Columnist Larry Penner
Larry Penner

Why Are LIRR Jamaica Capacity Improvements Incomplete?

Why was the Metropolitan Transportation Authority Long Island Rail Road $168 million Jamaica Capacity Improvements Phase 2 not completed prior to initiation of full-time service for the $11.6 billion LIRR East Side Access to Grand Central Madison in February 2023? Completion of Phase 2 is scheduled to be completed by December 2026. The scope of work would raise maximum allowable train speeds, increase train throughput and parallel routing capabilities, implement universal 12-car platform capacity and implement a full state-of-good repair throughout the entire Jamaica Station complex. It includes critical work on bridges carrying trains and expansion of the Hall Interlocking.
Prior to this, there was the $450 million Phase One Jamaica Capacity Improvements. Funding was approved for Phase One in 2010 under grants from the Federal Transit Administration Region 2 New York Office.
Jamaica Capacity Phase One project included capital improvements to operational areas in and adjacent to the station. The scope of work included track, signals, third rail power and interlockings. These improvements were designed to support increased operational capacity necessary to support future Grand Central Madison service. At the time of Federal Transit Administration grant approval, this proposed new service was many years away. Thirteen years later, there was ample time to complete both Phase One and Two.
This was one of many support projects in related LIRR readiness projects, including carried off line from the official East Side Access project budget. This also included the $2.6 billion Main Line Third Track, $387 million Ronkonkoma Double Track, $120 million Ronkonkoma Yard Expansion, $44 million Great Neck Pocket Track, $423 million for rail car fleet expansion and others that were necessary for full implementation of East Side Access. Without these projects, the LIRR would have lacked the expanded operational capabilities to support both promised 24 rush hour train service to Grand Central Madison along with a 40 percent increase in reverse peak and off peak service. By 2023, East Side Access ended up costing $11.6 billion (plus $1 billion debt service payments and $4 billion in directly related LIRR readiness projects. This resulted in a real total project cost of $16.6 billion.
Why weren’t Phase 2 of Jamaica Capacity Improvements not completed in time to coincide with new LIRR Grand Central Madison service?
Will completion of Phase 2 project increase overall rush hour capacity, including additional Atlantic branch Brooklyn service or reduce travel time between Jamaica and Penn Station, Grand Central Madison, Flatbush Avenue, Hunters Point or Long Island City? MTA Board members, MTA funding agencies such as the Federal Transit Administration, LIRR commuters, taxpayers, transit advocacy groups, elected officials and transportation reporters deserve a detailed explanation for why this work was delayed so long from MTA Chairman Janno Lieber and LIRR President Robert Free.

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