The Long Island Rail Road Company was chartered in 1834 to provide a daily service between New York and Boston via a ferry connection between its Greenport, New York, terminal on Long Island's North Fork and Stonington, Connecticut. This service was superseded in 1849 by the land route through Connecticut that became part of the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad. The LIRR refocused its attentions towards serving Long Island, in competition with other railroads on the island. In the 1870s, railroad president Conrad Poppenhusen and his successor Austin Corbin acquired all the railroads and consolidated them into the LIRR.
The LIRR was unprofitable for much of its history. In 1900, the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) bought a controlling interest as part of its plan for direct access to Manhattan which began on September 8, 1910. The wealthy PRR subsidized the LIRR during the first half of the new century, allowing expansion and modernization. Electric operation began in 1905.
After the Second World War, the railroad industry's downturn and dwindling profits caused the PRR to stop subsidizing the LIRR, and the LIRR went into receivership in 1949. The State of New York, realizing how important the railroad was to Long Island's future, began to subsidize the railroad in the 1950s and 1960s. In 1966, New York State bought the railroad's controlling stock from the PRR and put it under the newly formed Metropolitan Commuter Transportation Authority (renamed Metropolitan Transportation Authority in 1968). With MTA subsidies the LIRR modernized further, continuing to be the busiest commuter railroad in the United States.
The LIRR is one of the few railroads that has survived as an intact company from its original charter to the present.
The LIRR operates out of three western terminals, in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens. Jamaica Station in central Queens is the hub of all railroad activities. Expansion of the system into Grand Central Terminal is expected over the next few years. Major stations include:Pennsylvania Station, in Midtown Manhattan, is the busiest of the western terminals, serving almost 500 daily trains. It is reached via the Amtrak-owned East River Tunnels (the only LIRR-used trackage not owned by the LIRR) from the Main Line in Long Island City. The New York City Subway's 34th Street–Penn Station (IRT Broadway–Seventh Avenue Line) (1 2 3 trains) and 34th Street–Penn Station (IND Eighth Avenue Line) (A C E trains) stations are next to the terminal. It also connects LIRR with Amtrak and NJ Transit trains.
Atlantic Terminal, formerly Flatbush Avenue, in Downtown Brooklyn serves most other trains. It is next to the New York City Subway's Atlantic Avenue–Barclays Center station complex (2 3 4 5 B Q D N R trains), providing easy access to Lower Manhattan.
A handful of weekday trains run to Hunterspoint Avenue or onward to the Long Island City station on the East River in Long Island City. From Hunterspoint Avenue, the Hunters Point Avenue subway station (7 <7> trains) can be reached for Midtown Manhattan access. The same subway trains can also be reached from Long Island City station at the Vernon Boulevard–Jackson Avenue subway station. It also connects to the NY Waterway's East River Ferry to Midtown or Lower Manhattan.
The Jamaica station is a major hub station and transfer point in Jamaica, Queens. It has eight tracks and five platforms, plus yard and bypass tracks. Passengers can transfer between trains on all LIRR lines except the Port Washington Branch. Transfer is also made to separate facilities for three subway services at the Sutphin Boulevard–Archer Avenue–JFK station (E J Z trains), a number of bus routes, and the AirTrain automated electric rail system to JFK Airport. The railroad's headquarters are next to the station.
Access to a fourth major terminal is under construction. As early as 2023, the LIRR intends to start service to Grand Central Terminal via the East Side Access; provision was made for this route on the lower level of the 63rd Street Tunnel under the East River, which carries the New York City Subway's IND 63rd Street Line (F train) on its upper level. The East Side Access project will reduce congestion while increasing the number of trains during peak hours. However, some February 2014 estimates push the opening date as far back as September 2024.
The Long Island Rail Road system has eleven passenger branches. Three main trunk lines, the Main Line, Montauk Branch, and Atlantic Branch, spin off eight smaller branches. For scheduling and advertising purposes some of these branches are divided into sections such as the case with the Montauk Branch, which is known as the Babylon Branch service in the electrified portion of the line between Jamaica and Babylon, while the diesel service beyond Babylon to Montauk is referred to as the Montauk Branch service. All branches except the Port Washington Branch pass through Jamaica; the trackage west of Jamaica (except to Port Washington) is known as the City Terminal Zone. The City Terminal Zone includes portions of the Main Line and Atlantic and Montauk Branches as well as the Amtrak-owned East River Tunnels to Penn Station. The passenger lines are:The Main Line runs from Long Island City east to Greenport; trains using the Northeast Corridor and the East River Tunnels from New York Penn Station join the line at Sunnyside Yard. It is electrified west of Ronkonkoma; limited diesel train service runs from this point to Yaphank, Riverhead, or Greenport. The services that run along this line are named after the branches they use; trains beyond Hicksville (where the Port Jefferson Branch splits), are known as Ronkonkoma Branch and the Greenport Branch trains.
The Montauk Branch runs from Long Island City to Montauk, meeting the Main Line at Long Island City and Jamaica. It is electrified from Jamaica east to Babylon; only diesel trains use the "Lower Montauk" section west of Jamaica (now freight-only except for the immediate approaches to Long Island City) or the outer section east of Babylon. Only trains east of Babylon are considered part of the Montauk Branch service; the line from Lynbrook to Babylon carries Babylon Branch trains.
The electrified Atlantic Branch runs from Atlantic Terminal in Downtown Brooklyn east to Jamaica, where it meets the Main Line, and then heads southeast to end at the Montauk Branch at Valley Stream. East of Valley Stream, the Far Rockaway Branch turns south, while the West Hempstead Branch turns northward.
The electrified Port Washington Branch, the only one that does not serve Jamaica, branches from the Main Line west of Woodside, but runs alongside it until Winfield Junction, which is east of that station, and heads east and northeast to Port Washington. It only serves four stations in Nassau County.
The Port Jefferson Branch branches from the Main Line at Hicksville, with electric service to Huntington and diesel service to Port Jefferson. Until 1938, it continued east to Wading River.
The electrified Hempstead Branch branches from the Main Line east of Queens Village (does not curve away from Main Line until Floral Park) and runs east to Hempstead. At Garden City, the Garden City-Mitchel Field Secondary curves off and goes to Mitchel Field.
The electrified West Hempstead Branch branches from the Montauk Branch at Valley Stream and runs northeast to West Hempstead, originally continuing to junction the Hempstead Branch and the Oyster Bay Branch at the Main Line. As of November 22, 2014, weekend service on the branch has been restored.
The Oyster Bay Branch splits from the Main Line at Mineola and heads north and east to Oyster Bay. The first section to East Williston is electrified; only diesel trains run along the majority of the line to Oyster Bay.
The diesel-only Central Branch runs southeast from the Main Line at Bethpage to the Montauk Branch at Babylon, giving an alternate route to the Montauk Branch east of Babylon. The Central Branch used to continue west from Bethpage to include what is now the Garden City–Mitchel Field Secondary.
The electrified Far Rockaway Branch splits from the Atlantic Branch at Valley Stream and runs south and southwest to Far Rockaway. It used to continue west along what is now the New York City Subway's IND Rockaway Line to Hammels and Rockaway Park.
The electrified Long Beach Branch splits from the Atlantic Branch at Valley Stream but does not curve away from the Babylon Branch until just after Lynbrook, where it turns south to end at Long Beach.
The railroad has dropped a number of branches due to lack of ridership over the years. Part of the Rockaway Beach Branch became part of the IND Rockaway Line of the New York City Subway, while others were downgraded to freight branches, and the rest abandoned entirely. Additionally, the Long Island Railroad operated trains over portions of the Brooklyn Rapid Transit (BRT) elevated and subway lines until 1917.The Bethpage Branch ran north from the Main Line and Central Branch at Bethpage.
The Bushwick Branch, also called the Bushwick Lead Track, is a freight railroad branch that runs from Bushwick, Brooklyn, to Fresh Pond Junction in Queens, where it connects with the Montauk Branch.
The Camp Upton Branch was a short branch north from the Main Line to Camp Upton.
The Cedarhurst Cut-off, officially known as the New York and Rockaway Railroad, was an extension of the Montauk Branch from its merger with the Atlantic Branch at Springfield Junction to the Cedarhurst, where it would turn west and run parallel to the Far Rockaway Branch until reaching Mott Avenue in Far Rockaway.
The Central Extension ran from Garden City eastward to Central Park (¾ mile south of current Bethpage station) and as far east as Bethpage Junction. The line was cut back to the point where it stopped at Island Trees. Today the western part of track still in use for freight and storage, and is officially known today as the Garden City Secondary.
The Chestnut Street Incline (Brooklyn) between Atlantic Avenue and Fulton Street was opened in 1898 to allow for thru-operation over the Jamaica/Broadway Elevated Line to the East River ferry terminal. In 1909 thru passenger service to Manhattan via the Williamsburg Bridge was established in coordination with the Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company (BRT). LIRR Passenger service operated to Chambers Street between May 1909 and September 1917,
The Creedmoor Branch, a remnant of the Central Railroad of Long Island (CRRLI) of Alexander Turney Stewart, was a short branch from the Main Line at Floral Park northwest through Creedmoor. It once went as far northwest as Flushing.
The Evergreen Branch connected the Bushwick Branch east of Bushwick Terminal with the Bay Ridge Branch north of East New York.
The Flushing Bay Freight Spur extended north from the Whitestone Branch, then across the Woodside Branch and then the connecting line between both branches before terminating along the south coast of Flushing Bay.
The Flushing Branch, also known as the Flushing Village Railroad was a short spur southeast from the Port Washington Branch in Flushing. It began at Great Neck Junction along with the CRRLI, then broke away at College Point Boulevard, and terminated between Murray Hill and Broadway stations.
The Glendale Cut-off ran south from the Main Line at Rego Park to the Montauk Branch at Glendale. There it became the Rockaway Beach Branch, running south across Jamaica Bay to Hammels and west to Rockaway Park. The Rockaway Beach Branch south of Ozone Park is now the IND Rockaway Line of the New York City Subway.
The Lower Montauk Branch ran from Long Island City to Jamaica, passing neighborhoods including Maspeth, Middle Village, and Richmond Hill.
The Manhattan Beach Branch ran south from the Bay Ridge Branch at Flatbush to Manhattan Beach.
The Manorville Branch or Manor Branch ran from the Main Line at Manorville southeast to the Montauk Branch at Eastport. It was originally part of the Sag Harbor Branch (See below).
The Mineola-West Hempstead Branch ran north of the terminus of the West Hempstead Branch across NY 24 to Country Life Press Station where it briefly joined the Hempstead Branch then ran north of the Garden City Secondary towards a wye at Mineola Station with one branch that terminated at the station and another that crossed the main line and ended near the southern terminus of the Oyster Bay Branch.
The Northport Branch ran northeast of the current Port Jefferson Branch between Greenlawn and Northport Village.
The North Shore Freight Branch ran from the Main Line at Sunnyside Yard west to the East River where Gantry Plaza State Park is now.
The Roosevelt Field Spur branched off northward from the current Garden City Secondary just north of Commercial Avenue. From there, it crossed Stewart Avenue just west of present-day South Street before turning slightly northeast, crossing over the Meadowbrook Parkway, where the overpass can still be seen today. From there, it continued north before curving east and coming to an end near Zeckendorf Boulevard. The line was used for freight only.
The Sag Harbor Branch ran north from the Montauk Branch at Bridgehampton to Sag Harbor.
The Wading River Branch ran east from Port Jefferson to Wading River, serving the towns of Mount Sinai, Miller Place, Rocky Point, and Shoreham.
The White Line, which was built by the LIRR subsidiary Newtown and Flushing Railroad ran south of the Port Washington Branch between Winfield Junction and Flushing between 1873 and 1876.
The Whitestone Branch, which was originally built by the Flushing and North Side Railroad (F&NS), split from the Port Washington Branch near Flushing and ran north and east to Whitestone.
The Woodside Branch ran north of the current Port Washington Branch between Woodside and east of the present Corona Yard west of the Flushing River. It also had a connecting spur to the Whitestone Branch.
In addition to its daily commuter patronage, the LIRR also offers the following services:From April to October, the railroad adds stops at Mets–Willets Point station to trains on the Port Washington Branch to serve passengers traveling to see New York Mets home games at Citi Field and the US Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. When the number of passengers requires it, additional trains may be added also.
The railroad also operates extra trains during the summer season that cater to the Long Island beach trade. Special package ticket deals are offered to places like Long Beach, Jones Beach, the Hamptons, Montauk, and Greenport. Some of these packages require bus and ferry connections.
The railroad also operates extra trains to and from Atlantic Terminal for New York Islanders home games at Barclays Center.
From May through October, the railroad runs four daily trains to Belmont Park (two in each direction) during the racetrack's summer meets. Additionally, on the day of the Belmont Stakes horse race, the railroad runs extra trains to accommodate the large amount of spectators attending the event.
One special non-passenger service offered by the railroad is the yearly operation of the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus train between Long Island City and Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Garden City. Highly publicized by the LIRR, this event draws large crowds of spectators. With Ringling Bros. Barnum and Bailey's closure, this is expected to be discontinued in May 2017.
Like Metro-North Railroad and New Jersey Transit, the Long Island Rail Road fare system is based on the distance a passenger travels, as opposed to the New York City Subway, which has a flat rate throughout the system. The railroad is broken up into eight numbered fare zones. Zone 1 includes all of the City Terminal Zone. Zone 3 includes Jamaica (and Flushing) and all stations east of Jamaica (and Flushing) within the boundaries of New York City, except Far Rockaway and Belmont Park. Zones 4 and 7 include all the stations in Nassau County and Far Rockaway. Zones 9, 10, 12 and 14 include all the stations in Suffolk County. Each zone contains many stations, and the same fare applies for travel between any station in the origin zone and any station in the destination zone.
Peak fares are charged during the week on trains that arrive at western terminals between 6 AM and 10 AM, and for trains that depart from western terminals between 4 PM and 8 PM. Any passenger holding an off-peak ticket on a peak train is required to pay a step up fee. Passengers can buy tickets from ticket agents or ticket vending machines (TVMs) or on the train from conductors, but will incur an on-board penalty fee for doing so. This fee is waived for customers boarding at a station without a ticket office or ticket machine, senior citizens, people with disabilities or Medicare customers.
There are several types of tickets: one way, round trip, peak, off-peak, AM peak or off-peak senior/citizen disabled, peak child, and off-peak child. On off-peak trains, passengers can buy a family ticket for children who are accompanied by an 18-year-old for $0.75 if bought from the station agent or TVM, $1.00 on the train. Senior citizen/disabled passengers traveling during the morning peak hours are required to pay the AM peak senior citizen/disabled rate. This rate is not charged during PM peak hours.
Commuters can also buy a peak or off-peak ten trip ride, a weekly unlimited or an unlimited monthly pass. Monthly passes are good on any train regardless of the time of day, within the fare zones specified on the pass.
During the summer the railroad offers special summer package ticket deals to places such as Long Beach, Jones Beach, the Hamptons, Montauk, and Greenport. Passengers traveling to the Hamptons and Montauk on the Cannonball can reserve a seat in the all-reserved Parlor Cars.
Passengers going to Belmont Park must buy a special ticket to go from Jamaica to Belmont Park (or vice versa). Weekly and monthly passes are not accepted at Belmont Park.
In 2003, the LIRR and Metro-North started a pilot program in which passengers traveling within the city limits were allowed to buy one-way tickets for $2.50. The special reduced-fare CityTicket, proposed by the New York City Transit Riders Council, was formally introduced in 2004. On weekends, the railroad offers the CityTicket for passengers who travel within Zones 1 and 3 (i.e. within New York City). CityTickets can only be bought from ticket agents or machines and used on the day of purchase. They are not valid for travel to Far Rockaway because it is in Zone 4 and the Far Rockaway Branch passes through Nassau County. It is also not valid for travel to the Belmont Park station, which is only open for special events.
In fall 2017, the MTA will launch a pilot that will allow LIRR, bus and subway service to use one ticket. The proposal for the ticket, called the "Freedom Ticket," was initially put forth by the NYCTRC in 2007. The NYCTRC wrote a proof of concept report in 2015. At the time of the report, express bus riders from Southeast Queens had some of the longest commutes in the city, with their commutes being 96 minutes long, yet they paid a premium fare of $6.50. Riders who take the dollar van to the subway paid $4.75 to get to Manhattan in 65 minutes; riders who only took the bus and subway paid $2.75 to get to Manhattan in 86 minutes; and riders who took the LIRR paid $10 to get to Manhattan in 35 minutes. Unlike the CityTicket, the Freedom Ticket would be valid for off-peak and multidirectional travel; have free transfers to the subway and bus system; and be capped at $215 per month. At the time, monthly CityTickets cost $330 per month.
The Freedom Ticket will initially be available for sale at the Atlantic Terminal, Nostrand Avenue, and East New York stations in Brooklyn and at the Laurelton, Locust Manor, Rosedale, and St. Albans stations in Queens. Riders, under the pilot, would be able to purchase one-way, weekly, or monthly passes that will be valid on the LIRR, on buses, and the subway. The fare will be higher than the price of a ride on the MetroCard, but it will be lower than the combined price of an LIRR ticket and a MetroCard, and it will allow unlimited free transfers between the LIRR, buses, and subway. The former head of the MTA, Thomas Prendergast, announced at the January 2017 board meeting that the plan would be explored in a field study to determine fares and the impact on existing service. The plan is intended to fill approximately 20,000 unused seats of existing trains to Atlantic Terminal and Penn Station (or about 50% to 60% of peak trains in each direction), while at the same time providing affordable service to people with long commutes. The details will be announced in spring 2017, and the pilot will last six months.
The LIRR is relatively isolated from the rest of the national rail system. It connects with other railroads in just two locations:West of Harold Interlocking in Sunnyside, Queens, LIRR trains enter the Amtrak-operated Northeast Corridor leading to the East River Tunnels. When this track was owned by the Pennsylvania Railroad, trains of the PRR connected to the LIRR at Penn Station. During the 1920s and 1930s a through sleeper was carried by PRR and LIRR trains from Pittsburgh to Montauk, called the 'Sunrise Special'.
In Glendale, Queens, the LIRR connects with CSX’s Fremont Secondary, which leads to the Hell Gate Bridge and New England; however, once trains leave the secondary, they enter LIRR trackage.
All LIRR trains have a Train Engineer who operates the train, and a Conductor who is responsible for the safe movement of the train, fare collection and on-board customer service. In addition, train may have one or more assistant conductors to assist with fare collection and other duties. The LIRR is one of the last railroads in the United States to use local interlocking control towers to regulate rail traffic.
As of 2016, the LIRR has 8 active control towers. All movements on the LIRR are under the control of the Movement Bureau in Jamaica, which gives orders to the towers that control a specific portion of the railroad. Movements in Amtrak territory are controlled by Penn Station Control Center or PSCC, run jointly by the LIRR and Amtrak. The PSCC controls as far east as Harold Interlocking, in Sunnyside, Queens. The PSCC replaced several towers. The Jamaica Control Center, operational since the third quarter of 2010, controls the area around Jamaica terminal by direct control of interlockings. This replaced several towers in Jamaica including Jay and Hall towers at the west and east ends of Jamaica station respectively. At additional locations, line side towers control the various switches and signals in accordance with the timetable and under the direction of the Movement Bureau in Jamaica.
Today's LIRR signal system has evolved from its legacy Pennsylvania Railroad-based system. The railroad utilizes a variety of wayside railroad signals including position light, color light and dwarf signals. In addition, much of the LIRR is equipped with a bi-directional Pulse code cab signaling called automatic speed control (ASC), though portions of the railway still retain single direction wayside only signalling. Unlike other railroads which began using color light signals in the 20th century, the LIRR did not begin using signals with color lights on its above ground sections until 2006. Some portions of the railway lack automatic signals and cab signals completely, instead train and track car movements are governed only by timetable and verbal/written train orders.
On portions of the railroad equipped with ASC, Engineers consult the speed display unit, which is capable of displaying 7 speed indications. They are 80,70,60,40,30,15 on electric trains while some diesel locomotives have slightly lower speed-steps when compared to the electrics. As a result of a December 1, 2013, train derailment in the Bronx on the Metro-North Railroad, and railroads with similar cab signal systems to Metro-North, such as the LIRR, were ordered to modify the systems to enforce certain speed limit changes, which has resulted in lower average speeds and actual speed limits across the LIRR.
The LIRR's electrified lines are powered by 750 V DC third rail with the contact shoe running along the top of the rail, similar to the New York City Subway and PATH trains. This system is currently incompatible with Metro-North's third rail, which is under-running, though the M8 fleet and the future M9 fleet can use both types of third rails.
The LIRR's electric fleet consists of 836 M7 and 170 M3 electric multiple unit cars in married pairs, meaning each car needs the other one to operate, with each car containing its own engineer's cab. The trainsets typically range up to 12 cars long. In September 2013, MTA announced that the LIRR would procure new M9 railcars from Kawasaki starting in 2016. They will replace the M3s, and expand the railroad's electric fleet.
The LIRR also uses 134 C3 Bilevel coaches powered by 23 DE30AC diesel-electric locomotives and 21 DM30AC dual-mode locomotives. They are used mostly on non-electrified territories, including the Port Jefferson, Oyster Bay, Montauk, and Greenport Branches.
For most of its history LIRR has served commuters, but it had many named trains, some with all-first class seating, parlor cars, and full bar service. Few of them lasted past World War II, but some names were revived during the 1950s and 1960s as the railroad expanded its east end parlor car service with luxury coaches and Pullman cars from railroads that were discontinuing their passenger trains.The Cannonball, a Friday-only 12-car train to Montauk running May through October, with two all-reserved parlor cars with full bar service. Since May 24, 2013 it has originated at Penn Station with a Sunday evening return from Montauk; only the westward train stops at Jamaica. The two rear cars ("Hamptons Reserve Service") have reserved seating and exclusive bar service. The name is a nod to the Cannon Ball, the all-year train to Amagansett/Montauk from the 1890s until the 1970s. It carried parlor cars and standard-fare coaches and ran weekday afternoons from Long Island City, then from Penn Station until 1951.
Fisherman's Special (1932–1950s) from Long Island City to Canoe Place Station and Montauk via Jamaica, April through October, terminating at Canoe Place in April, extended to Montauk in May. Served Long Island fishing trade.
Peconic Bay Express / Shinnecock Bay Express (1926–1950) from Long Island City to Greenport and Montauk, Saturday only, express to Greenport and Montauk. Discontinued during World War II though revived for a few seasons afterwards.
Shelter Island Express (1901–1903, 1923–1942) from Long Island City to Greenport, Friday-only summer express that connected to Shelter Island ferries.
Sunrise Special (1922–1942) ran during the summer, NY Penn to Montauk on Fridays and westbound Mondays. In summer 1926 it ran daily. All parlor car (no coaches) from 1932 to 1937.
The LIRR and other railroads that became part of the system have always had freight service, though this has diminished. The process of shedding freight service accelerated with the acquisition of the railroad by New York State. In the 21st century, there has been some appreciation of the need for better railroad freight service in New York City and on Long Island. Both areas are primarily served by trucking for freight haulage, an irony in a region with the most extensive rail transit service in the Americas as well as the worst traffic conditions. Proposals for a Cross-Harbor Rail Tunnel for freight have languished more than a century.
In May 1997, freight service was franchised on a 20-year term to the New York and Atlantic Railway (NYAR), a short line railroad owned by the Anacostia and Pacific Company. It has its own equipment and crews, but uses the rail facilities of the LIRR. To the east, freight service operates to the end of the West Hempstead Branch, to Huntington on the Port Jefferson Branch, to Bridgehampton on the Montauk Branch, and to Riverhead on the Main Line. On the western end it provides service on the surviving freight-only tracks of the LIRR: the Bay Ridge and Bushwick branches; the "Lower Montauk" between Jamaica and Long Island City; and to an interchange connection at Fresh Pond Junction in Queens with the CSX, Canadian Pacific, and Providence and Worcester railroads.
Some non-electrified lines are used only for freight:The Garden City-Mitchel Field Secondary is a short remnant of the Central Branch that splits from the Hempstead Branch at Garden City, running to Uniondale near Hofstra University and Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. This branch does not host any NYAR service. This branch is used by the Ringling Bros. Circus to transport animals, staff and equipment to the Nassau Coliseum.
The Bushwick Branch runs west from the Montauk Branch at Maspeth to Bushwick Terminal. This was a passenger branch until 1924.
The Bay Ridge Branch runs south and west from the Montauk Branch at Fresh Pond to Bay Ridge. At Fresh Pond, it meets CSX's Fremont Secondary, which goes over the Hell Gate Bridge towards Upstate New York and New England. At its southern end it interchanges with the New York New Jersey Rail, LLC cross harbor rail barge service to New Jersey. This branch had a passenger service until 1924 and a restoration of passenger service has been proposed.
In 2019, the LIRR expects to complete a project to add a second track along its Main Line between Farmingdale and Ronkonkoma to relieve crowding. Currently, there is only double track from Bethpage to the site of the former Republic Station (east of Farmingdale), and again from Deer Park to Brentwood. Passing sidings exist east of Wyandanch, and at Central Islip.
In 2023, the LIRR expects to complete the long-anticipated East Side Access project, allowing trains to access Grand Central Terminal.
On January 5, 2016, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announce a revived project to add a third track to the Main Line betweeh Floral Park and Hicksville. The Third Main Line Track and electrification expansions had been planned in conjunction with the commencement of service to Grand Central Terminal but were placed on hold in 2008 since local politicians in the affected areas were opposed to the plan and expressed concerns about the effects of the construction and train noise from eventual increase in service. The third track on the Main Line will aid in relieving the crowding on the Main Line which is expected to grow after the East Side Access project is complete. The project also includes the elimination of all seven grade crossings and will be constructed within existing LIRR rights-of-way.
The LIRR Police Department, founded in 1868, was absorbed along with the Metro-North Railroad Police to form the Metropolitan Transportation Authority Police (MTA Police) in 1998.
The LIRR has a long history of rocky relations with its passengers, especially daily commuters. Various commuter advocacy groups have been formed to try to represent those interests, in addition to the state mandated LIRR Commuters Council.
One criticism of the LIRR is that it has not improved service to the "east end" of Long Island as the twin forks continue to grow in popularity as a year-round tourist and residential destination. Demand is evidenced by flourishing for-profit bus services such as the Hampton Jitney and the Hampton Luxury Liner and the early formative stages of a new East End Transportation Authority. Local politicians have joined the public outcry for the LIRR to either improve the frequency of east end services, or turn the operation over to a local transportation authority.
Critics claim that the on-time performance (OTP) calculated by the LIRR is manipulated to be artificially high. Because the LIRR does not release any raw timing data nor does it have independent (non-MTA) audits it is impossible to verify this claim, or the accuracy of the current On Time Performance measurement. The "percentage" measure is used by many other US passenger railroads but the criticism over accuracy is specific to the LIRR. As defined by the LIRR, a train is "on time" if it arrives at a station within 5 minutes and 59 seconds of the scheduled time. The criterion was 4 minutes and 59 seconds until the LIRR changed it because of a bug in their computer systems. Critics believe the OTP measure does not reflect what commuters experience on a daily basis. The LIRR publishes the current OTP in a monthly booklet called TrainTalk. TrainTalk was previously known as "Keeping Track."
A more accurate way to measure delays and OTP has been proposed. Called the "Passenger Hours Delayed" index it can measure total person-hours of a specific delay. This would be useful in comparing performance of specific days or incidents, day-to-day (or week-to-week) periods, something the current measure cannot do. This 'PHD' index measure is used by some transportation research organizations and would be more meaningful to commuters. As of March 2016 it has not been adopted. The two methods are not mutually exclusive and could be kept and published simultaneously.
Ridership has increased from 81 million passengers in 2011 to 89.3 million passengers in 2016, which is the railroad's highest ridership since 1949. The all-time highest ridership was in 1929, when 119 million passengers rode 1.89 billion passenger miles. This increase in ridership has been attributed to the increased usage of the LIRR by millennials, and the increase of reverse-peak travel.
A New York Times investigation in 2008 showed that 25% of LIRR employees who had retired since 2000 filed for disability payments from the federal Railroad Retirement Board and 97% of them were approved to receive disability pension. The total collected was more than $250,000,000 over eight years. As a result, Railroad Retirement agents from Chicago inspected the Long Island office of the Railroad Retirement Board on September 23, 2008. New York Governor David Paterson issued a statement calling for Congress to conduct a full review of the board's mission and daily activities. Officials at the board's headquarters responded to the investigation stating that all occupational disability annuities were issued in accordance with applicable laws.
On November 17, 2008, a former LIRR pension manager was arrested and charged with official misconduct for performing outside work without permission. However, these charges were all dismissed for "no merit" by Supreme Court Judge Kase on December 11, 2009 on the grounds that the prosecution had misled the grand jury in the indictment.
A report produced in September 2009 by the Government Accountability Office stated that the rate at which retirees were rewarded disability claims was above the norm for the industry in general and indicated "troubling" practices that may indicate fraud, such as the use of a very small group of physicians in making diagnoses.
Another series of arrests on October 27, 2011 included two doctors and a former union official.
According to court documents, from 1998 through 2011, 79% of LIRR retirees obtained federal disability when they retired. On August 6, 2013, a doctor and two consultants were found guilty in connection with the accusations and sentenced to prison.