Jamaica is a major hub station of the Long Island Rail Road, and is located in Jamaica, Queens, New York City. It is the largest transit hub on Long Island and is one of the busiest railroad stations in the country with weekday ridership exceeding 200,000 passengers. In the New York City area, it ranks only behind Pennsylvania Station, Grand Central Terminal, and Secaucus Junction, with over 1,000 trains passing through it every day, while there is a direct rail connection to John F. Kennedy International Airport via AirTrain JFK. There are also elevator connections to the Archer Avenue Lines of the New York City Subway at a separate station directly below. The area just outside is served by several local bus routes, with more available within a few blocks of the station.
All LIRR services except the Port Washington Branch pass through Jamaica Station. The Main Line westwards leads to Long Island City, Queens and Pennsylvania Station in Manhattan, while the Atlantic Branch diverges along Atlantic Avenue to Atlantic Terminal in Brooklyn. East of Jamaica, these three lines diverge, with some branch services using the Main Line, some using the Atlantic Branch, and some using the Montauk Branch.
Because of its central location on all services (except the Port Washington Branch), it is common for commuters to “change at Jamaica,” i.e., switch trains to reach their final destination.
The present Jamaica Station was designed by Kenneth M. Murchiso and built between 1912 and 1913 as a replacement for two former stations in Jamaica. The first was the LIRR’s original Jamaica Station (“Old Jamaica”), built c. 1836 as the terminus of the LIRR. It was remodeled in 1869 and again in 1872, only to be completely rebuilt between 1882–83 adjacent to and in use concurrently with the original depot. Covered platforms were later installed.
The other station known as Jamaica–Beaver Street was built by the South Side Railroad of Long Island on the Atlantic Branch. It opened on October 28, 1867. It was razed in 1871 and replaced on Christmas Day of the same year. When the LIRR acquired the SSRRLI in 1867, the depot was moved to the south side of Beaver Street crossing on a stub track. Low platforms for this station stop were located on the north side of Beaver Street crossing. Timetables of the period show station stop as “Jamaica” for Atlantic Branch trains bound for Locust Avenue, Springfield, and Valley Stream, as “Old Southern Road” Station. From 1908–1913, the station stop was listed as “Jamaica (Beaver Street).”
When the new Jamaica station opened, residents of Jamaica were dissatisfied with its location; downtown Jamaica was centered around Union Hall Street, 0.6 miles (0.97 km) east of the new station at Sutphin Boulevard and Archer Avenue. The LIRR thus decided to add a new Union Hall Street station in 1913. The Union Hall Street station closed on May 20, 1977.
After the merging of Beaver Street station with the new Jamaica Station, the LIRR built a replacement along the Atlantic/Far Rockaway Branch southeast of the former SSRRLI depot. It was named “South Street Station” and was located on what is today South Road between 157th and 159th Streets. Originally the site of the “SJ Tower,” which was used to keep trolleys and trains from colliding with one another until the grade crossing was eliminated in 1913, it was built on November 15, 1917. Due to the close proximity to Jamaica Station, the New York Public Service Commission granted them permission to close the station on March 28, 1922. It was finally closed in June of that year.
In 2006, the MTA completed a $387 million renovation project, begun in 2001 and carried out in conjunction with the construction of AirTrain JFK’s terminal (the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey contributed $100 million toward the project).
The project had two goals: Passenger-oriented renovations included new platforms and pedestrian bridge, a central elevator bank linking the LIRR to the street and to the Sutphin Blvd subway station, a new mezzanine connecting to AirTrain and a new steel and glass canopy over the elevated tracks. The focal point of the project was the Jamaica Control Center, built by Tishman Construction Corporation and Bechtel. The JCC houses the LIRR offices, railroad control center and MTA Police. Overall, the renovations enlarged the station and have made it more modern and efficient, providing easier access to all eight LIRR tracks. The entire station complex, including AirTrain and the subway, is compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). The project was named “2006 Project of the Year” by the Long Island branch of the American Society of Civil Engineers.
2015–2018 capacity improvements
As part of a series of LIRR readiness projects in preparation for the East Side Access project, a new Platform F is being constructed south of the existing LIRR platforms, along with yard and track improvements, to facilitate service to Brooklyn by eliminating crossovers. Completion is projected for July 2019.
Jamaica is the Long Island Rail Road’s hub station. There are five high-level island platforms each 1,000 feet (300 m) long, fitting almost 12 cars; trains on tracks 2 and 7 utilize a Spanish solution boarding layout, as these trains can be entered from platforms on either side, allowing passengers to quickly transfer between three trains at once. During the morning rush westbound trains from three different lines bound for three different terminals are scheduled to arrive at Jamaica simultaneously on tracks 1, 2, and 3. Passengers can cross to the train for their destination by passing through the train on track 2 (or by the stairs). In the evening the process is reversed: trains from three New York terminals destined for three branches arrive on tracks 6, 7, and 8 and allow commuters to cross to the desired outbound train. The middle tracks – 4 and 5 – share a platform which is used during rush hours to allow passengers to transfer to their destination train on the other side of the platform.
The main entrance to the station, where tickets may be purchased and where waiting areas are located, is a 100-year-old building that also serves as the offices and headquarters of the Long Island Rail Road Company.
The AirTrain station, located in an enclosed glass structure to the south of the LIRR platforms, has 2 tracks and 1 island platform. It is accessed by escalator or elevator from street level as well as via an enclosed bridge connecting it to the LIRR station. The station features platform screen doors, which help the station maintain a constant temperature and prevent passengers from falling onto the tracks. An array of sensors detect a train’s position on the track, and only when it is properly aligned will the train’s doors open. This enables the AirTrain to use automatic train operation without drivers. West of the station the track curves to the left and runs south, above the Van Wyck Expressway.
Trains depart for JFK every 7 minutes during peak hours, and every 10 minutes during other times of the day. Between 8pm and 4am there are 4 trains per hour. Displays at the station indicate train departure times along with flight status information. Entering or exiting the station costs $5 and must be paid by MetroCard, which can be obtained from ticket machines at the station.