OP-ED: Will the third time be the charm for LIRR Harold Interlocking work?

March 29, 2024
The next phase of a major reconfiguration of the Harold Interlocking will be disappointing to thousands of daily riders.

The next phase of a major reconfiguration of the Harold Interlocking, which coincided with new Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) schedules starting March 4, will be disappointing to thousands of daily riders. Harold interlocking is a series of switches and interlockings west of the Woodside LIRR Station in Sunnyside, Queens, N.Y.  It is where LIRR tracks to Grand Central Madison and Penn Station converge with Amtrak's Northeast Corridor to New England, Mass. 

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) invested $11.6 billion in direct costs for construction of the LIRR East Side Access to Grand Central Madison. Part of the scope of work involved upgrading the Harold Interlocking and signals west of the Woodside Station. 

This cost more than $1 billion (These capital assets were previously updated in 1991 at a cost of more than $100 million.). The most recent work included upgrading and expansion of the signal system to accommodate new LIRR service to Grand Central Madison.   

It is disappointing that one year later, there is still the need for another round of capital improvements for the Harold Interlocking. The MTA claims this new work will improve reliability for Amtrak and LIRR riders. Why wasn't this commitment completed under previous Harold Interlocking investments?  

The LIRR will once again be dependent on sufficient track outages and Amtrak Force Account (track and signal employees) to complete this work on time and within budget. This new work will inevitably result in canceled, combined and delayed trains just like previous work at the same location.  

Will acting LIRR President Robert Free, unlike his predecessors, finally get the Harold Interlocking right this third go around under his watch?  Taxpayers, commuters, transit advocates, funding agencies such as the Federal Transit Administration, MTA Board members and elected officials should expect nothing less. 


About the Author

Larry Penner

Larry Penner is a transportation advocate, historian and writer who previously served as a former director for the Federal Transit Administration Region 2 New York Office of Operations and Program Management. This included the development, review, approval and oversight for billions in capital projects and programs for New Jersey Transit, New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority, NYC Transit bus, subway and Staten Island Railway, Long Island and Metro North railroads, MTA Bus, NYCDOT Staten Island Ferry along with 30 other transit agencies in New York and New Jersey.