Every weekday 300,000-plus passengers use the Long Island Rail Road, mostly to travel between their homes in suburbia and their jobs in New York City. That has been its raison d’etre ever since 1910, when the first trains of electric multiple-unit (EMU) cars rolled under the East River to reach the newly opened Pennsylvania Station on Manhattan’s West Side.
Over the decades, the villages and hamlets along the LIRR right-of-way swelled as developers erected tract homes, strip malls and schools on what was once farmland. Today, Long Island’s eastern counties, Nassau and Suffolk, are home to nearly three million people. Yet much of the LIRR’s infrastructure is essentially unchanged from a century ago.
If all goes according to plan, by 2023 the LIRR will be a transformed carrier, less vulnerable to disruptions and better able to handle large traffic flows in both directions during rush hour. Projects underway or in the pipeline represent the largest capital investment in the railroad’s history, approximately $14 billion. Among them, a new station beneath Grand Central Terminal (GCT), a third track between Floral Park and Hicksville, a second track from Farmingdale to Ronkonkoma, improvements at Jamaica and an expanded Penn Station.
MTA Capital Construction, a unit of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the LIRR’s parent, is managing most of the projects.
“For a very long time, capacity constraints have been the biggest challenge to our day-to-day operations,” said Patrick Nowakowski, LIRR president. “Not just in Jamaica, but also along the Mainline corridor and as far east as Ronkonkoma— and that’s before East Side Access [Grand Central] even comes into play. These projects are absolutely essential to the LIRR’s future, particularly at a time when our daily ridership numbers are establishing new modern-day records for growth.”
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