By Ivan Pereira
After 10 weeks of work and heavy schedule changes that affected thousands of commuters, the Long Island Rail Road is set to activate its new state-of-the-art track system next Monday.
LIRR President Helena Williams said the Queens Interlocking Switch & Signal Improvement project would bring the service into the 21st century with an updated computer system and better aligned tracks.
The $60.4 million project, which began work June 6, caused a major change in trains schedules last weekend that affected the nearly 90,000 riders who rode the trains between Jamaica and Mineola and between Jamaica and Hempstead.
“We are challenged by the size and scope of the project, but we have a great team to meet this challenge,” Williams said at a press conference at the LIRR's headquarters in Jamaica last Thursday.
For a 48-hour period beginning Saturday, crews were hard at work at the track, located between the Queens Village and Bellerose stops, realigning tracks that were not straight at the point where the Hempstead and Port Jefferson branches merge and refitting signal and switches with upgrades.
By fixing the so-called Bellerose Bump, trains will be able to travel 80 miles per hour instead of 60 miles per hour through the area, according to a LIRR spokesman.
The upgrades did come at a small price for the riders last weekend. They were without service on the 270 trains that make up 41 percent of the transit system's railways and had to use special buses and rerouted trains that traveled to their stops, according to the LIRR.
Williams said the agency took into account how the service changes would affect its riders' weekend plans and helped them adjust with a media and information campaign all summer.
“It's been a long program. The Bellerose and Far Rockaway residents have been patient,” she said.
Williams said she hopes the hard work has paid off. The new system replaces the 1910 lever system for the signal system with micro processing technology.
Technicians will be able to control the tracks on the Main Line with computers that the LIRR said will allow for faster switches with less hassle. The state-of-the-art system will compliment the realigned tracks and give commuters a better, more efficient experience according to Williams.
“We will no longer need employees to control levers from the switchboard,” she said. “We think in general you will feel a smoother ride.”
Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.