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Tracking The LIRR

The Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) has unveiled plans for its Double Track Project, expanding rail capacity between Farmingdale and Ronkonkoma. 

The plan is to add 12.6 miles of new track in two phases so that the LIRR can provide double track service over the 17.9-mile stretch. The route includes LIRR stations at Farmingdale, Pinelawn, Wyandanch, Deer Park, Brentwood, Central Islip and Ronkonkoma. It will also make a new Republic Station at Route 110 possible, able to serve the airport and major business corridor in East Farmingdale.

The project will be completed in two phases. Phase 1 includes the track work between Central Islip and Ronkonkoma, and will be the first part of the completed construction, for an anticipated completion date of September 2016. The first phase includes an environmental review and, after completion of that review, a design of the entire project and construction of a four-mile segment of the first phase. This phase is already completely funded.

Phase 2 includes the remaining portion, west to Farmingdale, with a completion date of December 2018. The second portion of the project requires $297 million and is not yet funded. 

Ridership on the Ronkonkoma Branch is at 44,700 each weekday and has doubled over the last 25 years. With one track along most of the 18-mile route between Ronkonkoma and Farmingdale, the LIRR can only operate a limited number of trains. LIRR president Helena Williams told Anton Community Newspapers that adding a new second track will greatly benefit commuters by improving service reliability, increasing on-time performance, and enabling faster recovery following service disruptions. If one train becomes disabled, all other trains (east and west) have no way around the problem.

“The moment the electrification occurred to Ronkonkoma, the very day in 1988, it [the service] was already undersized for the location,” said Williams. “The Double Track Project will increase service reliability on one of the busiest corridors on the LIRR,” and be beneficial for decades to come. 

Once completed, Double Track will have immediate benefits for LIRR customers by allowing for half-hourly off-peak service in both directions. It also will allow for long-term improvements to LIRR service when the East Side Access project is completed. This will offer LIRR customers direct access to Grand Central Terminal and the East Side of Manhattan beginning in 2019.

Williams said that the Double Track Project does not require any property acquisition. The entire stretch of track is within existing right-of-way. 

In May 2012, Senator Charles Fuschillo secured $138 million in state funding to accelerate the project by two years.

“The Double Track project is critically important to Long Island. It will create jobs, promote economic development, and improve service for LIRR riders, all of which is greatly needed,” said Fuschillo, chairman of the Senate’s Transportation Committee. “I’m extremely pleased that we were able to accelerate the Double Track project and ensure that a project which has long been a dream will finally become a reality.” 

In addition to the jobs and economic activity generated by the project itself, the second track is also a critical component to other current and proposed transit oriented developments along the branch, which would help promote additional economic development and activity. Along with the Republic/Route 110 Corridor project, the second track project is also critical to other transit oriented developments such as Wyandanch Rising and the Ronkonkoma Hub. 

“The Long Island Rail Road Commuter Council (LIRRCC) views construction of a second track between Farmingdale and Ronkonkoma as a critical project for the Long Island economy,” said Mark Epstein, chairman of the Long Island Rail Road Commuter Council. “The second track will make travel more convenient, increase capacity significantly, and dramatically reduce the impact of train breakdowns and other incidents in this part of the railroad; this project is vital to users of the LIRR and is long overdue.”

MTA LIRR has selected the international design and engineering firm AECOM to help plan and carry out the Double Track Project. Among AECOM’s mass transit projects is the High Speed Rail Terminus in Hong Kong, which is connecting to China’s high-speed rail network.

“We’re excited to team with LIRR to help improve Long Island’s most important mass transit infrastructure,” said Julie D’Orazio, vice president and leader of AECOM’s transit practice in the northeastern United States.

Williams said that the construction benefits over the next five years will create opportunity for Long Island businesses such as trucking, demolition, paving, concrete, landscaping, drainage, and more. Minority, women-owned, and disadvantaged businesses could also see a benefit from the project plans. 

“Construction of an uninterrupted second track between Farmingdale and Ronkonkoma has been part of the LIRR’s vision for decades,” said the LIRR president. “The time to move ahead with Double Track is now.”

An initial public outreach period has ended. A public comment period will be announced and held in March 2013. Residents can obtain more information about the Double Track Project on the LIRR’s website: www.mta.info/lirr.