Cuomo’s Long Island Growth Plan: More Trains and More Traffic

This morning, Governor Cuomo announced plans to move forward with the Long Island Railroad’s project for a third track on the main line between Floral Park and Hicksville in Nassau County. At the same time, Cuomo wants to study a car tunnel linking Long Island to either the Bronx, Westchester, or Connecticut.

The governor is proposing the construction of a third track along this 9.8 mile stretch of the Long Island Railroad. Image: Long Island Index
Cuomo wants to move forward with a third track to increase capacity along this 9.8-mile stretch of the Long Island Railroad. Image: Long Island Index

The LIRR project will lay 9.8 miles of track, primarily in the existing right of way, increasing capacity and hopefully spurring walkable development along one of the railroad’s busiest corridors. Expanding the main line will help existing commuters and wring more value out of the region’s most expensive mega-project, the East Side Access tunnel connecting LIRR to Grand Central.

Currently, nearly two-fifths of LIRR riders use the main line’s two tracks. With the Ronkonkoma, Port Jefferson, Montauk, and Oyster Bay branches all converging on the main line, service in the peak direction runs on both tracks during rush hours, severely constraining travel in the other direction. Small hiccups in operations often lead to major delays. With the additional track, ridership is expected to increase 40 percent, Cuomo said.

Regional transportation advocates have been calling for a third track for years. A 2014 study by the Long Island Index estimated that, in the 10 years following its completion, the project will bring 14,000 jobs, 35,000 residents, and $103 million in annual property tax revenue to the region.

“This is a project that is critical for Long Island,” said Tri-State Transportation Campaign Executive Director Veronica Vanterpool. “It’s critical if Long Island wants to address their congestion issues. It’s critical if Long Island wants to be a community that sheds its bedroom community status.”

Speaking to the Long Island Association, a local business group, Cuomo said his proposal would avoid the pitfalls that previous third track plans have encountered. Cobbling together right-of-way for the new proposal will only affect 30 commercial properties and 20 residences, compared to about 200 businesses and residences combined for the previous iteration. The average residential acquisition will be just five square feet. It’s not yet clear how these changes will affect the project cost, which was last estimated at $1.5 billion.

Vanterpool lauded the governor’s proposal. “It’s a project that has to happen,” she said. “The infrastructure in that area has not been updated since 1844, when there were only 50,000 people on Long Island.” Today, nearly 2.7 million people live in Nassau and Suffolk counties combined.

Vanterpool said the new proposal looks like an attempt to address the not-in-my-backyard opposition that led to the removal of the project from the MTA’s capital plan in 2008. That proposal was defeated by a small but vocal group of people who own property by the right of way.

The region is more open to transit-oriented growth than it was the last time around, said Eric Alexander of Vision Long Island. In Nassau and Suffolk over the last nine years, 11,000 units of housing have been approved near transit and another 20,000 are moving forward, according to Alexander. Still, he said, “It can’t just be a group of people from outside the community saying, ‘Trust me it’s good for you.’ I think that’s where past proposals have failed.”

Also at this morning’s event, Cuomo announced a $5 million study exploring the possibility of a new tunnel connecting the region with Westchester, Connecticut, or the Bronx, as well as $50 million for parking near the Ronkonkoma LIRR station.

Vanterpool said she did not see a need for the tunnel study. “I don’t think we need another study right now. Put that money towards projects that need the money right now,” she told Streetsblog. “We have so many existing shovel-in-the-ground projects that don’t have money where $5 million would go a long way.”

The Long Island proposals are a prelude to what Cuomo is calling “the most ambitious transportation development plan in modern history,” reports Politico. Presumably, the governor was referring to the release of more details about how he plans to fund both the MTA capital program and upstate road spending. So far, the governor’s approach to these issues has been anything but ambitious.

  • JK

    What happened to Veronica’s appointment to the MTA board? Does that get resubmitted to the Senate by de Blasio? What’s the timing?

  • Charles

    This is penny ante stuff. The gov could supercharge the downstate economy by making simple engineering improvements throughout the LIRR and MetroNorth systems.

  • vnm

    Do tell. What kind of improvements?

  • Charles

    For starters:
    Elimination/reduction of the number of at-grade crossings.

    Preventative maintenance to avoid things like the broken rail that nearly crippled the LIRR today.

    Rewiring the East River Tunnel.

    Third tracks throughout the system so you can have real express trains.

  • BBnet3000

    Pulloffs and timed overtakes can do a lot of that for a lot less money. So easy even a Caltrain can do it.

  • vnm

    OK. Yes, those sound good. Rewiring the East River Tunnel . . . is that for wifi? East River Tunnel is controlled by Amtrak, so there are multiple parties that need to be involved. More third tracks are good, and this segment proposed today is a start of that – the most important/busiest place to prioritize first.

  • Charles

    So basically what you mean is that you agree with everything I wrote but you want to pick an internet fight anyway?

  • Charles

    And yet the LIRR still lumbers along at 35 mph.

  • vnm

    Huh? Nope.

  • Charles

    So what exactly do you disagree with?

  • kevd

    I’ll jump in!

    What does “rewiring the East River Tunnel” mean?
    For through running?

  • Charles

    It means that you don’t ride the LIRR!

    The electrical switching systems in the tunnel have been failing since before hurricane Sandy, which expedited the decay. Now those failures have become pretty routine, so commuters are regularly stranded because the tunnel is the ultimate choke point in the system.

  • kevd

    That’s why I’m asking, angry guy.
    Calm the f down. Just a question.

    So upgrading switches. That is also a big problem on the subway.

  • HamTech87

    If a Westchester-Long Island connection is so important to Cuomo, why didn’t he demand MetroNorth Penn Station Access to have stops at Queens’ LIRR transfer points like Woodside and potentially Sunnyside?

  • Charles

    You calm down. It was just an exclamation mark. Jeese.

  • kevd

    stop picking fights, weirdo.
    “rewiring” in no way indicates “upgrading switches”
    Its incredibly vague, and mine was a perfectly reasonable question.
    Give your 16 year daughter back her exclamation marks.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “With the additional track, ridership is expected to increase 40 percent.”

    I guess someone noticed the booming two-way traffic on MetroNorth and Caltrans from SF to the Silicon Valley.

  • The problem with East Side Access is the 4/5 trains are already overcrowded and now they want to toss in a bunch of FLIDs? That’ll be fun. 😛

    Obviously snark, but seriously, where are we going to put the extra people on this end? The third track will help people like my coworker Patrick who lives in Hicksville (must. resist. joke…), but less so ESA, IMO.

  • vnm

    I don’t think we have any kind of disagreement. You said you wanted to have more tracks added. Same here. My only addendum to that is that I agree with putting the money toward doing that in the highest trafficked area where it will benefit the most people. Would I like to see it done in any number of places? Yes of course. But I’d also like to see electrification, and a yard in Huntington so not as many people have to stand on trains, and lots of other stuff. This is exactly like the 2nd Ave Subway. I’d like to see it go all the way downtown. But given the resources available, it didn’t make sense to build it from Hanover Square to 14th Street, because it wouldn’t connect to anything. So they did the Upper East Side first. That is OK. That leads to, how do you get more resources to be able to do more. And that’s why I think the most important transit benefit anyone could do is get Move NY passed. Then a lot more stuff could get done.

    Then on the rewiring thing, yes, I assume you were talking about wifi, or actually cell service, really. Yes, we agree there too. There are a lot of things Amtrak SHOULD do, and that’s one of them.

  • vnm

    kevd, technically you used an exclamation mark too. lol.

  • kevd

    the idea is some of the people on the 4/5 will be on the Q from 125th instead!
    (in about 35 years)

  • vnm

    You can’t do Woodside because it’s east of the junction. But the point is valid re Sunnyside. Will we ever live to see it built?

  • Larry Littlefield

    You have to hope they’ll walk from there. And go to Penn if they need the subway.

  • kevd

    True ’nuff.

    Will try to keep to full stops and question marks from now on. This is serious bidnis, here!
    (I mean “here.”)

  • kevd

    I thought the overhaul of Sunnyside yards for ESA included a Sunnyside station at Queens Blvd.
    But that can’t be right, since only trains to Penn could use it…….

  • Charles

    Sorry, thought it would be clear that switches that are driven by electricity require wiring. My bad.

  • Charles

    On the “rewiring” thing I’m talking about upgrading the switches. I would love it if the trains had wifi, but for some reason that is elusive technology that only Bolt Bus can master.

  • sbauman

    According to the Hub Bound Report: in 1963, the downtown Lex carried 78K, 165K and 307K between 8-9, 7-10 and 24 hrs respectively. The corresponding figures for 2014 are: 51K; 118K and 359K. ESA will provide 24 tph peak. The LIRR trains average 1K passengers per train.

    If all the ESA passengers went onto the subway, the peak hour load (8-9am) would still be less than 1963.

    “The third track will help people like my coworker Patrick who lives in Hicksville”

    No. The third track will permit trains from NYC to operate east to LI. Both tracks run westbound into NYC during the AM rush period. There is currently no eastbound service from Jamaica for nearly 2 hours during the am rush hour. It will not add any westbound trains from LI into Jamaica.

  • bolwerk

    Ahem? I wish I could say all the times I made the trip were psychotic episodes. 🙁

  • sbauman

    I said eastbound during the am rush hour. There are no trains between Penn Sta and Hicksville between 6:07am and 7:39am. These trains arrive at Hicksville at 6:48 and 8:26 respectively.

  • bolwerk

    Ugh, the page switched from AM to PM when I hit the back button to change the scope a little and I didn’t notice. But yes there are trains that arrive before 9am. Here is the correct schedule.

  • bolwerk

    (I take 9am to be the outer bound of the A.M. rush period. Maybe you don’t.)

  • sbauman

    There is still a nearly 100 minute gap before that 8:26 arrival. Not all jobs on LI are 9-5. There are many that are 8-4 or 8:30-4:30. A lot of these are manufacturing or involve manufacturing support.

    I worked on the Island for around 20 years during my engineering career. The LIRR was of no use in trying to commute there. I had to drive 25 miles each way.

  • Jules1

    Great news about the third track project! This is a very long overdue project with a great return on a relatively small investment. The main reason it was held up in the past was because of local political interests with undue influence in Albany, but hopefully that we can finally move past that.

  • bolwerk

    Most jobs on Long Island now appear to be 8:30 to 5:00 or 9:00 to 5:30!

  • Jules1

    Ideally ESA will reduce the load on the subway system by getting LIRR commuters closer to their destination by giving them a choice of arriving on the east side or west side. It will also create new opportunities for Queens to Manhattan commuters to shift from absurdly overcrowded subways to the LIRR.

    That said, the massive investment in ESA would be a joke without the relatively modest cost of completing the third track project to relieve a major bottleneck on Long Island’s rail transportation network.

  • Do FLIDs even walk? 😛

  • kevd

    a 98 minute gap (no arrivals between 6:48 and 8:26) is absurd, no matter what we agree to call “rush hour”. Though I’d say anything arriving between 7:30 and 9:30 should be included.

    Hicksville could (and probably should) be a regional employment hub on the scale of White Plains or Stamford, and reverse commuting is a significant part of that being possible. So is local zoning, which might be an even tougher battle… But I never go to LI, so I don’t really know.

  • David Meyer
  • WoodyinNYC

    I think kevd wanted to see a winking smiley after that exclamation point, but the site does not offer smileys.

    But I took “It means that you don’t ride the LIRR!” as gentle teasing, not as “picking a fight”.

  • Charles

    Thank you. That is exactly how I meant it 😉


    While we’re dreaming, the roadway tunnel to CT needs to be paired with a high speed rail line/tunnel running from Ronkonkoma to Port Jefferson, then under the LI sound to Stratford. Build it all at the same time.

  • neroden

    LIRR third track is a project which has been due for a long time.

    Car tunnel under Long Island Sound is a completely moronic idea.

  • Alexander Vucelic

    That stretch of LIRR should easily Have 4 Tracks. Imagine the IRT was Built in 1903 with 4 Tracks why not the LIRR 4 Tracks in 2015 ?

  • Alexander Vucelic

    from the fridge to the barco lounger

  • reasonableexplanation

    Should, but won’t; too many people’s homes are in the way. That’s what has been killing the 3rd track idea for years to begin with. In fact, that’s what killed the original cross-sound link (it was going to be a bridge). NIMBYism on Long Island is even more intense when you’re eminent domain-ing people houses.

  • ROFL

  • anonposteryeah

    A BRIDGE from long island to Westchester is an obvious addition because currently a great deal of traffic flows between westchester and LI every day and currently gets clogged up in the already congested city.

  • Alexander Vucelic

    drivers refuse to Pay for the LI -Westchester bridge.

  • chloebeckham80

    My colleagues wanted DA 3349 earlier today and were told about a business with a lot of sample forms . If people are searching for DA 3349 too , here’s


Long Island's bus and rail networks are run as two separate and unequal systems. Photo: Adam Moreira/Wikimedia Commons

On Long Island, Transit Operates as Two Separate and Unequal Systems

The Long Island Railroad is building some of the biggest infrastructure projects in the region -- even the world. The hugely expensive East Side Access tunnel and terminal at Grand Central and the construction of a third track for the LIRR Main Line will open up new possibilities for convenient, all-day transit that people can use for all types of trips. But not if Long Island continues to operate its rail and bus networks as a two-tiered transit system.

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