The LIRR Freight Operations, Pre-1997 by John Kilbride
LIST Semaphore Feb. 2017

When Long Island (railroad) trackside visits are made now-a-days, any freight trains spotted are headed up by green and black locomotives owned/operated by the New York & Atlantic Railway Company, a contracted identity. That was not the case prior to their May 1997 start-up. And in several locations, the freight trains don't run by any more, or are strictly night moves!

Most recently, documents maintained by the now-closed LIRR freight department were made available for review, which prompted a glimpse of days past and memories of the fleets of F-M or ALCo locomotives.

Freight and Yard Service Crew Assignments

Five sets of road crew schedules were included with issue dates from 1971 to 1986. Beginning my review in 1971 because it had the largest number of trains, I plotted those assignments (22) by initial terminals (5) and frequencies. Some of the interesting findings were assignments that worked one routing on Mon, Wed and Friday and a different one on Tues. and Thurs. Daylight starts out-numbered nights (19/3). All LIRR branches were covered at least weekly, including the Port Washington, Hempstead and Oyster Bay lines. (None on the Far Rockaway Branch.)

The 1974 set listed assignments as “RF” (Road Freight) for the first time. Holban Yard was the major Terminal, a distinction that lasted until the 1985 set. Also by then the west end Terminals had been replaced by ones further out on the island (Pinelawn, Pine-aire and Hicksville ) – affecting operating patterns - and actual assignments down to six. By 1986, the last set provided, all six assignments were advertised as “as directed”, reflecting the downturn in business.

Customer Carload Reports (1974-1988)

Also provided was a three part “Customer Carload Report”, a document that included (in Part I) “public delivery track locations” (30) and car capacity (various, but totaling 389 in 1977.)

Part II of the report included an alphabetical list of “customers having private or assigned sidings.” The eight pages contain over 420 customers; in some cases some with locations in multiple places!! By the 1993 report, these locations were grouped geographically and the Part III report – car loads handled – was combined with the Part II section, effectively putting all data together on the same sheet for easier review. Included was the previous four years information so that trends could be viewed. An interesting feature: the commodity been moved was listed included (ie: lumber, feed, flour, pulp board, etc., a total of 18 categories) Railroad analysts could now see and comply their reports on a varied sort of available data, including freight traffic by individual branches. (I conclude that only loaded cars were counted (since there are several odd numbers shown!) and the data can be adjusted if empties are to be included for the “big picture”. My next challenge: reviewing the information from 1974-88 (three 5-year sets of information to plot any pattern(s) of traffic changes. Immediately obvious - - the declining numbers for many customers! Unknown – where might the statistics of empty cars placed to handle outbound products, especially if a different commodity than an inbound with raw material(s), be listed?

LIRR gossip among rail historians offers a thought that the LIRR freight salesman were actively and proudly sell-ing their services but that MTA officials did not want to be involved in freight operations. I've included a photo of a 1955 freight sign hanging on the side of Jay Tower soliciting business. Also note the brochure printed by the railroad (complete with the MTA logo!) to make interested persons aware of the potentials for shipping by rail. And too, the reality of in-creased truck traffic on Long Island's roads and the reality of rail traffic reaching the Island by being floated across New York Harbor (minimal) or via CSX trains thru Albany (and associated rates) is recognized.

A staggering statistic – the LIRR was handling only 15% of the island's freight business at the end! NY&A figures reveal they handled 9,200 carloads in the beginning (and over 28,000 in 2013.)

…...and the caboose fleet

Finally, I can't end without mentioning the fleet of caboose's used and maintained by the LIRR. Beginning with the wooden four-wheeled versions in use at the time of the PRR ownership, steel-framed (N-52) cupola- equipped versions appeared in 1916 (3) that would expand to over 30 into the 1950's. (3 remain as static displays on Long Island .) By the late 1950's, 21 N-22 and N-22A and B class versions entered service, totaling 21. They were recognized by their orange paint and LONG ISLAND on their side walls; the B versions featuring a bay window. (Somewhere in the mix were five ex-NYO&W wooden cars (Nos. 71-75), acquired in 1957 following that railroad's demise and off the roster by 1963 and a half dozen steel versions (Nos. C-91-96) from the Illinois Central RR in 1972. Most received the MTA yellow/blue paint-scheme in later years. (Search the internet for a great article by Bob Kaelin on the LIRR “cabin cars”)

It was a glorious tradition to go trackside and either count cars or make note of the varied logos of America 's rail-roads as they passed by. Many became “fallen flags” or sold to car suppliers (easily spotted with patched paint jobs reflecting new ownership.) And the horsepower has shifted to EMD builders.

(Author's note: For an excellent news article on the LIRR's freight train operations, seek out “The Other LIRR”, Newsday, 2/11/79)

A LIRR freight job at Kings Park with L2 (Alco C420) #223 in charge.
Courtesy of the “trainsarefun” website