Underutilized Tracks: A Chronicle of Electric Train Service to East Williston and a History of the Neighboring Communities

LIRR East Williston Station eastbound high-level platform and train number 1501, view north: Lone electric train on the Oyster Bay Branch (November 28, 2014)
LIRR East Williston Station eastbound high-level platform and train number 1501, view north: Lone electric train on the Oyster Bay Branch (November 28, 2014)

The Hempstead Plains was at one time a large prairie on Long Island.  Covering a portion of present-day Nassau County, it afforded a unique grazing location, ideal for farming.  By the turn of the twentieth century, the communities of East Williston, Williston Park, and Albertson occupied the northern edge of the plains in the center of the county.  Both the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) and post-World War II housing boom permitted communities to grow into modern suburban landscapes.  While rail service was minimal in the early century, both East Williston and Albertson Stations received a boost in scheduled trains during the war and post-war years.  Service to East Williston was electrified and the railroad offered frequent electric service by the mid-1950s.  The following is a history of LIRR service to the three communities and why electric service to East Williston reduced in the second half of the twentieth century.

East Williston History

The current villages of East Williston and Williston Park, and the hamlet of Albertson, are in the geographic center of Nassau County.  Following European colonization, the first name of the general area was the “North Side” because of its location on the edge of the Hempstead Plains.  The first record of the name was on a deed dated January 19, 1663.  It continued in use for about two hundred years.[1]

Henry Willis was the first Willis to settle in the area.  He bought a farm from John Seaman on October 2, 1675 in what is now Old Westbury.  It is believed Willis renamed the place Westbury because of a resemblance to a town in Wiltshire, near his birthplace in England.  Through marriage the Willis family connect with other prominent Long Island families, among them are the names of Titus, Powell, Seaman, Mott, and Albertson.  By the early nineteenth century, one Samuel Willis owned a large tract of land in the area, consisting of several hundred acres on both sides of present Willis Avenue, mostly north of Hillside Avenue.  Samuel dealt in real estate, operated a farm, bought and sold livestock and boarded horses.  The boarding house was a major endeavor, operating under the name Willis Lake Stock Farm.[2]

Gradually, the name Williston was adapted in the middle of the nineteenth century, in light of the many Willis families.  It was changed after the establishment of a Post Office in 1879.  Since there was a Williston in upstate New York, residents decided on East Williston.  At the time, East Williston comprised an area of almost four square miles, extending from Jericho Turnpike to I.U. Willets Road, and from Herricks Road to Bacon Road.[3]

East Williston War Memorial (May 18, 2014)
East Williston War Memorial (May 18, 2014)

The arrival of the railroad stimulated East Williston industry in the production of bricks, windmills, and carriages.[4]  A trolley line incorporated on August 6, 1902 as the New York & North Shore Traction Company.  It ran from Roslyn along Garden Street to Willis Avenue then southerly onto Willis Avenue through East Williston to Mineola.  Service lasted until May 3, 1920.  Another early twentieth century route was the Long Island Motor Parkway.  As car racing became popular in Nassau, William Kissam Vanderbilt II constructed a toll road and held races called the Vanderbilt Cup Races, which began in 1904 and lasted to 1906.  A portion of the abandoned parkway forms the northern and eastern boundaries of the present village.  It was abandoned in 1937.  A former toll house at Roslyn Road is currently in use as a residence.[5]

In 1926, a small portion of East Williston was incorporated as the Incorporated Village of East Williston.  Presently, it comprises an area of less than one square mile.[6]  By 1998, the population grew to 2,477.[7]  Today, it is a tiny affluent village highly regarded for its school district and volunteer-based committees and organizations.  Many village events, including holiday celebrations, summer concerts and a harvest festival, are held at the village green opposite the railroad station.  The village also boasts a library, a fire department, three houses of worship, a dry cleaning shop and a portion of the private eighteen-hole Wheatley Hills Golf Club.[8]

East Williston Village Hall (November 28, 2014)
East Williston Village Hall (November 28, 2014)

Williston Park History

To the west of East Williston is Williston Park.  Nicknamed the “Tree City” for its neat, tree-lined streets, Williston Park is one of the most densely populated communities in Nassau County.  Sharing a postal zip code with East Williston, it lies between Searingtown to the north and Mineola to the south. Like East Williston, brick and carriage works were early industries and the area remained rural until the LIRR arrived.  In 1926, developer William Chatlos bought 195 acres and built 1,000 homes.  Within four years the village population jumped from 495 people to almost 4,500.  Many of the original structures, termed “happiness homes,” still stand.[9]  Williston Park was incorporated on September 8, 1926.  It comprises an area of less than one square mile with a population of approximately 7,500 people.  Although mainly residential, it has two main business streets, Hillside and Willis Avenues, with almost 300 retail stores, professional offices and other businesses.[10]

Albertson History

Nestled between Searingtown, Roslyn Heights, Williston Park, and East Williston, is the current small hamlet of Albertson.  Located just north of the former Hempstead Plains, Albertson was first cultivated for farmland in the 1640s.  John Seren, one of the first settlers, arrived in 1644.  His name is the origin of the nearby community of Searingtown.  A descendant of Seren, Jacob Searing, built Long Island’s first Methodist church, now known as Searing-Roslyn United Methodist Church in 1788.  In the next group of settlers, a man named Townsend Albertson ran a farm and gristmill in area that was to be called Albertson Square.  The entire community received its name when the LIRR called its station stop Albertsons.[11]

Albertson remained rural for almost three centuries. In fact, when a road was cut through Isaac Underhill Willets’ farm to Old Westbury in 1850, Willets protested that “Long Island has more roads now than it will ever need.” I.U. Willets Road was subsequently named in his honor.

In 1946, William J. Levitt bought farmland and began mass-producing homes.  Other builders followed and in less than two decades the remaining farms vanished.  Today, the area is primarily composed of capes, Colonials, split-levels, split-ranches and ranches, as well as some two-family homes.  There are about 140 businesses in Albertson along Willis Avenue.  Additionally, the twelve-acre Clark Botanic Garden on I.U. Willets Road offers public programs in horticulture, botany, art and cooking, to adults and children.[12]

Clark Botanical Garden, Albertson (October 21, 2014)
Clark Botanical Garden, Albertson (October 21, 2014)

Arrival of the Long Island Railroad

The steel rail arrived with the construction of a branch off the LIRR’s Main Line at Mineola in the 1860s.  At first the line ended in Glen Cove.  However, subsequent terminals were Locust Valley and Oyster Bay.  The latter is its present terminus and the line is referred to as the Oyster Bay Branch.

LIRR Main Line and Oyster Bay Branch junction, right-of-way to East Williston Station veers to the left, view east, Mineola (December 17, 2005)
LIRR Main Line and Oyster Bay Branch junction, right-of-way to East Williston Station veers to the left, view east, Mineola (December 17, 2005)

The first station in the area was Albertson, listed as Albertsons, located at the intersection of I.U. Willets Road.  It first appeared on a timetable in June of 1875 with two trains each way, later reduced to one.  Albertsons disappeared from timetables in 1876 but emerged the following year.  In the 1880s and 1890s it was listed as a flag stop.  Around this time in early 1892 the LIRR constructed a second track from Mineola as far as Albertson Station.  A depot was erected on the north side of I.U. Willets Road in 1913.[13]

Albertson Station
Historical Fact
Date
Station opened as Albertsons Station June 1875 (timetable)
Renamed Albertson Station 1903
Depot building opened 1911
Depot building razed 1954
Twin three-sided, shed-roofed passenger shelters with roof overhangs, one with a ticket agent window, erected (on the westbound platform) 1954 (author’s analysis)
Twin passenger shelters razed Sometime between Fall 1997 & Fall 1998 (author’s analysis)
Station agency closed Early 1991 (author’s analysis)
Twin high-level concrete platform and ramp constructed (each with a large, shed-roofed passenger
waiting area shelter and information center made of steel and enamel painted mint and light beige)
Fall 1997 – Fall 1998 (author’s analysis)
LIRR Nassau Tower, Main Line tracks on right and the Oyster Bay Branch tracks on left, view east, Mineola (December 17, 2005)
LIRR Nassau Tower, Main Line tracks on right and the Oyster Bay Branch tracks on left, view east, Mineola (December 17, 2005)

East Williston Station opened following the arrival of the Post Office.  In February of 1880, the railroad set up a freight station at the crossing of what was then East Williston Road.  By October of 1880, the station was listed as a passenger flag stop and a depot building was erected south of the road on the east side of the tracks.  It remained a flag until it became a regular stop in 1897.[14]  By 1903, service to East Williston was roughly a dozen trains each way, Monday through Saturday.  Albertson by this time lost the plural “s” and received three flag station stops in both directions. In 1905 the branch was double-tracked to Roslyn and a shelter shed was erected on the new westbound platform at East Williston Station in 1924.[15]

East Williston Station
Historical Fact
Date
Station and depot building opened October 1880
Shelter shed erected (on the westbound platform) 1905
Rail service electrified June 1934
Shelter shed razed Before Late 1970
Twin high-level concrete platform constructed (with two flat-roofed, metal-framed Plexiglas passenger shelters on the west side and one on the east side) Late 1970 – January 1971 (author’s analysis)
Station agency closed December 11, 1996
Depot building razed December 10, 2004
LIRR East Williston Station depot, view north (Circa 1967: Dave Keller Archive)
LIRR East Williston Station depot building and platform, view north (Circa 1967: Dave Keller Archive)

Electric Service to East Williston

Well into the twentieth century service to Mineola and eastward to Albertson was restricted to steam locomotion.  However, on Tuesday, October 19, 1926 the LIRR inaugurated electric rail service to Mineola as electrification was extended eastwardly from Floral Park.  On that afternoon, the West Hempstead Branch, which continued southerly from Mineola to West Hempstead and onto the Montauk Division at Valley Stream to form a loop, operated a special train in commemoration of the branch’s completion.  Celebration exercises featured a performance by the company’s fifty-member “Sunrise Trail” band.[16]

It was envisioned that the eleven-station fourteen-mile Oyster Bay Branch was next to be electrified.[17]  In fact in November of 1928, railroad officials traveled over the branch to investigate the possibility.[18]  However, in December, following a Glen Cove Chamber of Commerce petition advocating electrification, LIRR Vice President George Le Boutellier made public in a letter that the company was “confronted with the expenditure of enormous sums of money for the elimination of grade crossings, both within and without the city [of New York], as such new capital as can be raised must necessarily be devoted to this purpose.”  The LIRR shelved any immediate electrification plans.[19]

Nevertheless, the tracks were electrified as far east as East Williston by June of 1934.[20]  Upon timetable changes effective Sunday June 24, Le Boutillier declared that the railroad was to afford “faster, more frequent, comfortable and convenient train service than it had been possible to provide since the [Great] Depression began.”  Undoubtedly, East Williston electrification alleviated congestion of electric service at Mineola.[21]

By the fall of 1937, steam service to East Williston was fifteen daily trains, Monday through Saturday, in both directions with two additional eastbound on Saturday.  On Sundays, there were seven eastbound and eight westbound.  Albertson had minimal service with one morning westbound station stop and one evening eastbound flag stop.  On Sundays there was only one evening flag stop.  East Williston electric service was restricted to Monday through Saturday, with four round-trips daily.  Eastbound included: number 512 (left Jamaica at 7:21 a.m. and arrived East Williston at 7:44 a.m.), number 1720 (left Jamaica at 11:07 a.m. and arrived East Williston at 11:25 a.m.), number 1726 (left Pennsylvania Station at 12:43 p.m. and arrived East Williston at 1:25 p.m.), and number 556 (left Pennsylvania Station at 5:50 p.m. and arrived East Williston at 6:30 p.m.)  Westbound included: number 519 (left East Williston at 7:54 a.m. and arrived Pennsylvania Station at 8:36 a.m.), number 1743 (left East Williston at 11:40 a.m. and arrived at Jamaica at 11:57 a.m.), number 1453 (left East Williston at 2:33 p.m. and arrived Flatbush Avenue-Brooklyn at 3:10 p.m.), and number 553 (left East Williston at 6:39 p.m. and arrived Jamaica at 6:56 p.m.)[22]

Despite several petitions to the State Public Service Commission, electrification to Albertson and beyond was deferred once again in 1941.  In response to petitions from residents, officials, civic and fraternal organizations, LeBoutellier issued a statement stating that the railroad found it “unwise” to electrify the Oyster Bay Branch.  The cost to electrify the entire Oyster Bay Branch was estimated at $1,620,000.  Concurrently, the railroad operated at an estimated $1,336,000 deficit in 1940.  Reasons for the financial trouble included competition from municipally-owned transit lines in New York City, the rising costs of operation, and railroad’s grade crossing elimination program.[23]

LIRR MP15-AC number 170, Albertson Station, view north: Class E-15mc, built March-April 1977, converted to power cab option January 1982 (Circa Spring 1996)
LIRR Albertson Station westbound platform and MP15-AC number 170, view north: Class E-15mc, built March-April 1977, converted to power cab option January 1982 (Circa Spring 1996)

Residents weighed in and criticized LIRR service.  They cited that in 1940, the consulting firm of J.G. White Engineering Corporation recommended a fifteen-year plan for LIRR electrification, which included in the first five years, electrification from East Williston to Oyster Bay as part of an estimated $16,670,295 cost to electrify thirty-five-and-a-half miles of track system-wide.  One editorial commented that the amount was slightly over what the proceeds would be if the LIRR Rockaway Beach Branch was sold to New York City.  The sale eventually materialized but electrification beyond East Williston did not.[24]

In the same commentary, the author expressed a need for express trains, in particular the Hempstead Branch, and felt that some station stops in Queens should be eliminated.[25]  Accordingly, in a New York Newsday poll taken on July 17, 1947, a total of 904 LIRR passengers were interviewed and expressed similar concerns.  Better service and more express trains on the Hempstead and East Williston lines.[26]  Nevertheless, by 1951 electric service to East Williston was minimal.  There were four weekday eastbound electric trains and two on Saturdays.  Westbound featured three trains.  No service was provided on Sundays.  On a side note, Albertson was by this time a regular passenger stop on all Oyster Bay trains.[27]

To satisfy public demand and to attract more customers, increased midday service was planned on several branches.  In total, the LIRR added sixty new trains on May 8, 1955.  During the midday, hourly service was provided to Hempstead, with a ten-minute time reduction by the elimination of six Queens stops between Floral Park and Jamaica.  A new electric shuttle service ran half-hourly as far as East Williston and made stops at the Queens stations.[28]

On the new weekday timetable, there were fourteen midday round-trip electric trains between Flatbush Avenue-Brooklyn Station and East Williston, beginning with train number 1510 which departed Flatbush Avenue-Brooklyn Station at 9:10 a.m. and arrived in East Williston at 9:59 a.m.  On its return as number 1511, it left at 10:13 a.m. and arrived in Brooklyn at 11:07 a.m.  Westbound service began at 9:46 a.m. with number 1509 arriving in Brooklyn at 10:33 a.m.  Its return to East Williston was number 1516, departing at 10:42 a.m. and arriving at 11:29 a.m.  All trains stopped at Nostrand Avenue and East New York.  However, half of them stopped at Union Hall Street, Hollis, Queens Village, Floral Park, New Hyde Park, Merillon Avenue, and Mineola, while the other half made Bellaire, Bellerose, Floral Park, New Hyde Park, and Mineola.  The cycle continued throughout the day until number 1536 arrived in East Williston at 4:27 p.m. and number 1525 arrived at Flatbush Avenue-Brooklyn at 5:01 p.m.  During this segment of the day, Hempstead trains ran express from Jamaica to Floral Park, with the later utilized as a transfer point.  For points east, customers changed at Mineola.  Additionally, there were two evening East Williston-bound electric trains, one of these also ran on Saturdays, and two westbound Pennsylvania Station-bound trains from East Williston, one during the morning rush-hour, and one in the afternoon.[29]

LIRR Timetable Effective October 3, 1955: Timetable indicates fourteen of the midday westbound trains from East Williston Station
LIRR Timetable Effective October 3, 1955: Timetable indicates fourteen of the midday westbound trains from East Williston Station

The service effort was part of a greater $60,309,000 rehabilitation program.  Emerging from bankruptcy, the railroad set out in mid-1954 to purchase new train cars and rehabilitate old ones.  By November the following year progress was proceeding “extremely well and far ahead of schedule.”  In fact, officials said it was to be completed in less than five years instead of twelve as originally scheduled.  By 1960 the railroad planned to have a total of 991 cars.  The cost of 222 new cars was estimated at $24,400,000 and included thirty-eight more cars than was expected for the same amount of money.  In the meantime, it placed 118 new cars in service in 1955, almost all air-conditioned, and another 143 cars were completely rebuilt, which increased the railroad’s capacity by 15,842 seats.  The railroad was also expected to be dieselized by 1958 but diesel locomotive purchases were ahead of schedule and steam service ended in 1955.[30]

LIRR Timetable Effective October 3, 1955: Timetable indicates fourteen of the midday eastbound trains from East Williston Station
LIRR Timetable Effective October 3, 1955: Timetable indicates fourteen of the midday eastbound trains to East Williston Station

 

Despite the improvements, the new midday electric service schedule apparently did not attract the ridership that was anticipated.  By the following year, timetables were altered.  It is also possible that East Williston did not serve well as a terminus for electric service since it was in the middle of the Oyster Bay Branch with no abundant space to lay aside train cars.  In 1956, electric service to East Williston was reduced to five weekday roundtrips.  Beginning with number 1513 which departed Flatbush Avenue-Brooklyn at 10:53 a.m., trains made all local stops to East Williston with the exception of Hillside.  Hempstead Branch trains now ran half-hourly from Jamaica express to Floral Park.  In addition to the midday schedule, East Williston was also served by three afternoon rush-hour electric trains, and one morning shuttle that ran more or less express to Pennsylvania Station with no Jamaica station stop.[31]

Station Changes and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority

In the 1950s, the LIRR made some service changes at both East Williston and Albertson. On September 5, 1952, the New York State Public Service Commission approved the LIRR’s request to remove the freight track at Albertson. The railroad cited that the track was only used occasionally and the elimination allowed for longer boarding platforms on the north side of I.U. Willets Road to accommodate the steadily increasing number of riders.[32] Additionally, the depot and waiting room were razed in 1954 and replaced by two shed-roofed passenger shelters, both with roof overhangs, on the new extended westbound platform. The eastbound platform also extended northward from the I.U. Willets Road crossing. The shelter closest to the I.U. Willets Road crossing featured a station agent window.[33] Over at East Williston, the commission authorized the discontinuation of less-than-carload freight in February of 1960. Carload continued until all freight operations on the Oyster Bay Branch ceased in mid-1982.[34]

LIRR Albertson Station, low-level platform and passenger shelters, view north (Circa Spring 1996)
LIRR Albertson Station, westbound platform passenger shelters, view north (Circa Spring 1996)

There was also an attempt to combine both Williston and Albertson under one roof half-way between stations.  The plan was announced in February of 1960.  Citing that they were outmoded and less than a mile apart, the LIRR claimed a unified station would serve a thousand residents in the three communities.  The proposed location was at the junction of the former Motor Parkway which was to be reopened as a through street to link Willis Avenue and Roslyn Road, providing access to the new station.  A new, modern depot was envisioned to serve residents of East Williston, Williston Park, and Albertson.[35]  Upon hearing the idea, the Williston Park village board condemned it.  Trustee James J. Halpin claimed it meant a loss of revenue to the village since it charged motorists to park at East Williston Station.  There was also no assurance that there would be proper parking facilities at the new station.  On May 19, 1960 LIRR President Thomas M. Goodfellow announced the plan was abandoned because of local opposition. The Motor Parkway bridge over the right-of-way survived until it was razed in 1983 as part of a project funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation.[36]

Location of the former Long Island Motor Parkway, Albertson: Proposed site of a combined Albertson and East Williston Station (October 21, 2014)
Location of the former Long Island Motor Parkway, Albertson: Proposed site of a combined Albertson and East Williston Station (October 21, 2014)

Hence, both stations remained.  East Williston’s depot received new paint as part of a two-month repainting program in the summer of 1961.[37]  The building was also known for its Christmas decorations.  In both 1962 and 1969, the East Williston and Williston Park garden clubs were prize winners in the annual LIRR best decoration contest.  Typically, the depot’s portico columns were festooned like Christmas trees and there was evergreen in every window.[38]  It should be noted that the station was indicated as East Williston (Williston Park) in timetables from the mid-1920s through the end of the 1960s.

LIRR EMD GP38-2 number 261, East Williston Station, view south: Class E-20mc, built January-February 1976 (Circa Spring 1998)
LIRR East Williston Station and EMD GP38-2 number 261 on the westbound high-level platform, view south: Class E-20mc, built January-February 1976 (Circa Spring 1998)

Despite moderate improvements, New York State deemed it necessary to take control of the LIRR in order to modernize.  Dr. William J. Ronan, a former aid to Governor Nelson Rockefeller, headed a five-man committee that met in February of 1965 and recommended the state purchase the LIRR from the Pennsylvania Railroad, act as a supervisory organization, and embark on a $200 million modernization program.  The new supervisory board met for the first time on June 29, 1965 and authorized engineering studies for the extension of electrification.  Ronan was named chairman of what was then referred to as the Metropolitan Commuter Transportation Authority, later simply the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA).  A purchase contract was rushed so the state could take over the railroad by January 1, 1966.  However, LIRR management was to remain as well as President Goodfellow.[39]

LIRR EMD GP38-2 number 266, East Williston Station, view south: Class E-20mc, built January-February 1976 (Circa Spring 1998)
LIRR EMD GP38-2 number 266, East Williston Station, view south: Class E-20mc, built January-February 1976 (Circa Spring 1998)

After receiving a grant of $22.6 million in 1967, work began to extend electric service from Mineola to Hicksville, and eastward to Huntington.  The first phase of the plan expanded third-rail power and the second called for the acquisition of new electric cars, known as the Metropolitans.  The third phase was the construction of higher platforms to replace low-level platforms at grade.  Since the Metropolitans did not have stairs to access ground level, elevated platforms were necessary.  The new concept was to speed passenger boarding time.  New platforms were financed through bonds issued by the commuter authority.[40]  By December of 1969, the MTA announced that the LIRR’s $350 million modernization program was proceeding on schedule.  In the fall of 1970, the railroad planned to have 240 Metropolitan cars in service.  With a modernized signal system, cars could travel at speeds of eighty-miles-an-hour.  While residents hoped for electrified rails beyond East Williston to Oyster Bay, it was not part of the plan.[41]

LIRR MP15-AC number 165, East Williston Station, view north: Class E-15mc, built March-April 1977, converted to power cab option October 1983 (Circa Spring 1998)
LIRR East Williston Station and MP15-AC number 165 on the westbound high-level platform, view north: Class E-15mc, built March-April 1977, converted to power cab option October 1983 (Circa Spring 1998)

Grade Crossing Elimination

The elimination of grade crossings was a major undertaking for the LIRR in the early twentieth century.  In the East Williston and Albertson area, the topic became a political discussion as local politicians and state agencies battled over whether to elevate or depress the track bed.  The increased road traffic in Nassau necessitated the elimination of crossings as several fatalities occurred over the years.  On November 30, 1943, Mary Cameron Dono and her pet dog were killed by a steam locomotive at the I.U. Willets Road railroad crossing, a few steps away from Albertson Station. The gateless crossing had only warning bells.  Accidents system-wide were a clear indication that community roads should not intersect with railroad tracks at grade level.[42]

The grade crossing at New York State Route 25 Jericho Turnpike in Mineola was eliminated with a railroad bridge over the roadway in 1936 as part of the federal grade crossing program. Over the years, there were several attempts to eliminate the crossing at East Williston Road, later to become New York State Route 25B Hillside Avenue.  None were successful.  The first was in 1947 when on October 1 the Public Service Commission approved a $965,000 plan to eliminate the grade crossing and directed the State Department of Public Works to proceed with preparations.  In fact, $10-million was allocated from the state grade crossing fund.  The tracks were to be raised on an earth embankment and extended 700-feet south of Hillside Avenue.  They would cross the road on a concrete viaduct set on reinforced concrete columns.  For railroad service, there was to be a 600-foot passenger platform along the tracks on the embankment and a depot building at street-level 224-feet south of Hillside Avenue.[43]

Hillside Avenue Grade Crossing, East Williston (November 28, 2014)
Hillside Avenue Grade Crossing, East Williston (November 28, 2014)

The next grade elimination proposal was prompted by the Department of Public Works in 1960.  As part of the aforementioned plan to combine East Williston and Albertson Stations, Hillside Avenue grade elimination tied in with the consolidated station located on an embankment north of Hillside Avenue.  Neither the grade elimination nor the station came to fruition.[44]

The third proposal was in the late 1960s.  In 1967, the State Legislature authorized $18 million for Long Island grade crossings as suggested by the Public Service Commission.  The plan called for embankments and overhead viaducts, similar to construction at Floral Park and Hicksville, to eliminate all crossings between Mineola and Albertson.  Referring to them as “unsightly overhead structures” and “Chinese walls,” State Senator John D. Caemerrer led a fight against construction.  He favored depressing the tracks and sponsored legislative action against the appropriated money.  A bill to rescind authorization of the $18-million was approved by both houses of the State Legislature mid-May of 1968.[45]  However, Governor Rockefeller vetoed it.  Calling the governor’s action “arbitrary and conducted in an aura of secrecy,” Caemerrer demanded that his constituents had a right to know the results of a former study conducted by the State Department of Transportation which advocated elevation.  He added that depressing tracks should not be ruled out.[46]

Senator John D. Caemmerer Park, Williston Park (October 21, 2014)
Senator John D. Caemmerer Park, Williston Park (October 21, 2014)

Disputes continued into 1969.  In January, the Department of Transportation said it was to go ahead with elevating the tracks.  On the basis of a feasibility study, elevation was selected because of price.  It would cost $199 million to depress and $55 million to elevate.  Caemerrer countered the plan and said he would reintroduce legislation aimed to block funding.  He also blasted the Department of Transportation for refusing to issue public copies of the feasibility report and added that money spent on depressing could be raised by leasing air rights.[47]  Residents also damned the project.  A Mineola American editorial claimed the viaduct would be “ugly and unsightly and a throwback to a bygone era.”  It went on to say that the grade crossing elimination program in Floral Park [seven years earlier] was a step backwards.[48]

The Department of Transportation finally released the study on January 10, 1969.  It was prepared by the New York consulting firm of Goodkind & O’Dea and contained a 2.7 mile elevated segment from Mineola to the Northern State Parkway in Albertson.  It was designed to eliminate crossings at Willis Avenue, Second Street, Jericho Turnpike, Hillside Avenue, and I.U. Willets Road.[49]  Nevertheless, the relentless efforts of Senator Caemerrer and other opponents of the plan prevented construction.  By May of 1969, the State Legislature successfully mandated a measure in the state budget which prohibited the Department of Transportation from spending capital construction funds.  The grade crossing elimination plan was dead again.[50]

To date, there is still a grade crossing on the very busy Hillside Avenue.  There have been attempts to eliminate it but to no avail.  In December of 1969, the mayors of Williston Park, Mineola, and New Hyde Park accompanied Caemerrer to San Francisco on a two-day study of a new type of overhead transit system constructed in the Oakland Bay area.  While Williston Park Mayor Carl DelVecchio said it was one of the better ideas for an overhead system, the village board at the time favored depression of tracks.[51]  The Oakland-San Francisco design was called the T-Structure and ran for eighteen-miles twenty-two feet in the air.  To sell the concept, Mayor Krause of Mineola created a short film in January of 1970.[52]

New Electric Fleet and Reduced Service

As early as 1967, the LIRR began erecting high-level station platforms within its electrified territory.  In light of the pending Hillside Avenue grade crossing elimination, construction at East Williston was temporarily delayed.  However, two platforms, one eastbound and the other westbound, were constructed south of the station depot.  Work on the ten-car capacity platforms commenced in late 1970 and was completed in January of 1971.[53]  The new platforms near Hillside Avenue quelled any forthcoming plans for grade crossing elimination.

LIRR East Williston Station, high-level platforms, view south (June 22, 2014)
LIRR East Williston Station, high-level platforms, view south (June 22, 2014)

The LIRR planned to unveil a new timetable in the fall of 1970 to highlight the new Metropolitan fleet.[54]  However, mechanical issues plagued the new cars.  By January of 1970, the railroad acquired 254 new cars but sixty-two were out of service for inspection or repair.  The LIRR noted that from time to time trains were taken out of service because of equipment failure.  In fact, on January 21, 1970, train number 1507, which was scheduled to depart East Williston at 7:26 a.m. bound for Pennsylvania Station, was modified to operate solely from Jamaica to New York.  One problem car’s the coupling system.  As moisture seeped in, switches shorted out.  Under warranty by their manufacturer the Budd Company, each faulty car underwent four weeks of repair.[55]

LIRR East Williston Station eastbound high-level platform and train number 1501, view south: Lone electric train on the Oyster Bay Branch (November 28, 2014)
LIRR East Williston Station eastbound high-level platform and train number 1501, view south: Lone electric train on the Oyster Bay Branch (November 28, 2014)

For two consecutive days in 1970, the LIRR tried to run a full schedule with thirty percent or 300 electric cars sidelined.  In fact, on one day the road was seventeen cars short of the 639 needed for full operation, resulting in cancellations.  Officials blamed the cold weather and a spare part shortage.  The shortage of equipment led to public criticism.

Nevertheless, Governor Rockefeller assured that the $300 million modernization program was to be completed.[56]  Indeed, by 1972 all 770 Metropolitans were ready for service.  In mid-June, LIRR President Walter L. Schlager unveiled new timetables effective June 26.  Rush-hour service was provided exclusively by the new cars.  The diesel push-pull concept was introduced whereby locomotives at the front and rear of a consist eliminated the need for reversing the direction of an engine.  The scheme was promoted by both newly-acquired diesel locomotives and converted control cabs.  In addition to normal rush-hour service, East Williston and Albertson now had hourly diesel service during weekday non-rush-hours and every two hours on weekends.[57]

Surprisingly, the extension of electrification and the new fleet of Budd cars prompted a reduction in electric service to East Williston.  Undoubtedly, one contributing factor was that East Williston was longer needed as a substitute terminus since trains traveled east of Mineola.  Another was the anticipated electric extension to Oyster Bay which persevered for many years.  Be that as it may, electric service went from several trains a day to a single westbound morning rush-hour consist.  In the summer of 1972, there were five weekday midday roundtrips to and from East Williston.  There were also two afternoon eastbound rush-hour trains to East Williston, a third had been dropped by 1968.  Following a revision of train scheduling, on timetables dated October 30, 1972 only one westbound rush-hour train remained, the former train number 1507.  It was renumbered 1501, with a scheduled departure time of 7:30 a.m.[58]  It continues to serve the Williston communities with only minor time adjustments over the years.  It makes stops at Merillon Avenue, New Hyde Park, and Floral Park on its way to New York.[59]  For seven weeks in the spring of 1985, number 1501 was diverted to Flatbush Avenue-Brooklyn to facilitate construction of the West Side storage yard.[60]  Ironically, the yard was later named in honor of John D. Caemerrer.[61]

LIRR Oyster Bay Branch Timetable Effective May 24, 1976: East Williston and Albertson weekday service including electric train number 1501
LIRR Oyster Bay Branch Timetable Effective May 24, 1976: East Williston and Albertson weekday service including electric train number 1501

Service to East Williston and Albertson in the Late Twentieth Century and Today

LIRR East Williston Station and M7 number 7584 of train number 1501 on the eastbound high-level platform (former low-level platform in the foreground), view south (November 28, 2014)
LIRR East Williston Station and M7 number 7584 of train number 1501 on the eastbound high-level platform (former low-level platform in the foreground), view south (November 28, 2014)

Today, in addition to train number 1501 there are six trains in both the morning and afternoon/evening rush-hour at East Williston and Albertson Stations.  During off hours, there are eleven trains in both directions.  On the weekends, there are ten trains both eastbound and westbound.[62]  Since diesel trains are not permitted in Pennsylvania Station, the LIRR furnished a substitute in the late twentieth century in the form of dual-mode locomotion.

LIRR East Williston Station, eastbound high-level platform passenger shelter, view north (June 22, 2014)
LIRR East Williston Station, eastbound high-level platform passenger shelter, view north (June 22, 2014)

Sadly, the East Williston Station depot was demolished.  The building’s demise spanned several decades.  First, in light of a system-wide shrinkage of volume traffic in the early-1930s the LIRR reduced operating hours from eight to four hours a day.  Under the timetable effective April 1, 1935, East Williston Station depot was now open from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m.  Railroad unions challenged the action with little success.  Charles W. Wysong, chairman of the Long Island Branch of the Brotherhood of Railway and Steamship Clerks, stated that “[LIRR] will gradually decrease such facilities to Long Island commuters until the service is entirely strangled.”[63  Beginning on May 15, 1976 it was no longer opened on weekends.[64]  Secondly, in order to reduce the railroad’s operating budget, ticket vending machines were installed in July of 1996.  Considered a low-volume ticket agency, the East Williston station clerk was eliminated.[65]  The final agency operating day was December 10, 1996.  Lastly, by the twenty-first century the building fell into disrepair and the village of East Williston hired a historical engineer from the Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities to ascertain if it was structurally sound.  The engineer confirmed the building had problems and would require substantial funds to renovate.  Set for demolition, approval of the state’s office of parks, recreation, and historic preservation was required since the depot was an historic building.  Leveling was approved on December 2, 2004 and the building came down December 10.[66]  Viewed as the “visual gateway to [the] village,” a vented-gable canopied waiting area was constructed in its place.[67]

LIRR East Williston Station waiting area, location of the former depot building and low-level platform, view southwest (November 28, 2014)
LIRR East Williston Station waiting area, location of the former depot building and low-level platform, view southwest (November 28, 2014)

Albertson Station also metamorphosed in the late twentieth century.  For a time, it was in neglect.  In fact, the station agent Leonard Reddy was robbed of $2,000 at gunpoint on February 3, 1975.[68]  Six years later, Nassau County Executive Francis T. Purcell formed an inspection team to report on Albertson and other Nassau stations to justify why the MTA’s maintenance bill jumped from $5.4 million to $9.5 million a year.  On October 30, 1981, he demanded that the MTA correct “unacceptable conditions” at twenty stations, including Albertson.[69]  The railroad indeed cleaned up the station but budget problems led to the elimination of the station agent in early 1991.[70]

LIRR Albertson Station, view south (September 1, 2013)
LIRR Albertson Station, eastbound high-level platform, view south (September 1, 2013)

The biggest change to Albertson was the construction of high-level platforms in place of the existing platforms, complete with passenger shelters, in 1998.  The necessary modification was for the new diesel fleet.  Like the Metropolitans introduced in the late 1960s, the new coaches did not have stairs that reached grade level so a higher boarding point was needed.  For construction of the four-car-length platforms, one of the Oyster Bay tracks was taken out of service during the midday hours beginning March 16, 1998.  Train intervals increased to approximately two hours.  Work was scheduled to be completed and full service restored by September of 1998.[71]

LIRR Albertson Station, passenger shelters, view south (September 1, 2013)
LIRR Albertson Station, high-level platform passenger shelters, view south (September 1, 2013)

To haul the new bi-level coaches, the LIRR acquired both diesel locomotives and dual-mode diesel locomotives, the latter capable of operating in electric and non-electric territory in that it utilized third-rail power.  One dual-mode train theoretically took the place of one diesel and one electric train.  Thus, it allowed for select trains to operate into Pennsylvania Station and eliminated the need to change trains.  The first such train operated on the Oyster Bay Branch in early 2000.[72]

LIRR Albertson Station, view north (September 1, 2013)
LIRR Albertson Station, eastbound high level-platform, view north (September 1, 2013)

 

Next page: Evolution of Hicksville Station: From Its Origins as a Stop on the Long Island Rail Road’s Main Line to a Modern Transportation Hub

 
____________________________________________________________

[1] “East Williston History,” Inc. Village of East Williston, accessed June 25, 2014, http://www.eastwilliston.org/index.asp?SEC=F60C7259-4F9B-48F3-9C97-A554B4D833F3&Type=B_EV.

[2] Nicholas A. Meyer, East Williston History, 1663-1970 (East Williston, NY: Inc. Village of East Williston, 1970), 12-16.

[3] “East Williston History”; Staff of Long Island, Our Story, Home Town Long Island: the History of Every Community on Long Island in Stories and Photographs (Melville, NY: Newsday, 1999), 32.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Meyer, East Williston History, 23-24.

[6] “East Williston History.”

[7] Staff of Long Island, Home Town Long Island, 32.

[8] Lisa Doll Bruno, “Living in East Williston, Where the Affluent Move to Stay,” Newsday (Nassau and Suffolk Edition), July 22, 2005, http://www.proquest.com.

[9] Tamar Asedo Sherman, “Community of Interest/Williston Park,” Newsday (Combined Editions), June 18, 1999, http://www.proquest.com.

[10] “Incorporated Village of Williston Park,” Village of Williston Park, accessed on October 14, 2014, http://www.villageofwillistonpark.org.

[11] Staff of Long Island, Home Town Long Island, 32.; Lisa Doll Bruno, “Living in Albertson, a Long Way from the Old Cow-Town Days,” Newsday (All Editions), November 19, 2005, http://www.proqest.com.

[12] Ibid.

[13] “Mineola,” Long Islander (Huntington), February 27, 1892, http://apa3.olivesoftware.com; Vincent F. Seyfried, The Long Island Rail Road: A Comprehensive History, vol. 6, The Golden Age 1881-1900 (Garden City, NY: Seyfried, 1984), 276.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Long Island Railroad Company, Long Island Railroad Company Time Table No. 26, For the Government and Information of Employees Only, in effect 12.01 A.M., Wednesday, May 27th, 1903 (New York: Long Island Railroad Company, 1903), Oyster Bay Branch; “Branch Notes,” Trains are Fun, accessed on March 16, 2016, http://www.trainsarefun.com/lirr/branchnotes.htm; Box 5, Book 19, Robert M. Emery Long Island Rail Road Collection, Special Collections, Stony Brook University Libraries.

[16] “To Celebrate Mineola Electrification,” Long Islander (Huntington), October 15, 1926, http://apa3.olivesoftware.com; “Electrification to Mineola,” Long Islander (Huntington), October 15, 1926, http://apa3.olivesoftware.com.

[17] Ibid.

[18] “More Talk of Electrifying LIRR,” Long Islander (Huntington), November 23, 1928, http://apa3.olivesoftware.com.

[19] “Will not Electrify O. Branch Soon,” Long Islander (Huntington), December 14, 1928, http://apa3.olivesoftware.com.

[20] “Oyster Bay Branch,” Trains are Fun, accessed on October 18, 2014, http://www.trainsarefun.com/lirr/branchnotes.htm#Oyster.

[21] “Trains to be Added by the Long Island,” New York Times (1923-Current file), June 14, 1934, http://www.proquest.com.

[22] Pennsylvania Railroad New York Zone, Long Island Railroad Time Table No. 8 in Effect 2.00 A.M. Sunday, September 19, 1937 (Pennsylvania Railroad: New York, 1937), Oyster Bay Branch.

[23] “Long Island Railroad Rejects as ‘Unwise’ to Electrify its Oyster Bay Branch,” New York Times (1923-Current file), January 15, 1941, http://www.proquest.com.

[24] Madeline Ryttenberg, “Intra-City Trade Bottlenecks LIRR,” Newsday (1945-1947), February 10, 1947, http://www.proquest.com.

[25] Ibid.

[26] “Need More Express Trains, LIRR Rider Poll Shows,” Newsday (1947-1948), July 18, 1947, http://www.proquest.com.

[27] Long Island Rail Road, Schedule in Effect September 9, 1951, Long Island Rail Road, William H. Draper, Jr., Trustee, Time Tables (New York: Long Island Rail Road, 1951), Oyster Bay Branch.

[28] “LIRR to Increase Mid-Day Service,” Newsday (1940-1986), March 23, 1955, http://www.proquest.com; “L.I.R.R to Add Sixty New Trains,” The Watchman (East Hampton), May 5, 1955, http://apa3.olivesoftware.com.

[29] Long Island Rail Road, Schedule in Effect October 3, 1955, Long Island Rail Road, William H. Draper, Jr., Trustee, Time Tables (New York: Long Island Rail Road, 1955), Oyster Bay Branch.

[30] Art Perfall, “LIRR Rehabilitation ‘Ahead’ of Schedule,” Newsday (1940-1986), November 22, 1955, http://www.proquest.com.

[31] Long Island Rail Road, Schedule in Effect September 10, 1956, Long Island Rail Road, Time Tables (New York: Long Island Rail Road, 1956), Oyster Bay Branch.

[32] Bernie Bookbinder, “RR Sells Miles for Smiles (and $$),” Newsday (1940-1986), September 6, 1952, http://www.proquest.com.

[32] Seyfried, The Long Island Rail Road: A Comprehensive History, vol. 6, 276; Railroad Video Productions, Long Island Rail Road: Jamaica to Oyster Bay (Leola, PA: Railroad Video Productions, 1994).

[34] “LIRR Authorized to Modify Part-Carload Freight Service,” Patchogue Advance, February 4, 1960, http://apa3.olivesoftware.com; Marie Cocco, “LIRR Updates Freight Car Repairs,” Newsday (1940-1988), May 6, 1982, http://www.proquest.com.

[35] “LIRR Hopes to Merge 2 Depots,” Newsday (1940-1986), February 15, 1960, http://www.proquest.com.

[36] “Rap LIRR Relocation Plan,” Newsday (1940-1986), February 16, 1960, http://www.proquest.com; “Demolition of the Williston Park/East Williston LIRR Motor Parkway Bridge,” Vanderbilt Cup Races, accessed on August 21, 2016, http://www.vanderbiltcupraces.com/index.php/blog/article/thursday_10_28_10_from_the_ron_ridolph_collection-_demolition_of_the_lirr_m#.

[37] “Suffolk Given RR Brushoff: No Paint Jobs,” Newsday (1940-1986), August 9, 1961, http://www.proquest.com.

[38] “LIRR Lists Winners In Yule Contest,” Newsday (1940-1986),December 27, 192, http://www.proquest.com; “Station Decorations Awarded,” Newsday (1940-1986), December 26, 1969, http://www.proquest.com.

[39] Stuart Dim, “LIRR Panel Seeking More Spark,” Newsday (1940-1986), June 30, 1965, http://www.proquest.com.

[40] James F. Clarity, “L.I.R.R Gets Grant of $22.6-Million,” New York Times (1923-Current file), June 14, 1967, http://www.proquest.com.

[41] “Contract Awarded as L.I.R.R Presses for Modernization,” New York Times (1923-Current file), December 28, 1969, http://www.proquest.com.

[42] “Albertson Woman Killed as LIRR Train Plows Into Car on Gateless Crossing,” Newsday (1940-1986), December 1, 1943, http://www.proquest.com.

[43] “OK Million $ Crossing Job, Depot for Williston Park,” Newsday (1947-1948), October 2, 1947, http://www.proquest.com; “The Elimination of R.R. Grade Crossings Makes Progress,” Patchogue Advance, May 22, 1936, http://apa3.olivesoftware.com..

[44] “LIRR Hopes to Merge 2 Depots.”

[45] “Status-Quo on the Railroad,” Mineola American, May 28, 1968.

[46] “Caemerrer Blasts Governors Veto,” Mineola American, July 9, 1968.

[47] “R.R. Battle Rages,” Mineola American, January 7, 1969.

[48] Lou Sanders, “Overhead Rails and Eyesore,” Mineola American, January 14, 1969.

[49] Jerry Edgerton, “Elevated LIRR Cheapest: NY Study,” Newsday (1940-1986), January 11, 1969, http://www.proquest.com.

[50] “State to Elevate Hicksville Tracks,” Newsday (1940-1986), May 22, 1969, http://www.proquest.com.

[51] Dorothy Koehler, “Officials Study R.R. Crossing,” Mineola American, December 23, 1969.

[52] “New R.R. Idea,” Mineola American, January 27, 1970.

[53] Dorothy Koehler, “Nicoll, Knapp Resign Williston Pk. Posts,” Mineola American, December 29, 1970; MTA Long Island Rail Road, Timetable No.1, effective: 12:01 a.m. Monday, June 18, 2001 for the Government of Employees Only (MTA Long Island Rail Road: New York, 2001).

[54] Paul Schreiber and Sylvia Carter, “LIRR Commuters Given New Power,” Newsday (1940-1986), October 20, 1970, http://www.proquest.com.

[55] Maureen O’Neill, “Train Cancellations Are Back,” Newsday (1940-1986), January 21, 1970, http://www.proquest.com.

[56] Maureen O’Neill, “LIRR Trims Trains for 2d Day,” Newsday (1940-1986), January 23, 1970, http://www.proquest.com.

[57] Emanuel Perlmutter, “L.I.R.R. Improving Service on all Lines under a New Timetable,” New York Times (1923-Current file), June 18, 1972, http://www.proquest.com; Christopher M. Cook and Howard Crook, “LIRR Revamps its Schedules; Adds Trains on Most Branches,” Newsday (1940-1986), June 18, 1972, http://www.proquest.com.

[58] Long Island Rail Road, Bellaire, Queens Village, Bellerose, Effective July 12, 1971 (New York: Long Island Rail Road, 1971);  Metropolitan Long Island Rail Road Company, The Long Island Rail Road Company, Timetable No. 4, effective 12.01 A.M. Monday, November 25, 1968 (New York: Long Island Rail Road, 1968); Metropolitan Long Island Rail Road Company, The Long Island Rail Road Company, effective May 26, 1969 (New York: Long Island Rail Road, 1969); Robert M. Emery Long Island Rail Road Collection, Box 14, Special Collections, Stony Brook University Libraries, Long Island Rail Road Timetables Effective October 30, 1972, by Long Island Rail Road  (New York: Long Island Rail Road, 1972), Oyster Bay Branch.

[59] Robert M. Emery Long Island Rail Road Collection, Box 14, Special Collections, Stony Brook University Libraries, Effective May 20, 1974, Oyster Bay Branch Timetable, by Long Island Rail Road (New York: Long Island Rail Road, 1974);  MTA Long Island Rail Road, Oyster Bay Branch Timetable effective September 2, 2014 – November 16, 2014 (New York: Metropolitan Transportation Authority, 2014).

[60] “Disruptions Begin for LIRR,” Newsday (1940-1986), March 18, 1985, http://www.proquest.com.

[61] “MTA Rail Yards,” Hudson Yards Development Corporation, accessed on October 25, 2014, http://www.hydc.org/html/project/mta-rail.shtml.

[62] Ibid.

[63] “L.I.R.R Cuts Some Its Station Hours,” Long Islander (Huntington), June 14, 1935, http://apa3.olivesoftware.com.

[64] Pete Bowles and Jane Snider, “LIRR Aids E. End Runs, Extends Station Hours,” Newsday (1940-1986), April 9, 1976, http://www.proquest.com.

[65] Carol Paquette, “L.I.R.R. Moving to Drop 32 More Ticket Windows,” New York Times (1923-Current file), January 14, 1996, http://www.proquest.com.

[66] Dagmar Fors Karppi, “LIRR Oyster Bay Line Loses Station House,” Oyster Enterprise-Pilot, January 6, 2005; Eleanor Zatlin, “The East Williston Train Station,” Inc. Village of East Williston, accessed on October 23, 2014, http://www.eastwilliston.org/index.asp?Type=B_BASIC&SEC=%7B6D6EB5F8-A40A-4E2D-9C5F-CAD3FEE80237%7D.

[67] Collin Nash, “Village Elections, E. Williston Races Crowded, 3 Vying for Mayor, 6 for Trustee Spots,” Newsday (Combined Editions), March 18, 2007, http://www.proquest.com.

[68] “LIRR Robbed of $2,000,” Newsday (1940-1986), February 4, 1975, http://www.proquest.com.

[69] Patrick Brasley, “Rail Station Upgrading Demanded,” Newsday (1940-1986), October 31, 1981, http://www.proquest.com.

[70] Maureen Fan, “LIRR to Shut `Monday’ Ticket Offices,” Newsday (Combined Editions), July 17, 1991, http://www.proquest.com.

[71] “New LIRR Schedules in Effect March 16,” Mineola American, March 11, 1998; MTA Long Island Rail Road, Timetable No.1, effective: 12:01 a.m. Monday, June 18, 2001 for the Government of Employees Only.

[72] Hugo Kugiya, “A First for LIRR Speonk-to-Penn on a Dual-Mode Train,” Newsday (Nassau and Suffolk Edition), November 16, 1999, http://www.proquest.com.

 

Next page: Evolution of Hicksville Station: From Its Origins as a Stop on the Long Island Rail Road’s Main Line to a Modern Transportation Hub

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s