Port Jefferson Branch
|Port Jefferson Branch|
DE30AC #400 enters Stony Brook station westbound from Port Jefferson in 2008.
|System||Long Island Rail Road|
|Locale||Nassau and Suffolk County, New York, USA|
|Owner||Long Island Rail Road|
|Operator(s)||Metropolitan Transportation Authority|
|Track gauge||4 ft 8 1⁄2 in (1,435 mm)|
|Electrification||750 V (DC) third rail
(west of Huntington)
The Port Jefferson Branch is a rail line and service owned and operated by the Long Island Rail Road in the U.S. state of New York. The branch splits from the Main Line just east of Hicksville and runs northeast and east to Port Jefferson. Several stations on the Main Line west of Hicksville are served primarily by trains bound to/from the Port Jefferson branch, so LIRR maps and schedules for the public include that part of the Main Line in the "Port Jefferson Branch" service.
The Port Jefferson Branch is one of the busiest branches of the LIRR, with frequent electric service to Huntington where electrification ends, and diesel service east of Huntington continues to Port Jefferson. The MTA also refers to the line as the "Port Jefferson/Huntington Branch", "Huntington Branch" or the "Hicksville/Huntington Branch".
Port Jefferson Branch service (as distinct from the piece of railroad called the Port Jefferson Branch) extends east from Floral Park, where the Hempstead Branch separates from the Main Line. The line west of Huntington is electrified and double tracked. Electrification extends to a point east of Huntington before Greenlawn station on a layup track for electric trains. East of there the line is single track with passing sidings at Greenlawn, east of East Northport, Kings Park, Smithtown and Stony Brook allowing trains traveling in opposite directions to pass each other.
Electric trains on the branch operate between Penn Station and Huntington, providing local service on the branch; additional weekday service operates between Penn Station and Hicksville. Trains to the Ronkonkoma Branch provide supplemental service; these usually run express, stopping only at Mineola and/or Hicksville. Additional service to Mineola is provided by Oyster Bay Branch trains, and a handful of Montauk Branch trains also stop at Mineola and Hicksville on weekdays; one Montauk-bound train makes a stop at Hicksville overnight, though the vast majority of Montauk Branch trains that run on the branch do not stop. Service on the unnelectrified portion of the branch between Port Jefferson and Huntington is usually provided by diesel shuttles running between Port Jefferson and either Huntington or Hicksville, where customers transfer to electric trains for service to New York City. During rush hours, the branch sees extra service, including direct electric service to Atlantic Terminal, service to Penn Station that bypasses Jamaica, and direct service to Hunterspoint Avenue, Long Island City, or Penn Station from stations east of Huntington.
Stations on the electrified portion that have the heaviest traffic include Mineola, Hicksville, and Huntington. On the non-electrified portion, the heaviest traffic tends to be to the Stony Brook station where the State University of New York at Stony Brook is located.
New Electric Yard
The branch has no yard to store electric trains; east of Huntington, a single layup track with room for three trainsets is used for storage. Because of this lack of space, electric trains must deadhead from as far away as the West Side Yard in Manhattan for rush-hour service. Construction of a new electric yard would rectify this issue and allow the LIRR to increase branch service when East Side Access is completed and service to Grand Central Terminal begins. In the early 2000s, the MTA performed environmental studies evaluating over a dozen sites between Huntington and Smithtown for usage as a yard. Electrification of the line would have to be extended if a site beyond Huntington was chosen; a site near Huntington would eliminate this need. Communities near the sites opposed the MTA's efforts to advance work on a new yard, arguing that the MTA was too secretive and that the increased train service and train movements would hurt their communities and decrease their quality of life. One commenter asserted that a yard would turn the communities along the line into the MTA's "storage closet" for East Side Access. Some opponents of the plan also argued that the MTA should extend electrification to Port Jefferson to utilize the existing diesel rail yard there, however, a full electrification of the line would add an extra layer of expenses to the project. The MTA neglected to provide any funding for the project in its 2005-2009 Capital Program, deferring it until 2015, when the agency budgeted $8 million in its 2015-2019 Capital Program to conduct new environmental studies, create new designs and acquire land for a new electric yard. Construction would be funded in a future Capital Program.
Third track between Queens Village and Hicksville
To accommodate an expected increase in Long Island Rail Road ridership once the East Side Access project to Grand Central Terminal is completed and to expand local and reverse peak service, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority has proposed to build a third Main Line track from Queens Village to Hicksville in the future. Components of the project include purchasing properties in the track's right of way, eliminating grade crossings (in conjunction with NYSDOT), relocating existing stations, and reconfiguring Mineola Station. The project has been stalled by fierce opposition from the villages of Floral Park, New Hyde Park, and Garden City, which say the construction and the resulting increased train service will reduce the quality of life in their neighborhoods. These villages support station improvements and the elimination of grade crossings in lieu of third track expansion; however, the MTA has long insisted that a third track is a necessary component of LIRR's East Side Access expansion. In March 2015, LIRR president Patrick Nowakowski declared that the LIRR would not proceed with the project without the support of the local communities.
Small segments of the third track have been built already or will be built, however. One segment is between Merillon Avenue and Mineola, built in the vicinity of Herricks Road during the grade crossing elimination project that took place in 1998. Another segment will be built as part of the upcoming station renovation at Hicksville. This construction will connect Track 1 at Hicksville station to the North Siding track located about 3,000 feet west of the station. This short segment, when completed, will essentially serve as the eastern end of the future third track; it will also allow for a slight increase in peak-hour service. The MTA has also left provisions for a third track in construction of other infrastructure along the line, such as the Mineola Intermodal Center located adjacent to Mineola station, Mineola Blvd Bridge, Roslyn Road Underpass in Mineola, and the replacement Ellison Avenue Bridge over the Main Line in Westbury.
In January 2016, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a transportation improvement plan which included several million dollars in funding to restart third track development. Governor Cuomo said that unlike previous third track proposals, his plan involves building the third track within existing LIRR right of way, which will reduce the number of existing homes and businesses affected by installation of the third track. While previous proposals would have affected around 250 properties, 80 of which were homes, Governor Cuomo's proposal would only require taking property from 50 properties in total, including around 20 homes. This reduction in properties affected be accomplished by building a shorter third track than previous proposals, resulting in a 9.8-mile (15.8 km) three-track segment instead of the previously planned 11.5-mile (18.5 km) segment.
The line from Hicksville to Syosset was chartered in 1853 as the Hicksville and Syosset Railroad and opened in 1854. The LIRR later planned to extend to Cold Spring Harbor, but Oliver Charlick, the LIRR's president, disagreed over the station's location, so Charlick abandoned the grade and relocated the extension south of Cold Spring, refusing to add a station stop near Cold Spring for years. Another argument at Huntington led to the line bypassing the town two miles (3 km) to the south, though a station was built. The line was extended from Syosset past Huntington to Northport in 1868, and in 1873 the 1870-chartered Smithtown and Port Jefferson Railroad opened from a mile south of Northport to Port Jefferson, turning the old line into Northport into the Northport Branch, the result of another argument between Charlick and Northport.
The Port Jefferson Branch formerly extended to Wading River in 1895, and was once slated to continue eastward and rejoin the Main Line at either Riverhead or Calverton. From 1905 to 1928, Wading River was also the site of an LIRR Demonstration farm. The other one was east of Medford station on the Main Line. The line east of Port Jefferson was abandoned in 1938. The right-of-way is now owned by the Long Island Power Authority and used for power lines but there are plans to create a rail trail for bicycling, running, and walking. The Port Jefferson Branch was electrified from Mineola to Huntington Station in 1970. The former Northport Branch was abandoned in 1985, and the Kings Park Psychiatric Center spur (see below) was abandoned in 1988.
Kings Park Psychiatric Center Spur
Kings Park Psychiatric run-off also known as KPPC is an abandoned spur off the Port Jefferson Branch for the Kings Park Psychiatric Center. This spur started just west of Kings Park station, ran north of the station house, crossed Indian Head Road (Suffolk CR 14) and then curved north to cross New York State Route 25A, where it ran along the western edge of the hospital property, and ended at the Hospital's coal power plant.
This spur was first used in the 1890s for coal and passenger use on Sundays. The route was the second largest spur in the Long Island Rail Road system when it was first completed. The route came to an end during the late 1980s. Nowadays, this abandoned route is a Right-of-way for biking and is open to the public today. Also, today, only small fragments of rail remain as it most of it was removed during the demise of the complex.
On a small note, electrification reached from Mineola to Hicksville & Huntington in 1970. For 15 years from Amott Interlocking east of Syosset Station to west of Huntington it was single-tracked. In 1985, the LIRR constructed a second electrified track in that area to avoid the single track bottle neck, this included Cold Spring Harbor adding a second platform.
In 1970, electrification was extended from Mineola to Huntington, the eastern limit of electrification on the branch. Since then, the LIRR has aspired to extend electrification beyond Huntington. In the 1980s, the railroad prepared to extend electrification to at least Northport, or Smithtown, although electrification of the Ronkonkoma Branch on the Main Line was seen as a higher priority, in part because the Main Line's central location in Suffolk County would benefit a larger number of people. Bruce McIver, president of the LIRR at the time, estimated in 1986 that electrification of the branch would cost $320 million, including new rolling stock. He argued that the limited funds the railroad had set aside for electrification would be better spent on other improvements, such as signal and yard upgrades near Penn Station. Financial constraints acted as another obstacle to electrification to Northport. McIver also did not want to electrify the branch in a piecemeal fashion and wanted to wait until the railroad had the funds to electrify from Huntington to Port Jefferson all at once. In anticipation of electrification, the LIRR built full-length high-level platforms at all stations between Huntington and Port Jefferson. Because electrification has not occurred, these 12-car platforms are unique in the LIRR's diesel territory; the high-level platforms along the Montauk, Greenport and Oyster Bay diesel branches are all much shorter.
Instead of electrification, the LIRR ultimately pursued dual-mode locomotives that could switch between diesel power and electric power to serve Penn Station (where diesel emissions are banned). Senator Norman Levy said that "The people who ride the line would have just about all the positive aspects of electrification with this proposal." The LIRR's dual mode locomotives debuted in the late 1990s, providing two round trips during weekday rush hours between Penn Station and Port Jefferson, the first time a one-seat ride was available.
Proposed electrification extension
In 2015, multiple parties renewed calls for electrification of the branch. The LIRR estimated that electrification would cost up to $18 million per track mile, so electrification of the 23 miles from Huntington to Port Jefferson could cost approximately $414 million. In its 20-Year Needs Assessment, the agency lists electrification eastward as a long-term goal.
Grade crossing eliminations
The Port Jefferson Branch has also been known to have the most hazardous grade crossings in the country. In 1982, a van was struck by a diesel train at the Herricks Road crossing in between Mineola and Merillon Avenue. The crossing for many years was dubbed by the NTSB as "The most dangerous crossing in the U.S." In 1998, after a complicated project, the crossing was finally eliminated, with the tracks now going over the road on a bridge. Other crossings eliminated along the branch include: Mineola Boulevard in Mineola (1930), crossings within Hicksville when the station was elevated in the early 1960s, and Charlotte Avenue in Hicksville (1973). Ten years later Roslyn Road also in Mineola was eliminated in the same fashion.
Other hazardous crossings along the branch west of Huntington are Robbins Lane & Jackson Avenue in Syosset, School Street & Urban Avenue in Westbury, Willis Avenue & Main Street in Mineola, and New Hyde Park Road, 12th Street, and Covert Avenue in New Hyde Park. East of Huntington, Main Street in Port Jefferson is considered quite hazardous. There are plans, after a third track is added, for the branch will be fully elevated and grade separated from Hicksville Westward just like the Babylon Branch.
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- Third Main Line Track project web site
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- "PRR Chronology, 1868" (PDF). (93.8 KiB), June 2004 Edition
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- Ziel, Ron; Foster, George H. (1987). Steel Rails to the Sunrise. Mattituck: Amereon House. pp. 13–14. ISBN 0-8488-0368-X.
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- Mileposts 43-44 Kings Park (Bob Emery Map; September 1957; TrainsAreFun.com)
- Kings Park State Hospital Spur (Train Web)
- John T. McQuiston (November 24, 1985). "Pulling the Plug on Electrification". New York Times. Retrieved January 5, 2016.
- John T. McQuiston (February 23, 1986). "L.I.R.R. Electrification: New Plans, New Delays". New York Times. Retrieved January 5, 2016.
- Bruce Lambert (May 31, 1997). "The 4:49 to Port Jefferson: A Spoardic Promise of Modernity". New York Times. Retrieved January 5, 2016.
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- Station pages linked from LIRR Stations
- Brooklyn Advocate, Long Island Rail Road, February 1837
- "Long Island Railroad Company". Brooklyn Daily Eagle. Brooklyn, NY. May 28, 1842. p. 3.
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