In the coming years, the Long Island Rail Road could help reshape Long Island and turn it into an economic powerhouse.
That’s the theme of the 2013 Long Island Index Report. For 10 years now, the Index has been profiling the area and providing information for businesses, citizens, governments and more. It tries to measure where Long Island is now and show trends over time, encourage regional thinking and use
comparisons to areas similar to Long Island to show how the area can grow.
This year’s report, “How the Long Island Rail Road Could Shape the Next Economy,” focuses on how the LIRR has played a huge role in the growth of Long Island and how it will continue to play an important role in the future with its planned expansions,
including the East Side Access project.
“The Long Island Rail Road is one of Long Island’s most important and least understood assets,” said Nancy Rauch Douzinas, president of the Rauch Foundation, which publishes in the Index report. “The 2013 Long Island Index presents many of the facts that highlight the railroad’s potential, and it provides a guide to an important, open and transparent discussion of the role of public transit in Long Island’s economy and future.”
The LIRR was first chartered in 1834 and connected to Manhattan via Penn Station in 1910. But since that time, the reach and capacity of the railroad has remained unchanged.
In 2011, the LIRR moved about 80 million people. It was only recently surpassed by Metro-North Railroad in terms of ridership. Today, 30 percent of Nassau residents commute to the city for work, and a third of them take the LIRR. One out of every four dollars of income earned by Long Islanders is brought home from jobs in New York City.
But through population explosions, ridership increases and technological breakthroughs, the LIRR has not expanded its reach or rail capacity since 1910. With a price tag of $8.2 billion, the East Side Access project is the largest transportation project in the country.
The East Side Access project is set to change that. By expanding the LIRR so that it connects to Grand Central Station, it will give Long Islanders access to the largest
concentration of jobs in the country, the report said. The report also said that, because of the expansion, 400,000 homeowners on Long Island who live near train
stations could see the value of their homes rise by an average of $7,300.
“The real potential of an expanded, more reliable and more efficient Long Island Rail Road is to anchor a 21st century economy that is neither the rail-centric reality of a century ago nor the auto-dependent culture of today,” the report reads. “Single-family, suburban neighborhoods would still be the norm, and most trips would still be made by car. But there would be more jobs and housing in downtowns clustered around train stations, and more options for taking a train or bus, not only to get to Manhattan but to get around to shopping centers, offices, hospitals universities and parks.”
There are two other projects that the MTA has in the works for the LIRR as well, although their futures are less certain than East Side Access. Also proposed is adding a second track on the Ronkonkoma branch — one of the fastest-growing and most overcrowded lines on the system — which would greatly expand the LIRR’s reach.
The third proposal — and the most controversial — is adding a third track to the LIRR main line, which runs from Hicksville to Floral Park. It receives trains from four different branches and has remained a two-track line since the 1800s. The controversy stems from the fact that building the third track would affect communities and property owners in the path, who would need to sell some of their property to the LIRR for the project to go forward.
“However, the completion of both East Side Access and a second track to
Ronkonkoma will add to the traffic on the Main Line,” the Index report reads, “raising the stakes in the debate for whether, when and how to build it.”
Adding a third track would greatly expand the capacity of the LIRR and allow it to run two tracks exclusively in the peak direction while using the third in the off-peak direction or for emergencies. “This would effectively double, and in some cases more than double, the number of trains able to run eastbound in the morning and westbound in the evening,” the report says. “The additional track will also improve reliability by enabling the railroad to maintain service in the peak direction even if one track is out of commission. The added efficiency could also improve productivity or reduce operating costs by enabling the LIRR to cycle trains in and out of service more quickly.”