Apr
30

A look at the East Side Access escalators

By

The escalators that will one day reach the East Side Acess Project terminal beneath Grand Central will the MTA's longest. (Image via WSJ)

Over the past few decades, the MTA has had a touchy relationship with its escalators. Those that exist in the subway system break down more often than we would prefer, and repairs take far longer to complete than initially expected. Some of the problem is due to the 24-7 pounding these machines take, and part of the problem is due to just about anything you could imagine.

Some time this decade, the authority will open its most escalator-dependent station yet. When the East Side Access terminal opens, 15 stories underneath Grand Central, the authority will be relying on 47 escalators traversing 180 feet into the depths. As Ted Mann wrote in The Journal on Friday, “The success of the new station is riding in large part on how well they work.” That may be a scary thought indeed.

Mann has more on the escalators:

Commuters might endure a short trudge up stairs, but few would have patience—or the stamina—for a heart-pounding slog to the surface that rivals a military workout. In public remarks about the East Side Access project, MTA Chairman Joseph Lhota has invoked the notoriously steep, and sometimes stalled, escalators of the Metro in Washington, D.C. With that in mind, the authority is leaving little to chance. Engineers have added extra capacity, so breakdowns won’t bring the station to a standstill.

And the MTA is experimenting with a first-of-its kind contract that will partially privatize the escalators. The company that designed the escalators and 22 elevators for the station won’t just install them, but also operate and maintain them in years to come. “The proof will be in the pudding,” one MTA official said, but the agency is counting on the arrangement to ensure its costly gamble to redirect commuter rail to Manhattan’s East Side will pay off.

Schindler Elevator Corp. won a $70.2 million contract to do the design, installation and long-term operation and maintenance of the system. “We’re putting the onus on the people who actually install them to operate them,” said Michael Horodniceanu, the president of the MTA’s Capital Construction division, which is building the project. The escalators will be the longest ever made at Schindler’s plant in Clinton, N.C., said Glenn Rodenheiser, the company’s project executive for East Side Access.

The key, of course, will be this privatization effort. Right now, commuters who know of the East Side Access plan have little sense of just how deep the terminal is, and the MTA will have no choice but to keep these escalators running. Otherwise, the traffic into and out of this deep terminal will suffer tremendously.



77 Responses to “A look at the East Side Access escalators”

  1. What of the elevator situation at the LIRR platforms/mezzanine? I assume there will be quite a few elevators bringing passengers closer to GCT’s main hall?

    • Nathanael says:

      I just found a map which clarifies this. The answer is “no”.

      There will be a very, very long horizontal tunnel leading to the base of the elevator banks, which will rise up to the same place the escalators terminate at.

      Unless a very large proportion of passengers choose to use the elevators, I expect this long, dead-end corridor to be filled with homeless people, and possibly with muggers trying to steal from the handicapped.

      Real thoughtful, MTA. Not.

  2. Christopher says:

    I hope their are stairs too. Oh the times I’ve climbed those stupid escalators at WMATA because no one put in stairs. (And no e broken escalator doesn’t become stairs, the rise of each step is too high and there are no landings. Both make for a very difficult climb.)

    • When I lived in DC in 2005-2006 for a few months, Woodley Park was my nearest Metro station. I absolutely hated those escalators.

      • SEAN says:

        I read something last year in regards to the escalators in the DC Mettro. These escalators were of the wrong design for that type of application. The Manufacture even said as much durring a board meeting, but those who made the decisions didn’t listen. So as a result, they have escalators that have a high failure rate & once they do fail, getting replacement parts are next to impossible.

      • John-2 says:

        When I moved down to Washington in 1979, I was shocked not as much by the limited redundancy in the escalators from the street to the fare control areas (three at DuPont Circle, where the Red Line terminated at the time), but by the fact that at the side platform stops, WMATA offered zero redundancy provisions for getting from the fare control level to the platform. You had one up escalator, and one down one in most cases, and very rarely you’d find three escalators connecting the platform with fare control.

        So even if you got people down from the street with one escalator out of service possibly due to exposure to the weather, you still would create a major bottleneck if the one of the platform escalators had to be fixed, because in its design-over-function mindset, WMATA never bothered to put in stairs in the majority of it’s original stations. That was despite the fact you were only looking at a 15-foot gap between fare control and the platform levels, not the 100-or-so feet at times between fare control and the street.

        The MTA has to be smarter than the 1960s-70s D.C. planners, and has the added luxury that subway and LIRR riders in New York may prefer escalators, but have been accustom over the years to expect to walk the stairs, so you’re not going to lose many customers if the new stations aren’t all escalator, all the time. Put at least one stairway in at each access point, or at least make the number of escalators as massively redundant as the bank that was in the original PATH station at the WTC.

        • Jerrold says:

          They LOOKED redundant anytime I was there on a weekend or during the day on a weekday. But I don’t think that they were redundant in rush hours!

          On a related (but somewhat off-topic) note, I still think that the biggest mistake was the decision to build only ONE “Freedom Tower” there. They could have scrapped the plans for some of the other buildings, and built TWO “Freedom Towers”. Like some people on other websites pointed out a few years ago, the terrorists have gotten a net gain of one tower.

          • sal magundi says:

            “Like some people on other websites pointed out a few years ago, the terrorists have gotten a net gain of one tower.”

            i’m glad i don’t read those websites

          • Phil says:

            It’s an office building, not some monument to fighting terrorism, and its name is 1 World Trade Center.

            • Jerrold says:

              The original 1 World Trade Center and 2 World Trade Center were office buildings, also.

              Forgetting about the name Freedom Tower, out of fear, was another mistake. Freedom Tower is no more of a “provocation” or “arrogance” than is the Statue of Liberty. Freedom and liberty mean pretty much the same thing, right?

              • Steve says:

                No, the Statue of Liberty was erected specifically as a monument to the notion of liberty, its proper full name being “Liberty Enlightening the World.” This was a gift from the people of France on our nation’s Centennial in honor of the founding principles of the USA. The so-called Freedom Tower is a speculative office building named in knee-jerk reactionary patriotism to the idea that somehow building an office building on the site of a terrorist attack would show the terrorists, ummm….something. Should something named “freedom” be erected at every site of terrorism?

    • Eric says:

      I would not want to walk up a 15-story escalator. Disorienting and dangerous. I don’t even like riding them, actually.

    • Nathanael says:

      Fire code usually requires stairs; the question is whether they’ll be generally available, or only behind emergency exit doors.

  3. Adirondacker12800 says:

    All they have to do is ask the Port Authority how they manage to do it at the World Trade Center stop.

    • lawhawk says:

      The PATH hill escalators (at the WTC) do have their troubles every now and then, but they rehab them fairly regularly. There’s enough capacity generally to get people to and from street level for the most part, even if they have to take one or two escalators out of service.

      The same can’t be said if they have to repair the escalators at Exchange Place – that’s a mighty long walk without much in the way of spare capacity.

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WV0Ft8UmI4A

      Deep stations will continue to pose challenges – especially at the busiest of locations because you’ve got to have enough capacity to deal with regular commuters, but also with the possibilities of breakdowns.

      And then there’s the nightmare issue of blackouts or other incidents that cut power to the escalator banks. It’s not addressed in this particular article, but one would hope that they’ve got battery backup or standby generators to help get people out in such emergency situations (besides just walking up 10+ stories.

  4. Bolwerk says:

    Sad, really. This is a mess and there is no way to fix it. :|

    • …what’s so sad about it?

      • Bolwerk says:

        The depth is really inconvenient, and even if passengers flow smoothly in and out it’s a long PITA trip just to the surface through an already packed station.

        Oh well, I’m still glad it’s getting done, flaws ‘n all.

        • Spiderboy says:

          Well it’s sure a heck of lot more convenient than riding on the train into Penn Station and then making your way back to GCT by subway – even if you ultimately end up just a few feet below the street level!

          • Bolwerk says:

            I agree. I just am not thrilled to see public agencies spend more to get less.

            And, in all fairness, Penn is probably not the best commuter station design either.

            • Spiderboy says:

              “Penn is probably not the best commuter station design either.”? I’m afraid you could say, without fear of contradiction, that Penn is a rat hole. :-)

              As Vincent Scully famously opined in comparing the old (1910-1963) Penn station to the new:

              “Through it one entered the city like a god … one scuttles in now like a rat.”

        • Miles Bader says:

          The “inconvenience” of a deep station seems pretty minor—what, an extra minute on the escalator (much of which likely would be spent walking at surface level in a shallower station)? Vastly better than no station at all…

          [and if you really chaff during escalator rides for some reason, you can always walk up the escalator, which can cut the time in half!]

  5. R. Graham says:

    Ben is right, people really don’t understand how deep that is. A colleague of mine and I were having a conversation at the office and we both agree that ESA will very much discourage those who travel to lower Manhattan from going into Grand Central. The ability to transfer is going to take a lot of time with the climb alone.

    • Benjamin says:

      Agreed. This is also going to be bad for the SAS — I avoid the F station at Lex/63rd already. One of the nice things about the NYC subway is that it’s easily accessible and usable, simply a story or two below ground for most of the area built with cut and cover.

      • J B says:

        Nice to see I’m not the only one who thinks this. Taipei’s MRT is much more pleasant to ride than NYC’s subway, and even the Beijing subway is cleaner, but at least in NYC you can get from the street to the platform much faster.

  6. Russell says:

    They should have had the LIRR go into the Lower Level of Grand Central. I know that was one of the original ideas. Yes, I realized that would hurt Metro North operations since they are operating at capacity, but they already had to get rid of the yard on the lower level, and I know a few of the tracks they use just to store boxcars and garbage cars. Anyways, it’s all for naught now since the final design has been determined.

    • Henry says:

      They’re operating at capacity?
      Pardon me if this is incorrect, but I believe that Grand Central made it into the Guinness Book of World Records as the station with the most tracks and platforms in the world.
      They really can’t afford to squeeze in a few more trains?

      • Jack says:

        They are definitely not operating at capacity. Even with the most platforms in the world, GCT sees fewer passengers than Penn.

        The reason is apparently because Metro-North wouldn’t share its platforms with the LIRR, even though they’re the same freaking agency.

        • Matthias says:

          I believe the main problem was that the grade would be too steep from the deep 63 St Tunnel to the shallow platforms at 42 St.

          I wonder if a connection could be built in Sunnyside allowing trains to be routed over the Hell Gate Bridge and then down Park Avenue. A tad circuitous, but would allow direct access to the existing station.

        • Jerrold says:

          I believe that the main reason that Grand Central is far below capacity is that Amtrak no longer uses it. In the old days, long before there was Amtrak, Grand Central was as much a gateway to this city as was Penn Station. People used to travel between Grand Central and Albany, Buffalo, Chicago, etc.

          • Nathanael says:

            The serious decline in intercity rail is, indeed, the main reason GCT is below capacity. Under the “New York Central”, it used to host *lots* of trains to upstate NY, New England, the Midwest, and Canada.

  7. John-2 says:

    If nothing else, how the deep cavern East Side Access project works will be a bit of a window on how passenger access would have worked with the deep cavern ARC project, had it been completed (and that’s not just on whether or not there are enough working escalators, but how passengers react to the big gap and time lag between the train and the street after being use to the short distances between the two at Penn Station).

  8. Jerrold says:

    Ben, was it ever made clear WHY they decided on that very deep design? I mean, why didn’t they plan the LIRR station to be just one level below the existing Lower Level?

    This also reminds me of how even the TERMINOLOGY at GCT involves bad decision-making. For a long time, it was Upper Level and Lower Level. What could be clearer that that?
    Now, it’s Concourse Level and Dining Level.

    Also I never understood why they got rid of the old waiting room.
    They finally DID create a new, but smaller, waiting room. For some time it was called “Stationmaster’s Office” until they changed it to “Waiting Room”.
    Still MORE silly terminology.

    • pete says:

      Since deep tunneling costs more money and generates more “jobs” in more trades in NYC than cut and cover. The MTA will be paying forever to maintain those escalators.

      • Evan says:

        Did you read the article? The MTA is not maintaining or operating the escalators. They’ve contracted that out to the company this is installing them.

        “Schindler Elevator Corp. won a $70.2 million contract to do the design, installation and long-term operation and maintenance of the system.”

        • pete says:

          I did. The $70 million isn’t maintenance money for eternity. The contract probably includes cost plus billing. The MTA will still pay for eternity to maintain them.

    • BoerumHillScott says:

      Tunneling directly under existing tracks would have been incredibly complex with the large buildings above the tracks.

    • Nathanael says:

      The large gap between the Lower Level and the LIRR Level is so that they don’t have to underpin the whole of Grand Central; the big hunk of rock does that for them.

      The reason the trains don’t go directly into the Lower Level is that LIRR and Metro-North are incapable of cooperating. They fought Walder’s eminently sensible plan to merge them — and were successful, to all of our regret.

  9. Alon Levy says:

    So, what we see here is two multilevel caverns, a full-length deep-level mezzanine (haven’t we learned the lesson from the IND cost blowouts?), and a new concourse right underneath the old tracks just so that they won’t have to integrate the ticket machines.

    • Jerrold says:

      Yes, I assume that you’re thinking of the West 4th St. station.
      But even THERE, the point was to allow transferring in any direction, between any of the lines.

      But at the new LIRR station at Grand Central, they could have instead planned out the eight tracks and the four island platforms on ONE level.

      • BoerumHillScott says:

        One large horizontal level would have required much more engineering to support everything above it, including the existing tracks and the large buildings above them.

      • J B says:

        At least West 4th is a major transfer point. Many (though I think not all?) of the Queens Blvd line stations also have full-length mezzanines.

        • Henry says:

          I believe this is true, except for the Kew Gardens – Union Turnpike station (and only because the station is bisected by a highway interchange).

          At World Trade Center/Chambers St on the ACE, there are actually TWO full-length mezzanines – when the one for the A and C platform ends, the one for the E platforms begin.

    • Bolwerk says:

      You’re surprised? I find it hard to convince even really diehard rail advocates that cut & cover is still a good idea.

  10. UESider says:

    There are probably additional reasons for the depth – the rails come into Manhattan oon the lower level of the 63rd St F tunnel before turning under Park Ave

    They have to weave thru the E/M tunnels, so its probably easier to keep level at depth rather than tunnel up/over that tunnel

    It’s always good to create more jobs with a more intricate design, but this was probably a straight shot type of matter with some heavy rail

    On another topic – is that diagram disorienting to anyone else? It shows GCT (presumably) west of Vanderbilt… but the Yale club, Bank of America Plaza and other buildings lie west of Vandy – GCT is between the forks of Park Ave and Vandy/Lex

    Am I seeing this wrong?

    • Subutay Musluoglu says:

      The illustration is correct, but the “Grand Central Terminal” label is in the wrong place. ESA will have multiple street exits on or along Madison Avenue, I’m guessing that this a section through 45th or 46th Street. Although it is not clear by this image, the southern most end of each cavern does not quite line up underneath the terminal, so the GCT headhouse wouldn’t even be visible in this graphic.

  11. Eric F says:

    I don’t understand that map. How is Park suddenly west of Vanderbilt?

    • Jerrold says:

      On that map, Park is shown correctly EAST of Vanderbilt.

      • Eric F says:

        I must be missing it. The diagram shows Vanderbilt abutting Grand Central. This is correct, and Vanderbilt abuts GCT’s west side. Then Park Ave. is shown further west. I don’t get it.

        • Jerrold says:

          Park is shown further EAST.
          You are looking NORTHWARD. So rightward is eastward, and leftward is westward.

          • Jerrold says:

            Oh, and I forgot to add: Like other people pointed out, it says “Grand Central” in the wrong place on the map. Maybe THAT is what’s confusing you. It should say “Grand Central” rightward of Vanderbilt Ave.

            • Eric F says:

              I still don’t see it, but if you are looking north and the “Grand Central” in the diagram is actually the Lex entrance into it, then at least it gets Vanderbilt correct in relation to Lexington.

              • Bolwerk says:

                I think the “Grand Central Terminal” in the diagram is just meant to label the entire complex you’re looking at, not the point in the diagram where GCT is – if that were so, it would be incorrect.

                • mike says:

                  Although the diagram is not accurate, I am assuming that the entrances/exits to ESA is on Madison/West side of GCT?? Does this make sense? If 70% of commuters work on the East Side — this was the very reason for rerouting some LIRR trains to GCT via ESA — why not have an easier connecting to the Lex IRT? Hopefully this diagram is not completely representative…

                  • Bolwerk says:

                    The bulk of job density in Manhattan is in that general area – not near Penn. But you’re right, that arrangement does seem a little odd.

                  • Alon Levy says:

                    It’s just not true that 70% of commuters work on the East Side. Peak job density is around 5th. The reason GCT is closer to most commuters’ destinations is that Penn is too far south, not that it’s too far west.

                    • mike says:

                      Thanks for the catch Alon. I meant to say that I’ve seen 70% quoted on this blog as the fraction of LIRR commuters who work in the vicinity of the East Side. Nonetheless, your North/South take on this is something I hadn’t considered. Noted! :)

  12. DingDong says:

    How many minutes will a ride on the escalator take?

    • DingDong says:

      According to wikipedia “The longest set of single-span uninterrupted escalators in the Western Hemisphere is at the Wheaton station of the Washington Metro system. They are 230 feet (70 m) long with a vertical rise of 115 feet (35 m),[citation needed] and take what is variously described as 2 minutes and 45 seconds[citation needed] or nearly three-and-a-half minutes, to ascend or descend without walking.”

      So we are talking less than three minutes. Not that long, but it may seem longer to commuters. And it is followed by another two minute walk to get to the street.

  13. paulb says:

    So the tops of the escalators are over on the west side of GCT? North/south, are they closer to the IRT at Park Ave or at Lex? A hike if Lex. It sounds like there’s lots of redundancy in the escalators. Speculation: the depth will not deter most riders.

    You know, that “Penn Station is a rat hole” talk just makes me tired. First, there’s the disrespect for rats, which are smart, sociable animals. A hand-raised rat will be your best friend. Second, I worked at One Penn Plaza from late ’90 to late ’96. The concourse was very shabby at first, as it had been for many years, but the major renovation was a good job and transformed it. The platforms, and the stairs to them, are grim, but they’re grim at GCT, also. Moynihan station is a bad idea whose time would never come, if I had my way, although it probably will. A big, light, shed-style station can be a grand thing, but I don’t see it happening here; air rights in NYC are just too valuable.

    • Nathanael says:

      Penn is a maze and it’s overcrowded.

      It’s particularly a maze if you’re in a wheelchair. One set of tracks only has elevators from the LIRR “Exit Concourse”; another only has elevators from the west side of the NJT concourse. The entrance elevators from the station to the street are extremely well hidden and there are very few of them. And then just try to get into the subway: the IRT lines are connected OK (if you remember to use the NORTH passageway) but the IND line, you have to leave the station and roll down the street before taking up to three more elevators.

  14. Subutay Musluoglu says:

    The upper landings of the escalators and the new LIRR concourse are in the footprint of what was once MNR’s Madison Yard. The name says it all regarding location, the west side of the GCT plant, though technically it straddles Vanderbilt. It was built as part of the original GCT construction, and had been used for many years as a storage yard for light maintenance and cleaning of rolling stock. Those functions were relocated in 2003 to the new Highbridge facility along the Hudson Line north of Yankee Stadium station. The Madison Yard started at around 43-44th Streets and extended up to 48th-49th Streets. The LIRR concourse takes up most of this footprint. The link below will take you to ESA’s documents page, and if you click on the most recent Quarterly Reports for 4th Quarter 2011, you will get a good contract by contract breakdown of the work, as well as graphics of the new terminal, which clearly show that the southern most end of the caverns are between 44th and 45th Street (see page 13). This was intentional so as to be clear of the rock overburden that is supporting the Met Life building. The cross section from the Wall Street Journal shows a street exit almost at the corner of Madison Avenue (though it’s not labeled as such). This is most likely at 48th Street, which is the only ESA exit that is almost at Madison Avenue (see page 18).

    http://www.mta.info/capconstr/esas/documents.htm

    And yes, it will be somewhat of a hike back to the Lexington Avenue Subway, but the majority of ESA’s users will be ending their trip at GCT, exiting directly out of the concourse along Madison, Vanderbilt, and the side streets. I cannot recall precisely, but I believe that about 20-25% of the morning peak hour ridership will be making the transfer to the Lexington Avenue Subway,

    • Subutay Musluoglu says:

      There are concepts to shorten the walk from the caverns to the Lexington Avenue mezzanine, but they are quite involved engineering wise, and I think it will wait for another generation.

    • Jerrold says:

      There exists a street exit at 47th St. and Madison Ave.
      This entrance/exit was put in as part of the “Grand Central North” project, as was another one at 48th St. and PARK Ave.

      • Subutay Musluoglu says:

        Correct – both of those entrances already exist and they will be doing double duty once connections are made to them from the ESA concourse, but the entrance shown in the WSJ graphic appears to be direct from the concourse, and I believe the 48th Street entrance will be ESA’s signature entrance.

    • Nathanael says:

      How far are the escalator entrances going to be from the elevator entrances?!?!

      Those are some diagonal escalators there. Are the elevators going to be in a totally different concourse?

  15. Think twice says:

    In this day and age when efficiency, sustainability, and carbon footprints are on our minds, there’s something to be said about the Gilded Age’s low-tech solutions to things like lighting, ventilation, and throughput. When electricity isn’t cheap, use glass brick sidewalks to illuminate platforms during the day. Use the air pressure of incoming trains to push air out through sidewalk grates. Use shallow, sub-surface stations to move people in and out as quickly as possible. The long term ROI on low-maintenance, cut and cover stations seems to far outweigh the initial costs.

  16. Jerrold says:

    ALSO, how about THIS line from the wsj article:

    “East Side Access was most recently slated for completion in 2018, but that estimate is being shifted to account for construction delays both in Manhattan and in Queens.” It’s been shifted to when, 2025?

    • Eric F says:

      That is unbelievable. People only live so long. This project’s completion is operationally “never” for a generation of commuters.

  17. UESider says:

    hopefully LIRR ticket sales will pay for the escalator operation and maintenance expenses, afterall, those riders will be the exclusive users, so they should be able to push for accountability in their operation

    Eric F – the cross section is roughly 42nd St looking north, so the label is just on the wrong building

    it would help to have an overhead visual, as well, to help place the exits

    anyone with a link?

  18. UESider says:

    try this link from the MTA Cap Construction site for ESA:
    http://www.mta.info/capconstr/.....vation.pdf

    it shows a pretty good isometric view of the tunnel locations from the East River to GCT

    also notes that tail tracks extend to 37th St under Park for train storage

    myguess is that taking elevators straight up would keep you to the east, but may/may not be a much better option depending on speed and dropoff level in GCT

  19. sal magundi says:

    i remember from some time ago, ads on LIRR platforms asking riders to call somebody and demand a shallow approach, an alternative to what’s pictured above. guess that didn’t happen.

  20. Saul says:

    Here’s a link to the old MTA plan, complete with both Option 1 (the shallow plan) and Option 2 (the deep tunnel).

    http://www.mta.info/capconstr/.....ummary.pdf

    Quite interesting.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. […] install fancy escalators at the end of the 7 line that are at an incline. They’ll install 47 escalators to deliver folks from the absurdly deep East Side Access cavern with travel times long enough to […]

  2. […] –  that will connect the Long Island Rail Road to Grand Central – includes an extensive escalator network.  47 in all will bring people up and down from the LIRR tracks 15 stories below the […]

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