Long Island Rail Road President Philip Eng announced at a recent MTA Board meeting, that he would seek funding in the next MTA 2020-2024 Capital Program to pay for both extending electrification on the Central Branch and look into the feasibility of doing the same on the Port Jefferson branch. These are both great ideas worthy of consideration.
Estimated costs for electrification are $18 million per mile. Electrification of the seven-mile Central Branch, which runs east of Hicksville on the Ronkonkoma line on to Babylon, would provide additional options for thousands of riders from Babylon. They could travel from the Central Branch to Jamaica via the $2.6 billion Main Line Third Track and on to either Penn Station or future Grand Central Terminal by 2023. Electrification of the Central Branch could also afford creation of a new north/south scoot service, running from Huntington via Hicksville and to Babylon.
Electrification of the Port Jefferson branch beyond Huntington has been proposed on and off for more than 50 years and more. In the 1980s, MTA and LIRR management decided to go forward with electrification of the Ronkonkoma rather than on the Port Jefferson branch. Completion of the proposed $12 million Port Jefferson branch feasibility study by the end of 2019 would be a great first step. LIRR President Eng, MTA senior management, MTA board members and many others may not be aware of past history on this concept.
Besides electrification of the Central Branch, there is the need to do the same for the Port Jefferson branch from Huntington to Port Jefferson ($360 million), on the Montauk line from Babylon to Speonk ($360 million), on the Ronkonkoma line from Ronkonkoma to Yaphank ($120 million) and Oyster Bay to Mineola ($120 million). All five combined could easily cost more than $1 billion. This does not include several hundred million for a new storage yard on the Port Jefferson branch between Huntington and Port Jefferson to support electric multiple unit MU cars.
Once East Side Access is completed by December 2023, all would provide support for a one seat ride via electric MU cars for service to Grand Central Terminal and Penn Station, making the LIRR more attractive to current and future new riders. Height restrictions in the 63rd Street Tunnel built decades before construction of the current East Side Access project began in 2006 prevents the LIRR from running duel mode locomotives and double-decker coaches into Grand Central Terminal.
Larry Penner is a transportation historian, advocate and writer who previously worked 31 years for the US Department of Transportation Federal Transit Administration
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