After decades of talk and years of construction, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority expects to finish construction of the Long Island Rail Road second track between Ronkonkoma and Farmingdale by the end of summer. That is worthy of applause, even if it’s tinged with a bit of incredulity that, yes, in 2018, the nation’s busiest commuter railroad would just be finishing up installing a double track.
Those who live near the railroad’s path have watched as old tracks were moved and new tracks were added. Those who ride the LIRR have had to adjust to accommodate weekend and overnight work, service outages, and signal testing, and have endured plenty of frustrating delays every time there’s a problem on the existing single track.
And, of course, no improvement project can put an end to every freak occurrence or the repeated stupidity of truck drivers who strike railroad support bridges, like the one in Garden City Wednesday morning.
But soon, many LIRR riders, particularly on the Ronkonkoma branch, hopefully will see some relief. That’ll come with new switches and signals and station upgrades. Perhaps the most significant benefit will be the redundancy the second track will provide, especially when there’s a problem. Until now, a stalled train, a person or car on the tracks, or anything else that happened would halt service, often for hours, because trains would have no way of getting around the problem. Now, there will be an alternative.
MTA officials say they expect the response time during a disruption to improve, the length of the disruption to shorten, and the number of trains affected to decrease. If all goes well, there should be fewer and shorter delays, and improved on-time performance, particularly on the Ronkonkoma branch — and that’s welcome news. Once double track service begins, the LIRR will be held to the promises it made.
The double track also will allow the LIRR to add trains to the reverse commute during peak hours, so those who want to work on the Island and live to the west finally might be able to do so. That will be important to Long Island’s future business and employment growth. The double track already is propelling economic development across the Island itself, including housing and commercial construction, in key transit hubs like Ronkonkoma, Wyandanch and Farmingdale. A reopened LIRR station near Republic Airport in Farmingdale, and related development there, would add to that mix. Babylon town officials should approve zoning changes there to get that plan moving, too.
There is, of course, more to do. The LIRR is underway on the third track between Hicksville and Floral Park, a project that includes removing grade crossings and replacing rail bridges — like the one struck on Wednesday — with those that will have greater clearance. And we’re still waiting for the beleaguered and long-delayed East Side Access effort to connect the railroad to Grand Central Terminal.
It’ll take another four years to complete this trifecta — and the full impact of increased capacity, added tracks and other improvements won’t be felt until all three projects are finished. But the approaching opening of the double track is the first step, and it’s worth celebrating.
One down. Two to go.
— The editorial board