Gov. Kathy Hochul speaks about the benefits of the the long-awaited line for the LIRR. Credit: Howard Schnapp, Paul Mazza

The Long Island Rail Road’s Third Track — designed to ease congestion and boost capacity on the busy commuter line — welcomed its first riders Monday morning. 

Gov. Kathy Hochul joined Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials, lawmakers and labor leaders for a ceremonial ride on the long-awaited line, which is expected to increase service by 40% along a bottleneck in the LIRR’s system.

"What that means is more people have access to a quicker ride, more frequency and less hassle," Hochul said during an afternoon news conference at the LIRR station in New Hyde Park.

Hochul said the agency is starting to see an increase in ridership but that people need to see convenience and reliability. "And that's what we're offering here with this," she said. "A further commitment to ensuring that all Long Island commuters will have a smooth ride."

The $2.6 billion project will eventually cover 9.8 miles between Floral Park and Hicksville. The first section runs from Queens Village to Merillon Avenue in Garden City. The second section, which will reach Carle Place, is slated to open Aug. 29 and the third by the start of October, officials said.

The Third Track will allow the LIRR to run more trains, including lines during rush hour to serve reverse commuters working on Long Island, and to recover more quickly from unexpected service disruptions, officials said. 

Commuters said they welcomed the promise of more trains and better service. “Anything that can help people get back and forth to work easier is a good idea,” said Tom Bennet of Uniondale as he waited for a train at the New Hyde Park Station.

Bennet said before the COVID-19 pandemic impacted ridership, he often had a hard time finding a seat on the train. “Now, unfortunately there are a lot of seats on the train,” he said. “Hopefully this will bring people back to work.”

Khaneja Gurpreet of Floral Park said she drives her daughter to and from the New Hyde Park train station every day for her commute into Manhattan. “I remember when they started first making the track, there was a lot of hullabaloo,” said Gurpreet, as she waited for a train on the westbound track.

“I think it’s going to be very good,” she said. “It’s going to make commuting much more easier and faster because a lot of times trains get delayed because of other trains.”

MTA Chairman and chief executive Janno Lieber, who sat with Hochul on the ceremonial ride and spoke at the news conference, called it a "really, really big day for the MTA and more important for Long Island."

"It's been a massive undertaking," he said. " A two and a half billion dollar megaproject over a 10-mile stretch of the most developed part of Long Island."

The project initially met resistance and a legal challenge from officials and residents in Garden City who were concerned about the placement of utility poles near homes. The LIRR won the litigation.

Lieber said the LIRR is close to developing schedules that will deliver 40% more service for Long Islanders. Peak Main Line service, he said, will increase by more than 30% and service between Jamaica and Manhattan will soon be as frequent as the Lexington Avenue subway line, the busiest in the city, he said.

"This is transformational, and reverse commuting, which is the key to Long Island's ability to attract workers, is going to become real for the first time with 53 more reverse peak trains on the Main Line alone," Janno said. 

The project, Janno said, will also reduce events that cause major delays such as bridge strikes or accidents between trains and individuals or vehicles on the tracks by eliminating many dangerous grade crossings.

Catherine Rinaldi, interim president of LIRR, said service at the New Hyde Park station would increase by 67% from 56 weekday trains to 94 under the new schedule. Service at the nearby Merillon Avenue station would increase 80% from 53 weekday trains to 95 going forward, she said.

"This is a game changer for our customers and for the Long Island business community," Rinaldi said.

Ridership demands on Nassau County’s Main Line have increased dramatically since the LIRR first started operating on the two tracks in 1844. At that time, the population of Long Island was 50,000. It is currently almost 3 million. 

The service increase comes as LIRR ridership remains at around 60% of pre-COVID-19 levels.

Officials from the MTA said the project is expected to reach “substantial completion” by April, pointing to issues such as landscaping work and station improvements.

"We showed that it was possible," said Anthony Simon, general chairman of the Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Union, which represents about half of the LIRR's laborers. "From the building trades to the Long Island Rail Road unions to management. It's possible. It can be done."

With Alfonso A. Castillo

The Long Island Rail Road’s Third Track — designed to ease congestion and boost capacity on the busy commuter line — welcomed its first riders Monday morning. 

Gov. Kathy Hochul joined Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials, lawmakers and labor leaders for a ceremonial ride on the long-awaited line, which is expected to increase service by 40% along a bottleneck in the LIRR’s system.

"What that means is more people have access to a quicker ride, more frequency and less hassle," Hochul said during an afternoon news conference at the LIRR station in New Hyde Park.

Hochul said the agency is starting to see an increase in ridership but that people need to see convenience and reliability. "And that's what we're offering here with this," she said. "A further commitment to ensuring that all Long Island commuters will have a smooth ride."

The $2.6 billion project will eventually cover 9.8 miles between Floral Park and Hicksville. The first section runs from Queens Village to Merillon Avenue in Garden City. The second section, which will reach Carle Place, is slated to open Aug. 29 and the third by the start of October, officials said.

The Third Track will allow the LIRR to run more trains, including lines during rush hour to serve reverse commuters working on Long Island, and to recover more quickly from unexpected service disruptions, officials said. 

Commuters said they welcomed the promise of more trains and better service. “Anything that can help people get back and forth to work easier is a good idea,” said Tom Bennet of Uniondale as he waited for a train at the New Hyde Park Station.

A train goes through the Merillon Avenue station on Monday...

A train goes through the Merillon Avenue station on Monday in Garden City on the day the LIRR's Third Track, seen on the far left, goes into service. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Bennet said before the COVID-19 pandemic impacted ridership, he often had a hard time finding a seat on the train. “Now, unfortunately there are a lot of seats on the train,” he said. “Hopefully this will bring people back to work.”

Khaneja Gurpreet of Floral Park said she drives her daughter to and from the New Hyde Park train station every day for her commute into Manhattan. “I remember when they started first making the track, there was a lot of hullabaloo,” said Gurpreet, as she waited for a train on the westbound track.

“I think it’s going to be very good,” she said. “It’s going to make commuting much more easier and faster because a lot of times trains get delayed because of other trains.”

MTA Chairman and chief executive Janno Lieber, who sat with Hochul on the ceremonial ride and spoke at the news conference, called it a "really, really big day for the MTA and more important for Long Island."

"It's been a massive undertaking," he said. " A two and a half billion dollar megaproject over a 10-mile stretch of the most developed part of Long Island."

The project initially met resistance and a legal challenge from officials and residents in Garden City who were concerned about the placement of utility poles near homes. The LIRR won the litigation.

Lieber said the LIRR is close to developing schedules that will deliver 40% more service for Long Islanders. Peak Main Line service, he said, will increase by more than 30% and service between Jamaica and Manhattan will soon be as frequent as the Lexington Avenue subway line, the busiest in the city, he said.

"This is transformational, and reverse commuting, which is the key to Long Island's ability to attract workers, is going to become real for the first time with 53 more reverse peak trains on the Main Line alone," Janno said. 

The project, Janno said, will also reduce events that cause major delays such as bridge strikes or accidents between trains and individuals or vehicles on the tracks by eliminating many dangerous grade crossings.

Catherine Rinaldi, interim president of LIRR, said service at the New Hyde Park station would increase by 67% from 56 weekday trains to 94 under the new schedule. Service at the nearby Merillon Avenue station would increase 80% from 53 weekday trains to 95 going forward, she said.

"This is a game changer for our customers and for the Long Island business community," Rinaldi said.

Ridership demands on Nassau County’s Main Line have increased dramatically since the LIRR first started operating on the two tracks in 1844. At that time, the population of Long Island was 50,000. It is currently almost 3 million. 

The service increase comes as LIRR ridership remains at around 60% of pre-COVID-19 levels.

Officials from the MTA said the project is expected to reach “substantial completion” by April, pointing to issues such as landscaping work and station improvements.

"We showed that it was possible," said Anthony Simon, general chairman of the Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Union, which represents about half of the LIRR's laborers. "From the building trades to the Long Island Rail Road unions to management. It's possible. It can be done."

With Alfonso A. Castillo

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