The Long Island Rail Road, The Route of the Dashing Commuter
The Long Island Rail Road is one of the oldest railroads still in operation today although it is no longer a privately held company, owned by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA)
and is essentially a commuter rail operation. Still, the LIRR has a
long and storied history of carrying commuters to and from their homes
on Long Island and today remains the busiest such railroads in the
country, transporting over 80 million folks each year. While the LIRR
has trimmed excess lines here and there over the years it continues to
operate most of its original system which stretches throughout Long Island and still reaches the eastern-most points on the Island.
Aging Long Island Railroad FA-2 #618 rests at the yard in Montauk, New York on July 1, 1978. By this date the Alco was only used as a power car.
The LIRR's earliest history dates back to April 25, 1832 when the Brooklyn & Jamaica Railroad Company was incorporated to connect Brooklyn and Jamaica, a distance of ten miles. Two years later in April of 1834 the Long Island Rail Road
Company was formed and took over the B&J in April of 1836. The
LIRR's main purpose was to build a rail-water route connecting New York City and Boston. Since engineers at the time believed that an all-terrain route between New York City and Boston was an impossibility the LIRR's route would stretch across Long Island and use ferry service between
Greenport, New York Stonington, Connecticut. From there the line would
continue through Providence, Rhode Island and finally reaching Boston.
In July of 1844 the route between Brooklyn and Greenport was opened
and became quite popular with a trip of only 3 1/2 hours.
Unfortunately, this was the extent of the LIRR's success. In 1850 the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad (the New Haven Railroad) opened its fast and efficient main line between Boston and New York, hugging the coast line most of the way. With an all-land route now open which was faster the LIRR's water-rail service the New Haven Railroad's line was favored by travelers thus causing the former railroad to fall into bankruptcy.
To find any kind of success the LIRR knew it must focus on gaining local traffic, in this case building lines that connected all of Long Island's
largest cities and towns. After the LIRR came under the direction of
Austin Corbin in 1880 it was able to reach its largest size. It
completed a second main line hugging the southern coastline of the
Atlantic Ocean, which reached the eastern town of Montauk. Branches
also sprung up connected such communities as Port Jefferson, Oyster Bay, Port Washington, Long Beach, Far Rockaway and Hempstead.
Then, in 1901 the LIRR came under the control of the Pennsylvania
Railroad. The reason for PRR ownership was because the Pennsy planned
to build a grand station (Pennsylvania Station) in downtown Manhattan and wanted the LIRR lines to serve the suburbs and towns surrounding NYC
from this central station. And so a new era for the LIRR came into
being whereby under PRR direction the railroad was heavily upgraded with
new equipment, a heavier physical plant, portions electrified and grade
crossings removed. Unfortunately, PRR control did not last. After passenger
train traffic began to take a serious hit following World War II the
Pennsy relinquished control of the LIRR and in 1949 fell into bankruptcy
with its assets under the direction of the American Contract and Trust
LIRR C420 #202 hustles commuter train #4019 through Patchogue, New York on June 17, 1972.
In one of the few instances of public awareness of railroad
importance prior to the 1980s, the State of New York realized the need of the LIRR for transportation on Long Island and NYC
began to subsidize the railroad in the 1950s. Then, worried the
railroad may be totally abandoned the Metropolitan Transportation
Authority purchased the LIRR in 1966 taking over all operations of the
Since then the LIRR has had little worry of abandonment or closure as it is a very important transportation artery for Long Island and New York City
and the thousands of commuters that depend on it daily.
A newer GP38-2, #267, lays over at the LIRR yard in Montauk on July 1, 1978.
electric operations are all third-rail, which is why, if you have
noticed, there is no overhead catenary located anywhere along the
system. The railroad also continues to operate the famous Cannonball passenger train, which serves the Hamptons and operates during the warmer months between May and September. The railroad also always had a small freight operation serving
the handful of industries located on the island. After 1997 freight
services were contracted out to the New York & Atlantic Railway,
which continues to this day (the NY&A uses its own freight cars and
locomotives but is allowed use of the LIRR's shops and maintenance
facilities). For more information on the Long Island Rail Road please click here.