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Long Island Rail Road builds for the future

01 Aug 2004

INTRO: As North America's busiest passenger railway plans its investment strategy for the next four years, work is underway on the mammoth East Side Access project that from 2012 will bring LIRR services to Grand Central Terminal. William D Middleton reports

NOW CARRYING an average of 274000 passengers per weekday and 81million passengers a year, Long Island Rail Road continues to follow an aggressive strategy of modernisation and expansion.

With the 2000-04 capital investment programme worth US$2·15bn coming to an end, LIRR and its parent the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority began planning for its 2005-09 campaign last month. The 2000-04 programme has focused on rolling stock and major station improvements, but significant investment has also been made in track, telecommunications and signalling, as well as traction power supplies and maintenance facilities.

Separately funded under MTA's major expansion programme, work is well in hand on the East Side Access project that will provide LIRR with a route into Manhattan's Grand Central Terminal, restructuring operations in a way unparalleled since the introduction of through services to Penn Station in 1910.

Penn Station is LIRR's principal New York terminus, but the railway also operates into Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn and Hunters Point Avenue/ Long Island City in Queens. With the exception of the Port Washington route, all 11 branches enjoy through services to the key junction of Jamaica, which according to LIRR is the busiest through station in North America.

Unusual operating arrangements are in place to maximise connections at Jamaica. Trains from each of the New York terminals arrive simultaneously on parallel tracks, each serving a different final destination. The centre track has a platform on each side, and passengers can use the train in the middle as a bridge to reach their connections.

Rolling stock renewal

Of LIRR's 435route-km, 237 km are electrified at 750V DC third rail, with diesel services operating to Long Island City, the Oyster Bay branch and to destinations east of Huntington, Ronkonkoma and Babylon. Further electrification may be undertaken as part of efforts to minimise the environmental impact of a proposed rolling stock stabling facility at Ronkonkoma, with further electrification to the east possible under the 2010-2014 capital programme.

Rolling stock replacement has seen the largest share of capital investment over the past 10 years. All non-electric equipment was replaced under the 1995-99 capital programme at a cost of $414m, which included the purchase of 23 diesel and 23 electro-diesel locomotives as well as 134 double-deck coaches.

Built between 1968 and 1972, the 770 M-1 EMU cars formed the largest and oldest single class in the electric fleet. LIRR has begun to replace them with the M-7, which is similar in appearance but powered by radically different traction equipment. The 25·9m M-7 cars are built of stainless steel, with a widened profile at hip level, and there are two large single-leaf sliding doors on each side. Seating is arranged in a 3+2 format, with space for two wheelchairs in each car. M-7s operate in two-car formations, with the A cars seating 110 passengers and the B cars having 101 seats and a fully-accessible toilet. Roof-mounted air-conditioning units are installed on all cars.

Each M-7 car has four 200 kW asynchronous AC traction motors fed by IGBT inverters. The fabricated steel bogies have a wheelbase of 2591mm, and are of a bolsterless design with outboard bearings, coil spring primary suspension and airbag secondary suspension. Rheostatic braking is fitted, as well as tread and disc air brakes. M-7 cars accelerate at an initial rate of 0·9m/s2, with a maximum speed of 160 km/h, while the service braking rate is 1·3m/s2. Onboard equipment includes cab signalling, ATC, a diagnostic system and event recorder, GPS and automatic station identification.

LIRR ordered 192 M-7 cars for $445m from Bombardier Transportation in May 1999, with contract options for up to 808 additional cars for both LIRR and Metro-North. A second $908m order placed under the 2000-04 capital programme will bring the M-7 fleet up to 678 cars. The first went into service early this year, and 276 cars are already in operation with the full fleet expected to be in service by April 2006. Withdrawals have brought the M-1 fleet down to 508 cars, with the last expected to be taken out of service by the end of 2007. In January 2005 LIRR plans to begin a mid-life overhaul of its 172 M-3 cars built by Budd in 1984-86.

Jamaica interchange

LIRR has allocated $314m to station improvements under the 2000-04 capital programme, mostly for two major projects. Work began under the 1995-99 programme to rebuild the Flatbush Avenue terminus under the Atlantic Terminal project involving LIRR, New York City Transit and a private developer. LIRR has budgeted $100m for this scheme, which involves its second-busiest station used by an average of 26000 passengers a day and a total of 130000 passengers when traffic from nine NYCT lines is taken into account.

Work on the first phase began towards the end of 2002, providing new platform surfaces and roofing, improved lighting and public address systems, new lifts and a Solari passenger information system. This should be completed by the end of 2004. The second phase started in May and includes a new street-level entrance, ticket office, waiting area, toilets and operational facilities. This phase is due to be finished by the end of 2006.

LIRR is also working to further expand Jamaica as a major transport interchange served by NYCT, buses and the JFK Airtrain peoplemover opened on December 17 2003 (RG 1.04 p9). This is expected to generate a substantial increase in LIRR ridership, cutting the journey time between JFK International Airport and Penn Station to under 45min compared with over 2h by taxi. By May, the number of passengers interchanging between AirTrain and LIRR had reached an average of 3500 a day.

LIRR has committed $226m from its current five-year budget to renovating Jamaica, including a new overbridge at the west end linking all platforms, new canopies and the rehabilitation of station platforms. Other work in progress here includes construction of a seven-storey building that will house LIRR's Jamaica Central Control. This will ultimately control LIRR operations from Harold Interlocking in Queens as far as Montauk at the eastern end of Long Island, replacing 15 signalboxes.

CBTC strategy

Over the next 20 years LIRR is replacing its telecommunications infrastructure, with the entire network to be converted to optic fibre by 2009. A $182m investment under the 2000-04 programme includes the first of two installation phases that will provide the transmission backbone, with the local distribution network to follow after 2004.

A total of 13 discrete projects worth $138m are underway as part of a comprehensive signalling strategy. Communications-Based Train Control is being installed on the 56 km between Babylon and Speonk, and half of LIRR's loco fleet will be equipped for CBTC. Other signalling projects include interlocking improvements at Jamaica, Valley and Queens, and an updated train dispatching system for Jamaica Central Control.

Major investment over the past 20 years has put all categories of LIRR infrastructure in a state of good repair, except for 102 structures. The four East River tunnels built in 1910 have the highest priority, and $126m has been allocated to improve their physical condition, emergency exits and ventilation. Another $37m will complete rehabilitation of 34 bridges and viaducts that represent the structures in greatest need of repair.

Other improvements in the 2000-04 capital programme include the start of planning for a new rolling stock maintenance facility; track renewal including installation of concrete sleepers; expanding station parking facilities; and installing ticket vending machines.

East Side Access

By far the largest and most fundamental changes for LIRR will come with the completion of the enormous East Side Access project, which will provide the railroad with a new Manhattan terminus in the shape of an expanded Grand Central Terminal. The project should greatly increase peak capacity into Manhattan, and provide a much more convenient terminus for the growing numbers of commuters travelling to destinations on the Upper East Side.

The 5·6 km line will diverge from LIRR's main line at Harold Interlocking in Queens. The double-track route will pass in tunnel under Amtrak's Sunnyside yard and across Queens to link up with the two lower tracks in the 63rd Street tunnel under the East River. Completed 30 years ago, the tunnel already carries NYCT trains on its two-upper level tracks. West of the tunnel the line will curve south under Park Avenue, passing deep below the N and R subway lines at 60th Street and the E line at 53rd Street.

Two massive east and west caverns will be excavated deep under the present two-level Grand Central Terminal (above) to establish a new eight-track LIRR terminal. There will be no connection to the existing Metro-North tracks at GCT. Each of the caverns will be 26m high, 17·8m wide and 348m long. Each will have two tracks and platforms on the lower and upper levels, with a mezzanine between the two track levels. An east-west passage will connect the two caverns at the mezzanine and provide escalator and stairway connections to a new LIRR concourse on the site of Metro-North's former Madison yard, on the lower level of the existing GCT.

The entire project will include more than 11 km of tunnelling. The work in Queens largely comprises cut and cover through soft ground, with a TBM to be used under Sunnyside yard. In Manhattan, which rests on solid rock, running tunnels and most of the new GCT caverns will be excavated by TBMs, with the balance of the cavern work undertaken by conventional mining.

The project also includes a new Sunnyside station on LIRR's main route to Penn Station, just west of the junction with the East Side Access route, serving development areas in Long Island City.

A Final Environmental Impact Statement for the East Side Access project was approved in 2001, with the first construction work beginning later that year. Substantial work already complete or in progress includes a new Metro-North yard in the Bronx to clear the site for the new LIRR concourse at GCT, a new yard in Queens for rolling stock inspection between the peaks that will be completed later this year, and a variety of preparatory work at GCT and in Queens. The first tunnelling contract went out to tender in May this year, covering the 2·9 km from the 63rd Street tunnel into Grand Central, and other major awards will follow over the next few years. The cost of MTA's largest-ever project is now set at $6·3bn, and opening is now expected in April 2012.

East Side Access is expected to increase significantly the journey opportunities for LIRR commuters travelling into Manhattan, raising total capacity from Long Island and Queens by almost 50%. By 2020 LIRR expects to schedule 61 daily trains to and from Grand Central, handling an average of 162000 weekday trips. A projected combined total for GCT and Penn Station of 323000 daily trips will represent an overall increase of 96000 trips from present levels.

MTAintegration

MTA continues to work toward a greater integration of its commuter rail operations. Under current planning, LIRR and Metro-North will be merged into MTA Rail with the major objective of generating savings through consolidation of like functions. Enabling legislation for the merger has still to be passed by the New York Legislature, and many of the details have yet to be worked out. The two railways will retain their current names, however.

A good example of the kind of savings envisaged by consolidation would be the current programme for M-7 cars that was jointly specified by the two railways. Placed with Bombardier Transportation in 1999, the contract made provision for up to 1000 cars for both LIRR and Metro-North. To date, a total of 678 LIRR and 180 Metro-North M-7 cars are already under procurement.

MTA Capital Construction was formed in July 2003 to consolidate the management of major projects. As well as East Side Access, the company is responsible for NYCT's Second Avenue Subway project, the West Side subway expansion, the Fulton Transit Center and a new South Ferry subway terminal.

CAPTION: TOP: A train of M-7 EMUs passes the interlocking tower at Valley

LEFT: LIRR operates a dense network of suburban routes and three long non-electrified routes serving the east of the island

CAPTION: Services on LIRR's non-electrified routes are worked by EMD diesel and electro-diesel locomotives and Kawasaki-built double-deck coaches ordered as part of the 1995-99 capital programme Photo:LIRR

CAPTION: LIRR has already put into operation 276 of its Bombardier M-7 cars, with another 402 due to enter service by April 2006 and a further180 vehicles on order for Metro-North

CAPTION: LIRR's East Side extension will terminate in two large platform caverns bored deep below the existing Grand Central Terminal Photo:LIRR

Le Long Island Rail Road construit son avenir

Dans le cadre de son programme financier d'investissements pour la période 2000-04, Long Island Rail Road, l'opérateur de la banlieue de New York, a dépensé 2·15milliards de dollars US, incluant l'acquisition d'une deuxième série de rames M-7 et d'importantes améliorations des stations. Le plus important réseau ferré voyageurs d'Amérique du Nord prépare maintenant son programme d'investissements pour la période 2005-09, tandis que les travaux sont en cours sur le gigantesque projet de l'East Side Access, qui permettra aux trains LIRR d'atteindre le Grand Central Terminal à partir de 2012, et accroîtra la capacité de près de 50% entre Long Island et Manhattan

Die Long Island Rail Road baut für die Zukunft

Die New Yorker Vorortsbahnunternehmung Long Island Rail Road gab unter ihrem Investitionsprogramm 2000-04, welches die Beschaffung einer zweiten Serie von M-7 Triebzügen und umfangreiche Stationsausbauten umfasste, 2·15Milliarden US-Dollar aus. Die verkehrsstärkste Personen-Bahngesellschaft der USA plant nun ihr Investitionsprogramm 2005-09, welches das gigantische East Side Access-Projekt umfasst, welche es ab 2012 den LIRR-Zügen erm