The Long Island Railroad has launched a public campaign to win support for a plan they say will eliminate a major commuter headache -- a second LIRR track between Ronkonkoma and Farmingdale.
"Two tracks are better than one!" was the chant led by the LIRR's president and a crowd of elected officials at the Ronkonkoma train station Wednesday.
Now, only one track covers the 18-mile stretch between the two towns, and when something goes wrong there, commuters are left stranded.
"It's a nightmare," said LIRR Commuter's Council Chairman Mark Epstein. "If one train gets stuck in Ronkonkoma, the entire line out of Farmingdale is stopped cold."
Past efforts to build the second track have been stymied or delayed by the high cost of the project, but New York's legislature just advanced more than $100 million to jump-start construction.
Work will begin later this year on a 4-mile stretch of track between Ronkonkoma and Central Islip. It should be completed by 2016.
"It will provide a more reliable commute," said LIRR president Helena Williams. "We'll be able to offer express services, which shaves off travel time and we'll be able to go around problems."
One problem the LIRR has yet to get around is funding the other 14 miles of track. That phase would cost roughly $300 million to complete.
"We're going to fight to accelerate that second phase," said State Sen. Charles Fuschillo.
The high cost is worth paying, supporters argued, because the benefits go far beyond helping commuters. The project, they said, will provide jobs and boost the local economy.
"When we improve infrastructure, you stimulate growth," said Farmingdale Village Mayor Ralph Ekstrand. According to the mayor, developers are waiting in line to move forward with so-called "transit-oriented developments" of housing and retail space near his village's station.
The Commuter's Council plans to lobby state lawmakers for the funding needed, and the LIRR has opened a double-track information center in Ronkonkoma to urge all commuters to get behind the plan.