A Long Island Rail Road train pulled by diesel locomotives enters...

A Long Island Rail Road train pulled by diesel locomotives enters Jamaica Station in 2015. Seven organizations, in a letter, have asked that the state’s plan to become carbon neutral by 2050 include a requirement that the LIRR “eliminates the use of diesel locomotives through system-wide LIRR electrification.” Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

The Long Island Rail Road will not be able to install batteries on existing trains so that they can operate where tracks are not electrified, as it had hoped to do.

Fifteen months after the LIRR began testing “battery electric multiple units," which would allow electric trains to alternate between being powered by a third rail and by a built-in battery, railroad officials said tests showed retrofitting existing trains with the technology was not feasible.

The railroad performed tests on its Oyster Bay branch, which is not electrified. Railroad officials said the emerging technology could still be incorporated on future train cars.

The railroad spent $850,000 in a partnership with train manufacturer Alstom to test the technology, which railroad officials hoped would allow them to improve service in its “diesel territory” without having to electrify tracks. 

News of the test results came as a coalition of Long Island business and conservation groups asked state climate leaders to force the LIRR to do away with its diesel locomotives.

In a letter sent Friday to the New York State Climate Action Council, representatives from seven organizations, including the Association for a Better Long Island and the New York League of Conservation Voters, asked that the state’s plan to become carbon neutral by 2050 include a requirement that the Long Island Rail Road “eliminates the use of diesel locomotives through systemwide LIRR electrification.”

“The MTA has not yet shared its plan to meet the requirements set forth by the state. That silence comes at a time when, for far too long, various Long Island communities have been subjected to the negative environmental and economic effects of diesel-powered locomotives along the LIRR,” the letter said.

The 22-member Climate Action Council was formed as part of a broader state initiative adopted in 2019 to reduce carbon emissions over the next three decades.

Haley Viccaro, spokesperson for the Climate Action Council, said the council “is reviewing the letter,” and that the emissions reduction requirements to be part of the state’s final climate plan “will drive a significant decrease in fossil fuel use, including diesel fuel, across the state.”

MTA officials on Monday included “rail line electrification” among a list of projects that were being evaluated before the agency’s “Twenty Year Needs Assessment,” which will guide future infrastructure spending. But MTA leaders have suggested that electrification — at up to $18 million per mile — could be cost-prohibitive and would require building electrical substations on private property.

"The MTA welcomes the continued support of advocates and will look at additional investments in our railroads, including electrification opportunities on both our railroads, as part of our Twenty Year Needs planning process," MTA spokesperson Aaron Donovan said. 

Kyle Strober, executive director for the business group Association for a Better Long Island, said electrifying the entire LIRR system would benefit Long Island’s economy. Passengers traveling in “diesel territory” typically have to transfer to or from an electric train.

“Nonstop rides for our research institutions, like Brookhaven National Lab and Stony Brook, will help attract top talent and hopefully lead to more innovation companies on Long Island,” Strober said.

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