$138M to help LIRR begin track work early

This view looking west, shows the stretch of

This view looking west, shows the stretch of single-track main line between the Pinelawn and Wyandanch stations on the LIRR's Ronkonkoma branch. (April 16, 2012) Photo Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

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A Long Island Rail Road project to install a second track between Farmingdale and Ronkonkoma will start at least two years ahead of schedule thanks to a new boost in state funding, officials said.

In accelerating funding for the MTA's five-year capital plan, the State Legislature last month included $138 million for the "double track" plan, which would add a second line along 12.6 miles of single-track territory in Western Suffolk.

When it first proposed its 2009-2014 capital plan, the LIRR included the $138 million to design and begin building the second track. But when the Metropolitan Transportation Authority cut $2 billion in capital spending in 2010, the LIRR was left with only $30 million for project design and was forced to delay construction until at least 2015.

"I felt that was too long for an important project for Long Island," said Sen. Charles Fuschillo Jr. (R-Merrick), who heads the Senate Transportation Committee and led efforts to reinstate the original funding level. "I'm very pleased that we were able to accelerate it and increase the funding."

The MTA's Capital Plan is largely funded through borrowed money, but it must be approved by the state. With the state accelerating the capital plan, the MTA can now borrow funds for the second track project.

With the funding approved, Fuschillo said that he expects the LIRR will be able to put the project out to bid as early as July. LIRR officials have said the second track would fit on the existing right of way and not encroach on private property. The project would be completed in 2019.

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LIRR president Helena Williams has called the double track the railroad's most important infrastructure project. Railroad officials have said the project would increase opportunities for commuters, improve travel to and from Long Island MacArthur Airport and lessen the impact on riders when a train breaks down in single-track territory.

"We all know the problems with the single track," LIRR Commuter Council chairman Mark Epstein said. "One train is out, so the whole line is down. There's no way to get around the train, and there's no way to get people off in an emergency . . . The second track is essential and it's long overdue."

MTA chairman Joseph Lhota last month called the plan his "number one priority" for the LIRR.

The project is a critical component of several major development efforts on Long Island, including the Wyandanch Rising proposal and the Ronkonkoma Hub.

To help the LIRR undertake the project, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) has proposed a bill to give the agency more time to comply with a federal mandate to install new crash prevention technology in its tracks. The LIRR has said it could not afford to begin installing the system, which will cost $750 million, and start construction on the second track between Farmingdale and Ronkonkoma at the same time.

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Schumer's bill has already passed in the Senate and is being considered in the House of Representatives.

The LIRR project also includes a plan to rebuild a train station near Republic Airport in East Farmingdale that would anchor a new bus system along Route 110.

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