Readers Write: Hoppe left tough act to follow at the LIRR

Grace McQuade

There is more to the first anniversary of the passing of former Metropolitan Transportation Authority Long Island Rail Road President Charles Hoppe.

He inherited construction of the ongoing Jamaica Hillside Yard and Shop project from his predecessor, Bruce McIver, who served as LIRR President from 1985 to 1989.

This maintenance facility was designed to support LIRR’s electric fleet of almost 1,000 cars.

It was being built at the old Gimbels department store Jamaica warehouse site.

Construction of the Hillside Maintenance facility was several years behind schedule.

Work began in January 1985 with an estimated cost of $215 million.

By May 1989, the project was already $140 million over budget with a significant number of change orders.

The final project cost was anticipated to be $393 million.

Due to ongoing problems with this project, the U.S. Department of Transportation Urban Mass Transportation Administration (today known as the Federal Transit Administration) made a determination that the LIRR lacked technical capacity for management of this and other major construction projects.

In March 1989, UMTA suspended the LIRR’s eligibility to receive any new federal funding.

Hoppe restored UMTA’s confidence in rebuilding the LIRR’s technical capacity by successfully completing the Hillside Maintenance facility and managing the $100 million Harold Interlocking project (using 100 percent local MTA funding).   Under Hoppe’s watch, UMTA once again became confident in the LIRR and two years later restored its eligibility for receipt of federal funding.

UMTA went on to provide $200 million for the original Penn Station improvements project versus today’s version sponsored by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Both the Harold Interlocking and Penn Station improvement projects were successfully completed on time, within budget and without significant numbers of change orders to the construction contracts.

One significant failure under Hoppe was a future fatal flaw in the purchase of both duel mode locomotives and double-decker passenger cars.

Those responsible for design, engineering and bid specifications to support procurement of duel mode locomotives and double decker passenger cars failed to take into consideration height clearances for the 63rd Street tunnel between Manhattan and Queens.

(Construction on this tunnel began in 1969 designed to be used at a future date to provide the LIRR with a direct connection to Grand Central Terminal).

As a result, the LIRR fleet of 23 diesel-electric and 23 duel-mode locomotives along with 134 double- decker passenger cars will not be able to utilize East Side Access for future service to Grand Central Terminal.

The anticipated revenue service date has slipped on numerous occasions from originally 2011.

(Some elected officials with no background in what it actually takes to construct a major transportation project promised 2009).

The MTA “corporate party line” claim (based upon the most recent project recovery schedule which has also changed numerous times during the life of the project) calls for a December 2023 opening day passenger service.

Based upon previous history of delays, changes in procurement strategy, re advertising of contracts, change orders to contracts, re sequencing of work, recovery schedules, cost overruns, budget issues and coordination issues with Amtrak including providing construction contractors with insufficient track outage time necessary to perform work, don’t be surprised if first day of passenger service occurs in 2024 or later.

Thousands of daily LIRR riders from diesel territory branches (including those commuting from stations east of Huntington to Port Jefferson, east of Mineola to Oyster Bay, east of Babylon to Speonk or Montauk and east of Ronkonkoma to Greenport) will still have to change at Jamaica for those traveling to or from the future LIRR Grand Central Terminal or Atlantic Avenue Brooklyn.

When the Oyster Bay branch is converted to a permanent scoot shuttle service, riders on that line will also have to switch at Mineola including rush hours.

Hoppe served as LIRR President from 1990 to 1994.

In the eyes of many transportation experts, he moved the LIRR capital improvements program from the dog house to the penthouse.

Under his watch, it was expected that capital projects would be completed on time, within budget, without significant numbers of change orders to construction contracts and minimal inconveniences to riders during construction.

Current LIRR President Patrick Nowakowski continues to have a tough act to follow.

Larry Penner

Great Neck

(Larry Penner is a transportation historian and advocate who previously worked 31 years for the US Department of Transportation Federal Transit Administration Region 2 NY Office)

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