The Long Island Rail Road is the oldest United States railroad still operating under its original name and charter. The growth of the railroad helped to shape the future of Long Island and is now the busiest commuter rail system in the United States. Since its inception, the railroad has been an essential part of Long Island’s economy. In 2011, $26 billion, or 25 percent of Long Island residents’ personal income, was obtained through jobs in New York City. One-third of Long Islanders who work in New York City commute daily on the LIRR. The railroad’s ridership has grown 10.2% over a five-year span, from 81.0 million customers in 2011 to 89.3 million in 2016.
Investments in the LIRR’s infrastructure can provide a significant boost to Long Island economy in the future. New York StaInvestments in LIRR’s infrastructure can provide a significant boost to Long Island’s economy in the future. New York State has approved $1.95 billion of funding for the construction of a “Third Track” on the Main Line between Floral Park and Hicksville. Construction on the Third Track is expected to begin this year and completed in approximately four years. The MTA expects to complete the East Side Access project by 2023, thereby allowing LIRR trains to access Grand Central Terminal. According to the Long Island Index, thousands of commuters will save an average of 18 minutes, and as many as 42 minutes, each day when opting to take the train to Grand Central Station over Penn Station. These improvements will not only help with time efficiency but also translate into a greater flow of income into Long Island. This will further enhance the correlation between Long Island’s economy and the overarching dynamic regional economy which is anchored by the central business district of Manhattan. The improved service is also projected to increase the value of the housing market on Long Island. Homes that are closer to the LIRR stations should see greater appreciation.
The Long Island Index
The Long Island Index’s forecasts that the economic growth and improved quality of life catalyzed by the Third Track will attract 35,400 new residents to Long Island of which 39% of those new residents are expected to be between the ages of 25 and 44 years old, the critical working-age population that is key to revitalizing the economy and staving off stagnation. By 2023, the Third Track is projected to add 14,000 jobs, $3 billion in personal income, $5.6 billion to our gross regional product, 35,000 new residents, $40 million in additional sales tax revenue and $103 million in added property tax revenue.
The improvements taking place along the Main Line mean it is now time to reimagine the land around Long Island’s train stations. Traditionally, the land around the stations has been occupied by industrial uses, but the tide is changing. Plans include transforming these areas into vibrant welcome centers that showcase what the neighborhood and the Island have to offer. These changes have already begun in places like Farmingdale, Wyandanch, and the soon-to-be $650 million Ronkonkoma Hub.
Ronkonkoma is one of the busiest Long Island Rail Road stations with 17,278 passengers per day. The station is located adjacent to MacArthur Airport and is bisected by the Long Island Expressway — it is truly a transportation hub. The entire Long Island Rail Road infrastructure is being updated by projects such as the Double Track and Third Track. The Double Track will increase capacity, reduce delays and allow for reverse commuting from Ronkonkoma to Farmingdale by adding a second track to the line. This Double Track project is expected to be completed next year. According to U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer, “A second track will reduce commuting times, facilitate the flow of workers into and out of Long Island, spur the growth of MacArthur Airport and create a job creation corridor right down the center of the Island. When you look at the amount of time saved and the number of people it affects, it is clear that this is one of the most important public transportation projects in the entire country.”
As it has done since its inception in 1833, the Long Island Rail Road and the surrounding properties will continue to shape the future of Long Island.