$5.6B in projects will cause LIRR ‘transformation’: Cuomo

Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks at a Long Island Association meeting in Woodbury on Wednesday. (Photo by Kevin P. Coughlin/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo)

The Long Island Rail Road’s third track project is one piece of a $5.6 billion “transformation” that will increase the railroad’s capacity by up to 80 percent after five years, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday.

Speaking at a Long Island Association luncheon in Woodbury, Cuomo pitched the third track as part of a plan to revitalize and modernize the LIRR, which he characterized as stagnant and outdated.

While Cuomo’s messaging about them is new, the projects themselves are not.

Other parts of the plan, such as a second track on the Ronkonkoma branch and an overhaul of railroad infrastructure at the Jamaica station, have been in the works for years.

“It is an investment in Long Island,” Cuomo told a crowd of about 1,000 on Wednesday. “These infrastructure projects are investments that pay dividends, and multi-fold dividends.”

Wednesday’s event was a sort of victory lap for Cuomo and supporters of the $1.95 billion project, for which funding was approved earlier this month.

Also present were leaders and members of labor unions, elected officials and leaders of the Right Track for Long Island Coalition, a group organized to push for the project.

It came as Amtrak works on two months of repairs at Penn Station in Manhattan, causing disruptions for LIRR commuters in what Cuomo has dubbed the “summer of hell.”

Cuomo pushed the third track over the last 18 months despite local community opposition, winning over previous opponents of a 2005 proposal by making his plan less intrusive and adding community benefits. Cuomo’s staff negotiated agreements with affected municipalities that aim to mitigate any potential harm from construction.

The third track will be built along a 9.8-mile stretch of the LIRR’s Main Line between Floral Park and Hicksville through which 40 percent of the railroad’s daily riders travel using four branches.

In addition to the track itself, the project will upgrade signals, switches and power substations on the Main Line, eliminate seven street-level railroad crossings, and renovate stations.

Cuomo said the project will start in 2018 and take four years to finish. It was initially expected to start this year and be built in three years.

As the third track prepares to get started, work continues on the second Ronkonkoma track — scheduled to be completed 16 months ahead of schedule next summer — a $375 million overhaul of the Jamaica station, the construction of a new train yard in Ronkonkoma and upgrades to 39 stations throughout the LIRR system.

Ultimately, 100 projects over the next five years will increase LIRR capacity by 81 percent in the evening rush hours and 67 percent in the morning, Cuomo said.

Better service will have economic benefits, spurring development and drawing commuters to Long Island from New York City, he said.

“I believe that it will protect and enhance the property values on Long Island because that Long Island Rail Road is what made Long Island, Long Island,” Cuomo said.

The projects will complement the construction of the $1.6 billion Penn-Farley Complex, the East Side Access project to put an LIRR beneath Grand Central Terminal and other parts of the state’s $100 billion long-term infrastructure plan, Cuomo said.

Cuomo, known for proposing large landmark projects, put more of an emphasis Wednesday on updating basic infrastructure, including signals and switches that often cause delays.

Officials in villages along the Main Line, including Floral Park and New Hyde Park, have said the LIRR should pay for those kinds of fixes instead of the third track.

Cuomo thanked the local mayors Wednesday who “stood up and said yes” to the project. But Lawrence Montreuil of New Hyde Park and Dominck Longobardi of Floral PArk have said they still prefer that the project not be built, but that their communities will be protected if it is.

Larry Penner, a Great Neck transportation historian and former Federal Transit Administration employee, said Cuomo’s announcement was much ado about nothing because the work he announced had already been planned and funded.

The Ronkonkoma double track will actually be 31 years late, Penner said — it was first planned in 1987, when the LIRR electrified the Ronkonkoma branch, but money ran out before it could be built entirely.

The projects now will go a long way toward righting the LIRR’s ship, Penner said, but challenges will remain in Penn Station and the ailing East River Tunnels, which are controlled by Amtrak.

“It’s a good start, but there’s a long way to go,” Penner said.

About the author

Noah Manskar

Noah Manskar is the assistant managing editor for Blank Slate Media and a reporter covering the Willistons, New Hyde Park and Nassau County government.
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