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Railfanning the North Fork of Long Island, Part 1: Ronkonkoma to Calverton

Railfanning the North Fork of Long Island, Part 1: Ronkonkoma to Calverton

March 2022By Andrew Grahl and William J. Skeats/photos as noted

Mention “Let’s go railfan Long Island!” and you might be met with, “Are you serious? It’s all housing subdivisions, shopping malls, expressways, poles and wires, and M.U. cars that all look the same, there is nothing scenic or interesting there!” Well, that’s the stereotype. A closer look, as you join us for a tour of the Long Island Rail Road’s Greenport Branch on the North Fork of Long Island, will reveal fascinating freight traffic provided by the New York & Atlantic Railway with attractively painted green, white and black diesels (fully lettered, and with heralds), an iconic “Scoot” passenger train making several round trips daily, with lots of varied scenery from farm fields, vineyards and pine barrens, to red barns, and water crossings, contrasting with some online industrial switching.

You can ride the entire route aboard the Scoot, which is a great way to familiarize yourself with the line for a subsequent photo expedition, or as a fun family outing with a ferry ride to Shelter Island, a visit to the Railroad Museum of Long Island, and a stop at one of the North Fork’s fine restaurants. In Part 1 of this two-part feature, we’ll explore from Ronkonkoma station (Mile 48.5) eastward to Calverton (Mile 69.1) in Suffolk County, New York. Next month we’ll conclude with the very scenic easternmost end of the branch from the county seat of Riverhead to the pier-side bumper block at Greenport station, 94 miles from Long Island City.

Long Island Rail Road

A Greenport-bound LIRR “Scoot” departs Ronkonkoma, N.Y., on Sunday, January 17, 2021. The train is framed with a PRR-era pedestal position light signal protecting the yard lead and the car wash, the tunnel-like building behind the signal on the right. The Scoot, which covers 46 miles between Ronkonkoma and Greenport, frequently operates with locomotives on each end during winter months. —Andrew Grahl

Searching for a fast route between New York and Boston, The Long Island Rail Road was chartered on April 24, 1834. The LIRR leased the Brooklyn & Jamaica Rail Road and built east to Greenport, the northeastern tip of Long Island. An inaugural trip to Greenport was held on July 27, 1844, with passenger service beginning two days later. Ferry service across Long Island Sound to Stonington, Conn., began shortly after, with transfer to another railroad connection to Boston.

Today the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Long Island Rail Road provides frequent electric service from Penn Station in Manhattan or Atlantic Terminal in Brooklyn to Ronkonkoma over the LIRR’s Ronkonkoma Branch, also called the Main Line. The subject of this article, the Greenport Branch, is the non-electrified manual block portion of the Long Island Rail Road’s Main Line east of Ronkonkoma, which is operated like its own separated branch between Ronkonkoma and Greenport, a distance of 45.8 miles.

Schedule information for service east of Ronkonkoma is found on the Ronkonkoma Branch timetable. Short LIRR diesel trains serve the communities along the North Fork in Suffolk County while New York & Atlantic Railway, an affiliate of Anacostia & Pacific, runs the freight trains that serve many industries along the line. LIRR operated its own freight trains until May 1997, when freight operation was put out to bid. Anacostia & Pacific won a 20-year contract, which was renewed in 2017 for an additional ten years expiring in 2027.

New York & Atlantic

New York & Atlantic Railway GP38-2 271 leads eastbound Train RS-70 past the switch for Gershow Recycling in Medford, N.Y, on Sunday, June 21, 2020. Gershow, located east of Medford station, is a big customer for the NY&A. —Andrew Grahl

The Line
Ronkonkoma, an Algonquian expression that means boundary fishing lake, is located on the on the Ronkonkoma Branch, 50 highway miles east of Penn Station. Ronkonkoma station is easily reached by the Long Island Expressway at Exit 60, Ronkonkoma Avenue. The station complex consists of one island platform and two side platforms, for two tracks which accommodate both electric multiple-unit (M.U.) service west to Penn Station in New York City and the Scoot east to Greenport. All platforms at Ronkonkoma are high-level, with two passenger overpasses.

Photographing from the west end of the platform is difficult, as the screened-in overpass blocks the view. Decent afternoon views at the east end of the platform of the Scoot returning from Greenport, or westbound New York & Atlantic Railway freight trains can be framed with the KO interlocking signals that provide access to the Mid-Suffolk Train Storage Yard, formerly known as Ronkonkoma Yard and car wash. It is also possible to photograph the arriving Scoot with the waiting electric train on the platform. More than 6,000 parking spaces are available here for commuters. The station is also conveniently located one mile north of MacArthur Airport…

March 2022Read the rest of this story in the March 2022 issue of Railpace Newsmagazine. Subscribe Today!

This article was posted on: March 1, 2022