LIRR - First Train from Penn Station

As the LIRR system’s shape matured in the late nineteenth century, the railroad could no longer count on expansion to increase ridership. To increase traffic, the LIRR began a new promotional campaign: commutation. It published “booklets setting forth the advantages of every little town.” The railroad recognized that commutation had enormous revenue potential. If it could convince a critical mass of people to become suburban commuters, the LIRR would see a sizeable increase in the number of daily riders. Thus, beginning in the 1870s, the LIRR Passenger Department tried to convince potential Long Island homeowners that daily commutation to New York City was manageable. 

The railroad’s effort to promote commutation met with moderate success between 1880 and 1910. During the 1880s, the LIRR ran fifteen trains daily along the main line and twelve along the South Shore Division -and a few commuter towns were emerging along the railroad routes. During the 1890s, the number of Long Island commuters increased substantially: the Main Line, South Shore Division, and Oyster Bay Branch of the LIRR all saw 50 percent increases in the number of daily commuter trains.

Despite this growth, the number of commuters was limited by one glaring inconvenience: the railroad did not actually run all the way to Manhattan. The islands of Manhattan and Long Island were separated by the East River, and until 1899, no tracks ran across the East River. 

Prior to 1899, all passengers heading to New York City had to take the LIRR to a terminal at Long Island City. From there, they would board ferries that would carry them across the East River to terminals at 34th Street, East 7th Street, and James Slip (the intersection of Front Street and South Street). According to railroad historian Ron Ziel, the railroad maintained a large fleet of ferries, tugboats, and steamboats to transport passengers and freight across the river. 

For passengers, the transfer at Long Island City was time consuming and unpleasant. Furthermore, all passengers heading to New York City had to disembark and board ferries at a single terminal. The result was a serious bottleneck, which delayed passengers waiting to board ferries.

While the LIRR ferried passengers across the East River to Manhattan, the Pennsylvania Railroad ferried passengers from the West across the Hudson River to Manhattan. For reasons analogous to those recognized by LIRR President William Baldwin, the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) was making plans to build an all rail route to reach Manhattan from the West. Unlike the LIRR, the PRR was one of the nation’s largest railroad syndicates and consequently had the financial resources to launch such a large undertaking. 

However, permission to build rail lines and a terminal in the borough of Manhattan had been granted to the LIRR, not the PRR. In 1900, LIRR President William Baldwin and the PRR finalized an agreement by which the Pennsylvania Railroad would purchase the LIRR for $6 million provided that it would build a terminal in Manhattan and railroad tunnels under the East River. Under this arrangement, both railroads (which remained operationally distinct until 1928) would be able to operate direct rail service to Manhattan. 

Pennsylvania Station and the East River tunnel project would take ten years to complete at a cost of $125 million. Although some individuals and op-ed writers lamented that “the Long Island Railroad has been unique in that it has been exclusively a local road . . . now all this is to be changed,” their lament did not override the need for adequate service to Manhattan. LIRR service was vastly improved; the number of commuters soared after the station and tunnels opened in September 1910.

The construction of Pennsylvania Station and the East River tunnels eliminated the major inconveniences that had plagued the LIRR’s service to Manhattan and made commutation possible on a wide scale. Prior to the completion of the tunnels, the number of people willing to undertake the daily journey to Manhattan was limited by both the railroad’s capacity and passenger inconvenience. 

The new infrastructure gave the LIRR the capacity to transport hundreds of thousands of people to and from New York City each day. With an efficient direct line to Pennsylvania Station, the LIRR delivered thousands of passengers per hour into the very heart of New York City. 

The expectations of Pennsylvania Station’s planners were met and exceeded in the two decades after its opening in 1910. The new residents were commuters. 

In 1911, the first full year that the East River tunnels were in operation, 30 percent of all LIRR passengers were commuters. By 1928, 61.7 percent of all LIRR riders were commuters. In 1928, no other similarly sized area in the world was serviced by as many daily trains as Long Island. The new commuters were generally not long time Long Islanders who were now taking jobs in New York City. They were salaried white-collar city men “whose dream,” according to one observer in 1914, “is to own a home in a healthy neighborhood.”
  
THE LONG ISLAND HISTORICAL JOURNAL - Fall 2004/Spring 2005 Volume 17, Nos. 1-2 
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THE LONG ISLAND RAIL ROAD AND IT’S PROMOTION OF LONG ISLAND, 1900-1930" by Sean Kass

Brooklyn was the first major commuter terminal, not Long Island City. We forget that Brooklyn was itself a major destination with a large LI-oriented business and legal community. Downtown Manhattan passengers transferred to Brooklyn Bridge trains or the Fulton Ferry (and later the subway) to get to Manhattan as well – cheaper, faster and more convenient than going to NYP and doubling back downtown.

Of course the cheaper went away when the MTA made Flatbush Avenue the same fare zone as NYP, and more riders drifted to NYP because of better service and the steady decimation of Brooklyn trains as a result.

I’ve seen figures in Regional Plan publications that indicate the majority of commuters – people using weekly or monthly tickets – used Flatbush Avenue until shortly after WW II. One ways, ten trips etc. were the vast majority at LI City, and later Penn Station.

As a side note – the majority of PRR riders using commutation tickets continued to use Exchange Place until shortly after WW II as well.  Info: Jim Guthrie

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LIRR 1st MU train to leave Penn Station 9/08/1910

1st LIRR train filled with special invitees (press, dignitaries, officials) about to leave the newly-opened Pennsylvania Station for points east on Long Island on September 8, 1910. 

Once on Long Island, passengers on the electric MU train changed to steam-drawn trains for non-electrified branches and probably to other MU trains for the other electrified branches, passing bunting-bedecked depot buildings and assembled crowds along the way. Info: Dave Keller

 

H3 2-8-0 No 162 Pulling 1st Train from Penn Sta at Northport - Northport Traction No. 601 - 9-8-10 (Keller).jpg (156933 bytes)
H3 2-8-0 #162 Pulling 1st Train from Penn Station at Northport Northport Traction #601 9/08/1910 Archive: Dave Keller
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MU first from Penn Station at East Rockaway 9/08/1910
LYNBROOK STA, PT TOWER, LONG ISLAND NY 1910 1st ELECTRIC TRAIN CELEBRATION Huneke.JPG (134682 bytes) Station-Lynbrook-First Train from Penn Sta - 09-08-10-View NW (Huneke).JPG (135944 bytes)
LIRR LYNBROOK STA, PT TOWER, LONG ISLAND NY 1910 1st ELECTRIC TRAIN CELEBRATION Huneke.JPG (124941 bytes)
First Train from Penn Station at Lynbrook 09/08/1910  Archive: Art Huneke
First from Penn Sta at Islip_09-08-10.jpg (58350 bytes)
Awaiting arrival of first train from Penn at Islip 9/08/1910
Archive: Islip Historical Society
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First train from Penn Station at Patchogue 9/08/1910 Archive: Dave Keller
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Awaiting arrival of first train from Penn at Brookhaven 9/08/1910 Photo: Post-Morrow Foundation Historical Collection
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LIRR D16b (4-4-0) #201 first train from Penn Station at Central Islip 9/08/1910
(George  G. Ayling collection, Dave Keller archive)
The trains left Penn Station as MU electrics and switched to steam power at "H" tower in Sunnyside or at Jamaica. Info: Dave Keller
First MU Electric Train from Penn Station to Babylon
LIRR_1st-Electric-Train-to-Babylon_5-20-25_BradPhillips.jpg (58228 bytes)
LIRR 1st MU electric train to Babylon pass 5/20/1925 Archive: Brad Phillips
LIRR_1st-Electric-Train-to-Babylon_5-20-25_back_BradPhillips.jpg (36956 bytes)
LIRR 1st MU electric train to Babylon pass backside  5/20/1925 Archive: Brad Phillips
Rockaway Jct. to Babylon via “Springfield Branch,” in service: 5/1925 Info: Robert Emery