You can take a train from the North Fork to New York City on a Friday.
But you’re not coming back until Monday right now.
The Long Island Rail Road still has not restored weekend service on the North Fork during the winter months, something it had before 2010, when the Metropolitan Transportation Authority eliminated it as part of systemwide cuts.
Now some local residents and officials are hoping to change that. But some say it’s looking like an uphill battle.
“Ridership on weekend Greenport trains is historically very light in the off-season, generally less than 30 people per train,” said MTA spokesman Sal Arena. “Given the high cost of operating this service and the low utilization, there are no plans at present to restore weekend service to Greenport between December and May.”
“That’s the biggest issue right now — getting weekend train service restored to the North Fork year-round,” said Jim Ellwood of Riverhead, a member of 5 Town Rural Transit and of the East End Transportation Council, two groups that aim to improve public transportation in the five East End towns. He’s been trying to get local chambers of commerce and other organizations on board to call for restored service.
The LIRR and its parent, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, cut year-round weekend service on the North Fork for the period from October to Memorial Day in October 2010.
In 2012, it restored about 10 more weeks, so that North Fork service ended around the beginning of December and resumed around the beginning of May, Mr. Ellwood said.
The EETC is planning on sending a letter to the MTA urging a restoration of the year-round North Fork service, according to its chair, Heather Lanza.
Even the LIRR service that remains on the North Fork isn’t much. On weekdays, it has four eastbound trains and five westbound trains to Riverhead, and only two eastbound trains and three westbound trains from Greenport.
Anthony Palumbo, (R-New Suffolk), the North Fork’ s representative in the state assembly, said he, South Fork Assemblyman Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor) and state Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) met with MTA Chairman and CEO Thomas Prendergast about a year ago on the level of service the LIRR provides on the East End, and did not leave the meeting feeling enthusiastic.
“What I gleaned from our two hour conversation with him is that it all comes down to ridership,” Mr. Palumbo said in an interview. “They are running as a business. Unfortunately for them, they are not a private business, so I had a big problem with that and I continue to have a big problem with it. We pay our fair share of taxes for the MTA, so why aren’t we getting the full service? Just because it is not a profitable line doesn’t mean we should be excluded.”
He added that part of the reason the LIRR doesn’t have the ridership on the North Fork is because people don’t have the trains.
“Obviously, if people could count on the trains, the ridership would go up,” he said.
Bryan DeLuca, the president of the East End Tourism Alliance, said his group also is backing increased rail services on the North Fork.
For the past three years, they’ve done an event called “Taste of the North Fork” around Veterans’ Day, which involves bringing people from New York City out to the North Fork by train, and then having free “hop-on, hop-off” buses at the train stations to take them to local vineyards, breweries, restaurants and other attractions.
“It’s clearly evident that people who live in the city and don’t have vehicles will comfortably get on a train and then get on a bus to enjoy the assets of our region,” Mr. DeLuca said.
About 2,500 people from the city came to the North Fork over the course of two Saturdays, he said.
Mitch Pally, Suffolk County’s representative on the MTA board, said in an interview that no one has asked him to discuss increased North Fork service with the MTA board so far. The MTA traditionally assessed what service additions or subtractions it should make at its July meeting, he said.
“If my friends on the East End would like this to be considered, I’m more than happy to do so,” Mr. Pally said.
Photo: A Long Island Rail Road train crosses Factory Avenue in Mattituck en route from Riverhead to Greenport. (Credit: Grant Parpan)