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LIRR spending focused on new rail cars

A view of the Hastings Station Cafe which

A view of the Hastings Station Cafe which is located one floor above the tracks at the Metro-North Railroad's Hastings on Hudson Station. (June 10, 2012) Credit: Patrick E. McCarthy

The Long Island Rail Road has spent more of the nearly $10 billion it has received in MTA capital funds on buying new train cars than on anything else, and has spent considerably less than Metro-North Commuter Railroad on station improvements, according to a new report.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority's Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee -- the coordinating body for the MTA's various riders' councils -- prepared the report, which tracks where transit agencies have invested their infrastructure money since the MTA created its first capital plan in 1982.

Funded largely through bonds and federal assistance, the MTA capital plan is used to pay for infrastructure improvements throughout the transit system. The current $26 billion plan, which covers 2010 to 2014, includes about $2.5 billion for the LIRR and $1.7 billion for its sister MTA commuter railroad, Metro-North.

From 1982 to 2011, the LIRR spent about $2.8 billion of the $9.9 billion it received in federal dollars -- about 28 percent -- on train cars.

"Clearly, rolling stock is the key component of what the Long Island Rail Road has invested in," LIRR president Helena Williams said Friday in response to the report. "People in rail cars are the same as people in that new automobile. . . . Everybody loves the smell of fresh new cars, and customers feel the same way when they get on a rail car."

Metro-North also has spent the biggest chunk of the $7.2 billion capital funding it received since 1982 on train cars: $1.9 billion or 26 percent.

But Metro-North has also spent about $1.5 billion, or 20.4 percent of the funding, on track and line structure, including track interlocking improvements and repairs to tunnels and bridges. The LIRR spent $1.7 billion on track work, or about 17 percent, of the capital funding.

The LIRR has invested significantly less than Metro-North on passenger stations -- $1.24 billion, or 12.5 percent, compared with Metro North's $1.6 billion, or 22 percent.

Williams said simply comparing the numbers doesn't tell the whole story, in part because the two railroads have different ways of classifying expenses. As an example, Metro-North has "track and line structures" as one category, while the LIRR lists them separately.

And similar expenditures may have gone into different categories in different years, Williams said. Further complicating a comparison is that the state of Connecticut covers a large portion of capital expenses on Metro-North's New Haven Line.

Williams added that the different ages and configuration of the two rail lines make an "apples-to-apples" comparison impossible. The LIRR has been operating -- and working to maintain its infrastructure and fleet -- for 178 years. When Metro-North was created from existing railroads 29 years ago, the MTA inherited a deteriorating infrastructure that required significant improvements.

"Each railroad made different investments for different reasons and because of different needs. What I have to maintain is different than what . . . [Metro-North] has to maintain," Williams said.

LIRR Commuter Council chairman Mark Epstein said while it may not be fair to compare how the two railroads spent their capital dollars, "it is fair to look at the results."

"And the results are that their stations are nicer than our stations," he said.

William Henderson, executive director of the MTA Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee, said the LIRR has targeted spending more on station improvements, but has been forced by budget cuts to pare back its capital plan to cover only essential work.

"That's the kind of stuff that gets squeezed," Henderson said.

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