LIRR Cannonball illustrates need for better rail

How to meet the ever-growing demand.

For New York City travelers headed out east on Friday afternoons in the summer, the Cannonball is a fast, fun and frugal option. The 4:06 p.m. express train from Penn Station makes it to Westhampton in 95 minutes, then stops at three more Hamptons stations on the way to Montauk.

The trip is less than $50 each way. Reserved seats in some cars come with bar service. Now in its second summer of originating at Penn Station, the Cannonball regularly sells more tickets than it has seats. That’s fine: Long Island Rail Road policy allows passengers to stand in the aisles. What it no longer allows is huge suitcases blocking aisles or people sitting on them.

That had become a problem recently, as illustrated in a recent WCBS/2 report. But a LIRR crackdown a week ago and calls from the Federal Railroad Administration to eliminate big bags and to properly stow smaller ones seem to have helped. The agency and LIRR are right to make changes. For safety, aisles must be clear.

But the bigger issue is how to meet the ever-growing demand for transportation to and from Long Island’s East End. The Cannonball is one of 10 trains that run to the Hamptons on Fridays. They’re packed. The LIRR can’t run more because of equipment and scheduling limitations. So it’s worth looking at what’s needed to increase service.

MTA officials say improved LIRR infrastructure to the east is necessary if service is to improve. If the LIRR were able to offer 95-minute commutes between Penn Station and the Hamptons all year, more New Yorkers could enjoy that beautiful area. In fact, better infrastructure is needed in the entire region. That would be a big commitment, but it makes sense.

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