Signaling Changes for a Modern Long Island

This is a truly transformative time for the Long Island Rail Road. With brand new underpasses and bridges unveiled on the regular, modernization is closer than you think. But these major infrastructure milestones wouldn’t accomplish much without ensuring we have operational switches and signals to get trains on their way. So, let’s switch gears to learn about this critical on-track work happening. To find out what this all means, AModernLI (AMLI) sat down with LIRR’s Track and Train Control (TTC) team experts, Steve Diana and Stan Voykov.

AMLI: Let’s start with a primer on switches and signals, and why they’re so important to the railroad.

TTC: Switches are what allows the train to go from one track to another at an interlocking – it’s like a car changing lanes on the highway. A switch machine on the side of the tracks moves the rails to allow a train to go from one track to another. The signal is just like a traffic light – it tells the train engineer when to go, slow down or stop. Essentially, signals and switches are the backbone of railroad operations and guide trains as they travel along their route.

AMLI: Good to know. So, what’s on the docket for the switch and signal systems on the Main Line?

TTC: We’re upgrading the signal and switch system infrastructure from copper to fiber optic cables throughout the Main Line, which is a huge leap forward for LIRR modernization.

AMLI: Why is that?

TTC: Copper wires wear down easily – they must be consistently maintained, so they’re labor-intensive and only last for 20 to 30 years. On the other hand, fiber optics are easier to maintain, use computer-based software, and deliver faster communications. LIRR has never ran fiber optic cables for vital system communications, so this is another exciting advancement for the railroad.

AMLI: That is exciting! Now to the switches. What does it mean when our train is “experiencing switch trouble”?

TTC: It usually means something is preventing the train from moving to another track. Weather conditions can cause switches to malfunction. Trash is also a big issue, like plastic bags and bottles – so one more reason not to litter, folks!

AMLI: Agreed. Recently, there seems to be a lot of weekend work on the switches. What are we doing here?

TTC: We’re upgrading switches throughout the project corridor, which have two major benefits – 1) trains will be able to go through the interlockings at higher speeds and 2) fewer switch machines are needed to move the rails, so there’s fewer failure points and less maintenance is required.

AMLI: Thanks, team. We appreciate all you do to modernize the LIRR system and we can’t wait to see more switch and signal progress.

The LIRR Expansion Project Floral Park to Hicksville will reduce train congestion and delays and enable true bi-directional service during peak hours with a more reliable rail network. This transformative work includes several related projects, including the construction of parking garages, retaining walls, improvements to rail bridges and the removal of eight street-level grade crossings. Construction is being managed to minimize the impact on daily routines, with extensive mitigation and public outreach efforts in local communities. For more information, please visit the LIRR Expansion Project Floral Park to Hicksville project page on