Sign up for our COVID-19 newsletter to stay up-to-date on the latest coronavirus news throughout New York This 53-foot-long, 80-ton steel snow removal vehicle dubbed ‘Darth Vader’ is part of Long Island Rail Road’s winter weather arsenal. (Photo: MTA / LIRR)The weekend is coming early to the Long Island Rail Road after officials announced that train service will be limited to a typical Saturday-Sunday schedule on Friday because of a powerful winter storm barreling toward the Island.Reduced schedule also means the LIRR will not offer train service Friday on the West Hempstead branch or between Ronkonkoma and Greenport, officials said.The announcement was made by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who just hours earlier said the Long Island Expressway will shut down at midnight until 5 a.m.“The safety of MTA riders and employees is the top priority of the MTA,” Cuomo said. “MTA employees have been out sanding and salting platforms and walkways, but conditions can become difficult quickly during a winter storm.”LIRR customers accustomed to departing from the railroad’s West Hempstead branch can instead catch a train from Hempstead, Lynbrook, Valley Stream or the Merillon Avenue station. The MTA will provide bus service to riders between Ronkonkoma and Greenport, officials said.The MTA said it has already taken precautions in the event that the impending blizzard lives up to predictions. Snow removal deployment has already been deployed to “key locations” and special anti-freeze trains are being utilized to coat the tracks in anticipation of icing. Extra LIRR personnel have also been called on to assist at critical locations.Despite the measures already being taken to battle the storm, the railroad warned that snow accumulation of 10-13 inches could force the LIRR to temporarily suspend service to make way for snow removal equipment to clear snow from tracks. The LIRR has at its disposal a large steel plow, dubbed “Darth Vader,” to help with snow removal.Forecasters are predicting between 8 to 10 inches of snow starting Thursday evening and freezing temperatures possibly dropping to 10 degrees below zero.