Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Response to FTA's Scoping Meeting Notice for Improved Commuter Access

Dear Mr. Sussman:

Like many Suffolk County commuters on the LIRR, I long for more efficient access to and from Penn Station, and ultimately my place of work. The annual soaring costs of commuter tickets (up more than 40%), coupled with the extremely poor service, especially in the winter months, render intense frustration and diminshed productivity among the whole workforce. Eastern passengers pay larger fees for their tickets, but receive poorer service. This is inequitable. Sweeping changes are in order, which may appear fairly radical to the MTA, but in concept are quite simple, and would improve the quality of service for those who pay the most every month.

The LIRR runs eastbound and westbound passenger routes. In the mornings, the volume is decidedly westbound and in the evening, eastbound. The schedules are arranged such that passengers at most local stations board trains traveling toward their ultimate destination. Except for the Port Washington branch, virtually all trains must stop or pass through Jamaica station, which unnecessarily extends the length of their commute.

I suggest rearranging schedules for points east of Jamaica, such that a broader hub-and-spoke system is developed. Express trains should run from the major eastern stations having train yards, such as Huntington and Babylon, directly into Pennsylvania station, without stops at Jamaica and several other points in between. If express bypass tracks around or through Jamaica station are opened up in both eastbound and westbound directions, then less switching would be needed, signaling problems could be reduced, and commutes could be expedited. Cold weather switch freezing at Jamaica has often crippled the entire system - by reducing the number of switches, the chances for commuting disasters and maintenance costs are reduced. I have sent the MTA numerous emails concerning the delays in their system, but they have never offered a solution, only an apology.

If the system is rearranged in this fashion, travelers originating at stations between the hub and the destination would board an opposite bound local train to the hub, and then a high speed express train to their destination. For example, a morning commuter from Amityville would travel eastbound to Babylon, and then westbound directly to Penn Station. A once-per-hour express train could stop at Jamaica to serve the minimal volume of passengers having this destination, or continuing on to JFK via the airtrain. Schedules could be synchronized to accomodate such passengers. In the evening, when volumes are largely eastbound from Penn Station, express service would be offered eastbound to hubs, and local service westbound. Express trains could be sized and run at frequencies to accomodate the overall volume. Express train conductors would only have to check tickets once.

Security, which is a major concern these days, could be improved at these hub stations. Perhaps hub stations and Penn station could improve security by limiting platform access to ticketed passengers only, perhaps through an automated means. Technology already in place for the subway system could be utilized, and then conductors would not even be needed on the express trains, further reducing expenses.

Of course, this would necessitate a complete reworking of train schedules, which have evolved from over a hundred years of operation. Networks are complicated things, but a study of the operation would probably reveal that such a major overhaul in the schedule would result in improved security, easier commutes, and less operational difficulties. Union resistance to a reduction in workforce would need to be overcome. Passengers would need to be educated about such sweeping changes, but in the long run, more efficient and cost effective service could be achieved.

Perhaps a branch line could be established to LaGuardia and L.I. MacArthur airports, in order to provide air travelers with a domestic alternative to JFK, and further improve the infrastructure of our area.

Please submit my comments for the record and hopefully if studied, some or all of my recommendations could be implemented.

Sincerely yours,