A January 2013 report by the Regional Plan Association and the Long Island Index, “How the Long Island Rail Road Could Shape the Next Economy,” is reviving the discussion about building a third track on the Long Island Rail Road’s Main Line. The third track has been a third rail for some Long Islanders, mainly those whose properties abut the Main Line corridor, but the report highlights how the infrastructure project would be a boon for Long Island’s regional economy.
At issue is the train congestion and limited service capacity of the existing two tracks in the 9.8 mile span between Floral Park and Hicksville. The infrastructure is the same as it was in 1844 when it accommodated 24 daily trains and Long Island’s population was 50,000. Today, Long Island’s population is 2.8 million and 106 daily trains along five branches use the Main Line. It has become the spine of the LIRR.
A third track would add substantial capacity to the system by allowing for more frequent service and providing a passing lane to get around stalled trains. The third track could also bring a needed boost to Long Island’s economy: reverse commutes from New York City to employment centers along the Hicksville, Port Jefferson, Ronkonkoma and Montauk Lines — all of which merge with the Main Line at Hicksville – will be much more feasible with a third track.
Unfortunately, the third track has been “mired in controversy since its conception,” and was excluded from the most recent MTA Capital Program. The MTA does, however, plan to move ahead with both the East Side Access project, which will bring LIRR trains to Grand Central Terminal, and a project that adds a second track between Farmingdale and Ronkonkoma. In theory, both would bring increased capacity to the LIRR, but the full potential of these improvements can’t be realized with only two tracks on the Main Line.
In order to fast track the third track, the MTA should jump start the Environmental Impact Study process and engage local leaders to begin a renewed dialogue with the communities along the Main Line. These discussions, ultimately, should lead to a community benefit agreement aimed at addressing local concerns.
Efficient, reliable rail transit is crucial to the economic success of Long Island. But the Main Line will continue to be a “perennial cause of congestion and delays” until the political will is created to support a project that in the past has been widely supported across Long Island.