OpEd: Long Island Rail Road on the Right Track Despite Fiscal Cliff

long island rail road
Governor Kathy Hochul, MTA Chair & CEO Janno Lieber, and SMART General Chairman Anthony Simon were joined by other officials on a ceremonial train ride from Jamaica to New Hyde Park to inaugurate the first completed section of LIRR Third Track between Floral Park and Merillon Avenue on Monday, Aug 15, 2022.
Marc A. Hermann/MTA

Recent headlines paint a precarious picture of the MTA and Long Island Rail Road, describing it as an agency struggling to avoid a fiscal cliff while going head-to-head with critics set on blocking a first-in-the-nation congestion pricing program that is the cornerstone of our historic $55 billion Capital Program. However, that doesn’t tell the full story.

As we tackle these very real challenges, we’re doing a huge amount of important work to deliver for New Yorkers in the meantime. 

First, on the capital side. We are racing toward the finish line for one of our marquee megaprojects, Long Island Rail Road Third Track– on time and $100 million under budget. The first segment of the new track just opened last week, and we expect to finish the rest by October. Once completed – combined with the benefits of East Side Access, also due for completion later this year – Third Track will allow the LIRR to run much, much more service and to give Long Islanders the option of traveling directly to Grand Central, which will save up to 40 minutes a day in commuting for many of our customers.  

The increased capacity is reflected in new draft timetables, which are in the process of being finalized. With the changes, service across the railroad would increase by 41%. It’s game-changing for Long Islanders.

We are constantly looking for opportunities to innovate and improve the customer experience. Take the new TrainTime app that launched last week. For years, both MTA railroads have had to use separate apps for trip planning and mobile ticketing, but not anymore. The new version merges these functions while preserving features customers know and love, like car capacity tracking, and adding new capabilities, like real-time train movement data, so you’ll never be stuck wondering where your train is. 

We’re also finally catching up on Wi-Fi installation across the system. We just finished upgrading cellular service at LIRR’s Jamaica Station.

Next up, subway tunnels. The MTA Board just approved a new contract to expand connectivity to all tunnels and above-ground stations at no cost to the MTA. In the future, “I’m going into a tunnel” will no longer be an excuse to hang up.

These are the kinds of amenities riders expect and deserve in 2022 and they’re amenities we’re happy to deliver. We want public transportation to be the first choice for travel, whether it’s to work and school or to the US Open and Subway Series.

If the Mets and Yankees can get to the top of the standings in their divisions, so can the MTA.

Janno Lieber is the Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chair and CEO.