train time has been changed to accommodate East Side Access track work that begins this weekend,” Arena said, adding the MTA planned on releasing a schedule with the changes Wednesday — five days before the changes go into effect.

“The new printed schedules for the Port Washington branch reflect the changes,” Arena said, “so it is not a permanent move.”

On the Port Washington line, the 7:55 a.m. train from Little Neck to Penn Station — which includes stops in Douglaston, Bayside, Auburndale, Flushing and Woodside — will be temporarily suspended, the MTA said.

As for the evening peak service changes, the 4:28 p.m. train from Long Island City to Patchogue via the Montauk branch will instead originate at the Jamaica stop and depart at 5:03 p.m., the MTA said. The 4:30 p.m. train from Hunterspoint Avenue to Montauk will originate from Long Island City and depart at 4:10 p.m., the agency said.

Additional cuts were also announced along the Babylon and Ronkonkoma branches so the MTA could build a concrete track slab in its busy Harold Interlocking that will make way for future tunnel construction without affecting service, the agency said.

Austin Shafran, who lives in Bayside and is running for the City Council seat representing his northeast Queens neighborhood, took to his train station early Wednesday morning to protest the abrupt cuts in service. He fired off a letter to MTA Chairman Thomas Prendergast and LIRR President Helena E. Williams the same day with his rebuttal and counterproposal.

“It is unfathomable to believe that the removal of a peak rush hour train is the only way to get this project done,” Shafran said in the letter. “It seems that the MTA continues to make its Manhattan-centric transit system a priority while leaving northeast Queens out in the cold.”

Instead of cutting the peak morning rush-hour service, Shafran proposed the MTA temporarily convert the 7:47 a.m. express train from Great Neck, which only stops at Great Neck and Penn Station, to a semi-express train with stops at Little Neck, Douglaston and Bayside. The Bayside native also sent over a list of signatures from commuters who agreed.

“Northeast Queens is a transit desert with limited transportation options,” Shafran said. “This major disruption in service will further add to the burden on commuters by creating a 46-minute gap in service.”

Reach reporter Phil Corso by e-mail at pcorso@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4573.

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