Helena Williams and the politics behind Penn Station Access

By · Published in 2014

For reasons of politics, Penn Station Access — the plan to send Metro-North trains through four new stations in the Bronx and into Penn Station — has become Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s transit cause célèbre. The plan has support from Westchester and the Bronx, and Cuomo is angling to deliver something for the constituents of his most notable November challenger. Don’t get in his way.

According to one story out on Monday, Penn Station Access and her opposition to it may be why Helena Williams is no longer the president of the Long Island Rail Road. In an extensive piece on Newsday that is unfortunately behind their payroll, Alfonso Castillo has the story:

Ousted LIRR president Helena Williams’ criticism of a Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo-backed MTA plan to link Metro-North Railroad to Penn Station — potentially inconveniencing Nassau and Suffolk commuters — cemented her reputation as a fierce advocate for Long Island, but it also contributed to Williams losing her job, sources said.

Williams, 58, whose seven-year stint as Long Island Rail Road president ended Friday, clashed with Metropolitan Transportation Authority chairman Thomas Prendergast over the Penn Station Access project, which would bring Metro-North into the LIRR’s West Side Manhattan terminal using existing Amtrak tracks around the same time the LIRR would connect to Grand Central Terminal as part of East Side Access, sources said.

“There was definitely a rift over that,” said one MTA source who spoke on condition of anonymity. “Tom seemed to be on the side of pushing this thing forward, and his agency president was not. She was sort of pulling in the opposite direction.”

“I don’t think there’s any question that it helped her demise,” MTA board member Mitchell Pally said.

The article explores this divide with some MTA Board members claiming Williams’ opposition was “parochial” and that it led to her ouster while others called her a fierce advocate for Long Island whose stance on Penn Station Access was not a “significant factor” on her departure. Read into that what you will. I believe that any opposition to Penn Station Access at this point is mostly parochial and has no place in New York City 2014. Solving regional mobility issues will require joint cooperation from both LIRR and Metro-North, and it may involve some sacrifices on each side.

That said, Patrick at The LIRR Today has up an extensive gut-check on Penn Station Access. It’s well worth a read, but here’s an excerpt:

The problem with Penn Station Access is the fact that most people are going about looking at this the wrong way. They look at this as dots on the map. If the LIRR can add a dot onto their map it’s only fair that Metro-North get to add a dot onto theirs. But it’s tremendously more complex than that. Grand Central and Penn Station are far from similar — one is a station with more than forty platforms and more than 60 station tracks that is used exclusively by one and only one railroad, the other has just 11 platforms, 21 tracks, is shared by three different railroads that collectively operate close to 1,000 revenue trains on the average weekday in what could best be described as cramped quarters…

And to add to this, the LIRR’s East Side Access project is constructing an entirely new station at Grand Central deep below the existing one (like it or not, that’s what they’re going with). Therefore, bringing LIRR trains into Penn Station would result in no net loss of station tracks at Grand Central for Metro-North. Other than Madison Avenue Yard and the Lower Level Loop which was closed several years ago for ESA work, Metro-North has not been adversely affected by East Side Access.

Over at Penn Station, there is no plan to construct a new 8-track terminal below the exiting one (well, at least for Metro-North trains). The plan to bring Metro-North trains into Penn Station would involve no addition of capacity into the current station. Since they have no intention of adding capacity at Penn Station to support Metro-North trains, those slots are going to have to come from someplace else. I don’t think Amtrak or NJTransit are going to volunteer some of their station slots for the sake of Metro-North commuters, so the last possible space to get slots is from the LIRR. And when East Side Access is completed, demand for the LIRR service to New York Penn will decrease slightly, and they will not need to run as many trains to Penn Station, so there will be some space opened up for Metro-North. But a massive unknown in this equation is just how much space the LIRR might free up in Penn Station.

It’s food for thought as these projects come up for debate in the coming months. It certainly seems that Cuomo, not one to embrace transit, has started to put some political pressure on multiple fronts on the MTA. Between the TWU contract, the constant theft of supposedly dedicated funds and seemingly spurious statements from MTA officials about the agency’s financial situation, whether all of this politicking is for the good remains to be seen.

154 Responses to “Helena Williams and the politics behind Penn Station Access”

  1. John-2 says:

    The New Haven plan’s viability may (or should) depend on how the change in travel pattens play out within the LIRR, once East Side Access opens.

    If there’s a huge migration of passengers from Penn to Grand Central while at the same time there’s no significant increase in LIRR ridership into Penn Station to replace those lost passenger, it’s just an inefficient use of track space to allow the railroad to maintain the same number of slots at Penn as they have now (NJT might be able to make a case that they could use those slots to better effect than Metro-North could, since their trains already at least have access to midtown Manhattan, even if it’s not to the west side. But then we’re back to the problem of the lack of additional trans-Hudson tubes limiting the number of TPHs to and from New Jersey).

  2. lop says:

    So connect the new terminal NJT needs at Penn to Grand Central, or the east river tubes, or new east river tubes. Christie gets to push some of the cost and potential (inevitable) overruns onto NY, justifying his decision to cancel ARC, Cuomo and Christie get to have a big show that they’re supporting transit, getting big things done, and being bipartisan, so they should be president, or whatever it is they want.

  3. Has the case for merging LIRR and Metro North ever been more obvious?

    • Nyland8 says:

      One quick loop at Lautenberg (which was part of the original ARC project anyway) and we could be running from Port Jervis to Montauk. I suspect the only reason the Lautenberg loop is no longer on the table is because NYPenn is already near capacity, and without ARC, there’s just no slot for another NJTransit train.

      But here’s yet another example of where a little regional thinking could go a long way. There’s plenty of room in Secaucus. There are platforms in Jamaica. Has anybody ever worked out any real-world numbers of what might be gained for this new MetroNorth proposal to terminate at Lautenberg, and perhaps an equal number of NJTransit trains to go to Jamaica? Can we quantify the relief that through-running would bring to NYPenn?

      I’m sure that plenty of NJTransit riders would like easy access to the JFK Airtrain. Does anybody even know how many NJ cars clutter NYC tunnels, bridges and highways on their way to and from JFK?

      For all anybody knows, through-running alone might offset any MetroNorth traffic increases at NYPenn.

      • Eric F says:

        The power for the NJ trains/Amtrak is overhead wire. LIRR is powered via third rail.

        • Nyland8 says:

          Yes … I know there are differences in how the systems are powered. Even third rail systems have top-running and bottom running variants. I also know that the cost of retrofitting locomotives is a tiny fraction of building new tunnels across the 2 rivers, building new deep subterranean terminals, and waiting another generation at least before anything gets done – which already seems to be the case.

          I’m just looking for ways to make it happen.

        • lawhawk says:

          NJ Transit bought dual power systems (diesel and overhead capable) locomotives ahead of the ARC, and they’re now in service (well, in service after some were damaged in Sandy, that is). Those locomotives could be run on either MNR (in overhead powered mode) or as diesel (for LIRR). MNR could purchase the same locomotives to do the reverse, and LIRR could purchase locomotives that are dual powered with diesel/3d rail, or 3d rail/overhead capabilities.

          It would make interoperability that much easier, allow for more through-running, and it would generate cost savings since the fleets could become more standardized. Railcars could be purchased with the height limitations posed by the NJ Transit tubes (Bergen tunnels or Hudson River tunnels), so that the rail cars could likewise be interoperable.

          That would still leave MNR and LIRR to be further consolidated and bureaucracies improved. And that’s a political problem with the need to fix politically.

          • AG says:

            yeah its my understanding that those trains are now operating on the Raritan Valley line… at certain times it’s a one seat ride into Manhattan.

          • The ALP-45DP’s were insanely expensive, nearly 7 times the cost of one MU car, and they have a number of disadvantages. They can only do the mode change while stopped (something you don’t really want in the middle of one of the world’s busiest interlocking), and their fuel tanks are tiny compared to other diesels, so they can’t venture too far from MMC or Raritan at any one time.

            • Nathanael says:

              Diesel / electric dual modes are complicated.

              AC overhead / DC third rail dual modes are easy, comparatively.

              They could have been ordered decades ago. London has several fleets of them running various services.

              The long-term solution is to replace LI’s obsolete third rail with overhead, but nobody’s been willing to think in a coordinated fashion.

              • Yeah, and we have fleets of them running in Connecticut with the Cosmopolitans and the M8’s, but they don’t fit all of the necessary clearance requirements for widespread use.

                Third rail locomotives and conventional coaches run into issues with third rail gaping. It’s no trouble if an MU gaps, since there are a bunch of other MU’s coupled to it that can shove it off the gap with no issue, but if a third-rail locomotive gaps, you’re stuck.

        • Bolwerk says:

          The propulsion system for MNRR west of the Hudson is push-pull diesel. If they electrify it, it may as well be overhead wire I guess.

          While we’re on the subject, I don’t see why Amtrak shouldn’t have a few regionals heading out to Long Island, and catenary in that direction could suit NJT and Amtrak.

          • Technically, the FRA does not permit electrifying track with both third rail and catenary anymore. Penn Station was grandfathered in, but everything else has to be either third rail or catenary.

            • Bolwerk says:

              Technically, the FRA needs a foot up the ass.

              It’s hard to see why this couldn’t get a waiver.

              • But the better question is, why would you want to run NJTransit trains to Jamaica?? Last time I checked, the Mainline wasn’t flowing with extra capacity, and East Side Access is going to take the last of that away. And Jamaica is not configured as an eastern terminal. The most you would do is save one transfer.

                • Bolwerk says:

                  Why Jamaica? The LIRR has a shit-ton of terminals, and any of the ones nearer to the city should be quite suitable for reversing NJT services. Little or no extra capacity would be needed, and Penn would be more rational.

                  • There aren’t any terminals near the city, and pretty much everything is, or will be shortly, at capacity in terms of reverse-peak service. Long Beach and Hempstead are the only real candidates, and at that point, you’re talking many, many miles of new overhead wire, for what exactly??

                    • Bolwerk says:

                      Pretty sure Far Rockaway, Long Beach, Hempstead are all double-tracked, if that’s even necessary.

                      For what? I’m counting:

                      • significantly better regional mobility

                      • less pressure on Penn to a terminal (more throughput)…

                      • …and therefore a cheap way to get more capacity today, before two more tracks are added for the Gateway project.

                      Adding catenary is orders of magnitude cheaper than building Penn Station South. Though the other trouble is adding third rail so LIRR could reciprocate some services.

                    • The branches are double-tracked, but the Mainline you would have to go through between HAROLD and JAY only has four very, very full tracks (and only one is used in the reverse-peak direction). You can’t add a significant number of reverse-peak trains from Manhattan without more room on the Mainline.

                      About 95% of the trains that terminate in Penn Station today already through-run to West Side Yard or Sunnyside Yard, so through-running isn’t going to magically create enough capacity to solve everyone’s needs…

                    • Bolwerk says:

                      Why do you need to? At the worst, it would be a lateral move in terms of capacity, and at the best it squeezes a bit more capacity out of the mainline by making Penn less complicated.

                      It’s also relatively cheap upgrade to make transit a lot better.

                    • Nathanael says:

                      England is now biting the bullet and replacing its mainline third rail with overhead AC wire. The US… sigh.

                    • Nathanael says:

                      If you’re doing through-running from NJT, I’d match up the LIRR branches in this order:
                      – Port Washington (if any trains from there still run to Penn Station — if they all go to GCT I guess that’s that)
                      – Far Rockaway
                      – West Hempstead
                      – Long Beach

                      And yes, Patrick, through-running IS magically going to create capacity. Think it through.

                      1 reverse peak LIRR train running through East River Tunnels
                      + 1 peak NJT train running deadhead through East River Tunnels
                      becomes 1 train running through East River tunnels.

                    • The East River Tunnels are not near capacity. It’s the station that’s at capacity, not the East River Tunnels.

                      I have yet to see what’s all cracked up about through-running.

                      More capacity….through-running will not substantially increase capacity, since through-running is already in use in the actual station itself during rush hours, and the station itself is the capacity constraint, not the tunnels.

                      More reverse-peak service…I don’t know if you guys have ever stood out at the platform at Jamaica or Secaucus during the morning rush, but there are dozens of equipment trains that run empty out of Penn Station to places on Long Island and New Jersey. Most places already see significant reverse-peak service, but most of those trains are Non-Passenger trains because there is no demand or desire for the service. There are a massive amount of deadheads from Penn Station to places like Great Neck, Hempstead, Far Rockaway, Long Beach, Freeport, and Babylon today, they can have substantial reverse-peak service to those places tomorrow morning if they want to.

                      The problem with more reverse-peak service on Long Island is the places that need more of it can’t handle it (Mainline/Montauk Branch/Port Washington Branch) and the places that can handle it don’t need more of it (small branches).

                    • Alon Levy says:

                      The station through-runs in the way it does with Amtrak, i.e. with very long dwell times. The rush hour LIRRs clear the passengers in less than 2 minutes. If they dwell 2-3 minutes instead of 10, and go on their merry way to the next station (i.e. Secaucus), there will be more space.

                    • The trains are not dwelling in the station for a significant amount of time. Most trains that operate through the station to the yards do so in about 6 minutes.

                      You’re not going to be able to off-load 1,000 people and then load a couple hundred more on in the middle of rush hour in 2-3 minutes. You probably won’t even be able to do it in 6 (so trains would actually have to wait longer, reducing capacity). If everyone behaved orderly and like adults, then you could probably get it done quicker, but that’s not the case. Ever see them post a track too early and there are 1,000 people waiting on a platform when a reverse-peak train already filled with people rolls into the station at rush hour? It’s not pretty.

                    • Nathanael says:

                      OK, so some crowd control is needed. It’s still going to be faster to


                      than to


                      Which means more trains per hour.

                    • Alon Levy says:

                      First, I’ve seen rush hour LIRRs unload in less than 2 minutes.

                      Second, during the morning peak, relatively few people are going to be boarding commuter trains at Penn Station, so it’s not going to be a major interference.

                      And third, once the LIRR and NJ Transit understand that they do not actually need infinite time for any of this, they can bag the American practice of posting track numbers 10 minutes before departure, and instead write the track numbers into the schedule.

                • Alon Levy says:

                  Because there are tens of thousands of people living in Jersey working in Queens. Jamaica is one of the job centers of Queens; Flushing is also accessible via Woodside and via the PW line.

            • pete says:

              Citation please.

            • Nathanael says:

              That’s ridiculous. And I’d like a citation as to this new FRA rule.

              I mean, I believe you — the FRA has lots and lots of stupid rules. But I’d still like a citation to use, when I’m explaining why the FRA and all its stupid regulations should be abolished.

      • AG says:

        I agree with everything you said.. not to mention the ppl who live in Jersey and work on Long Island or Connecticut. Not to mention the ppl who don’t take those jobs because mass transit would take too many transfers and driving is too expensive and too much traffic.

        If MNRR can run trains to the Meadowlands from Connecticut and Westchester for Giants and Jets games – I’m sure there is a way.

      • The Bergen Loop is still on the table for NJTransit with the Gateway Project. Jamaica is at capacity (everything is at capacity on the LIRR). The Jamaica Capacity Improvement Project is going to help a little, but Jamaica is not designed to be an eastern terminal.

    • SEAN says:

      I said that last week. But of course the thread devolved into you cant do that do to rule books, third rail differences & fleet incapadibility. No mention of the redundent levels of management wich is the real problem.

      If the LIRR goes on strike, then that’s exactly what should happen.

    • Eric Brasure says:

      With throughrunning, of course.

  4. Larry Littlefield says:

    The LIRR will have plenty of places to send trains even if some of its Penn capacity is re-routed to Metro North. Especially since other NIMBY’s have stalled the improvement of the Port Jefferson line by adding a yard and reverse commuting by adding a third track.

    All this stuff has to go away. That means telling people to go to hell, after first getting other people behind you.

  5. Brandon says:

    One would hope that quite a few LIRR trains would shift to Metro-North given the money being sunk into that hole. I was under the impression it was intended to be the primary LIRR terminal moving forward?

    As Alon has pointed out, elsewhere in the world where people actually ride trains, they have an operating plan before spending $500 million for capital construction of a project. We are dropping, what, $10 Billion without a good idea of whats going to happen when its done?

    • SEAN says:

      One would hope that quite a few LIRR trains would shift to Metro-North given the money being sunk into that hole. I was under the impression it was intended to be the primary LIRR terminal moving forward?

      It is projected that a good portion of the LIRR’s ridership will shift to Grand Central as jobs have migrated around there.

      As Alon has pointed out, elsewhere in the world where people actually ride trains, they have an operating plan before spending $500 million for capital construction of a project. We are dropping, what, $10 Billion without a good idea of whats going to happen when its done?

      There is a plan, but it hasn’t been well articulated to those who really need to know.

  6. Eric F says:

    Given that ESA MIGHT be done in 2021, not sure why Penn access for Metro North would have any bearing on a 2014 personnel decision.

    In fact, there’s probably a fairly good story in there about why she was fired, but she was at LIRR not NJT and so the press does not care. This really came out of the blue and she was booted quite unceremoniously.

    • In fact, there’s probably a fairly good story in there about why she was fired, but she was at LIRR not NJT and so the press does not care.

      If the press doesn’t care, why did Newsday write such an extensive article on it? I’m not sure why you’re doubting what people were willing to say on the record. Her opposition to Penn Station Access was at least a contributing factor to his ouster as Cuomo is working now to line up money for the project.

      • SEAN says:


        I just read Patric’s wright up & although I understand where he is coming from, I do find it troubling that the biggest issue is being overlooked. Sandy has shown that we must build in some kind of redundency, but as he states – not til 7-years after ESA opens.

        Metro-North’s access into Penn Station has been in the works for some time as ridership continues to grow around 2% per year, but I don’t know if the LIRR is growing at that rate if at all. Miss Williams may have been atempting to protect Long Island’s interests, but failed to see the larger pictuwich no longer can be ignored & as a result – she was ousted.

        Your thaughts please.

        • Chris says:

          Sean –

          It would not be her responsibility to be regional in focus – her job was the LIRR, and the LIRR alone. What Cuomo could have done would have been to have put her in a regional post, where she would have a duty to have a broader regional view of things AND to advocate for that.

          Cuomo is being heavy handed here, when a more subtle approach would have sufficed. If he simply said – for every slot LIRR moves to GCT via ESA, a slot frees up at NYP, it would be up to LIRR’s advocates to justify keeping slots from MNRR – something much harder to do when Cuomo is using MNRR access to NYP as a political tool….

          • AG says:

            as to your last comment – not all political gossip in the newspaper is correct. you are making it out to be fact. it’s speculation.

            • And this is Newsday, take everything with a humungous grain of salt.

              • SEAN says:


                My point exactly. It’s this reflexive responce of “not my problem” that lead to to where we are today. A heavy handed approach? – perhaps, but you cant escape the regionalism that exists & it MUST end.

                • Chris says:

                  Yes – It must end. But by being heavy handed, he helps cement a path of resistance in the hearts of people who won’t see that regional solutions are needed.

                  If possible, I prefer to use the velvet glove instead of the iron fist – but I see that both are needed, and a wise person knows when to use one vs. the other….

                  • SEAN says:

                    Perhaps the use of the velvet glove was already tried?

                    • Nathanael says:

                      Yep. Tried in a previous administration, no less.

                      Penn Station Access was part of the original agreement for East Side Access.

                      But recently, certain Long Island interests recently became exceptionally crazy and hostile to Penn Station Access. They need to get slapped down.

        • No, I didn’t say we should wait 7 years for the residency, I said we should wait 7 years after East Side Access for regular service. Go ahead and make the infrastructure improvements now so they can be used in a catastrophic disruption, if necessary.

          • Nathanael says:

            Penn Station Access, unlike East Side Access, would *actually add new stations* in Manhattan and the Bronx. Service should be introduced ASAP.

      • Eric F says:

        I fully admit that I have no special insight on the nitty gritty of why she was let go. But I really don’t get why the LIRR chief position on MNR access would have any bearing on anything. LIRR will get out of the way to permit access if directed to, no matter who runs the place. The decision will be a political one decided in Albany. The LIRR will simply do what it is told on matters like this. Has any money been allocated to MNR access? Is LIRR actually obstructing this in some concrete manner that matters in any way whatsoever? Can anything on this even be done before ESA has visibility on a completion date and that completion date is drawing near?

        And good point, I see that Newsday is doing some coverage. The more full-regional outlets have very cursory coverage, and that’s what I meant. NYT, WNYC etc., don’t seem to care much.

        • Bolwerk says:

          I don’t know about that. These cats all seem to have an absurd amount of entrenched control over their fiefs. Not saying you’re wrong, but keep in mind the state somehow found it easier to direct eleven figures at ESA’s overbuilt cavern than to get MNRR to share a little bit of space with the LIRR. And the only point about ARC that Christie kind of had a case on? It would have been significantly cheaper for NJT to go to GCT than to build that ridiculous “bat cave” cavern. NJT didn’t get anywhere with them either.

          Albany probably has the power to overrule it, but any suburban senator probably has the power to obstruct.

          • Nathanael says:

            LIRR has sabotaged “upstairs” MTA planning before. It’s definitely worth it to clean out the people in LIRR who don’t want to play nice with others.

        • John-2 says:

          It could be about going Williams behind the scenes to defend turf — If Cuomo thought she was covertly helping to stir up opposition on Long Island to losing gates at Penn Station, even if the LIRR was seemingly co-operating with Albany’s wishes in public, that could have produced the backlash that led to her firing.

        • Alon Levy says:

          Long Island power brokers are against Penn Station Access because damn it, the East River Tunnels are the LIRR’s fief, not Metro-North’s. What if the LIRR needs the full capacity of six tunnel tracks? Let the Westchester and Connecticut people hunt for standing space on their M8s, Long Islanders are better than that. Etc.

          Cuomo, for all his other faults, doesn’t care much for this sort of feudalism, as far as it seems. He can’t remove Dean Skelos, but he can remove Williams.

          • Bolwerk says:

            Cuomo’s brand of feudalism is a muscle car parked behind a picket fence in a gated community conspicuously free of non-whites.

          • Nathanael says:

            Cuomo actually could have removed Dean Skelos simply by refusing to sign the gerrymandering bill. With a judge-ordered district map, the Republicans would be completely out of power in the State Senate, no matter what shenanigans they pulled.

            This is what I am most furious about Cuomo about. He enabled and assisted Skelos.

            • Nathanael says:

              Let me make this clearer: he enabled and assisted Skelos to disenfranchise ME by gerrymandering, carving my city up so it has no voting power.

    • JebO says:

      Given that ESA MIGHT be done in 2021, not sure why Penn access for Metro North would have any bearing on a 2014 personnel decision.

      Because the funding decisions for Metro-North access to Penn Station are being made NOW. Namely, putting money in the 2015-2019 capital program to allow the new Metro-North stations to open on Day 1 of East Side Access, not seven years after East Side Access opens.

  7. Chris says:

    The simple solution – for every LIRR train routed to GCT via ESA, one Metro North train should be allowed into NYP. If there is a mass movement to the East side from LIRR customers, then an equivalent move to the West side would be possible for Metro North customers. One could limit LIRR’s number of trains entering NYP, by saying that for every train they move out of NYP and over to GCT via ESA, they lose the slot. They could have flexibility for the first few years to fine tune the slots on both East and West sides. But once the balance has stabilized, the NYP slots get fixed.

    Is this too much to ask?

    • SEAN says:

      No it isn’t, but I’m going to nitpick ever so slightly. Think of these slots in the same way airlines would i, e meaning one train movement in & another one out. So as you transfer trains between Penn & Grand Central, they move in pairs not in singles.

      • Chris says:

        Sean –

        You are right… But the moves could be done asynchronously, as long as the LIRR moves first.


        • SEAN says:

          Oh, I already assumed the LIRR would move first. Remember once a train enters Penn station or the new station under Grand Central, it cant sit there for very long. That’s why I mentioned movements in pairs – as one half of a given pair maybe an empty train, but for maxamized usage, you want to avoid that as much as possible.

          • That’s not really how it works, they don’t have to be in pairs, and the interlockings are not setup in a way that requires the trains to be moved in pairs.

            • SEAN says:


              Just to clarify, if a train enters say Penn Station empty from the yard that’s half of the pair I’m referring to. It’s in sync with the movement when that train loads & leaves – the other half of the pair. The relation of that pair to any other is how it effects such future train movements.

      • John-2 says:

        The LIRR’s idea seems to be that they would maintain their right to their existing slots at Penn after ESA opens via the diversion of routes currently going to Flatbush Avenue to Penn, and turning the route between downtown Brooklyn and Jamaica into a shuttle. Of course that assumes that people going to Flatbush right now really want to go to Penn Station, and are just on those trains because it’s less of a hassle to change at Jamaica. For people going to lower Manhattan, that may not be the case, since all ESA does is just give them three options instead of two to connect to subways to get downtown.

        At the very least, the LIRR should check to see if Brooklyn-bound riders would prefer to continue to have the option of direct connections further out on the island, instead of pulling the LIRR version of what the TA and MTA did to the Third Avenue el in the Bronx and the Culver shuttle in Brooklyn — make them as inconvenient to use as possible to justify even more service cutbacks or eventual abandonment.

    • No, because the total number of LIRR trains that the LIRR will operate will increase. They’ll probably move about 40% of their trains from NYP to GCT, but then put a whole bunch of new trains from places like Great Neck, Massapequa, Ronkonkoma, Valley Stream or East Williston into new slots at both of those terminals. The current number of seats going into Manhattan isn’t going to be able to handle everybody, and there’s going to be significant increases in service where they can manage it.

      It’s not going to be a one-to-one distribution out of NYP to GCT by any stretch.

      • AG says:

        is there demand? Long Island is the one place into Manhattan that has not seen an increase. Where do they think all those riders will come from to shift 40 percent of their trains but keep the same space at Penn?

        • LIRR demand to NYP had seen increases in recent years. And there is still a lot of potential room for ridership growth. There are a number of people that work on the East Side but do. It want to take the train in currently because they do not want to walk over to the east side from NYP. All of those people are potential riders after ESA. Plus, there are large parts of the system that currently see little or no service into Manhattan than they do today (i.e. The diesel branches, West Hempstead, Hempstead, Far Rockaway, Long Beach, etc.). These places see fewer riders because the service to Manhatan isn’t as good. When there is more space in Manhattan, they will be able to to add more Manhattan service to these lines, and demand will increase in that’s sense as well.

        • Nathanael says:

          Nassau population is essentially flat over the last decade. Nassau population has actually dropped since the 1970s. Suffolk population is growing quite slowly. By way of comparison, populations north and west of New York have grown significantly faster.

          LIRR has no basis for its slot-hogging proposals.

          • But ridership does not grow at the same rate as population does, in fact, it’s not very tied to it at all. Ridership goes up and down as service goes up and down.

            You can just have a higher percentage of the existing population take the train than did before, and there you have new demand.

            • Nathanael says:

              But there’s no particular reason to believe that this will happen in Long Island and not in Westchester.

            • Alon Levy says:

              But the LIRR and Metro-North already have a very high mode share for Manhattan-bound commutes at rush hour, and Long Island isn’t getting any more population that commutes to Manhattan at rush hour.

  8. John Doe says:

    We are ONE nation. Why can’t we have ONE glorious, national transportation system/network like many countries in Europe and Asia do? They are light years ahead of us in terms of public transit! Enough with all this separatism! Let’s do this for the greater good!

    • SEAN says:

      That maybe true, but we act like 50 seperate nations with a me first atitude. Rick Perry anyone?

    • AG says:

      Look at the land size of the US versus nations in Europe. A better comparison would be China.. but China’s government has much cheaper labor to work with – and they don’t care about land use quarreling… So even China is not a good comparison.

      • Bolwerk says:

        If you ignore the dearth of population in parts of the USA, Europe is probably analogous. France and Germany probably have more in common with New York/New Jersey/New England economically and socially than any of those have with Kansas or the Dakotas or European peripheries (Greece, Italy south of Rome, most of Scandinavia other than Denmark).

        But the Midwest can probably have a healthy inter-city rail network if we tried.

    • There’s only so much money. Everybody wants their cake and to eat it too, but there’s not enough cake to go around for everybody.

      Therefore, we have to fight for the scraps.

      • Alon Levy says:

        Fun fact: if Gateway is built, then total spending in New York for SAS Phase 1, the 7 extension, Fulton, the PATH terminal, ESA, and Gateway is going to be the same as the spending in the Paris region for 150 kilometers of mostly underground driverless regional rail.

      • Nathanael says:

        It’s not really true — there’s actually as much money as the Bureau of Engraving and Printing decides to print.

        There’s only so much coal, there’s only so many construction machines, there’s only so many trained workers… and these are real and important limits.

        but there’s as much money as the federal government wants to print. Money is limited only by politics.

        • I’m talking about there’s not enough money at the MTA level. The MTA can’t go out and print more money, the motivation for that has to come from places beyond the MTA.

        • Bolwerk says:

          Patrick is right. MMT doesn’t really help us when there is no sovereign currency.

          • Nathanael says:

            *sigh* yeah. we gotta do something about that.

            California probably has the economic clout to print its own money and get it accepted. New York by itself doesn’t.

            • Bolwerk says:

              Well, you don’t need to be big. It’s just unconstitutional for a U.S. state to do it, presumably.

              I think Israel has a sovereign floating currency. Population: smaller than NYC.

              • Alon Levy says:

                Pretty much all countries have sovereign currencies – the exceptions are the EU periphery* and various dollarized third-world countries. Israel is a country. So are Switzerland, Norway, New Zealand, and many more I’m forgetting.

                *Germany and France are effectively sovereign.

                • Also the CFA countries. (Map of dollar and euro currency-peg zones, though it ignores some de facto pegs like Cambodia.)

                • Bolwerk says:

                  I’m not 100% how you are defining sovereign currency, but to exploit MMT it would need to be a sovereign fiat currency (i.e., not simply pegged to commodities). I mentioned Israel because it’s small and actively exploits monetary policy. On the other end of the spectrum, I believe still China pegs to a basket of currencies.

  9. g says:

    If Long Island is going to oppose every improvement (third main track, yards, pocket tracks, etc) that will actually make the ESA worth it in the long run then my sympathy for LIRR losing some slots that they will not need at Penn is pretty minimal. If the former President couldn’t get on the same page with the Prendergast and Cuomo then it was time for her to go.

    • JebO says:

      He didn’t mention it in this article, but I believe that Ben Kabak himself has been vocal in supporting Metro-North access to Penn and castigating the Long Island politicians who want to deny it as parochial. That means he’s actually on the same side as Cuomo, Prendergast, Lhota, Walder, and everyone else who has thought about this who is not from Long Island.

  10. Ethan Rauch says:

    Why not bring MN Hudson Line trains into Penn using the Amtrak west side line? I thought that was the original plan. You wouldn’t have to build any new stations. Is there that much demand in the east Bronx?

    • Chris says:

      Ethan –

      There is a great demand in the East Bronx – in many ways, it is way under-served. For example, Co-Op city is a transit nightmare – tantalizingly close to the #6 subway line AND to Amtrak’s line into the Hell Gate bridge and NYP. Since we will never see the #6 extended to Co-Op city, putting MNRR stations on the rails used by Amtrak makes sense – even though it will still be a hike to get to any proposed Co-Op city station from Co-Op city. (They may still need shuttle buses.)

      Regarding Hudson Line access – I’d love it. But until NYP slots open up, I know not to expect it. If needed, I can connect to NYP via Amtrak for the times I’m doing long distance train travel….


      • Ralfff says:

        As someone pointed out on this site when that news came out, the trackage is actually not very close to Co-Op City. Look at a map.

        The media has just blithely run with this story in spite of the obvious impossibility of the plan. The 6 can’t really be extended to it either, at any cost, because a highway blocks it. For that matter, a highway blocks access to the 2/5 (Baychester Av. stop is closer than the MNR would be anyway) as well except by what I’m sure is a really unpleasant pedestrian route. Co-Op City’s transit inaccessibility is caused by its own parking lots and highway surroundings, not MTA incompetence.

        • Chris says:

          I never said MTA incompetence….

          Co-Op city is an example of very bad planning. Before high density housing was even planned, they should have been thinking on getting people in and out of the zone. Two highways effectively strangle Co-Op city, giving it a sub-optimal access to the rest of the Bronx by car or bus. The MTA is not responsible for this screw up in placement of high density housing.

          With that being said, Co-Op city was developed in order to keep whites from totally fleeing the Bronx. Its relative inaccessibility could be perceived as an asset at the time it was built. But no longer. I’d have loved to see the MTA extend the #6 into Co-Op city and further reduce the need of residents to own cars. But that is not to be….

          • SEAN says:

            If a MNR station were built in Co-Op City, it could untangle the mess of bus routes in the neighborhood by having a single transit hub similar to Flushing or Jamaica.

            • Ralfff says:

              I wouldn’t know, but I’d guess that Co-op city residents don’t want this to happen. And it’s cheaper and less disruptive to the subway system to improve pedestrian access to the 2/5 at Baychester Avenue. There are so many residents there, I’m sure that if they wanted transit they would get it. The bottom line is that MNR expansion has little to do with Co-op city regardless of what they call the train stop.

        • lop says:

          ‘ The 6 can’t really be extended to it either, at any cost, because a highway blocks it. ‘

          It’s a sunken highway by the 6 terminal. And a quarter mile to the interchange with the Bronx River Parkway. Is the grade too steep for the train to climb over? If not run it over the highway, then push it over to Baychester Ave.

    • AG says:

      The New Haven Line has several times more riders than the Hudson line. Also – you are incorrect – because there were plans to build 2 new stations for the Hudson Line. Thirdly – you’d get more reverse commuters from the East Bronx to Westchester and Stamford… which is part of the reason Connecticut supports it.

    • It is part of the larger Penn Station Access plan, but there are even more obstacles to that at this moment.

  11. Ethan Rauch says:

    John Doe: We’re not one nation, but a bunch of squabbling states. See the movie “1776.” Some things never change.

  12. AG says:

    Originally the Hudson Line was to go to Penn also. There was also supposed to be new stations at W125th and W60th. There is no word on that now. Is it a capital funds issue? Is it arguing with Amtrak over use of the bridge between Inwood and Spuyten Duyvil? Or did they think there won’t be enough capacity at Penn?
    Of course New Haven – being the more heavily used route should get preference… I’m still interested to know why no talk of the Hudson line anymore.

    • Chris says:

      Good question.

      If it were up to me, I’d skip having a Hudson line station at 60th street, and build one at 125th street – with a moving sidewalk to connect that station to the #1 train (and Broadway) nearby. (Even then, this won’t be the most convenient of rail stations….)

      I doubt Amtrak will be an issue, as the bridge at Spuyten Duyvil is underused right now. Even if we had 4 trains an hour (2 in each direction) in addition to Amtrak’s 2 trains per hour, we’d still have a 10 minute headway between trains. If we double tracked the approach to NYP (I think it’s now single track with room for expansion to two tracks), the only choke point might be the bridge. And 6 trains/hour should be easy. The problem might be the merge with existing MNRR tracks….

      • Alon Levy says:

        Don’t sell short the idea of stations at and south of 60th. Nobody is going to use them to get to Penn Station and pay a separate fare afterward, but if trains run through to the LIRR, and the fares are identical to subway fares within the city, then I can see people in Hell’s Kitchen using stations at 60th or 50th or 42nd or wherever. (42nd would be a good transfer point to the 7 extension if the 41st/10th station were built.)

    • Nyland8 says:

      Having worked for years along that Empire corridor, I can attest to it being profoundly underutilized. I’d see a few northbound Amtraks in the AM about an hour apart, several return trips in the PM, and quite sparse random traffic the rest of the day. Being underneath the palisade that holds up Riverside Dr., it is practically NIMBY proof. Nobody above that cliff even notices the train traffic, and nobody lives below it but the wharf rats around Riverbank State Park.

      For a lot of reasons, a stop at 125th St. makes sense, but I get the impression that the stop at W.60th was some kind of political concession. Nobody would use MetroNorth to go 25 blocks, and that would be an expensive underground station. Not the case with 125th, which has ample room above the Fairway parking lot and below the Riverside Drive trestle. There’s also a ferry excursion pier already built and waiting for traffic, located right there. All it needs is a fence and a ticket machine. There’s a bus depot, too. It could become a West Harlem transportation hub – even more so if we could ever coax the T Train across 125th St. to the Hudson River.

      • Nyland8 says:

        Apropos of which, the Empire corridor enters NYPenn from the west. There used to be a rail yard along that corridor just south of 148th St. If a small terminal could be built – 3 or 4 tracks ?? – then MetroNorth could through-run itself without ever going into NJ. OR …

        New Haven to Poughkeepsie anyone ??

        • lop says:

          ‘New Haven to Poughkeepsie anyone ??’

          That would take about four hours wouldn’t it?

          At least turn it at Croton-Harmon. And maybe start it at Stamford.

          But if avoiding a cross movement squeezes in a little bit of capacity at Penn then sounds good.

          • Nathanael says:

            Apparently the problem is that the Empire corridor comes in on the south tracks at NY Penn and the LIRR comes in on the north tracks. Ick. You’d think something could be done to connect the north tracks to the Empire Corridor, but expensive real estate, etc.

  13. Seth Rosenblum says:

    edit note:

    “that is unfortunately behind their payroll”


  14. Bolwerk says:

    Cuomo is right-ish here, but probably for the wrong reason. MNRR territory is probably a much richer donor base for him than nominally Republikan Long Island.

    Though, really, the idea that any of these railroads (other than maybe Amtrak) have a right to hog slots is preposterous. It’d be much more constructive to put that idea to bed.

    • SEAN says:

      Cuomo is right-ish here, but probably for the wrong reason. MNRR territory is probably a much richer donor base for him than nominally Republikan Long Island.

      True, but LI voting patterns are for the most part reverse of what you see nationally. Westchester on the other hand is overwelmingly dem despite the county executive.

      • Bolwerk says:

        Isn’t that the point? LI is also poorer and more socially conservative. There is probably little Cuomo could do to sell out to them if he wanted to, since Pataki already gave away the farm.

    • It all goes back to the day of the private railroads. The LIRR legally owns the title to their slots in Penn Station from the days they purchased them from the Pennsylvania Railroad. And that deal predates the MTA, Metro-North, NJTranst, and Amtrak. They’re the LIRR’s and it’s their decision to sell them (the title is owned by the Long Island Rail Road Company, not the MTA)

      • Bolwerk says:

        Well, if the MTA can’t use its control of its subsidiary to fix that, then I would think the state can use eminent domain authority to claim the slots. It sounds more like organizational stasis is the culprit than anything, as is typical with the LIRR especially.

        • Spendmor Wastemor says:

          K, maybe I’m missing something, but are they not both controlled by the MTA, which has final authority? Other than the special LIRR grifter provisions, that is.

          • Bolwerk says:

            I don’t know the answer, but I do know “control” in this case means something more akin to subsidiary corporate control than organization divisional control. Or, to put it another way, the MTA is more like a confederation than a unitary state.

            They obviously have a history of not having their organs working together….

          • Nathanael says:

            And this is probably why Helena Williams was fired.

            Legally, transferring the slots probably requires that the LIRR’s Board and President sign off on the transfer — and she was, perhaps, being recalcitrant.

          • No, the MTA has no say over the ownership of those slots. The MTA only says yes or no to the transfer of money in some sort. They don’t meddle in the day-to-day operations of the agencies. As long as no money has to change hands (and the LIRR keeping their legal title to their slots doesn’t involve money changing hands), the MTA doesn’t have a role in the ownership of those slots (since they’re owned by the Long Island Rail Road Company, a separate legal entity, not the MTA).

      • BenW says:

        And the title to the Long Island Rail Road Company is owned by the state of New York, no? At some point, maintaining that the LIRR is an independent company that can do whatever it wants seems bound to smack into the hard reality that in its current incarnation, it is a creature of the state government. I’m sort of impressed that it maintains the level of independence that it does, given that as far as I can tell the only thing it does with that independence is say “screw you guys” to other New York city and state constituencies, but maybe the Williams firing is an indication that we’re approaching that point? And maybe we won’t reach it—heaven knows there’s plenty of political backing in the state senate for saying “screw you” to the Bronx and Brooklyn…

  15. Larry Littlefield says:

    There are a zillion reasons to replace management at the LIRR. That organization needs a wartime consigliere.

    You’ve got the disability-scamming unions/mafia/management.

    You’ve got the East Side Access timeline and cost going through the roof, with all kinds of horrible reasons why that could be happening including ripoffs.

    You’ve got the NIMBYs blocking Penn Station Access for MetroNorth and third track and Port Jefferson yard improvements for the LIRR.

    You have high costs per vehicle mile and employee work hour.

    And you have Long Island losing the battle to New Jersey and the Lower Hudson Valley to attract homebuyers linked to Manhattan.

    The situation is a disaster for Long Island and the whole state. Enough grifting, whining, future selling, etc.

    • Eric F says:

      “You’ve got the NIMBYs blocking … and third track and Port Jefferson yard improvements for the LIRR.”

      I agree, but how can the LIRR be blamed for L.I. NIMBYs? It’s the LIRR that wants these projects. You need a Governor to force it, frankly.

      “And you have Long Island losing the battle to New Jersey and the Lower Hudson Valley to attract homebuyers linked to Manhattan.”

      For now maybe, but if ESA is ever done, that may change markedly. Without ARC, if ESA gets done, Long Island looks much better than NJ for Manhattan access, I would think. Good train routes and untolled/lightly tolled car crossings.

      • Larry Littlefield says:

        Someone seems to have the power to ensure ESA never gets done, so they can keep milking it.

        Who is it?

        • SEAN says:

          #1, what is your name please… My name is Helena Williams.
          #2, My name is Helena Williams.
          #3, my name is Helena Williams.

          Only one of these people is the real Helena Williams & is the only one swarn – To Tell! The Truth!

          *Classic theme plays*

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