Helena Williams has fought many battles and spearheaded several major initiatives during her five-year tenure as president of the Long Island Rail Road, the country’s largest commuter railroad. From the modernizing overhaul of the Atlantic Avenue Terminal in Brooklyn to the complicated relationship with Amtrak, which owns the tunnels the LIRR uses, from plans to spruce up the cramped and poorly signed Penn Station to dealing with community opposition to the Third Track project through Floral Park — now on indefinite hold — Williams has coped with and mostly prevailed over the enormous challenges of managing the country’s largest commuter railroad.
Her latest project, dubbed Double Track, aims to alleviate the sclerotic path of trains between Farmingdale and Ronkonkoma. To improve service and reliability on the Ronkonkoma Branch, the plan is to add another track alongside the single 18-mile track that now connects Ronkonkoma to Farmingdale. Now, one track fire, one stalled train, one signal failure, one obstacle, a disruption of any kind on that single track and there can be no movement east or west for the 44,700 commuters that use the line every weekday. Passengers on trains or waiting on platforms who are headed to or from Ronkonkoma, including Hicksville, Bethpage, Pinelawn, Deer Park and Brentwood, go nowhere. Everything stops.
And service is then impacted on other branches as tie-ups eventually entangle the rest of the system in Jamaica and Mineola, affecting service even in Nassau.
The solution is the Double Track between Farmingdale and Ronkonkoma to “add capacity,” as the railroaders say.
“The Double Track project will increase service reliability on one of the busiest corridors of the LIRR,” Williams has said. And no additional property is required. It will be built all within the existing LIRR right of way. “Two tracks are better than one,” she said.
Adding the second track will “improve service, create jobs and stimulate economic activity along this critical stretch of the LIRR” said Gov. Andrew Cuomo.