The Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) Expansion Project took center stage during last week’s Chamber of Commerce Meeting, as representatives from the LIRR and MTA explained the plan to add a third track to the main line as well as how the project would specifically affect Mineola.
Citing 100-year-old infrastructure unable to keep up with increased demand, MTA and LIRR reps said that the project would include vital improvements that would benefit the future of Long Island.
“It is a long time coming and will pave the way for a much improved future,” said LIRR Executive Vice President Elisa Picca, adding that in Mineola, multiple infrastructure investments, including grade crossing elimination at Herricks Road and Roslyn Road, the construction of the bridge at Mineola Boulevard and the inter-modal center, were all done with the third track in mind. “You have a head start on other communities since you have that infrastructure in place. We want to finish the job and get it done in an expeditious, positive, productive way.”
Simultaneous construction along the 9.8-mile stretch is anticipated to take four years; not all that time would be spent in Mineola, reps said. In addition to adding the third track, the project includes eliminating grade crossings at Main Street and Willis Avenue, building a new heated platform and two parking garages—a 365-space one on Second Street (between Harrison and Willis) and 551-space one at Harrison Avenue.
The Mineola train station is the fifth busiest on Long Island, Picca said, with a substantial reverse peak market. In the morning, there are 700 riders going eastbound and 1,000 going westbound in the evening rush hours.
One of the major concerns voiced by members of the audience was that with a third track would come the potential for increased garbage and freight transport. The final environmental impact study (chapter 10, page 11) states that federal law requires the LIRR to permit freight operations, but the agreement the LIRR has with independent contractor New York & Atlantic Railway (NY&A) provides that passenger trains have priority over freight trains. LIRR restricts operation of freight trains to non-peak periods and the study states they are “committed to keeping this restriction in place.”
The NY&A currently operates three round trip freight trains along the project corridor per weekday, one round trip during off-peak hours in the daytime and two at night. On weekends, the NY&A operates only one round trip per day.
According to the study, the typical freight train includes approximately 20 freight cars and two locomotives. Maximum freight train operating speed is 45 miles per hour. The study states that system-wide, the LIRR has experienced a substantial decrease in freight traffic, with the number of carloads of freight handled almost 90 percent less than the number of carloads handled in 1941. Since 2009, freight traffic on LIRR’s main line has fallen from five to three daily freight train round-trips. Principal commodities being transported are construction and demolition debris, flour, food products, liquefied propane gas, bio-diesel, stone, aggregates and lumber.
Reps said they have had numerous meetings with residents and business owners to talk about their concerns and that the design-build project would require contractors to use neighbor-friendly and innovative construction practices to keep the impact of construction minimal. There will be a “community-focused approach” to construction, including satellite parking to keep workers’ personal vehicles out of residential streets, the creation and implementation of a community noise and vibration monitoring program, an air quality control plan and protected access to existing business. The LIRR has also chosen Mineola as the site of the project office (exact location to be determined).
Picca said that the LIRR expects to award the project by the end of the year. The current price tag is $2 billion, which Picca said is expected to come out of the state-funded MTA capital program.