MTA announces completion of pocket track extension in Great Neck

MTA announces completion of pocket track extension in Great Neck
Officials at Great Neck's Long Island Railroad station discussing express service modifications. (Photo by Robert Pelaez)

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority announced last week they completed the Great Neck Pocket Track Extension project, something officials said should increase the reliability of service along the Port Washington branch of the Long Island Railroad.

MTA officials said the project, which disrupted weekend train service for Port Washington and Great Neck commuters for the past month, said a segment of track underneath the Colonial Road Bridge was extended 1,100 feet so that upwards of 12 train cars could be stored. The existing track area, officials said, was able to house 12 cars.

The pocket track extension, officials said, will benefit the Port Washington branch for extra service to Mets-Willets Point and allow for a more reliable service for the railroad’s East Side Acess into Grand Central Station, the topic of much discussion in recent months.

“This infrastructure improvement enables the LIRR to run more trains more reliably on the Port Washington Branch,” Long Island Railroad Interim President Catherine Rinaldi said in a statement. “Completion of this work brings us one step closer to the launch of LIRR’s historic new service to Grand Central Madison, the largest service expansion in LIRR history.”

After proposing changes to the Port Washington branch that would have eliminated express service as part of the East Side Access project, transit officials abandoned their plans to do so in late September.

The draft timetable changes, residents and officials said, would shortchange commuters throughout Port Washington, Plandome, Manhasset and Great Neck by decreasing express service. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority held multiple virtual sessions to hear feedback from North Shore residents and officials, a majority of which was in opposition to the proposed cutbacks.

Overall, the branch will receive an 11% boost in service, with more trains becoming available for commuters on the Port Washington Branch, according to the draft schedules following the agency’s announcement.

A total of 103 trains per day will be servicing the branch, 10 more than the current schedule has, officials said. On weekends, a total of five more trains, 81 total, will be operating along the branch.

The draft morning rush hour schedule includes 15 trains arriving in Manhattan between 6:16 a.m. and 9:51 a.m., a 36% increase from the current 11 that arrive at Penn Station between 6:21 a.m. and 9:34 a.m., according to officials.

The branch’s afternoon and evening rush hour schedule will also see a 43% increase in service, including three express trains. A total of 20 trains will leave Manhattan between 4:06 p.m. and 7:43 p.m., six more than the 14 trains that currently provided that service to commuters on the Port Washington branch, according to officials.

Rinaldi said she was pleased to hear the concerns from North Shore commuters, but said more work will need to be done to help the overall expansion of the Long Island Rail Road.

“The true key to the addition of future service increases is expanding track capacity at Port Washington Yard,” Rinaldi said in a statement. “The Town of North Hempstead has committed to working with Senator Kaplan and Assemblymember Sillitti to advance this long sought-after project that is the bottleneck to having more service on the branch.”

While the pocket track expansion aids in the MTA’s quest to advance the Long Island Railroad and provide quality service to its riders, Larry Penner- a former regional director for the Federal Transit Administration, said most all of the pocket track expansion was completed several years ago.

The lack of a 3rd track, Penner said, prohibited the Long Island Railroad from taking advantage of the pocket track extension.

“Since 2018, Port Washington branch riders could only look out the window and wonder why there was no live third rail to go with the new pocket track,” Penner said in a letter to Blank Slate Media. “If the third rail was installed and live, commuters could have reaped the benefits Rinaldi talked about as a result of this investment four years earlier.”

Efforts to reach MTA officials for further comment were unavailing.

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