The Long Island Railroad is announcing plans for the first non-stop express service direct from Penn Station to Westhampton Beach this summer.
A 94-minute, non-stop ride to the East End is in the offering for the looming summer beach season as the LIRR has announced plans to run its Cannonball train non-stop from Penn Station every Friday from May 24 through Labor Day. The one-seat ride will skip Jamaica and head straight to Westhampton with subsequent stops at Southampton East Hampton, Bridgehampton and Montauk. The Friday train will depart Penn Station at 4:07 p.m. with westbound service — including a stop at Jamaica — departing Montauk at 6:37 p.m. on Sunday nights.
“There’s no better way to get from Manhattan to the Hamptons,” LIRR President Helena E. Williams said in a statement. “Our customers have long asked for a one-seat ride from Penn Station to the Hamptons and we are listening to them. This move eliminates the need to change trains with baggage at Jamaica.”
With a 34 percent increase in summer ridership last year, the LIRR is hoping to boost service along the Montauk Branch. The speedy ride east will cost passengers $27, and passengers have the option to reserve a seat for an additional fee. Previously, such Cannonball service had originated at the Hunterspoint Avenue Terminal in Long Island City with many riders picking up the train at Jamaica, and the new service does away with the transfer. For Hamptons-bound travelers, the Cannonball train has been a mainstay since the 1890s, and it remains both the longest route and the only one with a name operated by the MTA.
The Cannonball did operate from Penn Station for many years – the only thing “new” is skipping Jamaica.
Someone with the right timetables might find the timing issue of 94 minutes to Westhampton being “new” a bit overblown.
The East End Service was extremely popular with the Smart Set in the 1960s – and there were lots of very rich and very well-known celebrities riding LIRR trains (I remember Zsa Zsa Gabor screaming at us in Southampton ticket office one Sunday afternoon because the parlor cars to NY were sold out). I also remember Dick Cavett talking about people he met riding the LIRR Parlor Cars on his late-night TV shows too. This was a big deal in the days when the other railroads were degrading and discontinuing passenger services as fast as possible – to the point of some pretty big ,marquis names musing about why other railroads weren’t emulating the LIRR!
This was a time when some of the movers and shakers would ride the LIRR Parlor Cars, but have their helicopters sent on ahead “for emergency” rather than the later system of turning parts of the North Shore into scene reminiscent of “Apocalypse Now!” which might contribute to the feeling that the modern Hamptons-set is worthy of all the denunciations they get (Sorry – it’s not about making money – it’s how they spend it harassing others in this discussion).
The MTA takeover meant that the LIRR was a “transit” operation and not for premium, smart-set, celebrity driven (encouraged?) marketing doomed the service and ended up with it being deliberately degraded.
Hampton Jitney had the “right” political connections and its owners contributed hefty campaign contributions to push this along, and today’s service, while busy, has neither the potential nor the cachet that the LIRR once offered.
So historically, celebrity, money, influence, and politics are all fairly central to the operation of the “Cannonball” and other East End services of the LIRR during the past fifty years.