Wishful Thinking About Local Commuter Trains

We hate to rain on the recently revived commuter train parade, but for all the enthusiasm, it is difficult to see how it could be a success. 

The dream of more frequent rail service on the South Fork has been around for a long time. In a new proposal led by State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., the Long Island Rail Road would add trains to its weekday schedule so that people getting to and from work would have an alternative to hopping in their cars. Buses would meet the trains to shuttle passengers the last few miles to their destinations. 

While some highway and main street traffic would be eliminated if the trains eventually were to roll, whether it would be enough to justify the cost is a good question.

The nature of much of the employment in East Hampton Town and on the two forks suggests that private vehicles and commercial service trucks will continue to be necessary. Because there are a limited number of white-collar jobs out here those traveling between towns or hamlets might well have to carry tools or equipment. Many service positions, such as housecleaning and landscaping, require that workers get to remote locations that would never be on any bus route. 

As for summer visitors, those who come by train are already being more or less accommodated by the L.I.R.R., if in ridiculously overcrowded conditions. Those who do not come by rail are unlikely to do so even with new, more frequent service. With tourists and renters coming by car from all over the Northeast, traffic would not be curtailed.

If traffic is the problem, it is unlikely that improvements to rail options will be the solution. Too many in the work force and the vacation crowd are never going to abandon their vehicles, so the ridership is not going to be there to support it.

If there is a real answer, it will be only when towns and villages exert greater limits on development and work to reduce the number of people attracted to the area — including day-trippers, renters in illegal situations, and even hotel guests. No realistic amount of public transit, whether by train or bus or something else, will make a meaningful difference given the diminutive land mass and limited roads. Instead of expanding the L.I.R.R.’s schedules or, as has been suggested, adding a second track here, the money might be better spent on other initiatives.