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Long IslandTransportation

LIRR East End ‘dark territory’ gets signals from 21st century

The upgrades between Speonk and Montauk will improve safety and reliability, the railroad said.

The Speonk LIRR station on Sunday, Nov. 12,

The Speonk LIRR station on Sunday, Nov. 12, 2017. Modern railroad signals will be activated between Speonk and Montauk on Monday. Photo Credit: Daniel Goodrich

Big changes are coming this week for Suffolk County Long Island Rail Road commuters, including a major transformation of part of the LIRR’s “dark territory” that has operated without signals more than 100 years.

On Monday, modern railroad signals will be activated between Speonk and Montauk. LIRR crews were scheduled to complete the changeover to the new system over the weekend.

In a statement, the LIRR said the upgrades — completed under the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Capital Program — “will mean even greater train safety and reliability, will enable future service upgrades” and will pave the way for the implementation of federally mandated “positive train control” crash-prevention technology.

Modern railroad signals provide locomotive engineers with directions on how to proceed, including when to slow down or stop because of track conditions ahead. In lieu of a signal systems, train crews currently get instructions from dispatchers over telephones or radios — or in some cases in the form of paper “train orders” passed by dispatchers inside towers at the end of a stick to crew members through a train window.

“It’s like going from the 19th century to the 21st century,” said Christopher Natale, general chairman of the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen Local 56, whose members installed the new signal equipment during the past year. “Typically, what you had out there east of Speonk is the way you ran trains 100 years ago.”

Because there is only one track between Speonk and Montauk, trains often have to pull into sidings to get out of the way of oncoming trains — a process that Natale said currently requires a conductor to disembark from the train and manually throw a switch on the tracks. “That was just so inefficient,” Natale said.

A modernized signal system will allow the LIRR to more quickly make such train movements, and create the capacity to operate more trains on the East End. It will also provide safety improvements, including the “automatic speed control” in place throughout most of the rest of the system, which slows down or stops a train if a signal is violated.

With the LIRR’s Montauk branch fully signalized, the only remaining “dark territory” will be between Greenport and Ronkonkoma. LIRR officials have not offered details on when signals will be installed there.

To carry out the work needed to activate the new signal system, the LIRR over the weekend scheduled buses instead of trains between Patchogue and Montauk.

Other LIRR service changes taking effect Monday include the addition of a westbound 9:43 a.m. train from Greenport. LIRR officials said an early afternoon arrival in New York City was “one of the top requests made by a coalition of local elected officials and community members, who have been working with the LIRR to enhance East End train service.”

In a statement, Assemb. Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor) called the new train “an important first step in providing increased public transit to the East End.”

New timetables take effect on Monday for all LIRR branches.

Those changes include a new westbound train that will depart Yaphank at 6 p.m. The afternoon round-trip train between Ronkonkoma and Greenport will arrive at Greenport at 2:06 p.m. And the eastbound morning “Jury Train,” which aimed to bring jurors to Riverhead at 8:55 a.m. — in time for morning jury duty — is replaced with an earlier train arriving at Riverhead at 8:12 a.m.

“We have had a productive working relationship with the East End delegation and we are pleased to be able to respond to their requests with service enhancements that will make our train service more useful to more people,” LIRR President Patrick Nowakowski said in a statement. “After months of dialog, we are now able to respond with real results to long-sought goals.”

For full information on the LIRR’s schedule changes, customers can consult LIRR’s information sources, including and the LIRR Train Time app.

New signal system on LIRR Montauk Branch

  • First signal system ever between Speonk and Montauk — part of the LIRR’s “dark territory.”
  • Signals provide engineers with information about traffic conditions ahead, including when to slow down or stop to avoid other trains.
  • “Automatic speed control” capability will automatically slow down a train if it violates a signal.
  • New signals will eventually allow for the operation of federally mandated “positive train control” crash-prevention technology.


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