Remember the $45-million MTA LIRR Great Neck Colonial Road Bridge Replacement ($25 million) and Second Pocket Track ($20 million) construction project that was supposedly completed several years ago?
Benefits from this project were suppose to allow the LIRR to turn trains around faster at Great Neck for anther trip west bound into NYC, provide better rush-hour service and seat availability from Great Neck, along with stations west of Great Neck, and allow for increased service for special events at Mets–Willets Point. At a later date, it would allow for additional trains to the East Side of Manhattan when the East Side Access project is ready to begin service to Grand Central Terminal.
Subsequently, Governor Andrew Cuomo has promised a 30-minute trip from LaGuardia Airport via the new LaGuardia Air Train. This would also require changing at Mets–Willets Point for the LIRR to Penn Station and, eventually, Grand Central Terminal. It will require the addition of six more trains per hour going east and west from Manhattan to Mets–Willets Point to meet his pledge of only a 30-minute travel time.
Look out your window when traveling east beyond Great Neck to Manhansset and Port Washington. The second pocket track is really not complete. Yes, the new track bed is there. However, the LIRR has yet to install a third rail for power. As a result, it is not available for use.
Why wait another five to six years for LIRR East Side service to Grand Central Terminal to begin? The same is true for reopening of the old Elmhurst LIRR Station closed in 1986 and scheduled to reopen by 2024. With all the continuing problems the LIRR faces today, real completion of the second pocket track could be of some benefit in improving service reliability today.
Larry Penner is a transportation historian, advocate and writer who worked for the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Transit Administration Region 2 NY Office for 31 years.