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NYS senators unveil new funding for LIRR infrastructure upgrades

A signal bridge and catenary truss at Harold

A signal bridge and catenary truss at Harold Interlocking in Queens. The new funds unveiled by lawmakers Thursday would help centralize the LIRR's signal operations to improve real-time monitoring and train dispatching. Credit: Charles Eckert

State Senate Republicans on Thursday announced $40 million in new funding to help modernize the Long Island Rail Road’s aging signal and communications system.

Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport) joined with other state GOP lawmakers to announce the new funding, which will go toward the implementation of a plan to consolidate and centralize the LIRR’s signal operations in one location — allowing better real-time monitoring and dispatching of trains throughout the system.

The system would replace the railroad’s antiquated current signal system, which is largely operated by dispatchers monitoring train movements from control centers or towers at major rail junctions, or “interlockings.”

The LIRR has pointed to computerized train control as critical to improving service and communication with customers, but has struggled to come up with funding to advance the effort. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s $33 billion 2015-2019 capital program earmarked just $10 million toward the project. The LIRR said the cost of the entire project is expected to be about $120 million.

Meanwhile, the railroad last year posted its worst annual on-time performance figures in nearly two decades, and is on pace to deliver even lower numbers this year.

“LIRR riders are tired of canceled trains and poor on-time performance that only gets reliably worse,” Flanagan said in a statement Thursday. “This $40 million from Republican Senators puts the LIRR back on track to meet the expectations of their ridership who deserve a system that works. I look forward to working with my colleagues to make sure that this project moves full speed ahead.”

Complete consolidation of the railroad’s signal system is still several years away, and LIRR officials would not say Thursday how much the entire project will cost. But LIRR spokesman Aaron Donovan said the new funding “will allow us to accelerate a key project in our LIRR Forward program that will lead to improved communications for customers, and more precise train dispatching systemwide that will improve service reliability.”

“The LIRR is encouraged and grateful that our partners in the legislature from Long Island recognize the need for this critical investment,” Donovan said.

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