There is one silver lining to the major headache Long Island Rail Road customers must endure this weekend: After 106 years, the LIRR is finally getting rid of a switch and signal system that is so old even LIRR president Helena Williams called it “outdated and antique.”
The LIRR is abolishing manual switch systems that have been in use since 1904. Three signal towers will be consolidated into one central control room. Starting Monday, Oct. 25, train directors can move trains with the click of a mouse instead of manually flipping the switches by hand, as they had done for decades.
The new system promises less chaos when problems arise, Williams said. The 1904 system was partially to blame during a fire this past August that effectively shut down Jamaica station and delayed thousands of commuters.
“The fire didn’t start in the signal tower, but the wires connected around it were so old and tangled that it was impossible to tell which tracks were affected,” Williams explained. “That fire destroyed more of the cables than if the new system had been installed. Now we will be able to isolate the problem.”
The new computerized system is already installed but needs to be tested this weekend and the weekend of Nov. 6-7. To do so, the LIRR needs to nearly shut down Jamaica, a major connection hub where 10 lines converge.
The only lines running direct to Penn Station this weekend will be the Port Washington branch, Babylon and Long Beach. There will also be no service between Jamaica and Atlantic Terminal. Travelers are advised to take the E subway train or free shuttle buses from Mineola and allow for 70 minutes of extra travel time. “We anticipate a normal commute on Monday morning,” said Williams.