A Long Island Rail Road strike that would have made life a living hell for tens of thousands of NYC residents was averted Thursday with a deal that handed neither side a sweeping victory.

So no one gets carte blanche on barroom bragging rights -- which is a pretty good sign that the tentative pact negotiated by the MTA, eight LIRR unions and Gov. Andrew Cuomo is about as reasonable as possible.

The deal includes a 17 percent pay hike over 61/2 years. But the sticky issue that stretched these talks uncomfortably close to the Sunday strike deadline was how to pay for it. The tentative agreement calls for a 2 percent first-ever worker contribution for health coverage. New hires would contribute to their pensions for 15 years rather than 10 as current workers do. And it would require more time on the job for new employees to reach top pay. Still, this is a much better deal than the city's transit workers got.

Details remain sketchy beyond that. This is to give union officials time to brief their members in anticipation of ratification votes before Aug. 15. But unfortunately, the cost of the deal wasn't revealed either, which makes it hard to weigh decisively its pluses and minuses.

The good news for riders, including reverse commuters -- people who live in NYC, work on Long Island and account for nearly 17,000 of the LIRR's daily 300,000 rides -- is that fares won't have to be raised to cover the pay hikes. And the health care contribution and less-costly terms of employment should mean long-term savings.

These points mustn't be eroded in future contract talks.

But there's one crucial thing the MTA didn't get. The LIRR is still under the federal Railway Labor Act, which gives its unionized workers the right to strike. City subway and bus workers are covered by the state's Taylor Law, which forbids strikes. LIRR workers should be, too.

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The real victors? They're the riders -- college kids from the city who study on the Island, domestic workers from Queens who labor in suburban homes, shopkeepers in the boroughs who rely on Nassau workers, and drivers in Queens and Brooklyn. They can raise a mighty cheer.