The Long Island Rail Road (reporting mark LI), legally known as the Long Island Rail Road Company and often abbreviated as the LIRR, is a commuter rail system in the southeastern part of the U.S. state of New York, stretching from Manhattan to the eastern tip of Suffolk County on Long Island. With an average weekday ridership of 354,800 passengers in 2016, it is the busiest commuter railroad in North America.[1][2] It is also one of the world's few commuter systems that runs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, year-round.[3] It is publicly owned by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which refers to it as MTA Long Island Rail Road.

The LIRR logo combines the circular MTA logo with the text Long Island Rail Road, and appears on the sides of trains. The LIRR is one of two commuter rail systems owned by the MTA, the other being the Metro-North Railroad. Established in 1834 and having operated continuously since then, it is the second-oldest US railroad still operating under its original name and charter.[4]

There are 124 stations and more than 700 miles (1,100 km) of track[5] on its two lines to the two forks of the island and eight major branches, with the passenger railroad system totaling 319 miles (513 km) of route.[6]


George Bradford Brainerd (American, 1845-1887). Station, Bay Shore, Long Island, September 1879. Collodion silver glass wet plate negative. Brooklyn Museum
LIRR (Montauk & NY) RPO cover (TR27) for the road's 100th anniversary in 1934

The Long Island Rail Road Company was chartered in 1834 to provide a daily service between New York and Boston via a ferry connection between its Greenport, New York, terminal on Long Island's North Fork and Stonington, Connecticut. This service was superseded in 1849 by the land route through Connecticut that became part of the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad. The LIRR refocused its attentions towards serving Long Island, in competition with other railroads on the island. In the 1870s, railroad president Conrad Poppenhusen and his successor Austin Corbin acquired all the railroads and consolidated them into the LIRR.[7]

The LIRR was unprofitable for much of its history. In 1900, the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) bought a controlling interest as part of its plan for direct access to Manhattan which began on September 8, 1910. The wealthy PRR subsidized the LIRR during the first half of the new century, allowing expansion and modernization.[4] Electric operation began in 1905.[8]

After the Second World War, the railroad industry's downturn and dwindling profits caused the PRR to stop subsidizing the LIRR, and the LIRR went into receivership in 1949. The State of New York, realizing how important the railroad was to Long Island's future, began to subsidize the railroad in the 1950s and 1960s. In 1966, New York State bought the railroad's controlling stock from the PRR and put it under the newly formed Metropolitan Commuter Transportation Authority (renamed Metropolitan Transportation Authority in 1968). With MTA subsidies the LIRR modernized further, continuing to be the busiest commuter railroad in the United States.[4]

The LIRR is one of the few railroads that has survived as an intact company from its original charter to the present.[4]

Major stations

The LIRR Penn Station ticket counter displays all locations served by the railroad.
Long Island City station and yard
Platforms at Jamaica

The LIRR operates out of three western terminals, in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens. Jamaica Station in central Queens is the hub of all railroad activities. Expansion of the system into Grand Central Terminal is expected over the next few years. Major stations include:

Passenger lines and services

Schematic of services
C3 Bi-level coaches at grade crossing in Bethpage

Current branches

The Long Island Rail Road system has eleven passenger branches. Three main trunk lines, the Main Line, Montauk Branch, and Atlantic Branch, spin off eight smaller branches. For scheduling and advertising purposes some of these branches are divided into sections such as the case with the Montauk Branch, which is known as the Babylon Branch service in the electrified portion of the line between Jamaica and Babylon, while the diesel service beyond Babylon to Montauk is referred to as the Montauk Branch service. All branches except the Port Washington Branch pass through Jamaica; the trackage west of Jamaica (except to Port Washington) is known as the City Terminal Zone. The City Terminal Zone includes portions of the Main Line and Atlantic and Montauk Branches as well as the Amtrak-owned East River Tunnels to Penn Station. The passenger lines are:

Former branches

The railroad has dropped a number of branches due to lack of ridership over the years. Part of the Rockaway Beach Branch became part of the IND Rockaway Line of the New York City Subway, while others were downgraded to freight branches, and the rest abandoned entirely. Additionally, the Long Island Railroad operated trains over portions of the Brooklyn Rapid Transit (BRT) elevated and subway lines until 1917.[16]

Additional services

In addition to its daily commuter patronage, the LIRR also offers the following services:

Fare structure

Like Metro-North Railroad and New Jersey Transit, the Long Island Rail Road fare system is based on the distance a passenger travels, as opposed to the New York City Subway, which has a flat rate throughout the system. The railroad is broken up into eight numbered fare zones. Zone 1 includes all of the City Terminal Zone.[28] Zone 3 includes Jamaica (and Flushing) and all stations east of Jamaica (and Flushing) within the boundaries of New York City, except Far Rockaway and Belmont Park.[29] Zones 4 and 7 include all the stations in Nassau County and Far Rockaway.[29] Zones 9, 10, 12 and 14 include all the stations in Suffolk County.[29] Each zone contains many stations, and the same fare applies for travel between any station in the origin zone and any station in the destination zone.[29]

Peak and off-peak fares

Peak fares are charged during the week on trains that arrive at western terminals between 6 AM and 10 AM, and for trains that depart from western terminals between 4 PM and 8 PM.[30] Any passenger holding an off-peak ticket on a peak train is required to pay a step up fee.[31] Passengers can buy tickets from ticket agents or ticket vending machines (TVMs) or on the train from conductors, but will incur an on-board penalty fee for doing so.[31] This fee is waived for customers boarding at a station without a ticket office or ticket machine, senior citizens, people with disabilities or Medicare customers.[31]

There are several types of tickets: one way, round trip, peak, off-peak, AM peak or off-peak senior/citizen disabled, peak child, and off-peak child. On off-peak trains, passengers can buy a family ticket for children who are accompanied by an 18-year-old for $0.75 if bought from the station agent or TVM, $1.00 on the train. Senior citizen/disabled passengers traveling during the morning peak hours are required to pay the AM peak senior citizen/disabled rate. This rate is not charged during PM peak hours.[citation needed]

Commuters can also buy a peak or off-peak ten trip ride, a weekly unlimited or an unlimited monthly pass.[32] Monthly passes are good on any train regardless of the time of day, within the fare zones specified on the pass.[32]

Special fares

During the summer the railroad offers special summer package ticket deals to places such as Long Beach, Jones Beach, the Hamptons, Montauk, and Greenport. Passengers traveling to the Hamptons and Montauk on the Cannonball can reserve a seat in the all-reserved Parlor Cars.[33]

Passengers going to Belmont Park must buy a special ticket to go from Jamaica to Belmont Park (or vice versa). Weekly and monthly passes are not accepted at Belmont Park.[34]


In 2003, the LIRR and Metro-North started a pilot program in which passengers traveling within the city limits were allowed to buy one-way tickets for $2.50.[35] The special reduced-fare CityTicket, proposed by the New York City Transit Riders Council,[35] was formally introduced in 2004.[36] On weekends, the railroad offers the CityTicket for passengers who travel within Zones 1 and 3 (i.e. within New York City). CityTickets can only be bought from ticket agents or machines and used on the day of purchase.[34] They are not valid for travel to Far Rockaway because it is in Zone 4 and the Far Rockaway Branch passes through Nassau County.[34] It is also not valid for travel to the Belmont Park station, which is only open for special events.[34]

Freedom Ticket

In fall 2017, the MTA was slated to launch a pilot that will allow LIRR, bus and subway service to use one ticket.[37] The proposal for the ticket, called the "Freedom Ticket," was initially put forth by the New York City Transit Riders Council (NYCTRC) in 2007.[38]:1 The NYCTRC wrote a proof of concept report in 2015.[39] At the time of the report, express bus riders from Southeast Queens had some of the longest commutes in the city, with their commutes being 96 minutes long, yet they paid a premium fare of $6.50. Riders who take the dollar van to the subway paid $4.75 to get to Manhattan in 65 minutes; riders who only took the bus and subway paid $2.75 to get to Manhattan in 86 minutes; and riders who took the LIRR paid $10 to get to Manhattan in 35 minutes.[38]:iii Unlike the CityTicket, the Freedom Ticket would be valid for off-peak and multidirectional travel; have free transfers to the subway and bus system; and be capped at $215 per month.[38]:1–2 At the time, monthly CityTickets cost $330 per month.[39]

The Freedom Ticket will initially be available for sale at the Atlantic Terminal, Nostrand Avenue, and East New York stations in Brooklyn and at the Laurelton, Locust Manor, Rosedale, and St. Albans stations in Queens.[37][40][41] Riders, under the pilot, would be able to purchase one-way, weekly, or monthly passes that will be valid on the LIRR, on buses, and the subway. The fare will be higher than the price of a ride on the MetroCard, but it will be lower than the combined price of an LIRR ticket and a MetroCard, and it will allow unlimited free transfers between the LIRR, buses, and subway.[41] The former head of the MTA, Thomas Prendergast, announced at the January 2017 board meeting that the plan would be explored in a field study to determine fares and the impact on existing service.[37] The plan is intended to fill approximately 20,000 unused seats of existing trains to Atlantic Terminal and Penn Station (or about 50% to 60% of peak trains in each direction),[40] while at the same time providing affordable service to people with long commutes.[41] The details will be announced in spring 2017, and the pilot will last six months.[37]

Train operations

Interior of a typical LIRR train car

The LIRR is relatively isolated from the rest of the national rail system. It connects with other railroads in just two locations:

All LIRR trains have an engineer who operates the train, and a conductor who is responsible for the safe movement of the train, fare collection and on-board customer service. In addition, train may have one or more assistant conductors to assist with fare collection and other duties. The LIRR is one of the last railroads in the United States to use mechanical interlocking control towers to regulate rail traffic.[45]

As of 2016, the LIRR has 8 active control towers. All movements on the LIRR are under the control of the Movement Bureau in Jamaica, which gives orders to the towers that control a specific portion of the railroad. Movements in Amtrak territory are controlled by Penn Station Control Center or PSCC, run jointly by the LIRR and Amtrak. The PSCC controls as far east as Harold Interlocking, in Sunnyside, Queens. The PSCC replaced several towers.[46] The Jamaica Control Center, operational since the third quarter of 2010, controls the area around Jamaica terminal by direct control of interlockings. This replaced several towers in Jamaica including Jay and Hall towers at the west and east ends of Jamaica station respectively. At additional locations, line side towers control the various switches and signals in accordance with the timetable and under the direction of the Movement Bureau in Jamaica.[47]

Signal and safety systems

Today's LIRR signal system has evolved from its legacy Pennsylvania Railroad-based system. The railroad utilizes a variety of wayside railroad signals including position light, color light and dwarf signals. In addition, much of the LIRR is equipped with a bi-directional Pulse code cab signaling called automatic speed control (ASC), though portions of the railway still retain single direction wayside only signalling. Unlike other railroads which began using color light signals in the 20th century, the LIRR did not begin using signals with color lights on its above ground sections until 2006. Some portions of the railway lack automatic signals and cab signals completely, instead train and track car movements are governed only by timetable and verbal/written train orders.

On portions of the railroad equipped with ASC, Engineers consult the speed display unit, which is capable of displaying 7 speed indications. They are 80,70,60,40,30,15 on electric trains while some diesel locomotives have slightly lower speed-steps when compared to the electrics. As a result of a December 1, 2013, train derailment in the Bronx on the Metro-North Railroad, railroads with similar cab signal systems to Metro-North, such as the LIRR, were ordered to modify the systems to enforce certain speed limit changes, which has resulted in lower average speeds and actual speed limits across the LIRR.[48]

Power transmission

The LIRR's electrified lines are powered by 750 V DC third rail with the contact shoe running along the top of the rail, similar to the New York City Subway and PATH trains.[49] This system is currently incompatible with Metro-North's third rail, which is under-running, though the M8 fleet and the future M9 fleet can use both types of third rails.


The LIRR's electric fleet consists of 836 M7 and 170 M3 electric multiple unit cars in married pairs, meaning each car needs the other one to operate, with each car containing its own engineer's cab. The trainsets typically range up to 12 cars long. In September 2013, MTA announced that the LIRR would procure new M9 railcars from Kawasaki starting in 2016.[50] They will replace the M3s, and expand the railroad's electric fleet.

The LIRR also uses 134 C3 Bilevel coaches powered by 24 DE30AC diesel-electric locomotives and 21 DM30AC dual-mode locomotives. They are used mostly on non-electrified territories, including the Port Jefferson, Oyster Bay, Montauk, and Greenport Branches.[51]

Named trains

For most of its history LIRR has served commuters, but it had many named trains, some with all-first class seating, parlor cars, and full bar service. Few of them lasted past World War II, but some names were revived during the 1950s and 1960s as the railroad expanded its east end parlor car service with luxury coaches and Pullman cars from railroads that were discontinuing their passenger trains.

Current trains

  • The Cannonball, a Friday-only 12-car train to Montauk running May through October, with two all-reserved parlor cars with full bar service. Since May 24, 2013 it has originated at Penn Station with a Sunday evening return from Montauk; only the westward train stops at Jamaica. The two rear cars ("Hamptons Reserve Service") have reserved seating and exclusive bar service.[52] The name is a nod to the Cannon Ball, the all-year train to Amagansett/Montauk from the 1890s until the 1970s. It carried parlor cars and standard-fare coaches and ran weekday afternoons from Long Island City, then from Penn Station until 1951.[53]

Former trains

  • Fisherman's Special (1932–1950s) from Long Island City to Canoe Place Station and Montauk via Jamaica, April through October, terminating at Canoe Place in April, extended to Montauk in May. Served Long Island fishing trade.[54]
  • Peconic Bay Express / Shinnecock Bay Express (1926–1950) from Long Island City to Greenport and Montauk, Saturday only, express to Greenport and Montauk. Discontinued during World War II though revived for a few seasons afterwards.[53]
  • Shelter Island Express (1901–1903, 1923–1942) from Long Island City to Greenport, Friday-only summer express that connected to Shelter Island ferries.
  • Sunrise Special (1922–1942) ran during the summer, NY Penn to Montauk on Fridays and westbound Mondays. In summer 1926 it ran daily. All parlor car (no coaches) from 1932 to 1937.[42][43][55][56][57]

Freight service

The freight-only Bay Ridge Branch through Brooklyn

The LIRR and other railroads that became part of the system have always had freight service, though this has diminished. The process of shedding freight service accelerated with the acquisition of the railroad by New York State. In the 21st century, there has been some appreciation of the need for better railroad freight service in New York City and on Long Island. Both areas are primarily served by trucking for freight haulage, an irony in a region with the most extensive rail transit service in the Americas as well as the worst traffic conditions. Proposals for a Cross-Harbor Rail Tunnel for freight have languished more than a century.

In May 1997, freight service was franchised on a 20-year term to the New York and Atlantic Railway (NYAR), a short line railroad owned by the Anacostia and Pacific Company.[58] It has its own equipment and crews, but uses the rail facilities of the LIRR. To the east, freight service operates to the end of the West Hempstead Branch, to Huntington on the Port Jefferson Branch, to Bridgehampton on the Montauk Branch, and to Riverhead on the Main Line. On the western end it provides service on the surviving freight-only tracks of the LIRR: the Bay Ridge and Bushwick branches; the "Lower Montauk" between Jamaica and Long Island City; and to an interchange connection at Fresh Pond Junction in Queens with the CSX, Canadian Pacific, and Providence and Worcester railroads.[59]

Freight branches

Some non-electrified lines are used only for freight:

Planned service expansions

In 2019, the LIRR expects to complete a project to add a second track along its Main Line between Farmingdale and Ronkonkoma to relieve crowding. Currently, there is only double track from Bethpage to the site of the former Republic Station (east of Farmingdale), and again from Deer Park to Brentwood. Passing sidings exist east of Wyandanch, and at Central Islip.[61]

In 2023, the LIRR expects to complete the long-anticipated East Side Access project, allowing trains to access Grand Central Terminal.[62]

On January 5, 2016, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a revived project to add a third track to the Main Line between Floral Park and Hicksville.[63] The Third Main Line Track and electrification expansions had been planned in conjunction with the commencement of service to Grand Central Terminal but were placed on hold in 2008 since local politicians in the affected areas were opposed to the plan and expressed concerns about the effects of the construction and train noise from eventual increase in service.[64] The third track on the Main Line will aid in relieving the crowding on the Main Line which is expected to grow after the East Side Access project is complete. The project also includes the elimination of all seven grade crossings and will be constructed within existing LIRR rights-of-way.[65]

Law enforcement

The LIRR Police Department, founded in 1868,[66] was absorbed along with the Metro-North Railroad Police to form the Metropolitan Transportation Authority Police (MTA Police) in 1998.

Criticism and controversy

Passenger issues

The LIRR has a long history of rocky relations with its passengers,[67] especially daily commuters.[68] Various commuter advocacy groups have been formed to try to represent those interests, in addition to the state mandated LIRR Commuters Council.[69]

One criticism of the LIRR is that it has not improved service to the "east end" of Long Island as the twin forks continue to grow in popularity as a year-round tourist and residential destination. Demand is evidenced by flourishing for-profit bus services such as the Hampton Jitney and the Hampton Luxury Liner and the early formative stages of a new East End Transportation Authority.[70] Local politicians have joined the public outcry for the LIRR to either improve the frequency of east end services, or turn the operation over to a local transportation authority.

Critics claim that the on-time performance (OTP) calculated by the LIRR is manipulated to be artificially high. Because the LIRR does not release any raw timing data nor does it have independent (non-MTA) audits it is impossible to verify this claim, or the accuracy of the current On Time Performance measurement. The "percentage" measure is used by many other US passenger railroads but the criticism over accuracy is specific to the LIRR. As defined by the LIRR, a train is "on time" if it arrives at a station within 5 minutes and 59 seconds of the scheduled time.[71] The criterion was 4 minutes and 59 seconds until the LIRR changed it because of a bug in their computer systems.[72] Critics[73] believe the OTP measure does not reflect what commuters experience on a daily basis. The LIRR publishes the current OTP in a monthly booklet called TrainTalk.[74] TrainTalk was previously known as "Keeping Track."[75]

A more accurate way to measure delays and OTP has been proposed.[76] Called the "Passenger Hours Delayed" index it can measure total person-hours of a specific delay. This would be useful in comparing performance of specific days or incidents, day-to-day (or week-to-week) periods, something the current measure cannot do. This 'PHD' index measure is used by some transportation research organizations and would be more meaningful to commuters. As of March 2016 it has not been adopted. The two methods are not mutually exclusive and could be kept and published simultaneously.

Ridership has increased from 81 million passengers in 2011 to 89.3 million passengers in 2016, which is the railroad's highest ridership since 1949. The all-time highest ridership was in 1929, when 119 million passengers rode 1.89 billion passenger miles.[77] This increase in ridership has been attributed to the increased usage of the LIRR by millennials, and the increase of reverse-peak travel.[78]

Pension and disability fraud scandal

A New York Times investigation in 2008 showed that 25% of LIRR employees who had retired since 2000 filed for disability payments from the federal Railroad Retirement Board and 97% of them were approved to receive disability pension. The total collected was more than $250,000,000 over eight years.[79] As a result, Railroad Retirement agents from Chicago inspected the Long Island office of the Railroad Retirement Board on September 23, 2008. New York Governor David Paterson issued a statement calling for Congress to conduct a full review of the board's mission and daily activities. Officials at the board's headquarters responded to the investigation stating that all occupational disability annuities were issued in accordance with applicable laws.[79]

On November 17, 2008, a former LIRR pension manager was arrested and charged with official misconduct for performing outside work without permission. However, these charges were all dismissed for "no merit" by Supreme Court Judge Kase on December 11, 2009 on the grounds that the prosecution had misled the grand jury in the indictment.[80]

A report produced in September 2009 by the Government Accountability Office stated that the rate at which retirees were rewarded disability claims was above the norm for the industry in general and indicated "troubling" practices that may indicate fraud, such as the use of a very small group of physicians in making diagnoses.[81]

Another series of arrests on October 27, 2011 included two doctors and a former union official.[82][83]

According to court documents, from 1998 through 2011, 79% of LIRR retirees obtained federal disability when they retired. On August 6, 2013, a doctor and two consultants were found guilty in connection with the accusations and sentenced to prison.[84][85][86]

See also


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