Wednesday, October 21, 2009

How to Take the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR)

[ updated Sept. 7, 2011 ]

Most Long Islanders become dependent on their cars for getting around Nassau and Suffolk. But what about going into Manhattan? Many people don't think to check the Long Island Rail Road until they need to get into "the City," but the LIRR can be great for getting around Long Island.

Image from

My Top 5 Reasons for Loving the LIRR:

1. You don't have to sit in traffic.

2. You won't have to worry about being late - the LIRR is almost always on time, and if it's not, it's usually only late by 3 or 5 minutes.

3. You can sit down and relax, read a book, listen to music or take a nap instead of dealing with infamous Long Island drivers or rush hour traffic.

4. You won't need to worry about finding a parking spot at your destination.

5. You'll save gas for a trip you can take with the LIRR.

So how do you take the LIRR?
  • Find the station nearest you.  
    • You can use the MTA's map to see which station is closest to your town. LIRR stations are divided into "branches" or "lines", which are named by their final stop on Long Island.  For example, the Port Washington line goes to and from Port Washington and Manhattan, with many other stops in between.  Take a look at the LIRR map to get a clearer ideas of the branches. They are also color-coded to see where they end and begin.
    • To get directions to the station, go to Google Maps [ ] and click on "Get Directions". You can type in your address, and then the station you're going to (ex: "Seaford Train Station"). The website will give you directions and show the LIRR station with an M in a blue square. You may want to use a hybrid view to see where the parking lot is at the station.
  • Use the schedule:
    • The LIRR Trip Planner [ ] is the easiest way to figure out what times trains are leaving from your station. Chose your departing station, destination station, trip date, and trip time; you can chose either the departure time or arrival time you're looking for. Once you fill out this page, click "See Schedule," and the trains closest to the time you've requested will appear. 
    • If you're not near a computer, you can call the LIRR's Info Line: 718-217-LIRR (5477).  It will generate the next available train times for you.  Speak loudly and clearly as you follow the prompts.
    • LIRR Timetables are a little more complex to decipher. They're available online and at train stations. The schedules are organized by destinations and train branches; for example, you can find both a Lynbrook timetable and a Babylon timetable. Each timetable shows all 4 different schedules  -- weekdays to Manhattan, weekdays from Manhattan, weekends to Manhattan and weekends from Manhattan. Here's an example timetable schedule.
  • Calculate your fare.  LIRR fares are based on two things: the stations you are traveling between and the time of day that you travel.
    • The farther you are from your destination, the more it will cost.  The LIRR lines are divided into zones to determine how far each station is.  
    • Fares are higher during rush hour times in the appropriate rush hour direction.  Tickets at this time and in this direction are called "peak" tickets.  For example, if you are traveling during the morning rush hour toward Manhattan, you will be charged "peak" fares; but, if you are traveling AWAY from Manhattan during the morning rush hour, you will be charged "off peak" fares.  The opposite goes for the evening commute: from Manhattan is peak, and to Manhattan is off peak.  To avoid these fares, try traveling on off hours if possible; the trip planner and timetable will let you know if the train is peak or off-peak.
  • Buy your ticket:
    • The easiest way to buy your ticket is at the station.  Find a ticket machine and follow the prompts on the touch screen.  You'll have to option to pay by cash, debit, or credit.  Note that if you use cash, any change you get back will use dollar coins for dollar amounts. 
    • You can also buy tickets online through the LIRR website.  Once you use the Online Trip Planner, you have the option on the right bottom of the screen to "Buy Tickets Now".  There is a 5% discount for online tickets, and a 2% discount for monthly tickets.  There is an option to buy a printable ticket or have the tickets mailed to you for free and arrive in 3-5 business days. 
    • If you're running late, you also have the option to buy your ticket on the train.  However, you will be charged nearly twice as much!!!  I only advise using this option if it is absolutely necessary
  • Travel on the train! Find a seat on the train.  If there are none (which rarely happens), it's best to stand near the doors so you can lean on the walls and handrails provided.  When an employee comes through, you'll be asked to show your ticket.  You can also leave your ticket in the metal tab on top of the seat in front of you.  There are automated announcements over the loudspeaker to indicate your current station and what the next station you're stopping at will be.  There is also a screen toward the front of your train car that displays this information.  When in doubt, you can always ask an employee.

Important Tips & Tricks
  • Transferring at Jamaica.    Due to the nature of some train lines, you may have to transfer trains at Jamaica station to reroute to your destination.  This is stated on the Online Planner and indicated by a "J" on the paper timetables.  This is a lot less intimidating than it sounds!  When your train arrives at Jamaica, the train you are transferring to is almost always immediately across the tracks.  The train will have its destination illuminated on the side of the cars and on the screens above the track if you'd like to double-check you're getting on the right train.  You have about 2 minutes of leeway to get onto the transfer train, so in the rare occasion your train is NOT across the tracks, listen carefully to hear which track your train is on.  Again, you can always ask a conductor or employee (they stick their heads out or walk around at the station). 
  • City Tickets.  On weekends, City Tickets are available for one-way trips when taking the LIRR between the boroughs of New York City (ex: Queens to Manhattan, the Bronx to Queens, etc.).  The charge is only $3.50!  You can chose this option on the ticket machines on the first screen if you're purchasing tickets at a NYC station.  City Tickets are not available for Mets-Willets Point Station, Belmont, or Far Rockaway.
  • Bringing a Bike.  If you chose to take your bike to get to and from the LIRR, you'll need a bicycle permit.  You can apply for a lifetime pass for $5.  For more information, see the LIRR Bike Page.
  • Platform Information Screens.  You can use the screens above the tracks at your station to see when the next train is coming in and in what direction it is going.  These are very helpful to make sure you're at the right track for stations with more than one platform.  Many stations use a "to Manhattan" and "to [final destination of LIRR line]" labeling system for their tracks.  


  1. Haha I loved how you picked up on the fact that people would be intimidated by having to change at jamaica station because when I went to the city I was actually intimidated by that at first. The LIRR is underutilized by most long islanders(myself being one of them unfortunately) as to why I don't know. However once oil prices creep back up(today they just went past $80 a barrel) and gasoline becomes very expensive than more and more people will start taking the train to their far away commutes rather than driving.

  2. Next Friday, October 30th, Sustainable Long Island will be hosting a program at Ellsworth Allen Park in Farmingdale that will feature opportunities to utilize stations and transform them into hot spots to define the character of our communities and spur our local economies. For more information about "Revitalizing and Utitlizing Train Stations in Downtowns" and Sustainable Long Island's Fall Breakfast Series, visit

  3. great site! can you explain the details of a metrocard and how to use it? This site should be referenced on News 12 and in Newsday. Kudos.

  4. Yet another great post. This was extremely informative. I'm really glad you posted this because I know I was defintiely intimidated by the system at first. I wish I had a guide like this before I started using it!
    I use the LIRR from time to time (certainly not regularly, but enough to know my way around it) but I still found this post useful. I didn't know about the number you can call when you're on the go and haven't had a chance to get to a computer to check the times out (the number is now in my phone =D).
    I have one quick question:
    Do you get charged an additional fee when you order tickets online and choose the prinatable option? I typically don't order in advanced because I usually don't know my plans 3-5 days ahead. Being able to print them out is a great alternative that I didn't even know existed until I read this.

    THANK YOU for the great info and keep it up!

  5. your fabulous. this is helpful and nicely put together!

  6. I'm really glad you started writing in your blog again. It's been full of useful posts, such as this one. I use the LIRR regularly, but I remember being really intimated by the system when I first started using it. This is a really great, comprehensive guide - even for those of us who travel via LIRR often. Thanks, Melissa!

  7. Thank you so much! Do you have any suggestions for future posts that could be helpful guides?

  8. I like the Metrocard idea someone mentioned above. I'll think about some more ideas =)