Long-de­layed project has rid­ers in lurch

Rail work a decade be­hind, over bud­get

The Washington Times Daily - - NATION - BY FRANK ELT­MAN

NEW YORK | In a par­al­lel uni­verse where util­ity projects fin­ish on time and bud­get, at least some be­lea­guered pas­sen­gers dis­rupted by planned sum­mer re­pair work at Penn­syl­va­nia Sta­tion could have used Grand Cen­tral Ter­mi­nal.

But the lat­est es­ti­mates for that un­der­tak­ing are that it won’t be op­er­a­tional un­til 2022, 13 years af­ter the orig­i­nal com­ple­tion date.

The agency that runs the Long Is­land Rail Road, the busiest com­muter rail­road in the U.S., has spent more than a decade carv­ing out tun­nels and a mas­sive sub­ter­ranean cav­ern that will bring sub­ur­ban trains be­neath the East River to Grand Cen­tral in Man­hat­tan.

Be­sides be­ing more than a decade be­hind on con­struc­tion, the East Side Ac­cess Project is bil­lions of dol­lars over bud­get.

“Had East Side Ac­cess been com­pleted on time, there would have been re­dun­dancy in the sys­tem and would have al­le­vi­ated pres­sure on the sys­tem,” said Vic­to­ria Van­ter­pool, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Tri-State Trans­porta­tion Cam­paign, who re­cently joined the board of the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Trans­porta­tion Au­thor­ity, the agency re­spon­si­ble for the project. “That would have been im­por­tant route as a backup.”

So for now, Long Is­land Rail Road pas­sen­gers bound for Man­hat­tan are stuck with Penn Sta­tion, which han­dles an es­ti­mated 600,000 pas­sen­gers each weekday also on Am­trak, New Jersey Tran­sit and New York City sub­way trains.

Two de­rail­ments in the last sev­eral months, a power fail­ure, sig­nal prob­lems and other is­sues at Penn Sta­tion have pushed Am­trak, which owns the prop­erty, to be­gin re­plac­ing ag­ing tracks and other equip­ment. The sta­tion is a crit­i­cal part of travel on the North­east Cor­ri­dor, be­tween Washington, D.C., and Bos­ton.

The sum­mer re­pairs are ex­pected to knock sev­eral of the sta­tion’s 21 tracks out of ser­vice for about seven weeks, be­gin­ning in July. That will lead to some re­duc­tions in ser­vice, and prob­a­bly other de­lays.

“A sum­mer of hell,” for com­muters, Mr. Van­ter­pool pre­dicted, echo­ing lan­guage used by New York’s gover­nor.

“This sum­mer will be the cul­mi­na­tion of years of frus­tra­tion and anger,” added Mark Ep­stein, chair­man of the Long Is­land Rail­road Com­muter Coun­cil. “Re­pairs go up and ser­vices go down.”

The MTA has com­plained it is not get­ting the co­op­er­a­tion it needs from Am­trak to make progress on the East Side Ac­cess Project, and fears work at Penn Sta­tion could add to de­lays in com­plet­ing the project. Am­trak coun­ters that the sum­mer work at Penn Sta­tion won’t im­pact the Grand Cen­tral project.

Once fin­ished, the new Long Is­land Rail Road ter­mi­nal at Grand Cen­tral will be as big as five city blocks and reach 14 sto­ries deep.

It will han­dle an es­ti­mated 160,000 pas­sen­gers daily, about half of the rail road’s pro­jected rid­ers.

The ter­mi­nal un­der Grand Cen­tral will have four plat­forms serv­ing eight tracks over two lev­els. A re­tail and din­ing con­course also is be­ing built. A seven-mile net­work of new tun­nels is be­ing con­structed at an es­ti­mated cost of $10.2 bil­lion — more than dou­ble what was orig­i­nally planned.

Mitch Pally, an MTA board mem­ber from Long Is­land, said a gi­gan­tic hole has been dug un­der Grand Cen­tral and the out­line of a new sta­tion there is pro­gress­ing.

The tun­nel­ing work be­tween the Man­hat­tan sta­tion and un­der the river to Queens also has been com­pleted, Mr. Pally said. Work still needs to be done to con­fig­ure track lo­ca­tions from the ex­ist­ing tracks that head to Penn Sta­tion and cre­ate a split to­ward the new des­ti­na­tion.

A 2013 re­port noted the Au­thor­ity had orig­i­nally planned to bring Long Is­land Rail Road trains di­rectly into the ex­ist­ing lower level of Grand Cen­tral Ter­mi­nal, which is now used only by the Metro-North com­muter rail sys­tem that serves the city’s north­ern and Con­necti­cut sub­urbs.

But a 2001 en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact state­ment said con­struct­ing a sep­a­rate con­course and Long Is­land Rail Road cav­ern be­low Grand Cen­tral had sub­stan­tial ad­van­tages. The changes were a key fac­tor in de­lay­ing the project.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS PHO­TO­GRAPHS

The East Side Ac­cess will al­low Long Is­land Rail Road pas­sen­gers to get off on Man­hat­tan’s East Side at Grand Cen­tral Ter­mi­nal through a Queens tun­nel.

Sum­mer re­pairs are ex­pected to knock out sev­eral of New York’s Penn Sta­tion’s 21 tracks out of ser­vice for about seven weeks, be­gin­ning in July. That will lead to re­duc­tions in ser­vice and other de­lays.

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