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LIRR Ends East End Shuttle Initiative

June 27, 2008

By Mitchell Freedman, Newsday, Melville, N.Y.

Jun. 27–The very last East End Shuttle, a four-car train out of Montauk, pulled into the Speonk railroad station at 5:33 p.m., right on time.

More than a dozen passengers got out, and — a few minutes later — Engine 510 gave a throaty diesel roar, the horn sounded, and what was one of the most popular trains ever run by the Long Island Rail Road moved a few hundred yards east, into a rail yard and into history.

In its short life, the special commuter run became wildly popular with thousands of South Fork commuters who found their trip time cut in half.

Even the conductors were a little sad. “We’re going to miss it,” said Rose Ballou. “Everyone knows everyone on the train.”

Her partner, Colleen Lamb, said it was clear that this was a different kind of train the first time she saw the passengers. “They were all friendly to each other,” she said. “They didn’t even know how to give you their tickets.”

The Shuttle, created in October as a way for drivers to avoid massive construction delays on County Road 39 — the main east-west road in Southampton — became so popular that its shutdown date was extended twice.

The final three round trips were made yesterday, the last possible date that those cars could be used before being assigned to new summer runs.

Whole groups of workers from Southampton Hospital and Southampton Town Hall and the East Hampton school system would make the commute on the shuttle each day.

Tracey Lutz, executive director of The Retreat, an East End shelter for battered women, said a half-dozen people from her organization rode the shuttle daily and found the train gave them time to talk. “You get to know each other and to talk, things you don’t do in the office,” she said.

Oddly, yesterday, she was the only one from the group on the 5:33 p.m. to Speonk. “It’s the last day of the train and I’m all by myself,” she said wistfully.

LIRR president Helena Williams said it took nearly $1 million in grants from federal, state and local governments to operate the shuttle and the feeder bus network that went from local stations across Southampton and East Hampton.

“The most wonderful thing about it was the customer reaction,” she said. “Back in November and December the ridership was at full throttle … in November we had more than 8,000 total passengers, 6,600 in December and almost 7,000 in January.”

But early completion of work on County Road 39 in May and the end of school caused a serious drop in ridership. It was down to 3,240 in May, and June is expected to be even less. Officials said it is unlikely the shuttle will start up again, although data obtained from the service will become part of an East End regional transportation plan.

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Copyright (c) 2008, Newsday, Melville, N.Y.

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