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The History of the Long Island Railroad

The History of the Long Island Railroad

The Long Island Railroad is one of the most prominent NYC train routes, and not just because it stretches to the depths of Long Island. Originally, the LIRR was built by the Pennsylvania RR to shuttle people from New York to Boston. That first iteration became known as the Long Island Railroad Company.

Most New Yorkers are not aware that the train’s original route was supposed to include a couple of different kinds of travel. Travelers would ride the railroad to Long Island’s North Fork from Manhattan, then travel by boat to Connecticut where the train would reconvene. From there the rail would run from Providence to Boston. The segmentation was solely because railroad engineers deemed it impossible to travel on land through the terrain of Connecticut during the 1800s.

Though the thought was in the right place, it wasn’t practical because the early structure of the LIRR didn’t consider the needs of Long Island residents. Instead, the route ran through the more unpopulated areas of Long Island so there wasn’t much of a convenience factor.

Amazingly enough, the “unlikely” railroad path through Connecticut, considered to be impossible before, was eventually built and the LIRR’s sole purpose was eradicated in one fell swoop. The LIRR had to adjust their transportation model to stay afloat. They adapted by focusing primarily on local passengers — they built additional lines to reach the different areas outside of the mainline throughout Long Island.

In 1854, the LIRR started working towards this goal by developing remote stations but their progress was too slow. During the building period, a few other competitors had established routes to fill the need for Long Island riders. For almost a decade, the various railroads coexisted with one another but eventually there was too much competition for them all to sustain.

About 30 years later, the LIRR was taken over by Austin Corbin and he managed to lead the railroad to its greatest expansion yet.

Corbin’s acquisitions of already existing lines and stations led to the LIRR’s solid foundation at the time. He began planning for the railroad’s direct access to Manhattan with touchpoints at their Atlantic Branch under the East River tunnel and their Grand Central Terminal station.

The Pennsylvania Railroad was also planning their new route across the Hudson River to reach Manhattan. Talks between the LIRR and PRR started buzzing in 1900 and soon after the PRR bought controlling interest in the LIRR for $6 million. This would spark the New York Tunnel Extension from NJ, to Manhattan, to Long Island City. The new Pennsylvania Station opened in 1910, serving only LIRR trains for over two months. Eventually they opened the station up to other tracks, because all New York needs is more congestion!

Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller proposed that the state of New York City buy the LIRR in 1965 alongside the MTA (then known as the Metropolitan Commuter Transportation Authority). This proposition became a reality when the PRR went bankrupt in 1970. Governor Rockefeller managed to act on his plan to purchase the LIRR and implement improvements that would replace their outdated carts with M1 Cars that were exponentially more reliable and passenger friendly.

Under the MTA, the LIRR saw not only additions to its route but the actual train saw vast improvements as well. Air conditions carts that were both more reliable as far as safety and functionality helped reintroduce the LIRR.

We also take a look into the evolution of New York City’s subway cars. Learn more about how NYC transportation has grown over the years!