The Start of a Record-Setting Commuter Rail System in New York

April 24, 1834

The Long-Island Rail-Road (LIRR) Company was chartered by the New York State legislature. The genesis of that transportation enterprise can be traced to two years earlier when the Brooklyn & Jamaica (B&J) Rail Road was incorporated to build a 10-mile (16.1-kilometer)-long route from the East River in Brooklyn to the neighborhood of Jamaica. Civil engineer David Bates Douglass, who helped develop the B&J, followed up on that achievement by making plans for a combined rail-and-steamship route that would link New York City and Boston in cooperation with the New York, Providence & Boston Railroad and Boston & Providence Rail Road.

Douglass enlisted the support and financial backing of wealthy New Yorkers and Bostonians for his ambitious plans, and it was this group that received the charter for the LIRR. The specific objective involved constructing a route to the Long Island’s north fork, and then providing water transportation there to Stonington, Connecticut; passengers could then continue their journey via rail to Providence and Boston.

A major reason for this route was that engineers of the time considered it logistically impossible to build an overland line through southern Connecticut due to various hills and river valleys there. Once such a route was actually built through that region in the early 1850s, the LIRR lost its basic purpose for existing in the first place. The LIRR nonetheless not only hung in there but is still around today as the oldest American railroad still operating under its original name and charter.

In 1965, the LIRR was placed under the control of the Metropolitan Commuter Transit Authority (rebranded as the Metropolitan Transportation Authority three years later). The LIRR now encompasses at total of 124 stations and approximately 700 miles (1,100 kilometers) of track between Manhattan and the eastern section of Long Island. With an average weekday ridership of more than 350,000 passengers, this system is the busiest commuter railroad in all of North America. The LIRR also has the distinction of being one of the few commuter rail systems in the world to operate around the clock on each day of the year.

In 2009, the LIRR’s 175th anniversary was commemorated with a trip aboard an inspection car that ran along the original main line between Brooklyn and – on the north fork of Long Island – the village of Greenport.

For more information on the Long Island Rail Road, please check out

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