Long Island Rail Road
LIRR logo.svg
LIRR sampler electric and diesel services.jpg
The Long Island Rail Road provides electric and diesel rail service east-west throughout Long Island, New York.
OwnerMetropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA)
Area servedLong Island
LocaleLong Island, New York
Transit typeCommuter rail
Number of lines11
Number of stations124
Chief executivePhilip Eng[1]
HeadquartersJamaica station
Jamaica, New York, United States
Began operation1834 (185 years ago) (1834)
Operator(s)Metropolitan Transportation Authority
Reporting marksLI
System length319 mi (513 km) (route); 700 mi (1,100 km) (total track length)
Track gauge4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge
Top speed80 mph (130 km/h)[2]
System map

Gray lines represent freight-only branches, and other colors represent the corresponding passenger branches.

The Long Island Rail Road (reporting mark LI), often abbreviated as the LIRR, is a commuter rail system in the southeastern part of the U.S. state of New York, stretching from Manhattan to the eastern tip of Suffolk County on Long Island. With an average weekday ridership of 354,800 passengers in 2016, it is the busiest commuter railroad in North America.[3][4] It is also one of the world's few commuter systems that runs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, year-round.[5] It is publicly owned by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which refers to it as MTA Long Island Rail Road.

The LIRR logo combines the circular MTA logo with the text Long Island Rail Road, and appears on the sides of trains. The LIRR is one of two commuter rail systems owned by the MTA, the other being the Metro-North Railroad in the northern suburbs of the New York area. Established in 1834 and having operated continuously since then, it is one of the oldest railroads in the United States still operating under its original name and charter.[6]

There are 124 stations and more than 700 miles (1,100 km) of track[7] on its two lines to the two forks of the island and eight major branches, with the passenger railroad system totaling 319 miles (513 km) of route.[8] As of 2018, the LIRR's budgetary burden for expenditures was $1.6 billion, which it supports through the collection of taxes and fees.[9]


George Bradford Brainerd (American, 1845-1887). Station, Bay Shore, Long Island, September 1879. Collodion silver glass wet plate negative. Brooklyn Museum
LIRR (Montauk & NY) RPO cover (TR27) for the road's 100th anniversary in 1934

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.[10]

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.[6] Electric operation began in 1905.[11]

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 June 1965, the state finalized an agreement to buy the LIRR from the PRR for $65 million.[12] The LIRR was placed under the control of a new Metropolitan Commuter Transit Authority.[13] The MCTA was rebranded the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in 1968 when it incorporated several other New York City-area transit agencies.[14][15] With MTA subsidies the LIRR modernized further, continuing to be the busiest commuter railroad in the United States.[6]

The LIRR is one of the few railroads that has survived as an intact company from its original charter to the present.[6]

Major stations

The LIRR ticket counter at Penn Station displays all locations accessible from Penn Station.
Long Island City station and yard

The LIRR operates out of three western terminals in New York City, with a fourth expected by the early 2020s. Major terminals include:

In addition, 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.[7] A sixth platform with two tracks is under construction and will serve Atlantic Branch shuttle trains to Brooklyn once completed.[19] Transfer is also made to separate facilities for three subway services at the Sutphin Boulevard–Archer Avenue–JFK station (E​, ​J, and ​Z trains), a number of bus routes, and the AirTrain automated electric rail system to JFK Airport.[20] The railroad's headquarters are next to the station.[21]

Passenger lines and services

Schematic of LIRR's routes, as well as the fare zones. This schematic is not to scale.

The Long Island Rail Road system has eleven passenger branches. Three of them are considered main trunk lines:

They spin off eight minor 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 the Port Washington Branch) is known as the City Terminal Zone. The City Terminal Zone includes portions of the Main Line, Atlantic, and Montauk Branches, as well as the Amtrak-owned East River Tunnels (Northeast Corridor) to Penn Station.

Current branches

Fare structure

Like Metro-North Railroad and NJ Transit, the Long Island Rail Road fare system is based on the distance a passenger travels, as opposed to the New York City Subway and the area's bus systems, which charge a flat rate. The railroad is broken up into eight non-consecutively numbered fare zones. Zone 1, the City Terminal Zone, includes Penn Station, all stations in Brooklyn, and all stations in Queens west of Jamaica or Mets–Willets Point.[41] Zone 3 includes Jamaica and Mets–Willets Point, as well as all other stations in eastern Queens except Far Rockaway.[42] Zones 4 and 7 include all stations in Nassau County, plus Far Rockaway in Queens.[42] Zones 9, 10, 12 and 14 include all stations in Suffolk County.[42] 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.[42]

Peak and off-peak fares

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.[43] Any passenger holding an off-peak ticket on a peak train is required to pay a step up fee.[44] 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.[44] 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.[44]

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.[45]

Commuters can also buy a peak or off-peak ten trip ride, a weekly unlimited or an unlimited monthly pass.[46] Monthly passes are good on any train regardless of the time of day, within the fare zones specified on the pass.[46]

Special fares

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.[47]

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.[48]


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.[49] The special reduced-fare CityTicket, proposed by the New York City Transit Riders Council,[49] was formally introduced in 2004.[50] 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.[48] They are not valid for travel to Far Rockaway because it is in Zone 4 and the Far Rockaway Branch passes through Nassau County.[48] It is also not valid for travel to the Belmont Park station, which is only open for special events.[48]

Freedom Ticket

In fall 2017, the MTA was slated to launch a pilot that will allow LIRR, bus and subway service to use one ticket.[51] The proposal for the ticket, called the "Freedom Ticket," was initially put forth by the New York City Transit Riders Council (NYCTRC) in 2007.[52]:1 The NYCTRC wrote a proof of concept report in 2015.[53] 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.[52]:iii 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.[52]:1–2 At the time, monthly CityTickets cost $330 per month.[53]

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.[51][54][55] 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.[55] 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.[51] 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),[54] while at the same time providing affordable service to people with long commutes.[55] The details were to be announced in spring 2017, and the pilot would last six months.[51]

The MTA Board voted to approve a six-month pilot for a similar concept, the Atlantic Ticket, in May 2018. The Atlantic Ticket is similar in that it would allow LIRR riders in southeast Queens to purchase a one-way ticket to or from Atlantic Terminal for $5. The Atlantic Ticket would start in June 2018.[56]


In 2017, it was announced that the MetroCard fare payment system, used on New York City-area rapid transit and bus systems, would be phased out and replaced by OMNY, a contactless fare payment system. Fare payment would be made using Apple Pay, Google Wallet, debit/credit cards with near-field communication enabled, or radio-frequency identification cards.[57][58] As part of the implementation of OMNY, the MTA also plans to use the system in the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North Railroad.[59]

Train operations

Interior of a typical LIRR train car

The LIRR is relatively isolated from the rest of the national rail system despite operating out of Penn Station, the nation's busiest rail terminal. It connects with other railroads in just two locations:

All LIRR trains have an 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, trains 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 mechanical interlocking control towers to regulate rail traffic.[63]

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.[64] 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.[65]

Signal and safety systems

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, 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.[66]

Power transmission

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 on the New York City Subway and PATH systems.[67] This system is incompatible with Metro-North's third rail, which is under-running, though the M8 and M9 fleets 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.

New M9 railcars leaving Brentwood Station during testing.

In September 2013, MTA announced that the LIRR would procure new M9 railcars from Kawasaki.[68] A 2014 MTA forecast indicated that the LIRR would need 416 M9 railcars; 180 to replace the outdated M3 railcars and an additional 236 railcars for the additional passengers expected once the East Side Access project is complete.[69] As of early December 2018, it is estimated that 38 of the cars have been built and are currently being tested.[70]

C3 Bi-level coaches at grade crossing in Bethpage

The LIRR also uses 134 C3 Bilevel coaches powered by 24 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.[71]

Named trains

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.

Current trains