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LIRR / Long Island Rail Road: A New Central Station for NYC

Laura Puttkamer
New York

New York’s ambitious project “Long Island Rail Road” has just opened its doors, but is yet to proof how it serves the citizens.

With its new central station, Long Island Rail Road offers commuters a much improved way of reacing the east side of Midtown Manhattan. Image: Marc A. Hermann / MTA via Flickr

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In the US, Long Island Rail Road has opened its Grand Central Madison deep-level station beneath New York City’s Grand Central Terminal. This is the first time that commuters from Queens and Long Island can go straight to east Midtown Manhattan. But there are some challenges still to overcome.

15 storeys below ground

The Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) is the busiest commuter railroad of the North American continent. While it carries around 200,000 travellers on a weekday, the Rail Road undertakes almost 1,000 daily trips between New York City and Long Island. The company has opened a new deep-level station 15 storeys under the famous Grand Central Terminal in New York City. The new station is called Grand Central Madison and offers more capacities and an improved station. Furthermore it aims at improving access to Midtown Manhattan.

LIRR started the new station off by operating a shuttle service between Grand Central Madison and Jamaica in Queens. This gave the new infrastructure some time to settle. A few weeks after the opening in January 2023, the station also offered services to the rest of Long Island.

Grand Central Madison covers a space of 66,000 m2 far below ground. A new passenger concourse just below street allows access to the station, which is the largest passenger facility built in the States since the mid-1950s. 17 escalators of 55 metres length each plus 22 lifts take passengers to a mezzanine level. From there, they can access the upper and lower train decks of Grand Central Madison.

17 escalators of 55 metres each carry passengers 15 storeys below ground to the new Long Island Rail Road station underneath Grand Central. Image: Marc A. Hermann / MTA via Flickr

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17 escalators of 55 metres each carry passengers 15 storeys below ground to the new Long Island Rail Road station underneath Grand Central. Image: Marc A. Hermann / MTA
17 escalators of 55 metres each carry passengers 15 storeys below ground to the new Long Island Rail Road station underneath Grand Central. Image: Marc A. Hermann / MTA
Image: MTATransitFan via Wikicommons

A game changer for New Yorkers

The new station for Long Island Rail Road has eight tracks and four platforms, located in two adjacent twin-deck caverns. They can handle up to 24 trains per hour. The construction of these caverns began in 2006, but there were many construction challenges and delays. Some of them are due to difficult ground conditions between the city centre, requiring extensive drill use and blast excavations.

The large infrastructure projects under the umbrella of East Side Access (ESA) also included some other elements such as the construction of turnback tracks south of Grand Central Madison and a storage yards for train cars. The long-term goal of these infrastructure interventions is to increase the Long Island Rail Road’s capacity by around 40%. New capacity at Penn Station will allow the company to further increase capacity through its Metro-North trains.

 

The new station is expected to improve the commute for millions of passengers by offering access to east Midtown Manhattan. Image: Marc A. Hermann / MTA via Flickr

Reaching the east side of Manhattan with Long Island Rail Road

What do New Yorkers themselves say about their new station? Overall, the response has been very positive. “Commuters rave about Grand Central Madison”, reports Spectrum News NY1. However, the large space is not that easy to navigate. Finding the new station of the Long Island Rail Road from Grand Central can take some time, as does navigating the space. According to the local news page, it can take eight minutes to get from the lower track level to the station turnstiles. There is a learning curve for getting around the station. The transport authority has already announced that it will take the feedback into consideration and make signs easier to find.

On the other hand, the station has received praise for being clean, spacious, and convenient. Most importantly, commuters no longer need to trek from LIRR’s home at Penn Station to Grand Central in the west of Manhattan. Instead, LIRR trains are now accessible on the east side of the peninsula. That leads to saving a subway ride and the 2.75 USD (2.51 Euro) fare that comes with it.

Grand Central Madison has received mostly positive reviews by its passengers. Image: Marc A. Hermann / MTA via Flickr

Long Island Rail Road: The first public train from the suburbs to east of Fifth Avenue

Grand Central Madison is the centrepiece of a long-running programme with a funding of 11 billion USD (10 billion Euro) called East Side Access. This programme aims at improving access to Midtown Manhattan for LIRR passengers. New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority took over the management of Grand Central Madison in December 2022 from its Construction & Development branch.

However, it seems that New Yorkers are somewhat disenchanted with their city’s transportation system. While the new station changes the daily life of many commuters for the better, there are still countless challenges: filthy subways, late trains, signal problems, few reliable buses. A challenge has also been to cut the number of trains of Penn Station in order to place half of them at the downward extension of Grand Central. The company will have to look at providing more trains instead.

Still, ESA has great importance for commuters that live on Long Island and work on the east side of Manhattan. For the first time, there is a direct connection via public transportation. While there are two tunnels connecting both places, there has never been a train from the suburbs to anywhere east of Fifth Avenue before.

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