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The Mast-Head: An Old Pipe Dream

Wed, 09/25/2019 - 12:42

North Main Street was blocked this week as a crew hired by the Long Island Rail Road worked on raising two trestles about three feet above their current grade. The project had been a long time coming. For years, trucks too tall to make it through the underpass there and at Accabonac Road have done damage to the trestle. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which oversees the L.I.R.R., had had enough.

The railroad began laying track east of Jamaica in 1836. Greenport first had rail service in 1844, with riders disembarking to board steam ferries to New London, but trains did not reach East Hampton until 1895, and perhaps as only an afterthought. The real prize for Austin Corbin, the president of the L.I.R.R. at the time, was Fort Pond Bay in Montauk, where he had visions of a seaport for trans-Atlantic voyages and, as important, lucrative freight.

The Montauk plan never came to fruition, though Corbin’s express trains could make the 105-mile run from Hunter’s Point in 106 minutes. Congress and the United States Army Corps of Engineers turned out to be the villains in this. After the Army Corps estimated the cost of turning Fort Pond Bay into a proper shipping terminal, with huge docks and room for giant warehouses, Congress balked, and voted the project down three times. Corbin would not be so easily thwarted, but on the eve of a fourth and likely positive vote, he was killed in a horse-drawn carriage crash, which also killed his coachman.

A series of lawsuits by Montaukett Indians who had been swindled out of their remaining land also dampened enthusiasm. Corbin’s associates tried to carry on, but the drive had gone out of the dream, and it withered away.