Demanding details on LIRR

(The following story by Joie Tyrrell was published in Newsday’s online edition on January 31)

NEW YORK -- It is one of the biggest changes ever for the Long Island Rail Road and will ultimately lead to the creation of a commuter line that will dwarf all others across the nation.

But the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's plan to merge Metro-North and the LIRR remains murky and mysterious, a bipartisan coalition of nearly 30 state legislators charged in a letter sent to MTA executive director Katie Lapp this week.

"The absence of detailed and comprehensive ... information has tainted this proposal with uncertainty and concern," read the letter sent from the office of state Sen. Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) and signed by legislators from both Nassau and Suffolk counties. "We request that the MTA provide the substantive information necessary to properly evaluate this proposed reorganization."

MTA officials did not return calls for comment yesterday. The merger was announced in October, but few details were released then. The plans are to merge Metro- North and the LIRR into one entity, MTA Railroad. This week, MTA budget officials unveiled several minor proposals to align policies of the railroads.

"It seems to be moving forward and quite honestly the entire legislative delegation has great concerns that merging the two largest commuter lines ... will have a potential detrimental effect on service," Skelos said.

Earlier this month, the LIRR's popular president Ken Bauer announced he was stepping down and the MTA has declined to say if a new president will be named. Also, when the merger was announced it was unclear if the Long Island Rail Road name would remain intact. The merger is subject to legislative approval. MTA officials say they want it in place by next year.

"We don't want to be lost in the shuffling around," Skelos said yesterday.Skelos said the MTA should lay out the details of the merger and how savings will be accomplished. MTA documents had reported that merging the two commuter lines could save $30 million but did not outline how that would be done.

The legislators' concerns echo those of the commuter councils of both railroads, who authored a similar letter to MTA chairman Peter Kalikow in December. "Riders are concerned ... and have cited other corporate mergers and the disarray that followed when seeking information and answers to problems," read the letter.

Beverly Dolinsky, executive director of the Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee to the MTA, said yesterday that the riders' groups had received a response from Lapp, but her letter did not provide details.

Lapp said in her response that the merger will allow the MTA to operate the commuter lines more cost effectively and provide high quality service. Also, the MTA will be able to share practices and reduce redundant administrative services.

"We have not heard what the nitty gritty is going to be," Dolinsky said. "And it is very hard for us to conceive of how these railroads are going to be merged. I hope they [the legislators] get a more substantive response than we have."

Friday, January 31, 2003

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