With 83 million passengers a year, the Long Island Rail Road is the busiest commuter railroad in the nation and the economic engine for Long Island. It is also the nation’s oldest commuter rail system, and as such, the MTA’s proposed 2015-2019 Capital Program allocates nearly 10 percent of total expenditures to the system with a focus on better maintenance of core infrastructure to create a more resilient system
More than 60 percent of the proposed LIRR allocation will go to maintaining the basics—rolling stock, stations, track, communications/signals, power, shops and yards, bridges and viaducts—but the plan also targets service improvements that will get the system ready for its new access point in Manhattan: Grand Central Terminal.
At the moment, Penn Station is the only Manhattan stop for LIRR, and the station is at capacity during crucial points of the day. The completion of East Side Access will provide a much-needed second access point into Grand Central Terminal, enabling increased service opportunities and system redundancy. To get ready for that future day, the Capital Program proposes expanding capacity at Jamaica, a critical transfer station, and adding train storage and track capacity at key locations.
In addition to these improvements, key projects in the Program include:
- replacing platforms at Babylon, Nostrand Avenue and Hunterspoint Avenue
- completing Double Track, which adds an entire second track on the mainline between Farmingdale and Ronkonkoma
- a new station at Elmhurst
- investing in the MTA’s new Fare Payment System Initiative
- completing the installation of the Positive Train Control system
- signal improvements for Babylon Interlocking Renewal
While the Capital Program makes some important investments, there are also some missed opportunities. For example, the Program includes $50 million for the rehabilitation, development and expansion of commuter parking, but misses an important opportunity to reduce the demand for parking through funding to support transit-oriented development (TOD) infrastructure. TOD is mentioned in the plan, but there is no specific allocation to enable it:
“Where possible, consideration will also be given to Transit Oriented Development to partner with the community so that MTA investments can be coordinated with land use policies that encourage compact development and convenient access to the system for its customers.”
Another key missed opportunity: the third track along the Main Line Corridor between Floral Park and Hicksville, a project that would absolutely be a boon to Long Island’s economy. The LIRR system serves nearly 300,000 weekday riders with more than 740 daily trains, and ridership is increasing. Despite this heavy reliance on the system, Tri-State’s recently-released Laggy Analysis found that delays on LIRR branches with high ridership have contributed to the increased system-wide loss of economic productivity and commuter time. Many of the investments the agency could take to improve service, reduce delays and improve resiliency are included in the draft Capital Program. Advancing the funds to jump start a new Environmental Impact Study for the third track project should be also be a priority.