The Long Island Rail Road is a railroad owned by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in the U.S. state of New York. It is the oldest U.S. railroad still operating under its original name and charter.
The Brooklyn and Jamaica opened its full line, roughly along the present Atlantic Avenue from South Ferry to 151st Street in Jamaica, on April 18, 1836. The B&J never operated its own trains, since that same day it was leased to the LIRR for $33,300 a year, a rather high amount for the time based on expected heavy traffic to Boston. Even before the B&J opened, the LIRR began planning a branch to the Grand Street Ferry in Williamsburg, leaving the B&J at Bedford, to avoid congestion in Brooklyn. The LIRR started to build the B&J's continuation beyond Jamaica immediately upon completion of the Brooklyn-Jamaica line, opening to Hicksville on March 1, 1837. Hicksville remained the terminal for the next four years due to the financial panic of 1837.
An 1836 supplement to the charter authorized a branch to Hempstead. The short Hempstead Branch, running south from the Main Line at Mineola, opened in 1839. The LIRR slowly extended east, reaching Farmingdale in 1841, and completing the Main Line in 1844. An opening excursion to Greenport was operated on July 27, 1844, making the trip in three and a half hours, and revenue service began over the full line on July 29. The LIRR bought the steamboat Cleopatra from Cornelius Vanderbilt, then known for his ferry empire, to cover the Long Island Sound crossing, and began operating to Stonington, Connecticut on August 10. Vanderbilt was elected to the LIRR board of directors on November 26. The opening of the Cobble Hill Tunnel along the Brooklyn and Jamaica west of downtown Brooklyn on December 3, 1844 decreased the slope to the waterfront and allowed locomotives to run through to South Ferry, eliminating a horse car transfer. The LIRR began operating the Worcester and New Haven steamboats in 1845, and established a second route to Boston via steamboat to Allyn's Point and the Norwich and Worcester Railroad and Boston and Worcester Railroad. But competition from the Hartford and New Haven Railroad (completed 1844) and steamboats from New York caused the LIRR to sell the Worcester and Cleopatra to the N&W in July 1846, and the early 1847 completion of the Fall River Line cut into profits enough that the New Haven was sold to Jacob Vanderbilt, ending Boston express service.
The city of Brooklyn banned the LIRR from using steam propulsion within city limits on June 11, 1851. The railroad refused to comply until early October, when they stopped freight and passenger trains at Jamaica, directing passengers to take Fulton Street stages to Bedford and transfer there to "Jamaica Line" stages. The city granted permission to use steam under certain speed and noise restrictions on October 9. Despite opposition from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, a law was passed on April 19, 1859 requiring the LIRR to "within a reasonable time" close the Cobble Hill Tunnel, cease using steam within city limits, and instead run horse cars for freight and passengers to the city line or East New York, connecting with steam trains to and beyond Jamaica there.
The LIRR chartered the New York and Jamaica Railroad on September 3, 1859, and a supplement to the LIRR's charter passed March 12, 1860 authorized it to buy the NY&J and extend to Hunters Point. The LIRR carried through with the NY&J purchase on April 25, along with the purchase of a short piece of the Brooklyn and Jamaica at Jamaica, and the next day it cancelled its lease of the Brooklyn and Jamaica, but continued to operate over it. The Brooklyn Central and Jamaica Railroad, a consolidation of the B&J with the new Brooklyn Central Railroad, began operating from South Ferry over the top of the tunnel, along the B&J tracks to Flatbush Avenue, and south on the new Fifth Avenue Line in August 1860. The new line to Hunters Point was officially opened on May 9, 1861, with regular service starting May 10. A ferry connection (Hunter's Point Ferry) was initially advertised to James Slip; connecting boats began running to East 34th Street Pier in October. The BC&J soon began operating horse cars over the old line from South Ferry, connecting with LIRR trains at Jamaica. The tunnel was closed off in December.
Despite its original purpose as a route to Boston, the LIRR had begun looking into commuter traffic as early as 1842. But most of the population of Long Island was closer to the shores than the LIRR's central alignment; only limited success was had in inducing settlers on the central Long Island scrub oak and pine barrens. An amendment to the LIRR's charter passed April 21, 1862 allowed it to build branches anywhere east of Jamaica. Several branches to the North Shore or South Shore were built under this clause or separate charters, always operated by the LIRR from day one:
However, the building of branches was retarded by the presidency of Oliver Charlick between 1863 and 1875. Charlick was known for only building branches where necessary to cut off plans by locals to build competing lines.
Charlick also rebuilt the wharf at Greenport in 1870, and operated a new Boston route via New London, the New London Northern Railroad, and the newly-opened Boston, Hartford and Erie Railroad from September 1872 to 1875.
Flushing citizens, feeling they had been tricked by the LIRR, convinced wealthy residents of College Point and Whitestone, including Conrad Poppenhusen, to incorporate the Flushing and North Side Railroad in 1868. This company had the right to build a line from Long Island City to Flushing and beyond to Roslyn, with a branch from Flushing to Whitestone. The group gained control of the unfinished Flushing and Woodside Railroad, and opened its line to Flushing, paralleling the LIRR from Long Island City to Woodside, in 1868 and to College Point and Whitestone in 1869. This new line attracted most of the traffic from the older New York and Flushing, and the LIRR wanted to get rid of its Flushing branch. In 1869, the state legislature authorized the Flushing and North Side to buy the New York and Flushing east of the LIRR crossing at Winfield; connections were built by the Flushing and North Side at Woodside/Winfield and Flushing to connect its lines. The New York and Flushing continued to own the line west of Winfield, and soon became the South Side Railroad's access to Long Island City. The Flushing and Woodside was merged into the Flushing and North Side in 1871, and its line was abandoned in favor of the ex-New York and Flushing line.
Soon after it sold the New York and Flushing to the Flushing and North Side, the LIRR decided to enter the Flushing business again, and chartered the Newtown and Flushing Railroad ("White Line") on March 8, 1871. It opened on November 10, 1873, paralleling the Flushing and North Side to the south and beginning a rate war.
The first major competitor to the LIRR, the South Side Railroad, was incorporated March 23, 1860 to build from Brooklyn to Islip; an 1867 supplement to its charter authorized an extension to East Hampton. The company was partially owned by Willet Charlick, brother of the LIRR's Oliver Charlick. It opened in 1867 from Jamaica east to Babylon, and was completed from Williamsburg to Patchogue in 1869. Its Far Rockaway Branch opened in 1869 and was extended by the Rockaway Railway to Seaside in 1872 and to the Neptune House at Beach 116th Street in 1875. In 1872 the South Side opened a new alignment, the Hunters Point and South Side Railroad, from its main line at Fresh Pond northwest to Long Island City, using the old New York and Flushing Railroad for part of the way. The New York and Hempstead Railroad also opened in 1872, from Valley Stream on the South Side's main line northeast to Hempstead, and was leased to the South Side in 1873.
Charlick decided to build his own line to the Rockaways, in competition with the South Side's branch, and incorporated the New York and Rockaway Railroad on December 30, 1870 to build from the Main Line near Hollis south and west to Rockaway. The line, operated by the LIRR, opened in 1871 to Springfield Gardens and in 1872 to Far Rockaway.
The Central Railroad of Long Island was incorporated in 1871 by Alexander T. Stewart, an entrepreneur who was developing what is now Garden City, to build from Flushing southeast and east to Bethpage, giving the LIRR direct competition to its Main Line. The line from Flushing to Hempstead via its Hempstead Branch opened in 1873, and was operated from opening by the Flushing and North Side; the rest of the line from Hempstead Crossing (where it crossed the LIRR's Hempstead Branch) to Bethpage opened later that year, as did the Central Railroad Extension to Babylon. The Flushing and North Side Railroad, Central Railroad, and several smaller owned lines were merged on August 1, 1874 to form the Flushing, North Shore and Central Railroad, controlled by the Poppenhusens.
The South Side entered receivership in 1873, and was sold in 1874 to the Poppenhusens and reincorporated as the Southern Railroad of Long Island. The two Poppenhusen lines were connected at Babylon, and the Southern's branch to Hempstead was abandoned.
President Oliver Charlick died in 1875, and the Poppenhusens acquired a majority of the LIRR's stock on January 26, 1876, placing all the lines on Long Island under their control. Conrad Poppenhusen was elected president on April 11, 1876, and the LIRR and Flushing, North Shore and Central boards were now identical. On May 3, the LIRR leased the Flushing, North Shore and Central and Southern. In the next few years, a number of lines and services were consolidated, and redundant lines were closed, including the Newtown and Flushing, the parallel Flushing and North Side west of Winfield, the Central between Flushing and Creedmoor (forming the Flushing Branch and Creedmoor Branch), part of the New York and Rockaway (later rebuilt as the Cedarhurst Cut-off), and the LIRR's branch to Hempstead.
Amidst complaints over the way the consolidation was handled, its $3 million cost, and problems caused by Charlick's policies, the LIRR entered receivership in late 1877. It was taken over by Colonel Thomas R. Sharp as receiver, who encouraged settlers to the island and recreationers to the beaches, helping to promote the New York, Woodhaven and Rockaway Railroad (opened in 1880, later the Rockaway Beach Branch).
In late March 1877, Brooklyn finally authorized the LIRR to return to Atlantic Avenue with steam locomotives, and the LIRR leased the main line of the Atlantic Avenue Railroad (the final successor to the B&J) east of Fort Greene Place (just east of Flatbush Avenue) on June 1, 1877 for $60,000 per year. An opening excursion from the new Flatbush Avenue terminal was held on July 1, 1877, and regular service in the form of through trains to Long Island began on July 2. Small Atlantic Avenue rapid transit steam locomotives began providing local service for five cents west of East New York on August 13, later extended all the way to Rockaway Junction (east of Jamaica). (The Brooklyn City Rail Road established a similar "rapid transit" service a week later on its Third Avenue Line to Fort Hamilton.)
On August 7, 1876, the Brooklyn, Flatbush and Coney Island Railroad (Brighton Line) opened to a junction with the LIRR's Atlantic Branch near Franklin Avenue, and began operating over the LIRR to Flatbush Avenue and Long Island City. This agreement was terminated between the 1883 and 1884 seasons; the BF&CI was later connected to the Fulton Street El.
Corbin was however able to acquire control of the LIRR in 1880, and brought it out of bankruptcy, becoming its president in 1881. The LIRR leased the NY&MB in 1882, not merging it until 1925. Under Corbin's entire 16-year control, the LIRR continuously paid dividends to its stockholders. A number of new extensions and branches were built under his ovnership:
Corbin attempted to buy the East River Ferry Company, which by then operated lines from Long Island City to James Slip, East 7th Street (abandoned within two years), and the East 34th Street (Manhattan) Pier, in December 1886, but was outbid by the Vanderbilts. (The ferry company was bought by the newly-formed Metropolitan Ferry Company in July 1887.) Due to the slowness of the James Slip line, the LIRR began operating its own "Annex" line for businessmen to Pine Street (a block from Wall Street in the Financial District) at a loss in June 1887. The LIRR acquired the ferry company in March 1892 and began operating the boats itself.
The LIRR tried a Boston route again in 1891, this time from Oyster Bay at the end of the recently-extended Oyster Bay Branch to Wilson Point, Norwalk, Connecticut on the Housatonic Railroad. Trains used the New York and New England Railroad to reach Boston; this combination was advertised as the Long Island and Eastern States Line. The service was a failure, and was abandoned in July 1892.
But the most notable line built by Corbin was the Montauk Branch from Bridgehampton east to Montauk, which was occupied by Montaukett Native Americans, who occupied nearly 10,000 acres (40 km²) there. Corbin's plan was to build a deep water port in Montauk, where trans-Atlantic passengers could disembark and travel into New York at "a mile a minute" (100 km/h) and thus save a day in travel time. Arthur W. Benson, president of Brooklyn Gas and Light Company and founder of Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, had acquired 10,000 acres (40 km²) of land in Montauk in 1879 for $151,000, at what is now considered a suspect auction of land held by the U.S. government in trust for the Montaukett tribe. Benson proceeded to relocate what was left of the Montaukett tribe from Indian Field to East Hampton, thus clearing the way for Corbin's plans to extend the LIRR to the end of the island. In 1882 Benson sold Corbin's real estate company right-of-way through Montauk for Corbin's planned railroad extension. By 1895 Corbin had acquired a further 4,000 acres (16 km²) from Benson. The Montauk Extension Railroad was incorporated May 25, 1893 and opened in 1895.
Corbin was successful in lobbying Congress to establish a duty-free port at Fort Pond Bay, despite objections from the United States Army Corps of Engineers about the suitability of the bay for a port. By the spring of 1896 the bill seemed headed for passage. On June 4, 1896, Corbin was thrown from his carriage while traveling with friends on a fishing expedition on his 24,000 acre (97 km²) nature preserve in New Hampshire, and his dream of a port at Montauk died with him. More than 1,000 acres (4 km²) that he had bought were eventually sold to the U.S. Government for Camp Wikoff, where Theodore Roosevelt and his Rough Riders were quarantined after returning from the Spanish-American War.
In 1893, the LIRR bought control of the Prospect Park and Coney Island Railroad (Culver Line), which ran from Coney Island north across the Bay Ridge Branch at Parkville to Brooklyn. Several inclined ramps were built in the next few years, connecting the lines of the LIRR and to those of the Brooklyn Elevated Railroad. A ramp at 36th Street and Fifth Avenue in Sunset Park, connecting the Culver Line to the BERR's Fifth Avenue El, was completed in 1895; the BERR used it to operate to Manhattan Beach and West Brighton. In 1899, the Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company, the successor to the BERR, and the LIRR came to an agreement whereby the BRT would essentially have free rein west of Jamaica, and the LIRR would dominate to the east. Pursuant to this agreement, the BRT leased the PP&CI later that year, taking the LIRR out of the arrangements relating to the incline at 36th Street.
An incline connecting the Brooklyn Elevated's Broadway El and LIRR's Atlantic Branch at Chestnut Street in Cypress Hills opened in 1898, allowing BERR trains to run from Broadway Ferry in Williamsburg to Rockaway Park and Jamaica. An incline at Flatbush Avenue and Atlantic Avenue, connecting the LIRR's Atlantic Branch to the Fifth Avenue El, was opened in 1899, allowing LIRR "rapid transit" trains to run to the Brooklyn end of the Brooklyn Bridge. The BERR soon began using this incline and LIRR trackage to Manhattan Beach and Rockaway Park, but within a few months this service too was operated by the LIRR. The Flatbush Avenue incline was last used (by the LIRR) in 1905, while the last BRT trains (then running from Lower Manhattan via the Williamsburg Bridge) used the Chestnut Street incline to Rockaway Park in 1917.
After Corbin's death in 1896, the LIRR was again reorganized; an extension of the current Port Washington Branch from Great Neck to Port Washington opened in 1898. On May 13, 1899, the LIRR bought the Montauk Steamboat Company, which had competed with its own steamboats for connecting freight and passenger service. Routes operated under LIRR control included New York-Greenport and connections from the eastern terminals to New London and Block Island. Most of the lines ran until the 1910s, when they were abandoned due to competition from highways and the U.S. Navy Department prohibiting operation through Plum Gut (to Block Island) in 1917; the New London connection continued until 1927.
Corbin began planning for direct access to Manhattan by the late 1880s, considering plans to extend the Atlantic Branch under the East River in a tunnel and north to Grand Central Terminal (this was later built as part of the New York City Subway, now the IRT Lexington Avenue Line and IRT Eastern Parkway Line), or to cross the East River on a bridge from Long Island City to near 37th Street and again run to Grand Central. The Pennsylvania Railroad simultaneously began planning access across the Hudson River to Manhattan, and LIRR president William H. Baldwin, Jr. started negotiating in 1900 to enter the PRR terminal. That year the PRR paid $6 million for a controlling interest in the LIRR, and soon incorporated the companies to build the New York Tunnel Extension from New Jersey through Manhattan to Long Island City. Simultaneously, the new Sunnyside Yard at Long Island City was built to provide a place to turn New Jersey trains. The new Pennsylvania Station opened on September 8, 1910, serving only LIRR trains for over two months before the New Jersey side was completed.
The James Slip and Annex ferries to Lower Manhattan were abandoned in 1907 and 1908, before the tunnel was completed, but the ferry to 34th Street continued to operate until 1925.
The new station and tunnel network provided direct rail service from Long Island to Manhattan, resulting in vast increases in both total passengers and daily commuters. Total annual ridership increased from 34 million in 1911, the first full year that Penn Station was in operation, to a peak of 119 million in 1929. By then, 61.7% of LIRR passengers were daily commuters, up from over 30% in 1911. But the IND Queens Boulevard Line subway reached Jamaica in 1937, and by 1940 80% of the short-haul commuters from Queens had switched to the five-cent subway ride; along with other factors such as trolleys and automobiles, this lowered the annual ridership to 67.5 million.
During this period, the LIRR gained control of most of the connecting and competing trolley lines on Long Island. Its first acquisitions were the Ocean Electric Railway and Huntington Railroad, both by 1899. Several more lines were built in the early 1900s, and Long Island Consolidated Electrical Companies was incorporated in 1905 as a holding company for the LIRR's trolley properties. It gained 50% owrnership in the clesely-related New York and Long Island Traction Company and Long Island Electric Railway in 1905 and 1906 respectively, the other half going to the Interborough Rapid Transit Company. Most of the lines had ceased operating by 1924, and the NY&LI and LIE were both sold at foreclosure in 1926. The final abandonment was the Ocean Electric on Rockaway Beach Boulevard in 1928.
The LIRR also began electrifying (with third rail direct current) and grade separating its urban and suburban lines in the 1900s. The first electrification was on the Atlantic Branch and Rockaway Beach Branch from Downtown Brooklyn to Jamaica and Rockaway Park, completed in 1905 (and eliminating the "rapid transit" service from 1877). By the 1910 opening of Penn Station, most of the lines in New York City had gained third rail, and the New York City-area electrification program was complete in 1913, with the Montauk Division as the only major holdout. Later electrification included the Montauk Division from Jamaica out to Babylon in 1925 and the Bay Ridge Branch (for New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad freight off the 1916 Hell Gate Bridge) in 1927. The PRR began directly operating the LIRR under lease on October 1, 1928.
In order to increase its passenger base, the railroad continued to take an active role in promoting Long Island as an attractive residential area. The railroad's Passenger Department, led by Hal B. Fullerton, issued numerous publications touting the virtues of life on Long Island as compared with city life. As explained by historian Charles Sachs, Fullerton spent thirty years in the Passenger Department "promoting and advertising events, activities, or plans that would bring public attention to the island's potential for sport, recreation, business, and residential development for both the middle classes and urban elite.
Greater New York, unlike most other cities, fared much better due to the fact that day to day life was built upon the commuter culture mentality. Both its subway and commuter rail systems continued to be heavily used despite years of neglect. As Long Island's population increased dramatically after World War II it became readily apparent that the public parkway and highway system would prove to be totally inadquate for the population. The LIRR was looked to as the solution to the problem, however, the railroad was in a sad state of neglect.
Despite a doubling of operating costs since 1917, the LIRR was not permitted to raise its fare. It declared bankruptcy on March 2, 1949, soon the PRR stopped supporting its debts, transferring it to the subsidiary American Contract and Trust Company. Direct PRR operations ended on May 1. In the next year, the LIRR suffered three accidents, at Rockville Centre, Huntington, and Richmond Hill, killing 115 passengers. The Jamaica Bay trestle on the Rockaway Beach Branch caught fire in May 1950, and it was soon sold to New York City, which rebuilt it for the IND Rockaway Line subway extension. The railroad did however make an attempt at expanding service. In the 1950's there was a proposal to build a new high speed LIRR route down the center median on the newly built Long Island Expressway, however that idea was nixed by master highway builder Robert Moses.
The LIRR rolling stock, most of which that dated from the early 1900's, also provided to be a problem. Built at the turn of the century at a time when the average persons height and weight was smaller, the seating arrangements in the cars proved to be completely inadquate for mid century commuters, who were much bigger in stature. The antiquated stock was also noted for frequently breaking down. It was not uncommon in an average day for their to be nearly ten to fifteen cancelled trains. Noted New York writer Robert Caro states in his Robert Moses biography The Power Broker that around this time the LIRR gained the knickname "The Toonerville Trolley." The railroad was able to obtain a variety of different lightweight and heavyweight stock for both its diesel and east end Parlour Car service. Most of these new cars were obtained from the Pennsylvania Railroad and from other faltering railroads at the time. These cars were much newer and provided the railroad with its first air conditioned fleet.
Despite the setbacks the LIRR forged ahead an enticing Long Islander's to commute to work rather than drive. In the 1950s they started a new publicity campaign, adopting a new "Dashing Dan" and "Dashing Dottie" logo and painted its trains gray. The railroad also continued to perform major capital improvement projects. During the 50's and 60's the Montauk Branch between Jamaica and Babylon went through a massive grade elimination project, with the line being elevated from street level over a number of years. In the early fifties the railroad began to install an Automatic Speed Control system on a majority of its lines, and the railroad was able to completely phase out its steam operations over to a completly diesel and electricfied operation, with the last steam train running in October of 1955.
Desposing of the LIRR from its payroll, in the long run, did not help the Pennsylvania Railroad. The PRR struggled to find new avenues for cash, including the infamous 1964 to 1966 demolition of New York's Penn Station to make way for the Penn Plaza office towers and a new home for Madison Square Garden, with a new train terminal under the complex of buildings.
By 1963, the Main Line beyond Riverhead to Greenport was served by only one daily passenger train and a thrice-weekly freight train, though a bridge was proposed from Greenport to Rhode Island. (Now there are two daily passenger trains east of Riverhead, in addition to special summer getaway trains ) The LIRR began running "Road 'n' Rail" buses between Huntington and Greenport to supplement this service, and parallel to the Montauk Branch between Babylon and Montauk(this service no longer exist as in recent years the railroad has increased its east end service especially to Montauk.)
It was Governor Rockefeller who was able to allocate the funds, allowing the railroad to replace its aging Multiple Unit fleet with the purchase of the M1 cars, allowing the LIRR to have a more reliable and fully air conditioned fleet. By the mid 70's the M1's replaced the entire old fleet.
Two more electrification projects were undertaken under state ownership: the Main Line and Port Jefferson Branch to Huntington in 1970, and the Main Line beyond Hicksville (where the Port Jefferson Branch splits) to Ronkonkoma (also known as the Ronkonkoma Branch) in 1987.
Under Governor George Pataki the LIRR remodeled its lower level concourse of Penn Station in the 1990s, increasing the ceiling height and making it less dreary, as well as opening two new entrance/exit corridors spanning various tracks and lengthening some platforms. The LIRR also added air conditioning, which was not in the original Penn Station.
More capital improvement projects took place during the late 90's. In 1998 the railroad began to replace its aging diesel and Parlour Car fleet, which dated from the 40's and 50's, by purchasing new Bi-Level coaches. In doing so the railroad also began to install the rest of its stations with completly ADA accesible high level platforms. The railroad also purchased new DE (Diesel Electric) 30 and DE-DM (Diesel Electric and Dual Mode) 30 diesel engines capable of providing a push pull service thus eliminating the need to turn the engines around on a turntable. In 2002 the railroad began replacing the, by now, aging M1 fleet, with the more mordern M7 multiple unit fleet.
The MTA had announced in October 2002 that it had planned to merge the LIRR and the Metro-North Railroad into a new entity, to be called,MTA Rail Road, a merger which required approval by the New York Legislature. It was announced in 2007, however, that the planned merger was rejected and will not be furthur pursued.
On June 4 2007, MTA announced the appointment of Helena Williams to the position of President of LIRR. Williams succeeded Raymond P. Kenny, the interim President who held the office since James J. Dermody stepped down in September 2006. Williams's promotion marks the first time this position has been held by a woman.