Sunday, April 20

Rough Outline for upcoming "Track Feature Tours"

Last Wednesday, I mentioned that following the completion of the Interlocking Walkthrough series, I would be transitioning to a new series of posts called "track feature tours" which will give us a look at the other structures and features of the Long Island Rail Road that are not contained within interlockings.

I mentioned in that post that I would follow-up with a rough list of which features I plan on posting about in the coming months.    There is still quite a lot to talk about, and this is still a tentative list.  It is subject to change as we go along, but for the most part I will stick to this order.  I grouped nearby things together, especially on the east end, so not every tiny feature will show in the list.

If you notice that I may have missed something major that couldn't possibly be lumped into one of the items already on the list (or a previous interlocking walkthrough), let me know, otherwise, have a Happy Easter!

Arch Street Yard
Babylon Team
Babylon Yard Secondary
Bay Shore Team
Bellport Siding
Belmont Yard
Brookhaven Rail Terminal
Bush Terminal
Bushwick Branch Sidings
Bushwick Yard
C Secondary
Calverton Rail Terminal
Central Islip Team & Kaufman Allied
East New York Tunnel
East Switch Freight Track
Far Rockaway Yard
Freemont Interchange
Freeport Freight Yard
Fresh Pond Yard
Garden-Mitchell Secondary
Greenlawn Siding
Greenport Yard
Grumman Sidings
Hempstead Yard
Hendrickson Siding
Hicksville Team Yard/Pipe Track
Hillside Facility
Holban Yard Hillside
Holban Yard Hollis
Islip/84 Lumber Siding
Jamaica Yards
Landia Sidings
Linden Shop Connections
Lone Montauk Branch Switches
Long Beach Yard
Long Island City Yard
Mainline Cutoff
Maspeth Yard
Mattituck Freight Track
Medford Team
MO Siding
MofW Team Track
MofW Track
Montauk Cutoff
Montauk Cutoff Secondary
Montauk Wye
Montauk Yard
New Hyde Park Oil Terminal
North Side Track Mineola
Oyster Bay Yard
Port Washington Yard
Price Industrial Park/Marjam Siding
Prima Sidings
PT Siding
Queens Village Team
Riverhead Freight Tracks
Riverhead Yard
Roslyn & Sea Cliff Team Tracks
Sayville Double End Freight
Shinnecock Canal Bridge
Skyway Container/Conservative Gas
Southold Freight Track
St. Albans Leads
St. James Team
Wellwood Double End Freight
West Deer Park Sidings
Westbury Team and Jamaica Ash
Westwood/Basley Lumber
WIN Tower
Yaphank Yard

Saturday, April 19

Storm-proofing the Long Beach Branch

Water-covered switches in LEAD Interlocking
(Photo credit: MTA)
A boat on the Right of Way
(Photo credit: MTA Flickr)
A DE crossing Wreck Lead Bridge
(Photo credit: Steve Lynch collection)
The Long Beach Branch was hit particularly hard by Hurricane Sandy in October 2012.  Much of the Right of Way was flooded, there were boats on the tracks, and substations were water-logged.  The LIRR was able to get much of its service back to running condition within a short time, but full service on the Long Beach Branch took much longer to restore.  For over two weeks following the storm, there was no train service along the branch at all, and then on Wednesday 11/14, shuttle service using diesel locomotives was initiated.  Electric trains were brought back to the branch about 10 days later when electric traction power was restored on November 25th.  The load on the electric substations was still limited, and there were a number of cancellations for a couple weeks until enough work could be completed on the traction power system.  In December, full weekday service was finally restored.

Since then, the LIRR's Long Beach Branch has still not been back at 100% capacity. Components of the traction power haven't yet been restored over a year later, and there is still definitely work still to be done (they are still short an entire substation, and short one transformer in two other substations).

This Spring the LIRR is embarking on a $120 million storm-proofing project that will make the Long Beach Branch more resistant to future storms.  The major portion of the work involves elevating three substations, raising them about nine feet off the ground.

The first of the substations the LIRR will be working on was inundated with 5 feet of water from the storm surge during Hurricane Sandy.  Workers tried to repair components after the storm, but many parts of the substation were beyond repair, and the Oceanside substation was demolished last year.  The Oil City and Long Beach substations will be getting a similar treatment following the completion of the substation at Oceanside.

The substation at Island Park, as well as the substation at Valley Stream will be getting new transformers after one at Island Park caught fire last September.

In addition to the substation work, which will be the brunt of the work, there will also be fixes made elsewhere along the branch with switch replacements, signal system component replacements, and third rail system upgrades.  These upgrades will be less noticeable to the passer by, but they are important nonetheless.

Furthermore, the LIRR will be spending $7 million on the Wreck Lead moveable bridge to overhaul the bridge's electrical system and generator, as well as the installation of an underwater cable.

One of the two Long Beach Branch tracks has been out of service between VALLEY Interlocking and LEAD Interlocking since the February schedule change for the work.  Now that the weather is getting nicer, work can intensify.  The LIRR anticipates having the new Oceanside Substation installed by this June, at which point they will move onto the other substations.

This is important work and it's good that it is getting done.  Long Island was dealt a blow by Hurricane Sandy in 2012, and who knows when the next storm will come and what it will bring, so it is always good to be prepared.

Friday, April 18

Late Friday Links 4/18

A holiday week with a couple big disruptions in the evening has finally come to a close.  Hopefully next week runs smoother as we go back to more Spring-like weather (and hopefully it is here to stay).  In the meantime, here are some Late Good Friday Links to round-off your workweek:
  • Ioxus Technology Selected to Help Long Island Rail Road Trains Reduce Energy Consumption
    • Ioxus, a manufacturer of ultracapacitor technology for use in transportation, industrial, and energy applications, announced Thursday that its ultracapacitors are being fitted to the railway wayside traction power on the LIRR. The ultracapacitors will provide voltage support to assist the traction power system, capturing and storing the energy produced by the train, using it to facilitate better acceleration and allowing for greater energy efficiency and reduced energy consumption.  The press release is a little thin on details, but it sounds like it will work somewhat like how regenerative breaking works on many electric locomotives.  As the train brakes, it generates energy that can be sent back into the overhead wire and then captured and stored by these ultracapacitors.  I am not sure if it works the same way for third-rail power and if the LIRR's MU equipment can do something like regenerative braking, but I suppose we will find out more information on how it works if the program is expanded.
  • LIRR: Drunken driver arrested after stuck on tracks
    • These days it's not to uncommon to hear of a drunk driver coming home early one morning make a wrong turn at a grade crossing and wind up on the Right of Way.  Something similar happened along both the Ronkonkoma and Montauk Branches at different points earlier this year.  Luckily, no trains ended up plowing into the car, but it was yet another idiot-caused service disruption for Port Washington Branch riders Wednesday morning (and there was two of those this week).
  • Blumenthal doesn't practice what he preaches
    • If you ranked the population of the tri-state area by railroad knowledge, Senators Schumer and Blumenthal (from CT) would be at the very bottom of that list.  At a press conference earlier this afternoon, Blumenthal was whining about Metro-North saftey.  The press conference was held on a live train platform at Milford on the New Haven Line.  During the press conference, which focused a lot on Metro-North saftey, the idiotic Blumenthal nearly got himself struck by an Amtrak train passing at track speed because he was standing on the yellow warning strip.  Ironic, isn't it?  Maybe Metro-North would have a better safety record if moronic senators were not leaning over its tracks with their backs to the trains.  (Edit: also, see the comments!)
  • Even More LIRR Links 
Since this weekend is Easter Weekend, there's no trackwork programs going on, and regular service is being operated systemwide.  Tomorrow will be the first day since Sunday, March 2nd where the LIRR has run a full complement of trains.  And after this, we won't see a day without any trackwork again until Tuesday, May 20th!  This Spring Trackwork season certainly has been busy for the LIRR.   Buses do replace trains for two midday afternoons next week between Huntington and Port Jefferson as Sperry Rail Testing is conducted along the branch on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Enjoy your weekend, and have a Happy Easter!

Rethinking the Need for the Ronkonkoma Branch Double Track

Over the past couple weeks, I have been trying to think of a real reason for the LIRR to carry through with the Ronkonkoma Branch Double Track Project, which will construct a second track between Farmingdale and Ronkonkoma.  I mean, don't get me wrong, I think any type of track capacity expansion is good, but I am beginning to not be able to see the point for adding a second track out to Ronkonkoma. 

The LIRR has given these four main benefits that Mainline riders will be able to take advantage of after the second track to Ronkonkoma is completed:
  • Half-hourly, off-peak service is both directions
  • More choices for those who commute between stations on Long Island
  • Better train service to/from Long Island MacArthur Airport
  • Increased Reverse Peak service
All of these things can either be done already today with the existing infrastructure, or doing them after the project is completed will be very difficult due to the simple lack of track capacity west of Hicksville (as the project will only be able to add capacity east of Farmingdale.

In Tuesday's post, we saw that half-hourly, off-peak service in both directions is already possible using the existing infrastructure.  It would be tight, but in no way impossible, to support half-hourly service this very moment without any additional construction. 

The other benefits, which primarily relates more peak and reverse-peak service along the branch, will be very difficult to implement with just the Double Track Project.  The vast majority of the Mainline's problems exist between Queens Village and Hicksville, where there are only two tracks available for trains.  More capacity is made available during rush hour is by "throating" the Mainline (using both tracks in the peak direction) but this comes at a cost.  Ronkonkoma Yard empties out fast, and the lousy South Side Track at Huntington runs out even faster while "throating" is happening, since no reverse trains can get back east to refill those yards.

Without some other capacity solution between Queens Village and Hicksville, the LIRR will not be able to add many more trains along the Mainline.  They can electrify out to Port Jefferson and Yaphank, build ten new electric MU yards everywhere, and have tons of trains lying around on the east end, but it would be impossible to add many more trains west of Hicksville. 

The Mid-Suffolk Electric Yard will allow the LIRR to drag out the throating longer, possibly allowing them to run a couple additional trains, but this will not add any service at the peak of the peak period, where the Mainline is already throated and at capacity.  And the expansion of throating comes with several bad side-effects.  Reverse-peak service even more limited, since trains can't come east when you're using two tracks west.  Additionally, Huntington riders will suffer, since the limited number of consists they can store in Huntington will have to last them the entire length of the throating. 

With the Mainline west of Hicksville in its current state, it will be impossible to add both peak- and reverse-peak direction service along the Mainline.  You have to add one at the expense of the other.  More peak trains results in fewer reverse-peak runs, and likewise, expanded reverse-peak service will result in fewer peak-direction trains. The effect on Mainline service with just the completion of the Double Track Project will likely be very little. 

And if they will be unable to reasonably add more peak- or reverse-peak direction service, and they can already add off-peak half-hourly service today, what is the whole point of spending money on this whole project?  The amount of service that they will be able to add as a direct result of this project will be minimal, and will probably only amount to one or two additional peak-hour trains, and probably little else.

The added track will give the railroad some added flexibility between Farmingdale and Ronkonkoma, and that extra flexibility will be appreciated when you consider how frequent service disruptions can be during rush hours, but the net impact on day-to-day service will likely be minimal.

All of this just further reinforces the dire need for the Third Mainline Track between Floral Park and Hicksville.   Without this project, the Ronkonkoma Branch Double Track Project will essentially be useless.  The LIRR will not be able to take as much of an advantage from the new double tracking then they would be able to if they had the third track as well.  The third track is badly needed, and without it, the impact of the Ronkonkoma Branch Double Track Project and the Mid-Suffolk Electric Yard, plus any additional future electrification or yard expansions, will be very limited. 

The saying goes, "you're only as strong as your weakest link," and this applies very much on the Mainline.  We can electrify, double-track, and grade-separate all of the Mainline and Port Jefferson Branch, with big yards all along the way, but if you're going to have only two tracks between Floral Park and New Hyde Park, the LIRR is going to be severely limited in the amount of trains they can run.  Without the Third Mainline Track, the rest of these projects are essentially useless.

Work on the Ronkonkoma Branch Double Track Project will be starting very shortly.   Getting this project going has been relatively easy for the LIRR, since it could happen entirely within the LIRR's existing Right-of-Way.  They won't have to put up with NIMBYs to get this project going, so they might as well do it.  In my opinion, I would rather see the money that they were planning on spending for Phase 2 of this project taken and put towards whatever is needed to get the Third Mainline Track going.  If it's bribing homeowners along the right of way or a big, massive media campaign, so be it, since the rest of this construction would be essentially useless without a Third Mainline Track.

The Third Mainline Track is so crucial to the sustainability of Mainline service after East Side Access is opened.  Unfortunately, it looks like the LIRR will continue to cave into the NIMBYs in New Hyde Park and the Third Track may never get done, but there is just simply no alternative to it.

Thursday, April 17

Closer to a Deal, Further from a Solution

Earlier this afternoon, the MTA struck a tentative deal with the Transport Workers Union, a union which represents many of the New York City Transit bus and subway workers.  For an MTA agency that had been pleading for net zero increases across the board, the tentative outcome of 8% raises over the next six years wasn't pleasing to many outside the MTA/TWU circle.

It is estimated that the MTA/TWU deal would add about $150m-$200m per year to the MTA's operating budget, and last time I thumbed through the financial materials online there wasn't $200 million lying around unused.  That money will have to come from some place, and since the MTA has promised that this deal will not affect fares, so they money will most likely have to come by either trimming down the capital expenses (i.e. fewer capital programs that are definitely needed)  or by trimming down operating expenses (i.e. service cuts).  As of now, the Cuomo and the MTA think they can accommodate the extra money through "revisions to the financial plan."  Unless Cuomo plans on adding another $200 million in funding to the MTA to "revise" that financial plan, I'm not optimistic as to its outcomes.

This deal does not bode well for the 'ongoing' negotiations between the MTA and several of the LIRR's unions.  The MTA had also been wishing for net-zero increases across the board with the LIRR's unions.  Up until this point, I think they would have had a decent chance of making that happen, but after this afternoon's deal, the MTA looked like they gave into the TWU, and the LIRR's unions will be expecting the same.

But perhaps the LIRR's unions will not be expecting the same.  As of earlier this afternoon, the LIRR unions made it sound like they still wanted more than the TWU got--over twice as much.  Earlier this year, the Presidential Emergency Board appointed to settle the dispute between the MTA and the LIRR unions laughably suggested that the MTA could afford 17% wage increases over the next six years, and the LIRR's unions are still sticking to that (while, up until this morning, the MTA was still holding with net-zero increases.  It is unclear whether that position has changed with this deal or not.)

The 8% deal with the TWU Thursday afternoon has apparently set the "measuring rod" for other negotiations that the MTA will be hoping to settle in the upcoming months.  However, weather or not this "measuring rod" has been set too high or too early is yet to be determined.

I have a feeling that if the MTA stayed tough with the LIRR's unions and battled them to a strike in July they would have had a very decent chance of getting their net-zeroes.  At that point, they would have been able to set that as the "measuring rod" for the remaining negotiations.  The LIRR's unions would be much easier to crack (easier being a comparative term), as many of their demands, and especially many of their work rules have become unreasonable.  The MTA also has the ability to let the LIRR's unions walk, something they cannot necessarily do with the TWU, as they are covered under the Taylor Law which prohibits strikes, and a LIRR strike, while it would be painful for the couple days, can do much good for the railroad in the long run.

At the moment, the LIRR's unions do not seem ready to hop onto the "measuring rod" the MTA has set, as they are still holding steadfast with the PEB's recommendations.  Who knows if they will bend down to accept the lower deal the MTA agreed upon with the TWU earlier Thursday, or if the agency still has a chance to put the unions back in their place.

The LIRR has to get their house in order before East Side Access, and all of the many operating changes that will bring along, is finally completed.  While the timeline for ESA might seem a bit open-ended at the moment, the MTA has a limited amount of time to put these unions in their places.  It doesn't look like they are going to get the substantial wage and work rule reform this time around, but we will see how it turns out.
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