LIRR will test battery-powered rail cars; seeks to eliminate diesel

The Long Island Rail Road is taking ambitious steps towards making its trains more green by studying the idea of retrofitting electric cars to also run on batteries and eventually eliminating diesel-run trains.

"This is not just the first step but quite possibly a quantum leap towards the future," LIRR President Phil Eng said.

The LIRR will start phase 1 of its project next month on the Oyster Bay line, where trains run on diesel.

"Over the next eight months, we will conduct feasibility analyses and simulations to meet our service and operational needs to size and fit batteries to retrofit the M7 cars," Eng said. "How long a charge will last and how many miles will be traveled will help us determine where charging locations may be needed."

Aside from the benefits of omitting diesel from the air, what about all those annoying transfers many passengers have to make?

The MTA said transfers tend to happen if the train line you're on runs on diesel but your destination is on an electric line or vice versa. The agency's long-term goal is for all trains to be able to switch seamlessly between battery power and electrified rail power so you won't need to transfer.

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Bayville commuter John Schaefer likes the idea because he goes out of his way to get on train lines where he can avoid transfers.

"I don't want to go through Jamaica and transfer, I want to go straight in, so if I have to travel to Manhattan I take the Hicksville train," Schaefer said.

After eight months of analysis, phase 2 will begin, where the agency will start building and running cars without passengers in them. The LIRR doesn't expect to have these new trains operational until at least 2022.