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3rd track plan conditional on community support, LIRR chief says

Commuters at the Port Washington LIRR station on

Commuters at the Port Washington LIRR station on Nov. 15, 2013. Credit: Steve Pfost

Building a third track on the Long Island Rail Road's Main Line would help increase capacity on the bottlenecked commuter system, but the agency will not proceed with the controversial plan unless all the communities involved get on board, the LIRR's president said Tuesday.

At a meeting of the Long Island Regional Planning Council, LIRR president Patrick Nowakowski said that, despite its benefits, "the MTA is not moving forward with" the decades-old proposal to construct a third track between Floral Park and Hicksville.

While acknowledging that the capacity issues on the main line are the "next constraint that should be dealt with" after the railroad completes expansion projects across the East River and at Jamaica, Nowakowski suggested that long-standing community opposition to the plan may be insurmountable.

"If there's ever going to be a third-track project, we're not going to do that without working with those communities that will be affected," Nowakowski said at the meeting at Hofstra University. "We're not going to take people to court. We're not going to try to force anything down people's throats. Either we all want to do it, or we all decide not to do it."

The third track -- considered for about 30 years by the LIRR -- was shelved about seven years ago because of a lack of funding and lack of political support.

The project, which would require building on some private property that the MTA would acquire, is neither included in the MTA's proposed five-year, $32 billion capital program nor in the LIRR's 20-Year Capital Needs Assessment -- an internal to-do list.

Nowakowski noted that other projects included in the proposed capital program will significantly improve commuting on Long Island. Those include East Side Access, which will create a second Manhattan station for the LIRR at Grand Central Terminal, and an ongoing effort to build a second track between Farmingdale and Ronkonkoma.

But Long Island Regional Planning Council chairman John Cameron Jr. said to get the most out of those projects, Long Island needs a third track, which could be used to facilitate so-called "reverse commuters" traveling from New York City to jobs in Nassau and Suffolk.

"If the third track doesn't happen . . . everything is going to be relegated back to the LIE [Long Island Expressway]. We're going to be choking on fumes, choking in traffic," Cameron said. "If you look at the impact to the economy on Long Island, without a third track, we're doomed."

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