New Report: A Third Track on the Main Line Is Key to Long Island’s Economy

The two-track Main Line is the spine of the LIRR, but the political support to build a third track is badly needed. | Map: Regional Plan Association

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.

7 Comments on "New Report: A Third Track on the Main Line Is Key to Long Island’s Economy"

  1. j.b. diGriz | January 18, 2013 at 6:12 pm |

    Wouldn’t it make some kind of sense to force Long Islanders to reconcile this necessary infrastructure expansion with their leaders’ unwillingness to contribute to the Metropolitan commuter transportation mobility tax.

  2. To make a 3rd Mainline track work as efficiently as possible, an additional access from Jamaica Station tracks 4 and 5 east to the Main Line and Babylon branches must be added. The best option is to add a bridge over 150th Street east of Jamaica Station connecting one of the dead end tail tracks that are between the leads to the Atlantic Division tracks over 150th Street to the switches (interlockings) that control access to the Main Line and Babylon branches east of 150th Street.
    There are places on LIRR property where this type of bridge exists on unused sidings and spurs to long closed spur lines.
    One of these bridges could be broken down and reconstructed as the bridge over 150th Street.

  3. As far as resistance to a 3rd track from some of the towns along the tracks between Bellrose and Hicksville, let the LIRR take them to court starting now, so once funding is obtained the project can move ASAP. If the least expensive way to rebuild the Main Line is to have it elevated to remove the danger and expense of maintaining grade crossings, then so be it.
    LI needs as good a commuter service as possible for the benefit and growth of the entire island, not just for the benefit of the few towns along the tracks.
    So start the legal process now.
    By the time funding is obtained and a 3rd track is in service, the east side access to Grand Central Station will already be long open.
    At that point the biggest bottle neck during rush hour will be the Bellrose to Hicksville section of the Main Line.

  4. The potential for the LIRR to help the economy is there. Unfortunately the LIRR has rarely, if ever, lived up to it’s potential.

    The LIRR is currently embroiled in two major scandals (disability and copper theft) so the time may be ripe to perform a comprehensive top-to-bottom overhaul of the LIRR.

    The LIRR needs to change it’s lying, cheating and stealing culture.

    One major step forward in this change would be to stop the public lies every month about the On Time Performance. After hurricane Sandy thrashed the LIRR, resulting in three weeks of “alternate” service (which was slow and extremely crowded) they released an On Time Performance over 90%.

    The outrage at this was quick and ferocious – to the point that the LIRR had to “restate” their numbers. This alone (even though there are other examples) shows how meaningless the OTP number is – it is nothing but a public, monthly lie. Alternative measures, which could be listed concurrently have been proposed.

    The current lying, cheating and thieving culture starts at the top – with Ms. Williams and the executives.

    This culture simply MUST change if the LIRR has any hope of ever being respected by commuter or of contributing to the regional economy.

  5. Steven P Mitchell | July 3, 2013 at 3:50 pm |

    Every 50 years or so, a society should upgrade its technology. Aside from the addition of a 3rd track on the mainline to provide the logistical flexibility, Port Jefferson ought to complete the electrification of its tracks (upgrading to technology initially invented 100 years ago). In this way, Long Island can keep up with the technological advances of countries like Burundi, Paraguay, Kazakhstan and Belize and function in modes previously unimaginable.

  6. Connor LoCascio | August 21, 2014 at 4:56 pm |

    The third track isn’t just a “nice to have,” it is a key component to robust development and service everywhere on the LIRR, even in Garden City and New Hyde Park (Where most opposition to this project is coming from).

    Until then, the Port Jefferson, Ronkonkoma, Montauk, Oyster Bay, and Hempstead branches are all doomed.

  7. Simply (if somewhat expensively) revive the old main line via Garden City, Meadowbrook and Bethpage, now used by the Circus Train annually to Mitchell Field, and abandoned or parkland beyond. A flying junction at B Tower Bethpage would be needed, and two additional tracks (not one) will be available from Queens Interlocking to Bethpage (EAST of Hicksville), with the opportunity to add a few new stations in well developed areas.

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