The following excerpts are from an article by Raymond Janis that was published on page A4 of the February 9th, 2023 editions of TBR News Media group’s newspapers. You can read the entire piece here.
Throughout LIRR’s history as a public railroad company, North Shore riders have lost out consistently to their inland counterparts traveling along the Ronkonkoma line. Richard Murdocco, adjunct professor in the Department of Political Science at SBU, chronicled this pattern, saying the pursuit of Port Jeff Branch electrification continues running up against the hard realities of the MTA’s prioritization scheme.
“The question is: Is electrification really the priority on the North Shore, or should you electrify east of Ronkonkoma?” Murdocco said. Given the spur of recent growth in Yaphank and new developments in the Town of Riverhead, he added, “If I’m the MTA, I’m electrifying the East End before I electrify the North Shore.”
Further hampering investment into the Port Jeff Branch is the topography along its route. Given the large hills and frequent bends, the flatter main line may win the day for its comparably simple engineering logistics.
Murdocco said the MTA could either electrify the Port Jeff Branch, which “meanders along the hilly terrain, or you get a straight shot through the Pine Barrens, where there’s already talk of them doing it, where they’re welcoming it and where there are no neighbors to disrupt.”
Even so, the MTA is encountering a systemwide economic crisis from the COVID-19 pandemic, with daily ridership hovering around 65% from pre-pandemic levels. Murdocco insists that many of the labor trends unleashed by COVID-19 will likely linger indefinitely.
“There’s no denying remote work is here to stay,” the SBU adjunct professor said, adding, “We don’t know how long the ramifications of the pandemic will last.”
Penner, Stadler and Murdocco expressed collective pessimism about Port Jefferson Branch electrification getting underway within the next decade. “As of right now, I do not see this project happening within 10 years because I do not see a fiscal way for anyone to pay for it, given the MTA’s current financial status,” Murdocco said.