Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

Long Island Rail Road

The Long Island Rail Road or LIRR is a railroad that serves the length of Long Island, New York. It is the busiest commuter railroad in the United States of America.

Table of contents
1 Key terminals
2 History
3 Lines/branches
4 Freight Service
5 Long Island Rail Road Massacre
6 External Links

Key terminals

The LIRR has two major terminals and two minor terminals in New York City - The major terminals are located at Pennsylvania Station in Manhattan, and Flatbush Ave in Brooklyn. The minor terminals are at Hunterspoint Avenue and at Long Island City, both in Queens, New York.

There is also a major station and transfer point in Jamaica, Queens. Jamaica station encompasses eight tracks and six platforms, plus yard and bypass tracks. At Jamaica passengers can transfer between all western branches and all but one eastern branch. Transfer is also made for separate facilities for two different subway lines, many bus lines, and the AirTrain automated electric rail system to JFK International Airport

Two major trunk lines extend east from Jamaica. These lines each extend to points a few miles short of the end of each of Long Island's "forks," long peninsulas separated by Shelter Island Sound. The line to the north fork, with limited service east of the prime commuter zone, is at Greenport and the line to the south fork, with both commuter service and extensive seasonal excursion traffic, is at Montauk.

There are six subsidary branches terminating in Nassau County, New York, at Port Washington, Oyster Bay, Hempstead, West Hempstead, Long Beach and Far Rockaway. This latter terminal actually loops back to, and terminates in the City of New York, but the remainder of the branch is in Nassau. There is one subsidiary branch in Suffolk County, New York, to Port Jefferson.


The LIRR's history stretches back to 1832 and the Brooklyn and Jamaica RR Company which built a ten mile stretch of track between Brooklyn and Jamaica. The Long Island Rail Road itself was founded in 1834, leasing the track laid down by the B&J and building its own.

The original plan was not as a local service to serve Long Island, but rather a quicker route from Boston to New York. Trains would run from Boston to Stonington, Connecticut, where the passengers would cross by ferry to Long Island. They would then ride on the LIRR to New York. The reason for this rather complicated plan was the then-considered impossible civil engineering job of building a railroad down through southern Connecticut.

The LIRR thus built its original tracks running straight down the middle of the island, which was largely uninhabited at the time, rather than serving the existing Long Island communities. This route was chosen as simply the fastest way to New York.

The Island-long route was completed in 1844 and at first was highly successful. However, in 1850 railroad tracks were built through that 'impassable' country of southern Connecticut, and a direct overland route from New York to Boston now existed. The LIRR's reason for existence was gone.

The only remaining business was to serve Long Island itself, something the railroad was not built to do. Efforts were made to build branches to them. In 1850 only one such branch existed, but more were built, as well as a number of other railroad companies' branches.

The combination of the loss of the New York to Boston traffic and all the competing railroads made for harsh financial times for both the LIRR and the newer roads. In 1876, the LIRR was bought out by the owner of one of the competing roads, but the Long Island Rail Road name was used for the merged company. Even consolidation could not prevent another receivership in 1879, however.

The road was purchased by Austin Corbin in 1880 and further building took place. By 1900, the LIRR had reached the limits of its expansion. During this period the road was profitable.

In 1901 the Pennsylvania Railroad acquired the Long Island Rail Road and went about an extensive program of improvements. The PRR had long desired a terminal on Manhattan Island itself, instead of in Jersey City. The PRR built a grand station, Pennsylvania Station, with tracks oriented approximately east-west, and dug two sets of tunnels, one under the Hudson River to connect the new station with the Pennsylvania Railroad network, and another set under the East River to connect with the Long Island Rail Road.

Due to New York City laws passed banning steam powered trains within city limits by 1910 following a serious accident caused by smoke and steam in the tunnels near Grand Central Station blocking the view of train crews, an ambitious scheme of electrification was instituted for the new station and the lines in and out, culminating in a large proportion of the LIRR's network being electrified on the third rail DC system. This electrification is still in use today.

After the Second World War the LIRR became more and more of a financial drain on the Pennsylvania Railroad, and became bankrupt. It was purchased by the State of New York and is now a subsidiary of the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA).


All branches (except Port Washington) pass through Jamaica. West of Jamaica, all lines share track. This track leading into the city is known as the "City Terminal Zone"

This diesel line is the longest LIRR line, going 115 miles east of NYC, to Montauk, New York. It has heavy ridership and frequent service, especially in the summer, with travellers going out to the Hamptons and beaches.

The Montauk Branch is now effectively an extension of the Babylon Branch. Some Montauk Branch diesel trains begin their runs at Babylon station, connecting to the latter branch's electric trains there. Other Montauk Branch trains operate into New York City, ended their runs at Jamaica station, or at Hunterspoint Avenue or Long Island City on the eastern side of the East River.

Montauk Branch trains operate west of Babylon via the Babylon Branch, or via the diesel-only Central Branch Extension to the Main Line.

This is an electrified, two-track main-line and has heavy ridership, because it serves the suburban communities on Nassau County's and westernmost Suffolk County's south shore.

The Babylon Branch is completely grade-separated on embankment or structure, the only LIRR branch east of New York City to be so.

This line also is electrified, with electric service ending at Ronkonkoma. Several daily diesel trains connect with Ronkonkoma electric trains at Ronkonkoma, two in each direction extending to the end of the line at Greenport.

This branch provides frequent electric service to Huntington, with some diesel serice continuing to Port Jefferson. The heaviest traffic tends to be to the Stony Brook station where Stony Brook University is located.

This branch is electric, and branches off the Main Line at Queens Village, in the borough of Queens, New York. It continues east to Hempstead through Garden City.

This electric branch spilts off from the Far Rockaway at Valley Stream to West Hempstead. It also makes a stop at St. Albans, in Queens.

This electric branch connects Far Rockaway in Queens with Valley Stream. It has frequent service.

This electric LIRR branch spilts brom the Babylon at Lynbrook. It then heads south to Long Beach.

This is the only LIRR branch not to stop at Jamaica. It splits off the Main Line at Woodside and runs through northwestern Queens past Shea Stadium and into the northwestern corner of Nassau County. It is electric and has heavy ridership and frequent service.

Freight Service

The Long Island Rail Road and other railroads that became part of the system have always had freight service, though this has diminished over the years, making the LIRR the only Class I Railroad in the U.S. with more passenger than freight service. The process of shedding freight service accelerated with the acquisition of the railroad by the State of New York.

In recent years 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.

Freight service is now operated on lease by the New York & Atlantic Railway, a short line railroad owned by the Anacostia & Pacific Company. It has its own equipment and crews, but uses the rail facilities of the LIRR. To the east, freight service operates to the ends of the West Hempstead, Port Jefferson and Montauk branches, and to Southold on the Greenport branch. On the western end it provides service on the surviving freight-only branches of the LIRR: the Bay Ridge and Bushwick branches; the nearly freight-only Lower Montauk branch; and to connections with national railroads.

Long Island Rail Road Massacre

On December 7, 1993, Colin Ferguson, a New York City resident, boarded the 5:33 pm local train to Hicksville with a hidden weapon and the intent to murder anonymous passengers. He was convicted of shooting 25 LIRR passengers, 6 of whom died. Details.

External Links