LIRR responds to critics of track plan

A file photo of LIRR President Helena Williams A file photo of LIRR President Helena Williams at an MTA hearing. (Sept. 20, 2010) Photo Credit: Kevin P. Coughlin

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LIRR president Helena Williams Monday responded to opponents of a $36-million bridge replacement and track extension project planned for Thomaston village, saying the railroad will explore sound-absorbent materials to mitigate noise from cars and trains.

The project would replace the deteriorating 114-year-old Colonial Road Bridge, which carries vehicles over the tracks east of the Long Island Rail Road's Great Neck station, and extend a nearby "pocket track" used to turn trains.

Thomaston residents support the replacement of the bridge, which has been deemed "structurally deficient" by the state Department of Transportation. But villagers who live adjacent to the tracks oppose the plan to lengthen by 1,200 feet the parallel track where trains can pull off and idle.

At a Manhattan meeting of the Metro-North and Long Island committees of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority board, Williams said the new bridge would be "much quieter" than the current steel structure, which clatters as cars drive across.

Trains stored on the extended pocket track would be electric - rather than louder diesel trains - and would not be stored overnight, she said.

Williams said residents' concerns would be heard in a series of public meetings as part of the environmental review process.

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Project opponents include Thomaston Mayor Robert Stern and resident Steven Hirsch, 45, who at Monday's meeting criticized the proposed placement of the pocket track.

"There's no room for tree growth," which could act as a buffer between the track and nearby homes, he said.

LIRR officials said the project is a critical infrastructure improvement that would benefit riders on the Port Washington branch, one of the railroad's most popular lines.

The lengthened pocket track would allow the LIRR to stage trains near Great Neck before their runs, so the railroad could operate more express trains and more trains originating at Great Neck. This would give passengers now boarding packed morning trains west of Great Neck a better chance to find a seat.

The pocket track would help give the LIRR capacity for direct service from Great Neck to Grand Central Terminal starting around 2016. It would also allow for more reverse-commute trains and more special trains to events at Citi Field and Flushing Meadow Park, Williams said.

"Better and more frequent train service benefits the community, and that's the promise here," Village of Great Neck Plaza Mayor Jean Celender said in a statement, adding that the LIRR should make sure "any new construction plans minimize disruption to the community and mitigate negative impacts."

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