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Third Track Is Hotter Than Third Rail

If you begin attending law school today, you probably will be far enough along in your legal career to make a killing when the Long Island Railroad gets to the next phrase of its ambitious capital plan and the lawsuits clog the courts.

You might remember the hue, cry and political fireworks in 2005 when the LIRR proposed adding a third track to the main line from Floral Park to Hicksville. This 10-mile stretch of ties and steel would have required building an elevated track alongside the current structure in Floral Park. Village residents struck back at plans for a massive infrastructure project in  downtown. Farther east, in New Hyde Park, worries of the railroad slicing away chunks of residential properties and even seizing homes by eminent domain helped put the kibosh on the third track.

In the intervening years, however, the idea hasn’t been dead. It’s merely been asleep. And there is a timetable for it to awaken.

Currently, the railroad is busy putting together plans for a second electrified track from Farmingdale to Ronkonkoma. With plenty of clearance on the right of way, there’s no controversy. Simultaneously, the railroad is building its own brand-new station far below Manhattan’s Grand Central station. With the tunnel to Grand Central long ago completed, the railroad expects to be running trains to the East Side of Manhattan by 2019. That’s roughly when the Farmingdale-to-Ronkonkoma project will be finished.

As a recent study by the Rauch Foundation’s Long Island Index put it:

“These improvements will bring more income and wealth into Long Island and tie it more closely with the dynamic regional economy anchored by Manhattan’s central business district. They also will unlock the potential for a much more robust and transit-oriented economy on Long Island.”

But this bright and shiny future faces one serious hurdle. Or more accurately, a bottleneck in the main line that runs through most of Nassau County. All of this new capacity and economic potential must pass through the same two-track system that was built 150 years ago. Two tracks simply will not be enough, says the railroad.

“There is no question but that we are going to have community challenges when we do bring the third-track project back,” LIRR President Helena Williams told a panel of editors in an exclusive interview at the Anton Community Newspapers office. “The challenge will be to satisfy those communities and show them that the service is worth it. That they need it. And that we will work with them on whatever their preferences are for how we do the third track.”

“Right now, there is no money for the project and no support,” Williams said. “But every single thing we do, we insure that the third-track elements are there.”

In other words, although the project is officially “suspended,” it’s coming. Figure 2020-2024.

Law-school applications, anyone?