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Useful Notes / Long Island Railroad

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The Route of the Dashing Commuter.

The Long Island Rail Road (also known as the LIRR) is a commuter railroad serving (as the name says) Long Island, New York. It is operated by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (better known as the MTA), which you may know as the company that operates the New York City Subway. It wasn't always so; it was founded in 1834 as an independent company; as such, it became the bane of law students across America, as it got into quite a few notable lawsuits in the early 20th century—most notably Palsgraf v. Long Island Railroad Co., which every American law student reads and learns to hate and love for the complex beauty and beautiful complexity of Chief Judge Cardozo's opinion. Despite the changes in ownership, it has remained intact as a single unit with the same name ever since its founding—one of the few to have done so. It is also the only commuter rail system in the US to operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Now that we have that out of the way, let's talk about the system itself.



  • City Terminal Zone: Not exactly a line per se, but a combination of all services west of Jamaica (barring the Port Washington, but that's because it doesn't go to Jamaica). A good chunk of trains normally flow into Penn Station in Manhattan (the main railroad station in New York, despite the media making you believe it's Grand Centralnote ) or Atlantic Terminal in Brooklyn. A connection to Grand Central is expected to open in 2022. Some trains only go as far as Long Island City or Jamaica.

  • Babylon Branch: This is the most used branch in the system (about 60,000 riders on the average weekday). This branch is entirely electrified, and also completely elevated, because it runs next to a major highway, which means it was unsafe to keep at ground level. This branch is actually physically part of the Montauk Branch (See below), although it is classified as a different service.

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  • Belmont Park Branch: The least used branch in the system, as well as the shortest, the Belmont Park Branch is only used on horse racing days. It serves the Belmont Park racetrack, home to the Belmont Stakes. It is entirely electrified.

  • Central Branch: Not normally marked on maps (because it has no stations), the Central Branch is a non-electrified line forking off of the Ronkonkoma Branch near Bethpage and merging with the Babylon Branch near Babylon. It is used by some Montauk Branch trains.

  • Far Rockaway Branch: This electrified branch is one of the shorter ones in the system. Nothing on this is really of interest, though Far Rockaway is the only full-time terminal (excluding the City Terminal Zone, of course) that is within the boundaries of New York City itself.note 

  • Hempstead Branch: This electrified branch is another short one. As with the Far Rockaway, it's not really that interesting, so there's not much to say about it.

  • Long Beach Branch: Another one of the short electric branches serving Nassau County, this one has a bit more going for it than the previous two. It connects to Long Beach (one of the two cities that is completely on Long Island - the other being Glen Cove) and has a few interesting bits where it crosses the water south of Oceanside.

  • Montauk Branch: The longest branch in the system (in fact, the eastern end is closer to Boston than to New York), the Montauk Branch runs from Long Island City to Montauk, although the section west of Babylon is publicly classified as the Babylon Branchnote . This branch serves the Hamptons (which is some of the most valuable real estate in the world). This branch also has the last named train in the system (the Cannonball, which goes nonstop from Penn to the Hamptons in the summer).
    • This branch is, interestingly, a critical element of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. It even opens with the lovers meeting on the platform in Montauk waiting for a New York-bound train, and both are going to Rockville Centre.

  • Oyster Bay Branch: This mostly-diesel branch (it is electrified to East Williston, but only sees one electric train a day, simply to polish the third rail) is the second-lowest in ridership if you exclude the Belmont Park Branch (the West Hempstead is the lowest in ridership). It serves the wealthy towns of northeast Nassau County, and ends in Oyster Bay, where president Theodore Roosevelt had his summer home.

  • Port Jefferson Branch: This part-electric/part-diesel branch is the second-highest in ridership in the system (behind the Babylon). It serves major business districts while traveling through Nassau (Mineola and Hicksville), but in Suffolk, it serves smaller, more residential, towns (such as Cold Spring Harbor, Northport and St. James, which is home to the oldest station house in the system). It also serves Stony Brook University. Electrification ends at Huntington, where passengers must often switch to diesel shuttles; because of this, the electrified section of the branch is also sometimes informally called the Huntington Branch, or "Hicksville/Huntington Branch".note 

  • Port Washington Branch: An odd branch in the system (it's the only one that does NOT go to Jamaica), the Port Washington is completely electric, and is almost completely grade-separated (the only grade crossing is at Little Neck, which is also the last grade crossing in New York City on any passenger railroad). The line has the highest bridge in the system (between Great Neck and Manhasset). Great Neck station was also the inspiration for West Egg station in The Great Gatsby.

  • Ronkonkoma Branch: The only branch where the terminal is NOT in the branch's name, the Ronkonkoma is a high-volume branch straight down the middle of the island. It's a pretty boring branch west of Ronkonkoma (which is the electric section), but it's also the only line on the LIRR to serve a cemetery (at Pinelawn station). East of Ronkonkoma (which is served by diesel trains), the line is predominately rural, passing through pine barrens, farms and vineyards until it's eastern end at Greenportnote . As such, due to those factors (as well as infrequent train service, with none on weekends outside of summer), it feels more like an Amtrak trip at points once you get that far. Ronkonkoma station itself is the busiest east of Jamaica (with about 17,000 riders a day) and serves MacArthur Airport, which is a major destination for Southwest Airlines.

  • West Hempstead Branch: The least used branch in the system (as well as the shortest, with a one-way trip from end to end taking about ten minutes), the West Hempstead is a completely electric branch known for it's infrequent service. In fact, it is so lightly used that you can find a seat at rush hour on most days. Because of the low ridership, weekend service was discontinued in 2010, but restored in 2014.

Major stations:

  • Penn Station: Originally built by the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1909, this station serves as the terminal for most electric trains. It is located under Madison Square Garden (which promotes itself as the World's Most Famous Arena). The current Penn Station layout is actually from the 1960s, as the Pennsylvania Railroad was in bad financial shape, and, as such, sold the air rights above the station, which led to the demolition of the original building (which urban planners still want to rebuild)note . On January 1, 2021 the Moynihan Train Hall opened across 8th Avenue from Penn Station, providing access to the LIRR and Amtrak platforms (NJ Transit riders still have to use the old entrance that goes under Madison Square Garden). So not quite rebuilt, but still, progress.

  • Atlantic Terminal: Playing second fiddle to Penn Station is this six-track underground terminal, located in Brooklyn. It has a mall on top of it, and is located across the street from the Barclays Center arena.

  • Long Island City: The original terminal of the line, Long Island City only sees a few trains a day (all of them diesel, as it has a yard full of diesel trains), and only at rush hour. Even then, many of those rush hour trains turn one station up the line at * Hunterspoint Avenue, which has a direct subway connection.

  • Jamaica: The nucleus of the system, Jamaica is an eight-track hub in the middle of the New York City neighborhood of Jamaica (which is, strangely enough, home to a lot of Jamaicans, though the names are coincidental). Almost every train (except Port Washington Branch ones) pass through here, and changing trains at Jamaica to get a train to another terminal is a rite of passage for Long Islanders. Most diesel trains terminate here during off-peak hours.

  • Hicksville: The busiest station in Nassau County. Some trains terminate here on weekdays.

  • Ronkonkoma: The busiest station in Suffolk County, and as mentioned above, the busiest outside of the New York terminals. Almost all trains on the Ronkonkoma branch terminate here; customers traveling east of Ronkonkoma to Greenport typically must transfer from an electric train to a diesel shuttle. The station is also close to MacArthur Airport.

Other stations of note:

  • Elmont: An infill station on the Hempstead Branch. Partially open; the eastbound platform opened in late November 2021, but construction continues on the westbound platform, which is scheduled to open in late 2022. This station provides year-round access to Belmont Park, as well as UBS Arena, current home of the New York Islanders.
  • Mets–Willets Point: On the Port Washington Branch; currently a limited-use station, but with an interesting history. It was originally built to serve the 1939 World's Fair in Flushing Meadows–Corona Park, and known as "World's Fair". In 1946, the park became the temporary site of the United Nations General Assembly, with the station renamed "United Nations". The station closed in 1952 once the UN moved to its permanent headquarters in Midtown Manhattan, but reopened under its original name in 1961. The station also served the 1964 World's Fair, and a pedestrian connection was built to provide direct access to the newly built Shea Stadium, home to the New York Mets and New York Jets (the Jets have long since moved to New Jersey). The station was renamed "Shea Stadium" in 1966, and received its current name in 2009, after Shea Stadium had been torn down and replaced by Citi Field. The station is now open only for Mets home games, the US Open in tennis (held at Flushing Meadows), other special events, and emergencies. However, the proposed AirTrain LaGuardia, which would connect LaGuardia Airport to the LIRR and NYC Subway, would connect with the LIRR here.