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Going cheap can cost you on Amtrak: Getting There




It was the railroad trip from hell: the hottest day of the year, stuck for five hours on a sold-out Amtrak train where only half the cars had air conditioning.

The ride to Washington days earlier had been uneventful, almost on time and pleasantly cool, even though I’d made the mistake of taking a Northeast Corridor train, not Acela. Its older Amfleet cars, though recently refurbished on the inside, are still 50 years old.

But coming back from Washington on a torrid Sunday, by going cheap for the slower, less expensive train, I got what I paid for. Put another way, I didn’t get what I paid for.

Already a half-hour late arriving in Washington from Newport News Va., train No. 88 arrived on one of the low-level platforms, meaning boarding passengers had to cue up for about 30 minutes before even being allowed on the platform to board.

One of the station agents said “extra cars” had been added in Washington, so I immediately headed to the front of the train where I assumed the new cars would be empty. It was already 98 degrees in D.C., heading for a “feels like” high that day of 110, so I was looking forward to the super-AC Amtrak is known for.

No such luck, as even the newly added cars were only slightly cooler than outside. That’ll improve when we get going, I thought. Wrong!

By Baltimore, it was getting hot and the fan system was intermittent. Pleas for help to the conductors brought nothing more than promises that “they’ll try to reset the system in Philly,” another hour away.

In desperation, I turned to social media, Tweeting sarcastically about Amtrak’s new “sauna cars.” Direct messaging to @Amtrak brought no response.

The train was getting later and later on its schedule, partly because of the heat’s adverse effect on the power lines and potential warping of the rails. Knowing there would be a lot of passengers getting off and on in Philly, I plotted my move to one of the few cars with breathable air. Success: a cooler, though not cold, car with seats.

At Philadelphia, nothing changed, though we did learn that five of the 10 cars on this train bound for Boston carrying 700-plus passengers were without air conditioning.

The D.C. conductor crew never apologized, though they did offer small, free bottles of water, which quickly ran out. But when a new set of conductors boarded in New York, the tone changed significantly.

“We apologize, folks. This is not the kind of service we want to provide or you deserve. Please call 1-800-USA-RAIL and register a complaint. If the cars don’t reset after New York, we’ll try again at New Haven,” one conductor said on the PA system.

We got off in Stamford, arriving 90 minutes late, so I don’t know if the cars ever did get cooler during the next four hours to Boston.

The next day, I called Amtrak customer service. A veteran agent with more than 20 years experience commiserated, empathized and got me a refund voucher.

“Those old Amfleet cars shouldn’t be refurbished, they should be retired,” she said. “Their air conditioning is either on or off. There’s no moderating the temperature. Next time you should take Acela,” she added.

Never mind that Acela costs twice as much. Its AC works and it’s mostly on time. I’ve learned from my mistakes.


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MTA News

The MTA’s union needs to check its privilege





According to Transport Workers Union chief John Samuelson, the MTA’s efforts to rein in overtime and pension abuse amount to “creating a hostile [work] environment.”

Wow. Check your privilege, John. The reason your members — and workers represented by other MTA unions — face treatment as if they might be criminals is that some of them clearly are defrauding the public.

Sure, the very worst seem to be certain employees of the Long Island Rail Road, not the subway and bus workers repped by the TWU. But it wasn’t LIRR workers who cut the cables on new subway timeclocks meant to replace honor-system timesheets.

And kudos to MTA boss Pat Foye for requesting contract changes to let the agency deny and even revoke pension benefits for workers who commit overtime fraud — which regularly inflates pensions.

It’s not remotely guaranteed that the MTA will get those fixes. Samuelson is already threatening “strikes across the entire MTA system” over the issue, even though most of those strikes would be illegal.

And never mind that the objective evidence is that far too many workers have been claiming hours they couldn’t possibly have worked.

On the downside, the MTA’s financial projections now assume that it will get major cost savings from ending these abuses, as called for in the Transformation Plan pushed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and endorsed by the Legislature.

The Citizens Budget Commission rightly notes that those estimated hundreds of millions in savings ignore “serious barriers to its implementation,” such as Samuelson, his fellow union bosses and their entrenched power. “Highly optimistic” is how the CBC terms that financial plan, and the watchdog is clearly right — unless the unions decide that the public has had enough.

Most MTA workers are not thieves, but their unions are determined to protect the thieves among them because . . . union solidarity?

More likely, labor leaders figure the average New Yorker is too blinded by pro-union sentiment to realize what a racket this is. Here’s hoping Cuomo, Foye and all the rest of management have the guts to put that to the test.

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MTA News

Transit advocates say 14th St. lawsuit cost bus riders a year’s worth of time




14th st. new york

The battle to get most cars off 14th St. is heating up.

A lawsuit blocking the city’s Department of Transportation from restricting car traffic on the the crosstown corridor has kicked bus riders in the shins, transit advocates argue in court papers they plan to file Monday.

Rush-hour riders on 14th St. crosstown buses have spent a combined 8,654 extra hours commuting over the last month than they would have if cars were not in their way, say the groups, which include Riders Alliance and Transportation Alternatives.

The groups plan to tell Manhattan Supreme Court judge Eileen Rakower of their findings in the court filing. Rakower is due to hold a hearing Tuesday on a lawsuit brought by lower Manhattan community groups who say it’s unfair for the city to hinder their right to drive.

The community groups’ lawyer, Arthur Schwartz, in June convinced Rakower to issue an emergency order that stopped the city from restricting traffic until the court came to a final ruling.
The DOT’s plan, originally planned to take effect on July 1, is meant to speed buses on the M14 route, which runs along 14th St. and is one of the slowest in the city.

The city’s plan would ban through traffic on 14th St. between Third and Ninth avenues. Cars making pickups, drop-offs and accessing local garages would get a pass.

Riders Alliance spokesman Danny Pearlstein said the lawsuit that led the city to delay implementing the new traffic rules has hurt working class New Yorkers and benefitted privileged car owners.
The advocates point out that the median annual income in downtown areas like Greenwich Village is well above $100,000 a year, while bus riders on average make just over $28,000 a year.

“If you’re wealthy and powerful and are a big fancy lawyer or someone who has access to that easily, in a way you have to check yourself,” said Pearlstein. “There’s all this actual time that’s been wasted that could have been put to different purposes in these people’s lives.”

Schwartz in June convinced Rakower to issue an emergency order that stopped the city from restricting traffic until the court came to a final ruling.



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Islanders arena project at Belmont Park now includes new LIRR station




lirr new york

A Long Island Rail Road station will be built at Belmont Park as part of a proposed $1.3 billion arena and entertainment complex aimed at bringing the New York Islanders back to Nassau County, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced Monday.

New York Arena Partners, the development group seeking to build the project on state land at Belmont, has agreed to pay $97 million of the $105 million to build the station, state officials said. The development group is a partnership of the owners of the Islanders, New York Mets and the arena development company, Oak View Group.

The expanded LIRR service, which has been discussed for years, is considered critical to the success of the proposed 19,000-seat arena, 350,000 square feet of retail space, restaurants and a 250-room hotel. State officials said Monday that the developers had reduced the size of the retail plaza from 435,000 square feet and dropped plans for a movie theater in response to community opposition.
The new Elmont Station will be attached to the LIRR’s Main Line, just north of Belmont Park, and will allow riders from the east to take the train directly to Belmont. Currently, LIRR commuters from the east must go to Jamaica Station and backtrack to the park. Riders from the west already have direct access to the park through a part-time Belmont station.

“The Belmont project will help drive the region’s economy forward while building the Islanders a state-of-the-art facility at home on Long Island, creating thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars in economic output along the way,” Cuomo said. “Now, with the addition of the first full-time LIRR train station in almost 50 years, we will provide millions of visitors and fans a fast and affordable way to get there.”

Plans for the new station were announced only hours before the Empire State Development Corp., the state agency responsible for attracting economic development to the public land at Belmont, released its final study on the environmental impact of the arena proposal.

To build the LIRR station, state officials said the developers will initially contribute $30 million and the state will cover the remaining $75 million. The developers will then pay back the state $67 million of that figure over time, officials said. Details of that arrangement are not yet available.

The new station is expected to be partially open for service for eastbound customers — going from Manhattan to Long Island — in 2021, at the time of the arena project opening, according to a state-commissioned analysis of the project conducted by BJH Advisors LLC. The station, partially located in Elmont and the other half in Bellerose Terrace, will be fully operational for both eastbound and westbound customers in 2023, the analysis said.

The train stop — located between the Bellerose and Queens VIllage stations — will be the first, new year-round LIRR station built since 1976, when the railroad opened a station on the Southampton LIU campus. The lightly used station was dismantled in 1998. The last new full-time LIRR station that still is operable is Massapequa Park, built in 1933.

Trains will stop at the new Elmont station every half-hour during peak times and every hour during off-peak times. Electric shuttle buses operated by the developer will take LIRR riders to the arena, hotel and retail village. The station, which is three-quarters of a mile from the arena, will be built entirely on existing LIRR property.

The station platform will be large enough to serve 10-12 LIRR cars. The station, which will be ADA compliant, will have an overpass with elevators connecting the north and south side platforms, the LIRR said. Other amenities include platform canopies and shelter sheds, LED lighting, electronic signage, benches, charging ports, an art installation and bicycle racks, according to a LIRR spokesman.
“We are delighted by this plan, which allows us to provide full-time year-round service to the Elmont community and a second station at the redeveloped Belmont Park, all at no construction cost to the LIRR,” railroad president Phil Eng said. “This new station will allow us to provide direct service to Belmont from Long Island as well as from New York City with trains traveling on our Main Line, which is being expanded to a third track for greater service reliability and flexibility.”

The parking lot north of the Belmont racetrack, which has 2,860 spaces, will be shared by weekday LIRR commuters and arena patrons, with 150 devoted strictly for LIRR customers, according to the LIRR. There is no dedicated parking available at the Queens Village station and the parking lot at the Bellerose station is small and limited for village residents.

The existing Belmont railroad station, which operates only during the track’s horse-racing season, will remain open but is not equipped to handle regular train service. The station, a spur off the LIRR’s Main Line, is only accessible from Jamaica Station.

Previously agreed-to upgrades to the existing LIRR Belmont spur, including the installation of automated track switches, are still included in the project, providing another transit option after arena events, state officials said.
Vehicular traffic along the Queens-Nassau border was among the major concerns about the proposed project, which has been going through the state approval process since December 2017. ESD began to study the feasibility of a new LIRR station on the Main Line in April.

“Today we celebrate with our loyal fans and we thank Governor Cuomo, the elected officials, and the community for their ongoing support,” Islanders co-owner Jon Ledecky said. “Next Stop: Belmont!”

State lawmakers applauded the train station as a critical linchpin for the Belmont development.

“The addition of a full-time train station to serve Belmont Park and the surrounding community is critical to the success of the Belmont redevelopment project, and it’s a huge win for my constituents who will finally have a stop on the LIRR Main Line,” said State Sen. Anna Kaplan (D-Great Neck), whose district includes Belmont Park.

State Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach), whose district includes Elmont, called the station an “indispensable part of the proposed complex at Belmont because it provides a green alternative to overcrowding area roads and offers Elmont residents access to their own, long-sought-after station.”

But Floral Park residents and elected officials, who testified against the project at the ESD hearing, questioned the benefits of the LIRR station for their community. They urged state officials to study the proximity of the station to homes in Floral Park and the elementary school that borders the northeast side of Belmont Park.

“That station is good to have, but it’s not a panacea,” said Dana Weissman, 66, who has lived in Floral Park for 45 years.


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