Looks like the Long Island Rail Road finally has discovered Brooklyn. Or, at least, how popular Brooklyn has become.
Now, the question is whether the LIRR can provide a smooth ride to those for whom Brooklyn is a home base — or a destination.
The LIRR’s effort to upgrade its station at Jamaica is designed to allow the hub to handle more train traffic, while the railroad modernizes and improves the complex system of switches that slows trains there. It includes a new platform and track on the south end to provide a new way for commuters to go to and from Brooklyn.
Improving the Jamaica station is necessary and welcome. The hub, which sees 280,000 trips a day, is the critical connection between Long Island and NYC. And big regional projects, like the East Side Access connection to Grand Central Terminal, will work only if that work is done. But as of now, the Jamaica plan would mean the end of the one-seat ride from Long Island to Brooklyn and back, a direct ride 137 trains make each weekday. Instead, riders would have to switch trains in a way that would add considerable minutes to their trips and present a hardship for those with mobility issues, strollers or baggage.
What’s more, Brooklyn’s recent economic growth has generated significantly greater use of Atlantic Terminal, which now is the beginning or end to about 21,800 trips a day. A lot of Long Islanders work in Brooklyn, and many in Brooklyn want to go east. Too often, NYC-based job candidates turn down offers from Long Island employers because of the lack of reverse-commuting options.
It seems some of the original plans were shortsighted. Now, LIRR President Phillip Eng says he will take another look. The LIRR should try to operate some direct trains to Brooklyn, while stopping others. What’s more, as MTA officials plan big projects like the Second Avenue subway and make smaller changes, like shifting bus routes, they must be able to predict shifts in rider patterns from future job growth and be flexible in their plans. If the MTA builds with an eye to the future, everyone could benefit.