THE History of the long island railroad


March 23, 2003
The railroad period reached Long Island on April 25, 1832, when the
seventh railroad to use steam locomotives, the Brooklyn and Jamaica
Railroad Company, was fixed with a $300,000 capital stock and a charter
good for a period of fifty years to build a steam railroad upon the Jamaica
branch. It was originally thought to be only a ten mile run from the South
Ferry in Brooklyn Village to Bedford Village, which was a short distance
from the Village of Jamaica where the line was to terminate. During this
time a connection between New York and Boston was sought. Not long after
the start of construction of the new branch of the Jamaica line, did ideas
begin to develop.1
The idea of having the railroad run a direct shore route was
proposed. Though as fast as it was proposed, it was discarded because of
Connecticut’s hilly terrain and deep waterways that are throughout New
England. The solution of using Long Island as a link between New York City
and Boston evolved because Long Island has, neither hills nor deep rivers
or waterways. Gaining the Brooklyn and Jamaica Railroad Company was the
plan that the constructors hoped for and to then continue the tracks from
Jamaica to Greenport.1 The Greenport route was chosen because the railroad
would connect with a steamship line from the east end to Stonington,
Connecticut. Previously this trip had been, by sloop or stage and a length
of time of two to three days. When now, the trip can be made by train in
three hours.2
On April 24, 1934, by a special legislature and this goal in mind,
the Long Island Railroad was fitted with a capital of $1,500,000 in shares.

“New York was to be linked to Boston; Long Island was to be the means of
this achievement,” 3 The type of roadbed from Jamaica to Greenport
needed to be chosen. One, along the northern coast which would run close
near the coastal waters, the second following Middle Country Road and the
third, a southern route, a few miles north of the south shore through the
pine barrens.

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The third route was chosen, because it was the easiest and the
quickest to build.4 “It would “follow the northern edge of the smooth
apron of glacial outwash that slopes gradually from the hills of the
terminal moraine to the sea….The handicap of passing through an unsettled
region would be more than counterbalanced by the increased speed that would
be developed by the fast trains in passing over flat country.”” 4
In 1836, the Long Island Railroad had try to gain a hold of the
Brooklyn and Jamaica line, which had already begun developing it’s own line
between these two communities, by using voluntary exchange of stock. This
idea fell through and the Long Island Railroad leased the line in 1836 for
45 years at a thirty-three-thousand-dollar annual requirement. The lease
also included two of B & J’s brand-new locomotives, one being the, Ariel
and the second the Post Boy.5 “This road was completed on April 18,
1836.” 6 That same day, the Long Island Railroad began construction of
its own line, eastward from Jamaica to Greenport .6, 7 The B ; J obtained
and leased two more locomotives to the LIRR, the Hicksville and the John A.

As worked advanced steadily, by March 1837, the line had reached the
town of Hicksville, named after Valentine Hicks of the Elias Hicks family,
who in 1837 became the second president of The Long Island Railroad.”
An engineering report, submitted in 1838, gives the following description
of the rail laid in this first division. “The rail used was of the same
pattern as the Boston and Providence rail (an inverted T) but heavier; it
weighed on an average of 55.4 lbs per lineal yard. The width at the top
bearing is 2 inches; the length of each rail is 15 ft.”.6 The line is
bulky but it is the strongest railway in the United States. This fifteen
mile long division terminated in Hicksville and remained this way for four

In 1837, a nation-wide financial crisis, resulted in the
interruption of construction on the line and it did not resume until
1840.8 Due to the financial crisis, the Long Island Railroad was having
difficulties in collecting debts, raising funds, and paying the lease to
the Brooklyn and Jamaica Railroad. A controversy between the B & J and the
LIRR concerning the lease agreement arose, in which the LIRR pressed for a
reduction in the interest rate. They were often behind in paying their
rent until finally there was a modification of the interest rate and there
was no abandonment of the leased line.9 The reduction of interest had
been granted and it was reduced from 10% interest to 6% interest in 1838.

With things looking up, the Vice President George B Fisk urged the
completion of the line. The extended railroad communications in others
states that will link New York to Boston had already been completed. The 68
miles that was left to build of the LIRR was the only line that was holding
up the completion of the chain. Before the continuation of construction
from the Main Line to Greenport, the LIRR built it’s first branch off the
Main Line from Mineola to Hempstead.

This branch was authorized by the Legislature in 1836, inspected in
1838, and then completed in 1839. Work began again on the other divisions,
and the Main Line was continued in a southerly direction for three or four
miles then turned to the east again where it finally reached Farmingdale,
in 1841. 32 miles of the railroad was completed at this point and it was
determined at a later date that Farmingdale was to be one of the two stops
made by the Boston trains for taking on fuel and water.10
From the Farmingdale station, the building of the line continued on
through Deer Park. This station was reached in 1842 , which also served as
a stopping place for Huntington and Babylon, even though they both were
many miles away.11From Deer Park, the road was continued on eastwardly
through the pine barrens. The station at Central Islip was reached in 1842
and in 1844 the stations of both Medford and Yaphank or Millville as it was
called at that time were completed. The next station was to be at St.

Georges’s Manor which was is located sixty-six miles from Brooklyn and it
was determined to be the next stop for the Boston trains to make another
stop to reload their fuel and other necessary supplies along the ninety-
five mile run.12
The last section of the road was said to have been the most difficult
part to build. The road was to be built from Greenport and from Millville
and each end was to meet at St. George’s Manor. The scheduled time for the
entire line to open was July 4th of 1844 but the road was delayed due to
the deep cut at Terry’s farm, which had taken almost the entire winter of
that year to finish. The road at Manor was built with emergency actions due
to the delay in a shipment of the Liverpool rail. The original T-rails had
been replaced but the emergency eight inch square timber that was laid on
the rails had saved the day and the entire railroad was ready for the first
run to Greenport on July 24, 1844.12
On this day, the first three trains made the run from Brooklyn to
Greenport in three and a half hours. The train was a three-sectioned train
on which, George B. Fisk , the president of the railroad, was a very
welcoming host. By the time the trains had reached their last and final
stop at Greenport, all the sections of the trains were over crowded by all
the passengers that were being carried for free. At first, all train
engines burned wood for fuel, which was stored in a woodhouse at the
stations that were built for the required stopping of the Boston
Though the full line was only opened to Greenport in July, the line
had an income of $143,300 in passenger traffic and $10,154 from freight for
that same year. For a while the local trains were the only accommodation
for the people of Long Island. The train, unfortunately was not built for
the good of the Island, but as a way of getting from New York to Boston
quite easily. The aggravation from the people of Long Island was still
present due to how the road was chosen to be built to Greenport. 14
The towns that were proud of what had become of them were kept out of
view during the train ride out east and many people were compelled from
traveling to the interior of the island to catch a train. The travel to the
interior was about six to ten miles by stage coach and it was costly to the
people of that time. At times the stage coach were delayed and the areas
that the people were dropped off at, had little or no shelter from the
outside. 15
The people of Long Island were also worried about traveling on
Sundays due to the scheduled timetable listed in 1839. Once the line opened
for business, the company was proud to announce that not a single train was
to run on the Sabbath. More serious problems of the railroad was the
horrible fires that were made by the sparks from the wood-burning engines.

These fires spread throughout the pine barrens, destroying lumber that had
already been cut, timber land, wild life and live stock of Long Islanders.

These fires resulted in anger and even violence. The company took forceful
measures to solve the problems but the fires continued and many people
became so angry that, some began tearing up sections of the tracks.16
Another problem that the railroad faced was money situations. Money
problems were always a concern to all railroads in America and the LIRR was
not out of harm’s way. Replacements and new engines, commitments, damage
claims from the fires and accidents were bad enough, but the utmost
economic exhaust was the yearly rental due to the Brooklyn and Jamaica
Railroad. This was reduced in the year of 1838, but it was still more than
the railroad could bear. The continued aggravation of the Long Islanders
pressed the railroad to build more branches on the north shore in order to
supply the towns with accommodations of the road. In the end, resulting in
more branches coming off the Main Line.17
Due to all the monetary problems that the road faced the Pennsylvania
Railroad bought the LIRR in 1900, operating it as a secondary company. The
Pennsylvania Railroad allowed it’s new property to continue it’s
independent system for almost thirty years. The Pennsylvania Railroad
obtained the LIRR because of the resources available to tunnel under the
Hudson and East Rivers to set up a terminal on Manhattan, though the
Pennsylvania Railroad did not have the authorization to do so. At the same
time the LIRR had the authorization but did not have the capital to
accomplish such a large construction.18
As soon as the Pennsylvania Railroad got a hold of the LIRR they
began the work of the largest engineering project in history, the
Pennsylvania Tunnel and Terminal Railroad to the center of New York City.

In 1903 the first arrival of steam engines from the Pennsylvania Railroad
made their appearance on Long Island. With many more trains longer than the
cars already being used, the LIRR flourished. With its electrified main
lines and direct service to Penn Station, the Long Island Railroads
commuter service was heavily utilized and also very costly to the operation
of it. The railroad often found itself in bankruptcy. 19
In 1966, the LIRR was sold to the MTA’s forerunner, the Metropolitan
Commuter Transportation Authority. Under MTA support, new equipment was
purchased and investment projects were begun. In 1970, the electrification
was extended east from Mineola to Hicksville on the Main Line, and to
Huntington on the Port Jefferson Branch. In 1988, the third rail reached
another twenty-five miles east on the Main Line to Ronkonkoma. The LIRR
supplies commuters from nine different branches to four New York City
These improvements to the Main Line and to it’s branches outlined a
cost of $180,000. The completed line is certainly beneficial to Long
Island. The LIRR is linked in a transcontinental route and the project was
so thorough that no part of the Island is left outside the benefits of the
general plan. This means an addition of thousands to the regular home
makers of the Island, a vast increase in its trade, its manufacturers and
its commerce and a thorough development of its splendid summer
Long Island Railroad History Page, “History of the Long Island Railroad.”
1996-2002. Accessed 21
February 2003.

Smith, Mildred H. Early History of The Long Island Railroad 1834-1900.

Uniondale, NY: Salisbury
Printers, 1958.

Van Hattem, ” Long Island Railroad: Serving New York, NY.” Trains Magazine
(April 2001): 1-2.

Wood, Clarence Ashton. First Train to Greenport in 1844. Amityville, NY:
Long Island Forum, 1944.

Ziel, Ron and George Foster. Steel Rails to the Sunrise . New York, NY: Pan-
American, 1965.

Ziel, Ron. The Pennsy Era on Long Island. Bridgehampton, NY: Sunrise
Special Ltd, 1984

1 Mildred H. Smith, Early History of The Long Island Railroad,
(Uniondale, NY., 1958), 1-2.

2 Clarence Ashton Wood, First Train to Greenport in 1844, (Amityville,
NY., 1944), 4.

3 Smith, Early History of The LIRR, 2.

4 Smith, Early History of The LIRR, 3.

5 Ron Zeal and George Foster, Steel Rails to The Sunrise, (New York, NY.,
1965), 8.

6 Smith, Early History of The LIRR, 4.

7 Wood, First Train to Greenport, 4.

8 Wood, First Train to Greenport, 4.

9 Long Island Railroad History Page, ” History of The Long Island
(accessed 21 February 2003)
10 Smith, Early History of The LIRR, 6-7.

11 Smith, Early History of the LIRR, 7-8.

12 Long Island Railroad History Page, ” History of The Long Island
13 Wood, First Train to Greenport, 5,11.

14 Smith, Early History of the LIRR,11.

15 Wood, First Train to Greenport, 11.

16 Smith, Early History of the LIRR,13-14.

17 Long Island Railroad History Page, ” History of The Long Island
18 Van Hattem, ” Long Island Railroad: Serving New York, NY.” Trains
Magazine (April 2001): 1-2.

19Ziel, Ron. The Pennsy Era on Long Island. Bridgehampton, NY: Sunrise
Special Ltd, 1984
20 Long Island Railroad History Page, “History of the Long Island
21 Van Hattem, ” Long Island Railroad: Serving New York, NY.” Trains
Magazine (April 2001): 1-2.