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LIRR Modernisation: A USD5.6 billion rehabilitation of America’s largest commuter rail network [free access]

February 1, 2019

The Long Island Rail Road (LIRR), which commenced operations in 1834, is the most extensive regional rail system in the United States. It is owned and operated by the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) and provides service between Manhattan and Long Island in the south-eastern region of New York state.


Although the LIRR reported a record annual ridership of 87.6 million passengers in 2015, in recent years it has faced a range of problems, including faulty equipment, increased train delays, and technical failures due to outdated infrastructure. In an effort to improve the quality of service, the Governor of New York launched an ambitious modernisation programme in 2017 to provide a much-needed impetus to several renovation, replacement, and expansion projects that had been in the pipeline for many years.


Current network


The system comprises two trunk lines (the Main Line and Montauk Branches) and nine branch lines, which operate out of three terminals in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens. Table 1 provides a snapshot of the current LIRR operational network.


Table 1: Current LIRR network



Total network length

955.9 km

No. of stations


No. of lines


No. of railcars


Average weekday ridership

311,100 (2017)

Annual ridership

89.4 million (2017)

Source: MTA -


The LIRR has the highest average weekday ridership of any commuter rail system in North America and is one of the few commuter rail systems in the world that operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week.


Deteriorating quality of service


Constant delays


Over the last two years, LIRR service has been plagued by repeated delays and cancellations. According to a report released by the New York State Comptroller, in 2017 the LIRR posted its worst annual on-time performance figures in over two decades. Over the course of the year, around 21,400 trains were either late, cancelled, or terminated before reaching their final destination, an increase of nearly 20 per cent over the 2016 figures.


Outdated infrastructure


A major reason for the poor quality of service is the outdated infrastructure and obsolete technology on which the LIRR network depends. Frequent technical failures have led to escalating maintenance costs and have contributed to several train cancellations. LIRR officials identified the consolidation and centralisation of signalling operations in one location and the deployment of computerised train control as priority measures to improve service. However, lack of funding meant that the plans were never implemented. For instance, the MTA’s USD33 billion 2015–2019 Capital Program only earmarked USD10 million for the project, well short of the required USD120 million.


LIRR Modernisation programme


In July 2017, the Governor of New York, in collaboration with the MTA, state officials, and Long Island communities, announced a USD5.6 billion plan to modernise and expand the LIRR network.




The plan is part of New York’s USD100 billion infrastructure programme and includes around 100 projects covering system expansion, replacements and renovation, track improvements, and infrastructure modernisation. Table 2 provides a list of key projects included in the plan.


Table 2: Key projects under the LIRR Modernisation programme




(USD million)


System expansion

East Side Access

Connect LIRR service from Queens to the east side of Manhattan at the Grand Central Terminal by December 2022. It involves more than 12.8 km (8 miles) of tunnelling.


Under construction

Jamaica Capacity Improvements

Increased train capacity, enhanced service, and streamlined train routing at Jamaica Station. Phase 1 of the project includes construction of a new Platform F to the south of platforms A–E. Phase 2 includes a state-of-good-repair of the Jamaica railroad infrastructure.


Under construction (Phase 1)

Double Track

Construction of a new 21-km line between Farmingdale and Ronkonkoma.


Phase 2 operational since September 2018

33rd Street Corridor

Construction of a corridor connecting the upcoming Moynihan Train Hall to Penn Station to provide direct access to LIRR and Amtrak services.


Under planning

Main Line Third Track (LIRR Expansion Project)

Construction of 15.7 km of a new third track along the Main Line from Floral Park to Hicksville to reduce congestion and to enable bi-directional service during peak travel periods.


Under construction since September 2018

Mid-Suffolk Train Storage Yard

Construction of a new storage yard to maintain, inspect, repair, and service electric train cars. The new facility will enable the LIRR to increase Ronkonkoma Branch service during peak hours in the morning.


Under procurement


Bellmore Substation Replacement

Station upgrade works include replacement of wall tiles and installation of new signage, lighting, bulletin boards, CCTV security cameras, new ticket windows, and USB charging stations.


Under construction

Port Washington Substation Replacement

The new substation, located at the intersection of Davis Avenue and Bayles Avenue, replaces the brick-and-mortar substation and offers greater passenger capacity.


Construction completed in January 2019

Floral Park Substation Modifications

Modifications to the substation will complement the development of the third track along the Main Line at Floral Park.


Under planning

Sandy Substation Restoration

Reparation work on three substations along the Long Beach Branch, which suffered significant damage by Hurricane Sandy in 2012.


Completed in January 2018

Positive Train Control (PTC) Deployment

Integration of the PTC system across the LIRR network in line with federal law to enhance railroad safety.


Deployment underway

Stations, bridges, and grade crossings

Mets-Willets Point Station

Modernisation of the existing station will lead to increased capacity as well as full compliance with the provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 1990 at the station.


Under planning

Wantagh Station Platform Replacement

Improvements to the station include installation of a new segmented platform canopy and energy-efficient platform lighting.


Construction completed in October 2018

Main Street Grade Crossing Elimination

The Main Street grade crossing is one of seven street-level crossings along the Main Line that are planned to be eliminated as part of the Main Line expansion project from Floral Park to Hicksville.


Under planning

Plainfield Avenue Bridge Replacement

Installation of a new single track on the Plainfield Avenue Bridge to accommodate the additional Main Line track.  


Under planning

Glen Cove Bridge Replacement

Replacement of the existing bridge with a three-track structure to accommodate the third Main Line track.


Under planning

*NA – Not available



Recent developments



Contracts awarded recently



 Going forward


The modernisation programme represents the first consolidated effort to modernise the country’s largest commuter rail system in many years. It has provided a fresh impetus to efforts by politicians and LIRR officials to renovate the ailing network, which has led to the completion of projects like the Double Track between Farmingdale and Ronkonkoma in September 2018, 14 months ahead of schedule.