For a number of years now, people have been talking about making more extensive use of the Long Island Railroad tracks that go from Montauk to Westhampton and Riverhead and then out the North Fork to Greenport. There’s an organization called the Five Towns Rural Transit group that’s been active since 2004 pushing for this. As far as regular trains go, at the present time, if you didn’t know the schedule, you could wait for up to six hours for a train to come by. There’s usually just two or three a day. The trains only go straight in to New York City or straight out from there. There is no crossover between the North Fork-bound train and the Hamptons-bound train. [expand]
Why not make use of the 60-mile track for inter-town travel? Unused tracks connect up the North Fork and South Fork branches. Not incidentally, those tracks would serve as a further link to bring all the five towns together as a single unit. The five towns have tried for years to break off from Suffolk County and form a separate “Peconic County.” We even have a Peconic County flag. The five towns are Southampton, East Hampton, Riverhead, Shelter Island and Southold.
Well now our state assemblyman, Fred Thiele, has just gotten passed a bill that will actually establish such a rail connection! The train will be administered by the MTA and run by the LIRR, and will consist of five separate trains of two cars each, going back and forth and back and forth as a shuttle from Eastport to Montauk and Ronkonkoma to Greenport. These trains would have smaller diesel engines than the big LIRR train locomotives. And they will burn less fuel. The engine and the two cars it pulls will be called “Scoots” and if you do the math—the trains will operate 18 hours a day in season and 14 hours a day out of season—you will see that it will be possible for a Scoot Train to be coming along to any one station every hour on the hour. You’d just have to know what that hour would be at your station, go over there a little before and hop on. And as you know, for the most part, the stations are right in the center of town.
The fact that there is only one track on the North Fork and Hampton routes (with sidings to let others pass) might make for problems, but that’s just a bit of careful scheduling and the LIRR has been doing that successfully for years. In the future, when the LIRR Cannonball from New York City comes roaring through in the early evening every day, the Scoots will have to run for cover.
I’m told that years ago there was a Scoot between Greenport and Riverhead. But I don’t know anything about it. What I do know about was a Scoot that ran from Bridgehampton to Sag Harbor every day between 1870 and 1939. That six-mile trip back then was taken in a Scoot about the size of a streetcar trolly. It went from the Bridgehampton Station all the way to Sag Harbor and right out Long Wharf. Yes, there were train tracks going to the end of Long Wharf. Produce and merchandise could be loaded onto or off of the trains to the ships. This service even survived a train wreck in the 1920s, when an incoming train keeled over on its side and slid out the wharf.
There’s an interesting story connected with the Sag Harbor Scoot. In early times, a very straight road was driven between Bridgehampton and Sag Harbor that was a toll road. You’d pay a woman or man in a booth a fee, and your horse and wagon could then have one use of this six-mile road. The fee varied depending on what you were hauling. The road itself was privately owned, which is how they could get away with charging for it. The toll road was in business for 60 years or so, and then the owners closed it—maintenance did not equal the income. But it’s still called “The Bridgehampton-Sag Harbor Turnpike.”
In 1870, when the LIRR surveyed for their trackage to the Hamptons, they set track out from New York City to Southampton and Bridgehampton, then turned northward and ended in Sag Harbor. There was no trackage in East Hampton and Montauk for the next 25 years. The “scoot,” however, ran to Sag Harbor for half a century, along with the regular train. But in 1939 the little scoot was abandoned and in 1942, the tracks were all torn up. The army needed the steel for the war effort. (World War II.)
At the present time, there are numerous ways that the North and South Forks get linked up. There is a County Bus that does the horseshoe but on the highways. There is an inland waterways taxi that takes you out from Sag Harbor by boat to somewhere else in Peconic Bay and back. And, beginning last year, a shuttle bus that took you to the beach in East Hampton from the Lumber Lane parking lot.
Almost everybody thinks having the new Scoot is a wonderful idea. The only person publicly objecting to it is Commissioner Bill Aspinall of the privately-owned Hampton Subway System. He says if they want a North Fork connection, he will build one underground.
Well, he’s been overruled. The new Scoot should be in place for the summer of 2014.
By the way, “Peconic County” is the name we chose 20 years ago when we first started lobbying for the new county. The name was chosen because all the five towns are linked together by Peconic Bay. Each town has waterfront on this Bay.
Personally, I have never liked the name Peconic County. It’s kind of blaah. Since our requests have been rebuffed for all these 20 years we’ve been trying to do this, I would suggest we try a new, and more zippy name. I like Five Towns County. What do you think?