Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Long Island Rail Road
The Long Island Rail Road or LIRR is a railroad that serves the length of Long Island, New York. It is the busiest commuter railroad in the United States, and the oldest railroad still operating under its original name. It is owned by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which has styled it MTA Long Island Rail Road. There is legislation pending in the New York State legislature that would allow the MTA to merge the LIRR with the Metro-North Commuter Railroad to form MTA Rail.
The LIRR has two major terminals and one minor terminal in New York City - The major terminals are located at Pennsylvania Station in Manhattan, and the Atlantic Terminal located at the intersections of Flatbush Avenue and Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn. The minor terminal is at Long Island City in Queens, New York. The Hunterspoint Avenue station, just east of the Long Island City terminal, is served by roughly 8 westbound trains and 12 eastbound trains per weekday. Five of those trains in each direction continue with passengers to/originate from Long Island City. All those trains, however continue to the yard at Long Island City.
A third major terminal is currently under construction. In 2011/2012 the LIRR intends to initiate service to Grand Central Terminal via the East Side Access project. When the F train of the New York City Subway was routed beneath the East River dividing Manhattan and Long Island, provisioning was made for this LIRR route. Work to be done includes tunnelling beneath Manhattan from 63rd Street and East River across to Park Avenue and then south to Grand Central Terminal, as well as tunneling from the LIRR Main Line near Amtrak's Sunnyside Yard in Queens to the East River.
There is also a major station and transfer point in Jamaica, Queens. Jamaica Station encompasses eight tracks and six platforms, plus yard and bypass tracks. At Jamaica passengers can transfer between all western branches and all but one eastern branch. In fact, frequent riders of the LIRR use the phrase "change at Jamaica" often. Transfer is also made for separate facilities for two different subway lines, many bus lines, and the AirTrain automated electric rail system to JFK International Airport.
There are eleven branches on the LIRR. The longest two being the Main Line and the Montauk which "give birth" to six of the remaining nine branches. The Main Line and Montauk Branch each extend to points a few miles short of the end of each of Long Island's "forks," long peninsulas separated by Shelter Island Sound . The line to the north fork, with limited service east of the prime commuter zone, is at Greenport and the line to the south fork, with both commuter service and extensive seasonal excursion traffic, is at Montauk.
There are six subsidiary branches terminating in Nassau County, New York, at Port Washington, Oyster Bay, Hempstead, West Hempstead, Long Beach and Far Rockaway . This latter terminal actually loops back to, and terminates in New York City, but the remainder of the branch is in Nassau. In addition to the two major branches, there is one subsidiary branch in Suffolk County, New York, to Port Jefferson.
The LIRR's history stretches back to 1832 and the Brooklyn and Jamaica RR Company, which built a ten mile (16 km) stretch of track between Brooklyn and Jamaica. The Long Island Rail Road itself was founded in 1834, leasing the track laid down by the B&J and building its own.
The original plan was not as a local service to serve Long Island, but rather a quicker route from Boston to New York. Trains would run from Boston to Stonington, Connecticut, where the passengers would cross by ferry to Long Island. They would then ride on the LIRR to Fulton Street in Brooklyn, and finally cross by ferry to New York. The reason for this rather complicated plan was the then-considered impossible civil engineering job of building a railroad through southern Connecticut.
The LIRR thus built its original tracks running straight down the middle of the island, which was largely uninhabited at the time, rather than serving the existing Long Island communities. This route was chosen as the most direct way to travel to New York.
The Island-long route was completed in 1844 and at first was highly successful. However, in 1850 railroad tracks were built through the 'impassable' country of southern Connecticut, and a direct overland route from New York to Boston now existed. The LIRR's reason for existence was gone.
The only remaining business was to serve Long Island itself, something the railroad was not built to do. Efforts were made to build branches to the small Long Island communities. In 1850 only one such branch existed, but more were built, as well as a number of other railroad companies' branches.
In 1860, the City of Brooklyn banned the use of steam engines in populated areas. The Long Island Railroad reduced service to Brooklyn, eliminating the track between the current Flatbush Avenue terminal and the then Fulton Street terminal. Service between Jamaica Station and Flatbush Avenue was by horse drawn cars. The Long Island Railroad built the route from Jamaica Station via Woodside Station to the Long Island City terminal where ferry connections to Manhattan could be made. This route was entirely within Queens County, and avoided the Brooklyn law. Since that time, the routes to Brooklyn have always been considered secondary.
The combination of the loss of the New York to Boston traffic and all the competing railroads made for harsh financial times for both the LIRR and the newer roads. In 1876, the LIRR was bought out by the owner of one of the competing roads, but the Long Island Rail Road name was used for the merged company. Even consolidation could not prevent another receivership in 1879, however.
In 1901 the Pennsylvania Railroad acquired the Long Island Rail Road and went about an extensive program of improvements. The PRR had long desired a terminal on Manhattan Island itself, instead of in Jersey City. The PRR built a grand station, Pennsylvania Station, with tracks oriented approximately east-west, and dug two sets of tunnels, one under the Hudson River to connect the new station with the Pennsylvania Railroad network, and another set under the East River to connect with the Long Island Rail Road.
Due to a fatal accident caused by decreased visibility from smoke and steam in the tunnels near Grand Central Terminal, New York City passed laws in 1910 forbidding the operation of steam-powered trains within city limits. Thus, an ambitious program of electrification was initiated, culminating in a large portion of the LIRR's network being electrified via a third rail direct current system. This electrification is still in use today.
After the Second World War, the LIRR became an increasing financial burden on the Pennsylvania Railroad, and eventually became bankrupt. It was purchased by the State of New York and is now a subsidiary of the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA).
All branches (except Port Washington) pass through Jamaica Station. West of Jamaica, all lines share track. This track leading into the city is known as the "City Terminal Zone"
"The Montauk" is the longest LIRR branch, extending 115 miles (185 km) east from Long Island City to Montauk, New York. It has heavy ridership and frequent service, especially in the summer, with travellers going out to The Hamptons and beaches. The Montauk Branch spawns only one branch, this being the West Hempstead Branch at Valley Stream.
The electrified portion of the Montauk Branch ends at Babylon Station. Some of the Montauk's diesel trains begin or end their runs at Babylon station, connecting to or from electric trains there. Other Montauk diesel trains operate into New York City, ending their runs either at Jamaica Station, Hunterspoint Avenue or Long Island City on the eastern side of the East River. Most Montauk Branch diesel trains operate west to NYC via the Montauk Branch, though a handful of trains operate via the diesel-only Central Branch joining the Main Line east of Bethpage Station.
The Montauk Branch is grade-separated on embankment or structure from Lynbrook Station to Babylon Station, the only LIRR branch east of New York City to have no road crossings at grade.
The Main Line begins in Long Island City and runs seemingly directly across the middle of Long Island before turning North and terminating in Greenport approximately 95 miles (153 km) from its starting point. Along the way the Mainline spawns 5 of the remaining 10 branches. These Branches, in order from west to east, are:
- Port Washington (at Harold Interlocking in Sunnyside, Queens)
- Hempstead (at Queens Interlocking along the Queens/Nassau County border)
- Oyster Bay (at Nassau Interlocking in Mineola)
- Port Jefferson (at Divide Interlocking in Hicksville)
- Central (also known as Babylon Branch) (at Beth Interlocking just east of Bethpage Station)
The Main Line's electric service ends at Ronkonkoma. Several daily diesel trains connect with electric trains at Ronkonkoma, two in each direction extending to the end of the branch at Greenport.
Port Jefferson Branch
This branch provides frequent electric service to Huntington, with some diesel service continuing to Port Jefferson. The heaviest traffic tends to be to the Stony Brook station where Stony Brook University is located. This line formerly extended to Wading River, and it was once planned for it to continue eastward and rejoin the Main Line at Riverhead, but the tracks past Port Jefferson were torn up in the 1930s and the right of way is now used for power lines. There are occasional plans to electrify this line past Huntington, at least to Northport, which will probably be undertaken in conjunction with the construction of a planned new yard for the branch.
West Hempstead Branch
This electric branch splits off from the Montauk Branch at Valley Stream to West Hempstead. A stop at St. Albans, in Queens, is shown on West Hempstead Branch customer timetables, but is actually on the Montauk Branch.
The Atlantic Branch begins at the second major City Terminal, Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn and runs 16 miles (26 km) through Kings, Queens and Nassau Counties and ends at Valley Interlocking in Valley Stream. The Flatbush Avenue station is undergoing a $93 Million facelift and will eventually be renamed Atlantic Avenue Terminal.
Far Rockaway Branch
Long Beach Branch
Port Washington Branch
This is the only LIRR branch which does not stop at or have connecting service in Jamaica. It splits off the Main Line at Woodside and runs through northeastern Queens past Shea Stadium and into the northwestern corner of Nassau County. It is electric and has heavy ridership and frequent service.
Oyster Bay Branch
Moderately used diesel branch extending from Nassau Interlocking (Mineola) to Oyster Bay. Stops at East Wlilliston, Albertson, Roslyn, Greenvale, Glen Head, Sea Cliff, Glen Street, Glen Cove, Locust Valley, Oyster Bay.
In addition to service cuts, several of the more lightly used branches have been threatened with abandonment in 2006. These are the Oyster Bay Branch, the Main Line between Ronkonkoma and Greenport, and the West Hempstead Branch. It is unlikely any of these branches will go; the threats are part of the political gamesmanship of New York transportation politics, usually intended to reduce opposition to a fare increase. All of the threatened lines have had considerable capital investment in recent years to "bring them up to a good state of repair." The LIRR was originally chartered with the specific purpose of service to Greenport, and the land under the Main Line tracks would revert to heirs of the original owners if that service were abandoned. In addition, a large portion of the threatened Main Line east of Ronkonkoma has been slated for electrification by 2016 as part of LIRR forward planning.
The 2005-2009 capital program of the MTA provides for a third Main Line track from Bellerose to Mineola, with the intent of extending it to Hicksville, and a second track between Farmingdale and Ronkonkoma, and the resulting increase in the already crowded situation in Ronkonkoma is likely to increase pressure for service to be extended further east. The capital program also provides for a landfill in Yaphank, two stations past Ronkonkoma, to be capped and set aside for a future railroad purpose, which may involve extending electrification or building parking structures or a yard that is said to be needed for the Main Line without a site having been selected although they would prefer that it be past Ronkonkoma.
The Long Island Rail Road and other railroads that became part of the system have always had freight service, though this has diminished over the years. The process of shedding freight service accelerated with the acquisition of the railroad by the State of New York.
In recent years there has been some appreciation of the need for better railroad freight service in New York City and on Long Island. Both areas are primarily served by trucking for freight haulage, an irony in a region with the most extensive rail transit service in the Americas.
Freight service is now operated on lease by the New York & Atlantic Railway, a short line railroad owned by the Anacostia & Pacific Company . It has its own equipment and crews, but uses the rail facilities of the LIRR. To the east, freight service operates to the ends of the West Hempstead, Port Jefferson and Montauk branches, and to Southold on the Mainline. On the western end it provides service on the surviving freight-only tracks of the LIRR: the Bay Ridge and Bushwick branches; the nearly freight-only "Lower Montauk"; and to connections with national railroads.
Long Island Rail Road Massacre
On December 7, 1993, Colin Ferguson, a New York City resident, boarded the 5:33 pm local train to Hicksville at Pennsylvania Station with a concealed weapon and the intent to murder anonymous passengers. After the train entered Nassau County, he walked down the aisle of the car he was riding in and shot some passengers while passing others. When the engineer realized that there was a serious problem on the train, he stopped the train at the Merillon Avenue station in Garden City, New York. Several passengers overpowered Ferguson while he was attempting to reload for the second time and held him for police.
Ferguson was convicted of shooting 25 LIRR passengers, 6 of whom died. This propelled Carolyn McCarthy, whose husband was killed and son seriously injured, to successfully run for Congress on a gun control platform.
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