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LIRR sampler electric and diesel services

The Long Island Rail Road provides electric and diesel rail service east-west throughout Long Island, New York.


The Long Island Rail Road (reporting mark LI) or LIRR is a commuter rail system serving the length of Long Island, New York, stretching from Manhattan to the easternmost tip of Suffolk County, New York. It is the second busiest commuter railroad in North America (only recently surpassed by its sister railroad, Metro-North), serving about 81 million passengers each year. Established in 1834 and having operated continuously since then, it is the oldest US railroad still operating under its original name and charter. There are 124 stations on the LIRR, and more than 700 miles (1,100 km) of track on its two lines to the two forks of the island and eight major branches. Each weekday, the LIRR provides more than 303,000 rides to customers. It is publicly owned by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which has styled it MTA Long Island Rail Road. The current LIRR logo combines the circular MTA logo with the text Long Island Rail Road, and appears on the sides of trains. The LIRR is one of two commuter rail systems owned by the MTA; the other one is Metro-North Railroad.

The LIRR is the only commuter passenger railroad in the United States to operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with significant off peak, weekend, and holiday service.


The Long Island Rail Road Company was chartered in 1834 to provide a daily train service between New York and Boston via a ferry connection between its Greenport, New York, terminal on Long Island's North Fork and Stonington, Connecticut. This service was superseded in 1849 by the land route through Connecticut that was to become part of the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad. The LIRR refocused its attentions towards serving Long Island itself, in competition with other railroads on the island. In the 1870s railroad president Conrad Poppenhusen and his successor Austin Corbin acquired all the railroads and consolidated them into the LIRR.

For much of its history the LIRR was a money loser, but in 1900 the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) bought a controlling interest as part of its plan for direct access to Manhattan which commenced on September 8, 1910. The wealthy PRR subsidized the LIRR during the first half of the new century, allowing much expansion and modernization.

By the end of the Second World War, however, the downturn in the railroad industry and dwindling profits caused the PRR to relinquish the LIRR from its payroll. The bankrupt LIRR went into receivership in 1949. The State of New York, realizing how important the railroad was to the future of Long Island, began to subsidize the railroad gradually throughout the 1950s and 60s. In 1966, New York State bought the railroad's controlling stock from the PRR and put it under the newly formed Metropolitan Commuter Transportation Authority (renamed Metropolitan Transportation Authority in 1968). With MTA subsidies, the LIRR modernized further and grew into the busiest commuter railroad in the United States.

The LIRR is one of the few railroads that has survived as an intact company from its original charter to the present day.

Major StationsEdit

The LIRR operates out of three western terminals in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens. Jamaica Station in central Queens is the hub of all railroad activities. Expansion of the system into Grand Central Terminal is anticipated over the next few years. The list of major stations includes:
Penn Station LIRR concourse

Pennsylvania Station, New York. LIRR concourse.

Passenger Lines and ServicesEdit

The Long Island Rail Road system is made up of eleven passenger branches. Two main trunk lines, the Main Line and Montauk Branches, spin off nine smaller branches. For scheduling and advertising purposes some of these branches are further divided into sections such as the case with the Montauk Branch, which is known as the Babylon Branch service in the electrified portion of the line between Jamaica and Babylon, while the diesel service beyond Babylon to Montauk is referred to as the Montauk Branch service. All branches except the Port Washington Branch pass through Jamaica; the trackage west of Jamaica (except to Port Washington) is known as the City Terminal Zone. The City Terminal Zone includes portions of the Main Line and Atlantic and Montauk Branches as well as the Amtrak-owned East River Tunnels to Penn Station. The passenger lines are:

Former BranchesEdit

The railroad has dropped a number of branches due to lack of ridership over the years. Some of these lines became part of the IND Rockaway Line of the New York City Subway, while others were downgraded to freight branches, and the rest abandoned entirely.

Additional ServicesEdit

In addition to its daily commuter patronage, the LIRR also offers the following services:

  • From April to October, the railroad adds stops at Mets – Willets Point station to trains on the Port Washington Branch to serve passengers traveling to see the New York Mets home games and the US Open (tennis). When the number of passengers requires it, additional trains may be added also.
  • Between May and October, the railroad runs The Cannonball, a special express train between Hunterspoint Avenue in Queens and Montauk. It is one of the few named trains operated by a commuter railroad in the United States. A hallmark of The Cannonball is its Parlor Cars, with their all-reserved seating with full bar service. In addition, during the winter months, the railroad runs an unnamed train that follows The Cannonball schedule without Parlor Car service.
  • The railroad also operates extra trains during the summer season that cater to the Long Island beach trade. Special package ticket deals are offered to places like Long Beach, Jones Beach, the Hamptons, Montauk, and Greenport. Some of these packages require bus and ferry connections.
  • From May through October, the railroad runs four daily trains to Belmont Park (two in each direction) during the racetrack's summer meets. Additionally, on the day of the Belmont Stakes horse race, the railroad runs extra trains to accommodate the large amount of spectators attending the event.
  • One special non-passenger service offered by the railroad is the yearly operation of the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus train between Long Island City and Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Garden City. Highly publicized by the LIRR, this event draws large crowds of spectators.

Fare StructureEdit

Like Metro-North Railroad and New Jersey Transit, the Long Island Rail Road has a fare system that is based on the distance a passenger travels, as opposed to the New York City Subway which has a flat rate throughout the entire system. The railroad is broken up in to eight numbered fare zones. Zone 1 includes all of the city terminals and stations west of Jamaica. Zone 3 includes Jamaica and all stations east of Jamaica within the boundaries of New York City, except Far Rockaway. Zones 4 and 7 include all the stations in Nassau County and Far Rockaway. Zones 9, 10, 12, and 14 includes all the stations in Suffolk County. Each zone contains many stations, and the same fare applies for travel between any station in the origin zone and any station in the destination zone.

Peak fares are charged during the week on trains that arrive at western terminals between the hours of 6 am and 10 am, and for trains that depart from western terminals between the hours of 4 pm and 8 pm. Any passenger holding an off peak ticket on a peak train is required to pay a step up fee. Passengers have the options of buying tickets from ticket agents or ticket vending machines (TVMs) or on the train from railroad conductors yet will incur an on-board penalty fee for doing so. This fee is waived for senior citizens and disabled passengers and also for passengers who board from stations where there are no ticket offices or TVMs.

There are several types of tickets: one way, round trip, peak, off-peak, AM peak or off-peak senior/citizen disabled, peak child, and off-peak child. On off-peak trains, passengers can buy a family ticket for children who are accompanied by a 18 year old for $0.75 if bought from the station agent or TVM, $1.00 if bought on the train from the conductor. Additionally senior citizen/disabled passengers traveling during the morning peak hours are required to pay the AM peak senior citizen/disabled rate. This rate is not charged during PM peak hours.

Commuters can also buy a peak or off-peak ten trip ride, a weekly unlimited or an unlimited monthly pass. Monthly passes are good on any train regardless of the time of day, but are only valid within the fare zones specified on the pass.

On weekends, the railroad offers a special reduced-fare CityTicket, introduced in 2004, for passengers who travel within Zones 1 and 3 (i.e. within New York City). CityTickets can only be bought from ticket agents or machines and used on the day of purchase. They are not valid for travel to Far Rockaway because it is in Zone 4 and the Far Rockaway Branch passes through Nassau County. It is also not valid for travel to the Belmont Park station, which is only open for special events.

During the summer season the railroad offers special summer package ticket deals to places such as Long Beach, Jones Beach, the Hamptons, Montauk, and Greenport. Passengers traveling to the Hamptons and Montauk on the Cannonball also have the option of buying a reserved ticket to sit in one of the train's all-reserved Parlor Cars. However, the LIRR suggests that these tickets be booked in advance based on limited availability.

Train OperationsEdit

The LIRR runs relatively isolated from the rest of the national rail system. In only two locations does the railroad connect with other railroad trackage:

West of Harold Interlocking in Sunnyside, Queens LIRR trains enter Amtrak territory (the Northeast Corridor) leading to the East River Tunnels. When this track was owned by the Pennsylvania Railroad, trains of the PRR connected to the LIRR at Penn Station. During the 1920s and 1930s, the PRR and LIRR ran a through train, such as The Sunrise Special which ran from Pittsburgh to Montauk.[11]

In Glendale, Queens the LIRR connects with CSX’s Fremont Secondary, which leads to the Hell Gate Bridge and New England, however, once trains leave the secondary they enter LIRR territory and fall under the guidance of the LIRR Book of Rules.

All movements on the LIRR are under the control of the Movement Bureau in Jamaica, which gives orders to the various train towers that control a specific portion of the railroad. Movements in Amtrak territory are controlled by Penn Station Control Center or PSCC, which is run jointly by the LIRR and Amtrak. The PSCC controls as far east as Harold interlocking which is in the Sunnyside area of Queens. The PSCC replaced several towers. The Jamaica Control Center (new in the third quarter of 2010) controls from there east through the Jamaica terminal by direct control of interlockings. This replaced several towers in Jamaica including Jay and Hall towers at the west and east ends of Jamaica station respectively. East of there, lineside towers control the various switches and signals under the direction of the dispatchers in Jamaica.

Nearly all the lines are equipped for cab signaling. All passenger rolling stock is equipped to receive the cab signal. Cab signaling displays the block signal governing movement of trains in the engineer’s cab. In addition, all passenger rolling stock is equipped with Automatic Speed Control (ASC). ASC enforces the speed limit dictated by the cab signal if the engineer fails to comply with it. This is done by means of a penalty brake application. This feature greatly enhances safety.

On many of the lines, there are no intermediate wayside signals between the interlockings. On these lines, operation is solely by cab signal. Wayside signals remain at interlockings.

Power TransmissionEdit

The LIRR's electrified lines are exclusively powered by 750 V DC third rail with the contact shoe running along the top of the rail, similar to the New York City Subway and PATH trains. In comparison, Metro-North Railroad uses a combination of under-running third rail on its electrified trackage and overhead catenary wires on the New Haven Line. New Jersey Transit's electrified rail lines are powered by overhead catenary wires.


The LIRR currently operates an electric fleet of 836 M7 and 170 M3 electric multiple unit cars. These cars operate in married pairs, meaning each car needs the other one to operate, with each car containing its own engineer's operating compartment. Typical consists range from a minimum of 6 cars to a maximum of 12 cars.

Additionally the railroad uses 134 C3 bilevel rail cars powered by 23 DE30AC diesel-electric locomotives and 22 DM30AC dual-mode locomotives.

Named TrainsEdit

Despite serving a commuter patronage for the majority of its history, the LIRR did have many named trains some of which offered all-first class seating, parlor cars, and full bar service. Many of these trains operated during the early part of the 20th Century, with many being discontinued due to the onset of World War II. Some of these trains were re-established during the 1950s and 1960s as the railroad expanded its east end parlor car service after acquiring luxury coaches and Pullman cars from railroads that were discontinuing their passenger trains. Some of the railroad's more notable trains were:

  • The Cannonball (1899 – present) which runs from Long Island City to Montauk via Jamaica. The only currently named LIRR passenger train. Originally run in two sections: one to Greenport; and the other to Montauk; splitting from each other at Manorville along the Main Line. Greenport section was discontinued in 1942. Train survived into the MTA era and is currently operated on Friday evenings from May through October as a twelve car train offering two all-reserved parlor cars with full bar service. Runs express between Jamaica and Westhampton Beach.
  • Fisherman's Special (1932–1973) which ran from Long Island City to Canoe Place Station and Montauk via Jamaica. April through October train with service terminating at Canoe Place station in April, and then extended on to Montauk in May. Served Long Island fishing trade.
  • Peconic Bay and Shinnecock Bay Express (1926–1950) which ran from Long Island City to Greenport and Montauk via Jamaica. Two Saturday only trains running express to Greenport and Montauk respectively. Discontinued during World War II though revived for a few seasons afterwards.
  • Shelter Island Express (1901–1903, 1923–1942) which ran from Long Island City to Greenport via Jamaica. Friday-only summer express train that connected to Shelter Island ferries.
  • Sunrise Special (1922–1942) which ran from Pittsburgh to Montauk via Penn Station, New York. Joint PRR and LIRR train that operated during the summer. Trains ran eastbound on Fridays and westbound Mondays. During 1926 summer season trains were run daily. After 1932 there was an additional eastbound trip on Thursdays. Complete first class train from 1932 to 1937.

Freight ServiceEdit

The LIRR 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 New York State.

In recent years there has been some appreciation of the need for better railroad freight service in New York City and elsewhere 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 as well as the worst traffic conditions. Proposals for a Cross-Harbor Rail Tunnel for freight have languished more than a century.

In May 1997, freight service was franchised on a 20-year term to the New York and Atlantic Railway (NYAR), a short line railroad owned by the Anacostia and 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 branches, to Bridgehampton on the Montauk branch, and to Riverhead 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 an interchange connection at Fresh Pond Junction in Queens with the CSX, Canadian Pacific, and Providence and Worcester railroads.

Freight BranchesEdit

Some non-electrified lines are only used for freight:

Planned Service ExpansionsEdit

  • In 2019, the LIRR expects to complete the long-anticipated East Side Access project, which would allow LIRR trains to access Grand Central Terminal for the first time in the railroad's history.
  • In 2019, the LIRR expects to complete a project to add a second track along its Main Line between Farmingdale and Ronkonkoma to relieve crowding on that portion of the Main Line.(Currently there is only one track with passing sidings between Farmingdale and Ronkonkoma, except that there are two tracks from Deer Park to Brentwood.) Later plans may extend electrification towards Yaphank in order to build a new yard facility to store MU trains. Stations on this portion of the Main Line were modified in the late 1990s for future electrification.
  • The Third Main Line Track and electrification expansions which were planned in conjunction with the commencement of service to Grand Central Terminal were placed on hold in 2008 since communities in the affected areas, between Floral Park and Hicksville, were opposed to the plan due to concerns about the effects of the construction and eventual increase in service. The third track on the Main Line would aid in relieving the crowding on the Main Line which is expected to grow after the East Side Access project is complete. It also includes the elimination of grade crossings.

Passenger IssuesEdit

The LIRR has a long history of rocky relations with its passengers, especially daily commuters. Various commuter advocacy groups have been formed to try to represent those interests, in addition to the state mandated LIRR Commuters Council.

One criticism of the LIRR is that the railroad has not improved service to the "east end" of Long Island as the twin forks continue to grow in popularity as a year round tourist and residential destination. Demand is evidenced by flourishing for-profit bus services such as the Hampton Jitney and the Hampton Luxury Liner and the early formative stages of a new East End Transportation Authority.Local politicians have joined the public outcry for the LIRR to either improve the frequency of east end services, or turn the operation over to a local transportation authority.

Critics claim that the on-time performance (OTP) calculated by the LIRR is manipulated to be artificially high. Because the LIRR does not release any raw timing data nor do they have independent (non-MTA) audits it is impossible to verify this claim, or the accuracy of the current On Time Performance measurement. The "percentage" measure is used by many other US passenger railroads but the criticism over accuracy is specific to the LIRR. As defined by the LIRR, a train is "on time" if it arrives at a station within 5 minutes and 59 seconds of the scheduled time.The criterion was 4 minutes and 59 seconds until the LIRR changed it because of a bug in their computer systems. Critics believe the OTP measure does not reflect what commuters experience on a daily basis. The LIRR publishes the current OTP in a monthly booklet called TrainTalk. TrainTalk was previously known as "Keeping Track."

A more accurate way to measure delays and OTP has been proposed to the LIRR. Called the "Passenger Hours Delayed" index it can measure total person-hours of a specific delay. This would be useful in comparing performance of specific days or incidents, day-to-day (or week-to-week) periods, something the current measure cannot do. This 'PHD' index measure is used by some transportation research organizations and would be more meaningful to commuters. As of July 2009 it has not been adopted. The two methods are not mutually exclusive and could be kept and published simultaneously.

2007 ridership was 86.1 million, up 4.9% over 2006. The all time highest ridership was 91.8 million in 1949.

Law EnforcementEdit

The former LIRR Police Department, which was founded in 1863, was absorbed along with the Metro-North Railroad Police to form the Metropolitan Transportation Authority Police (MTA Police) in 1998.

Allegation of Pension and Disability FraudEdit

A New York Times investigation in 2008 showed that 25% of Long Island Rail Road employees who had retired since 2000 filed for disability payments from the federal Railroad Retirement Board and 97 percent of them were approved to receive disability pension. The total collected was more than $2,500,000 over 8 years.

As a result, Railroad Retirement Agents from Chicago inspected the Long Island office of the Railroad Retirement Board on September 23, 2008. New York Governor David Paterson issued a statement calling for Congress to conduct a full review of the board's mission and daily activities. Officials at the board's headquarters responded to the investigation stating that all occupational disability annuities were issued in accordance with applicable laws.

On November 17, 2008, a former LIRR pension manager was arrested and charged with official misconduct for performing outside work without permission. However, these charges were all dismissed for "no merit" by Supreme Court Judge Kase on December 11, 2009 on the grounds that the prosecution had misled the grand jury in the indictment.

A report produced in September 2009 by the Government Accountability Office stated that the rate at which retirees were rewarded disability claims was above the norm for the industry in general and indicated "troubling" practices that may indicate fraud, such as the use of a very small group of physicians in making the diagnosis.

Another series of arrests on October 27, 2011 included two doctors and a former union official.

See AlsoEdit

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