LIRR marks Jamaica station's centennial

A 1918 photo of Jamaica Station in Queens. A 1918 photo of Jamaica Station in Queens. Photo Credit: David Morrison

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As much as Long Island Rail Road riders are told to "change at Jamaica," the busy Queens train junction itself has undergone relatively little change since opening 100 years ago.

"Remarkably, much of the original complex has stood the test of time and engineering and design," LIRR president Helena Williams said Wednesday at a celebration of the station's centennial. "And it remains as critical to our operation today as it was when it first opened."

Although a train station has served Jamaica for much longer, the current elevated structure opened for business on March 9, 1913. The first train out of the station carried newspapers to Speonk, Williams said.

Today about 600 trains on 10 of the LIRR's 11 lines pass through Jamaica each day, carrying about 200,000 customers, according to the railroad.

Building Jamaica Station required eight years of design and construction, and 2 million cubic tons of fill transported from as far as Huntington. Workers -- some getting around by horse and carriage -- installed 17 tracks and built five island platforms 20 feet above street level.

LIRR historian David Morrison said that despite being a "fabulous engineering undertaking," the completion of Jamaica Station was largely upstaged by the grand opening, weeks earlier, of another iconic New York railroad station -- Grand Central Terminal.

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Jamaica has undergone some upgrades in recent years, including switch and signal system computerization and the installation of new digital display screens at street level.

More improvements were unveiled Wednesday, including a seated waiting area for ticket-holding customers and the restoration of the facade of LIRR's headquarters building.

The railroad also has plans for a major reconfiguration of Jamaica's tracks and signals, and the construction of a new platform for Brooklyn trains.

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When the work is complete, Jamaica will still look much like the vision LIRR chief engineer John Savage had when he designed the station.

Members of his family, which includes four civil engineers, learned about his accomplishment when the LIRR invited them to Wednesday's ceremony.

"I had no idea I had such a big legacy to live up to," his grandson, Russell Savage, 33, of Manhattan, said.

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