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Columnist Larry Penner
Larry Penner

NY MTA $11.6 Billion East Side Access To Grand Central Madison Update

There is still much to do one year after the opening of New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority Long Island Rail Road $11.6 Billion Manhattan East Side Access to Grand Central Madison. A soft opening was held on January 10, 2023 with limited shuttle service between Grand Central Madison and Jamaica, Queens Station. The real opening took place on February 26, 2023 when full time direct service on multiple branches began. Thirteen months later, NY MTA Chairman Janno Lieber, LIRR past President Catherine Rinaldi and current Acting LIRR President Richard Free still never seem to acknowledge or address a number of outstanding project related issues.
Those responsible for design, engineering and bid specifications to support procurement of duel mode locomotives and double decker passenger cars failed to take into consideration height clearances for the 63rd Street tunnel between Manhattan and Queens. Construction on this tunnel began in 1969. It was designed to be used at a future date to provide the LIRR with a direct connection to Grand Central Terminal. As a result, the LIRR fleet of 23 diesel-electric and 23 duel-mode locomotives along with 134 double decker passenger cars are unable to utilize Grand Central Madison. This includes the ability of diesel or duel mode locomotives to rescue stalled electric trains in the tunnels or station. Now one year later, Acting LIRR President Free has announced plans to purchase a battery powered locomotive to rescue any disabled trains in the 63rd Street tunnel connecting Queens to Grand Central Madison. Remember that this equipment could also serve the same purpose for any trains stuck in the East River or Atlantic (Jamaica to Brooklyn) branch tunnels.
The same applies to several hundred million more in debt service payments that financed $4 billion worth of LIRR readiness projects to support start of full service in February 2023. They are carried off line from the official project budget. These include the $2.6 billion Main Line Third Track, $450 million Jamaica Capacity Improvements, $387 million Ronkonkoma Double Track, $120 million Ronkonkoma Yard Expansion, $44 million Great Neck Pocket Track, $423 million for rail car fleet expansion. Without these, the LIRR would lack the expanded operational capabilities to support promised 24 rush hour train service to GCM and 40 percent increase in reverse peak rush hour service.
Grand Central Madison still has only two men’s bathrooms with a total of 18 urinals and 13 toilets, two women’s bathrooms with a total of 25 toilets, one lactation room and two gender neutral bathrooms, each with a single capacity, all on the Madison Concourse. There are none on the lower or upper level platforms and mezzanine.
There is still only one waiting room located on the Madison Concourse. It has only 29 seats and seven stools for Wi-Fi connections to serve riders. There are no other seating options on the platform and mezzanine levels while waiting.
Options for recycling newspapers or beverage containers, disposal of garbage or other waste continues to be nonexistent except for a handful of garbage cans at the platform level. There are few options to dispose of waste at either the mezzanine or Madison concourse levels. This conflicts with MTA’s claim to be environmentally friendly.
There are still no open newsstands. These services are readily available in Metro North Grand Central Terminal, Penn and Jamaica Stations. There are 11 Ticket Vending Machines still waiting to be installed. It appears that the designed space is not wide enough to accommodate standard LIRR TVMs.
All the facility storefronts are still vacant. Full time service began in February 2023. MTA Real Estate had years to find tenants for the 32 vacant storefronts. MTA Real Estate will not issue a Request for Proposals (RFP) to find a master tenant to manage the storefronts until March 2024. It will probably require several months more before a contract will be awarded. Who knows how many more months to a year will be required before all 32 storefronts are subsequently leased, occupied and open for business.
Transparency on the part of Governor Hochul, MTA Chairman Janno Lieber and Acting LIRR President Richard Free in dealing with these remaining issues is required.

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