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 Company.

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 commuter line.   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.

Diesel Locomotive Roster

The American Locomotive Company

Model Type Road Number Date Built Quantity
C420200-2291963-196830
Boxcab401-4021925-19282
S1404-408, 413-4211946-194914
S2446-4601948-194915
RS1461-4691949-19509
RS31551-1560195510

The Baldwin Locomotive Works

Model Type Road Number Date Built Quantity
VO-66040319451
DS-4-4-660409-41219484
DS-4-4-100045019481

Electro-Motive Division

Model Type Road Number Date Built Quantity
SW1001100-10719778
MP15AC150-172197723
GP38-2250-2771976-197728
DE-30AC400-422199823
DM-30AC500-5221998-199923

Fairbanks Morse

Model Type Road Number Date Built Quantity
H16-441501-150919519
CPA20-5 (C-Liner)2001-200819508

General Electric

Model Type Road Number Date Built Quantity
25-Tonner398-39919582
44-Tonner40019501



A newer GP38-2, #267, lays over at the LIRR yard in Montauk on July 1, 1978.

The LIRR's 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.

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