Garden City–Mitchel Field Secondary
|Garden City–Mitchell Field Secondary|
|System||Long Island Rail Road|
|Owner||Long Island Rail Road|
|Operator(s)||Long Island Rail Road|
|Number of tracks||2|
|Track gauge||4 ft 8 1⁄2 in (1,435 mm)|
The trackage of the Garden City–Mitchell Field Secondary, originates back to the 1870s to the Central Railroad of Long Island (CRRLI). Built by Alexander Turney Stewart, the CRRLI was a mix use passenger and freight railroad extending from Flushing all the way through central Long Island to Bethpage, passing through the towns of Floral Park, Garden City, Plainedge, and Island Trees. Later on Stewart extended the line south to the Babylon shore line. This portion of the railroad would come to be referred to as the Babylon Extension. At Flushing the railroad had trackage rights with the Flushing and North Side Railroad to access their Long Island City terminal where passengers could then connect to the East River ferries that would take them into Manhattan. Additionally Stewart built a branch line, which deviated from the railroad's mainline at Garden City, to Hempstead. Stewart at the time was developing Garden City as one of the first planned suburban communities. The CRRLI would play important role in that it was used to transport materials from Stewart's brickwork's in Bethpage to his construction sites in Garden City, and later on allow Garden City residents to commute into Manhattan.
Merger with the LIRR
In 1876 the CRRLI, in conjuncture with other competing railroads on Long Island, was absorbed by the Long Island Rail Road and its president Conrad Poppenhausen. Poppenhausen, and his later successor Austin Corbin, would merge the Central into the LIRR system. The Central between Flushing and the National Rifle Range in Queens, later to become the Creedmoor Rifle Range and later Creedmoor State Hospital, was deemed redundant and abandoned after the railroads merger in 1879, although its tracks remained in place until about World War I. The portion of rail between Creedmoor and Floral Park was eventually downgraded to a secondary freight track, known as the Creedmoor Branch, that for the most of the 20th century would service Creedmoor State Hospital with daily coal deliveries. The portion of trackage from Floral Park to Babylon became known as the Central Branch of the LIRR. A connection was made west of Floral Park allowing the railroad to access the LIRR mainline which would afford the branch its connection to Long Island City and the LIRR's connecting hub Jamaica Station.
Gradual passenger service abandonment (1900-1953)
In 1900, the eastern portion of the Central Branch between Bethpage and Babylon (the Babylon Extension) was completely rebuilt and extended northward so that it could connect to the Main Line of the LIRR, thus creating a connection between the Main Line and the railroad's other main trunk line the Montauk Branch. Meanwhile, the western portion of the Central between Floral Park and Hempstead saw much passenger use and would eventually become known as the Hempstead Branch. The rest of the Central between Garden City and Bethpage saw much use during the early part of the 20th century, but with the advent of the automobile in the 1910s coupled with the Great Depression in the 1930s saw this portion of the line dwindle in service. In the late 1920s the Central's connection at Bethpage to the Babylon Extension was severed ending all thru service on the branch to Babylon, thus the LIRR renamed the line the Central Extension. The Babylon Extension, and its connection to the Main Line, would be renamed the Central Branch, a name which remains in use today. The only bright spot for the line came when Mitchel Field, an air force base, opened during World War I in the expansive area of the Hempstead Plains. The Central Extension saw much freight business servicing the base and the several industries that sprang up around it. Nonetheless, in 1939 it was decided to discontinue all passenger service on the Central Extension. Much of the trackage between Mitchel Field and Bethpage was torn up and used for World War II. A reprieve came in the late 1940s when William Levitt began building Levittown in the Plainedge area of Nassau County. Some of the trackage was relaid as to provide the materials needed in the Levitt construction and for a while, a small passenger shuttle was instituted by the LIRR between Garden City and Plainedge. The LIRR offered to completely rebuild the trackage as to provide those living in the new community with rail service, however, Levitt did not want a railroad running through his new community. Gradually the shuttle was cut back, and rail pulled up, to just east of Mitchel Field, which itself gradually began to curtail its operations in the early fifties as the surrounding areas began their suburban development. The shuttle ceased operation in 1953.
As a freight secondary (1953-present)
After the end of passenger shuttle service, and the closing of Mitchel Field in 1961, the LIRR continued to use the line in its freight service, officially giving the line its current name the Garden City–Mitchell Field Secondary. A large freight yard remained in Garden City servicing some local industries such as A&P, General Bronze, and Newsday. A few passenger trains continued to use the line into the late 1960s to service the old Roosevelt Raceway. Many plans were developed by the LIRR during the fifties and sixties to use the remaining portion of trackage and build a "Nassau Hub" that would service the many new retail outfits that sprung up in the area such as the Roosevelt Field Mall, as well as the newly built Nassau Coliseum, and Nassau Community College, which was built on part of the Mitchel Field site. However, lack of resources (at the time the bankrupt LIRR was in the process of being bought by the MTA from the Pennsylvania Railroad), as well as community opposition from residents in Garden City shelved those plans. As the years went on the remaining freight customers along the line also disappeared as the LIRR focused its resources on passenger service and establishing east side access from Long Island to New York City's Grand Central Terminal.
The Long Island Rail Road formally transferred freight operations to the New York & Atlantic Railway (NY&A) in May 1997. As of current, the NY&AR has no freight customers on the line.
Today, the LIRR uses the secondary to transport trackwork equipment to and from the Garden City yard. The secondary is also used by the Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus train, who uses the Garden City Yard to store boxcars when it visits the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, which is near the east end of the secondary. Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey closed on Sunday, May 21, 2017.
The line as of current alternates between being single and double tracked, with some electrification extending as far as the Garden City yard. A number of freight sidings and team tracks remain along the line. Most of the lines grade crossings remain unprotected and require flag protection against traffic by train crews. The Clinton Road passenger station, from the line's early days, still stands along with its low level concrete platforms. The station house is currently used by the Garden City Fire Department.
- Surface Transportation Board, "Long Island Rail Road Company—Discontinuance Of Service Exemption—In Garden City, Long Island, NY", September 6, 2002
- Central Branch of the Long Island Rail Road (The Stewart Line) (Arrt's Arrchives)
- The Stewart Line 2