A different sort of rail journey
Going into today I knew that I’d have to be in Stony Brook in the early evening. As I would be working at a transit-friendly site in central Brooklyn this would be my chance to get the LIRR from Stony Brook for the first time in years. While the train ride from Stony Brook is longer than that from Ronkonkoma, it is a diesel line and therefore uses the diesel-pulled coaches which have much nicer seats than the electric trains on the Ronkonkoma line. Of course that isn’t saying much, given that the electric trains have seats designed for midget anorectic quadruple amputees.
Stony Brook’s platform had an undeniably bleak, end-of-the-Earth aura about it in the predawn hours. It’s located on the state university campus but relatively isolated from most campus buildings. There were maybe 12 to 15 people boarding the 6:09 to Jamaica when it arrived, which is probably half the number of people that would be boarding a single car of a Ronkonkoma train. Hey, I’m not about to complain. Given that Stony Brook is the first stop for westbound trains after the Port Jefferson terminal they do tend to be quite empty when they arrive in the morning. I sat on the top level of the second car in the 6-car consist, and by the time it stopped at Huntington the level was maybe two-thirds full. Huntington being the furthest extent of electrification on the Port Jefferson line it’s sometimes necessary to change there for electric trains. This train, however, went through to Jamaica, with a stop along the way at Mineola.
I had an across-the-platform change to a Brooklyn train at Jamaica and made it to Atlantic Terminal right on time. As I was going to the Beverley Road stop on the Brighton Line I would have to take the Q train, that being a local stop not served by the B express. On two previous occasions I had noticed that the Q’s outnumbered the B’s in the morning. Not today, of course. It must have been at least 15 minutes until a Q came lumbering along, in the meantime three B’s had come and gone. Beverley Road is in an open cut, with narrow platforms and a small quaint-looking stationhouse elevated above the tracks at street level. It looks like something you’d see on a lightly traveled suburban train line rather than on the subway. Beverley Road’s other claim to fame is that the distance between it and the next station on the line, Cortelyou Road, is the shortest distance between any of the 450+ stations on the system. From the south end of Beverley’s platforms to the north end of Cortelyou’s is less than 600 feet, which is less than the standard train length.
When I walked to the worksite on Flatbush Avenue I saw one of the city’s more unconventional transportation options in use. Although Flatbush Avenue is a very busy commercial street surrounded by high-density residential blocks, for most of its length there is no convenient subway service (Beverley Road and the rest of the Brighton Line is a several minutes’ walk away). The city buses that serve Flatbush Avenue get caught up in the road’s heavy traffic and make very slow progress. Entrepreneurial citizens have filled the gap by operating “dollar vans” along Flatbush Avenue, 15-passenger Econoline vans that can be hailed like taxis and which offer rides up and down the street for, well, a dollar. They dart in and out of traffic, not always with a great deal of concern about traffic laws, and are much faster than the lumbering buses. For years the city tried to shut down the dollar vans, but eventually gave up trying. Dollar vans also can be seen in the vicinity of the Jamaica LIRR station.
I finished my work for the day before 2pm, and decided that I’d take advantage of the early hour, along with my need to be in Stony Brook in the early evening, to do some walking in Manhattan. Again, it’s something I haven’t done in years. I took the Q to Atlantic Avenue and then changed to a 2 train, which I rode to Wall Street, its first stop in Manhattan. For the next couple of hours I followed a meandering route to Penn Station. Work was progressing nicely on the Fulton Street transit center and, a block away, at the World Trade Center. What both of these projects have in common is that they are prime illustrations of Typical New York Incompetence in action, as they have been dragging on for years with completion still a ways off. Projects of similar magnitude in other cities would have been completed in a fraction of the time.
These grumblings aside, and sore feet notwithstanding, I enjoyed my excursion, and arrived at Penn in time to get the 4:49 to Port Jefferson. It uses “dual mode” locomotives that allow it to run under electric power through Penn Station and the river tunnels and then switch to diesel power to serve the unelectrified territory east of Huntington. Dual modes also operate on the Montauk Line to allow direct service east of Babylon. While changing trains at Jamaica/Huntington/Babylon is hardly an ordeal, it is more convenient to be able to stay on the same train to one’s destination. As in the morning I rode on the upper level of a car near the head of the consist, but unlike the morning it was packed when we left. Fortunately, the larger seats as compared to electric trains means there’s no worry about whether the person in the next seat will be under 300 pounds or not! It was an easy ride, and I got to Stony Brook on time.