Sep
30

MTA’s capital plan includes new Elmhurst LIRR station

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Over the next few years, the MTA will restore LIRR service to Elmhurst.

Sometimes, buried amidst the billions of dollars of expenditures in the MTA’s capital plan, a surprise or two will leap out of the page. Signals and station improvements are run-of-the-mill state-of-good-repair work while the MTA’s planned expenditures for their next-generation fare payment system, at a few hundred million dollars, is underwhelming. But buried in Long Island Rail Road’s planned project is a $40 million spend for a new LIRR station in Elmhurst.

Technically, an Elmhurst LIRR station isn’t new. For decades, trains stopped right here in Elmhurst, but the LIRR closed the station in 1985 due to general decline. The neighborhood was in decline, and, more importantly, ridership had bottomed out at the station. While proposing closing a subway stop causes riotous uproars, commuter rail stations in the boroughs are passing concerns, done in by incongruent fare policies.

Over the past few years, though, Queens politicians have latched onto the idea of reopening the Elmhurst station. We first heard about it in mid-2012 when The Journal reported on some LIRR officials who were considering an in-fill station. In 2013, Queens politicians all expressed support for the station as a way to improve access to Midtown, and now the MTA has set aside $40 million for just that purpose.

The new Elmhurst station will be a part of the LIRR’s Port Washington Branch. It will be two blocks away from the Elmhurst Ave. Queens Boulevard local subway stop and will cut travel times to Penn Station by around 12-15 minutes. The politicians are thrilled; I’m still a bit skeptical, but for the dollars and per-rider benefits in unpublished studies I’ve seen, the project seems fine.

The MTA’s capital plan lumps the Elmhurst station in with design work for a Republic station on the Main Line in Suffolk County. Actual construction for Republic won’t be funded until the 2020-2024 capital plan while Elmhurst will see environmental review, design and construction over the next few years. The Elmhurst work includes new 12-car platforms, staircases, railings, shelters, vending machines, lighting, communication and security system, general site improvements, and elevators.

The areas representatives, as I mentioned, are happy. They blame changing train schedules in the 1980s on the station’s closure and see it as part of Elmhurst’s potential. “Restoring LIRR service to Elmhurst will help a burgeoning neighborhood reach its full economic potential and become a destination for all New Yorkers,” Joe Crowley, Grace Meng and Daniel Dromm said. “We are thrilled to learn the MTA agrees that investing in this community is a win-win and that they have included critical funding to rebuild the station in their recently proposed capital budget. For years, Elmhurst residents have called for greater transportation options and we are now one step closer to turning this idea into a reality. We will continue to work with MTA officials to ensure this project remains a top priority and look forward to the day when Elmhurst will be the next stop for millions of New Yorkers.”

I think Crowley, Meng and Dromm are overstating their case. After all, LIRR stations near subway stops don’t see frequent service or heavy crowds. Still, I’m stuck where I’ve been over the past few years: The City Ticket price makes LIRR service from Elmhurst to Penn Station very expensive. Few people in a middle class area will spring for the added cost to save 10 minutes of travel time, and I can’t foresee particularly high ridership. Still, for $40 million — a rounding error for the MTA — why not?



Categories : LIRR

74 Responses to “MTA’s capital plan includes new Elmhurst LIRR station”

  1. Dan says:

    I wouldn’t be surprised if potential reverse commuters (i.e. to Flushing, Bayside, or Great Neck) form a large part of the ridership/justification for this station. Trying to cater to them has certainly worked well for Metro-North in terms of ridership.

    • Jonathan R says:

      I reverse commute to Bayside, but I don’t use the LIRR. Bayside is kind of spread out, and the limited frequency makes it extremely stressful to take the bus to the railroad. Better to take the bus to the 7 train terminus and hop on the subway, which leaves every couple minutes.

    • Larry Littlefield says:

      I think that’s the idea. The most affluent suburbs are in a pinch, having zoned out the working class and zoned in the tax ratables — the stores and offices. And Nassau’s bus system is not what it once was.

      Service, however, is limited by the lack of that third track.

      • Phillip Roncoroni says:

        Service, however, is limited by the lack of that third track.

        This is the Port Washington branch, forget a third track, the line isn’t even double tracked east of Great Neck.

        • Eric F says:

          The LIRR has been a battle royale with NIMBYs to make small capacity expansions at Great Neck and Port Washington via what would be essentially short sidings.

    • tacony says:

      Other than the lack of third track, the key difference is that White Plains and Stamford have enough density of office and retail development around their train stations, whereas LIRR stations don’t really anchor walkable business districts anywhere. Within Queens, sure, but Flushing has extensive bus and subway access– if you live in Elmhurst getting to the 7 train isn’t going to be much harder and you don’t have to memorize a schedule. Reverse commuting on Metro-North is primarily Bronx/Manhattan to Westchester/Connecticut. Very few reverse commuters take Metro-North to destinations within the Bronx where the subway runs, because they can just take the subway. You can’t compete against a cheap train that runs every couple minutes during rush hours. Even if CityTicket prices were valid on weekdays I don’t think ridership would increase nearly as much as advocates seem to imagine.

      People who don’t take Metro-North or LIRR are gung-ho on the idea of taking Metro-North and LIRR. Using new stations to open up parts of the outer boroughs where subway access is terrible is a compelling solution. But I don’t think people are thinking things through. Practically everybody who has the option of using one or the other uses the subway. Even if money’s not an issue, the subway wins ’cause you’re not rushing to get that damn once-every-30-mins-if-you’re-lucky train.

      I predict very few people will use the Elmhurst stop, and it doesn’t really matter except that everybody commuting through Elmhurst on those trains that LIRR decides to stop there has to endure another minute on their commute.

      • SEAN says:

        A whole minute? good grief!

      • AG says:

        I mostly agree… But there are a lot of domestic workers and home health aids that could indeed be making that reverse commute to Nassau… and retail workers – especially to the Manhasset area. My guess is based on seeing reverse commuting on Metro North. Of course White Plains and Stamford are the big draws… but you see quite a few of the ppl I named go to Larchmont – Harrison – Rye – Port Chester…. Crestwood – Bronxville – Hartsdale. They are not the “suit and tie” crowd going to Stamford or White Plains (though due to malls they do get a good number of retail workers).

        • tacony says:

          True, but again notice those domestic workers are taking it to those tony towns in Westchester that are beyond the reach of the subway. Domestic workers going to Riverdale just take the subway and the bus, despite a Metro-North stop there. The convenience of actual “rapid transit” frequencies trump the comfort of commuter rail pretty much everywhere.

          • AG says:

            Nassau County is beyond the reach of the subway…. Places like Manhasset. That’s why I used the Westchester/Fairfield analogy.

  2. BruceNY says:

    Is there a station being built in Sunnyside as well (past the yards, by 43rd St.)? I’ve been told by a neighborhood resident that’s what the construction in that particular spot is for, and they do appear to be platforms in the making.

  3. Christopher Leonard says:

    I think some nearby Long Islanders might shop at Queens Center Mall and others because of the sales tax and not having to drive.

  4. Duke says:

    Why not indeed. Even if it isn’t heavily used, that could change if other circumstances do, at which point it is better to have the infrastructure in place.

  5. Alon Levy says:

    Incongruent fare policies and schedules. Not only is it expensive to ride the LIRR within the city, especially if you transfer to the subway, but also the off-peak frequency is a train every hour. Who wants to deal with that when, at the cost of a slightly slower trip, you can get on a subway train that comes every 4 minutes?

    • The Port Washington branch is half-hourly all day long (aside from the fact that the stops between Flushing and Bayside are served only by alternate trains on weekdays, which seems a rather silly false economy). Hopefully all off-peak trains will stop at Elmhurst when it opens, giving it half-hourly service, which is still rather poor but much better than hourly.

    • anon_coward says:

      as long as the train is close to when you need to be at work it’s faster and more predictable than the subway. some days when i need to get back to queens to pick a kid up from school i’ll take the LIRR because the subway means waiting up to 20 minutes for a train and possible problems. LIRR you know when the train is leaving

    • Blackburn31 says:

      The every 4 minutes part is a stretch, the Queens Blvd. line is prone to many delays.

      But I think you hit it on the price, a peak ticket is 8.00 on the platform and 14.00 on the train.

    • adirondacker12800 says:

      There’s more to life that what is within walking distance of Penn Station. It doens’t make sense to take a quick ride to Penn Station and then transfer to the same subway or a parallel one to get to where you are going just as fast. Or slower.

  6. Damned Architect says:

    Rebuilding the Elmhurst station will be a boon to the neighborhood in a number of ways, some of which haven’t been discussed yet:

    – An alternate travel method to the city when the subway is delayed, halted, or when track repairs are being carried out.

    – The trains may run only every half hour (or hour) but the fact that it’s LIRR means that it comes with a printed schedule, and that means people will have a reliable way to know when (more or less) they can get to where they want to go. Great if you have to be in the city on 25 minutes and can’t trust the subway.

    – This will be a great way for Elmhurst residents to avoid the 7 train (and a bus) in order to get to Flushing and Bayside. So what if it costs more? Isn’t saved time money? Likely, you are paid far more than the cost of a city ticket over the course of 30-60 minutes, which is the amount of time this station will save people.

    • Eric F says:

      It also provides much quicker access to the west side, for those going there. If you are headed to the east side, might not be much of a time saver relative to the subway.

      Note that if you are getting on an LIRR train post-Woodside, you are likely standing.

  7. Brandon says:

    This is really close to the Grand Ave-Newtown Station on the Queens Boulevard line, which is a lot more frequent and a lot cheaper.

    What has changed since this station was originally closed and dismantled to justify spending money to rebuild it? LIRR ridership within the boroughs remains very low except a few locations that are far from the subway, which this is not.

  8. Eric F says:

    Another big item on the capital budget is what is not there. No LIRR mainline expansion track. The NIMBYs win!

  9. DF says:

    “Why not” – well, besides the direct cost, there is the matter of slowing down everyone else’s trip. Of course at some point the tradeoff is worth it. But you need to consider whether (a) it is efficient to delay X people by 1 minute to save Y people 10 minutes where Y is much, much less than X and (b) whether, efficiency aside, there is a fairness argument for why the Y people should get the service anyway.

  10. BrooklynBus says:

    If the goal of reopening the station is to reduce the load on the Queens Blvd Line, this project will be a big failure without a drastic lowering of the LIRR fare at this station so that is just slightly more expensive than the subway since the time differential is so small. Ben you are correct, few will pay an exhorbitant LIRR fare to save ten minutes. I’m sure there are better ways to spend this money like reopening many closed subway entrances.

    • al says:

      With subway line status online and widespread smartphone adoption, people who ride the M,R at Elmhurst Ave and Grand/Newtown have an option when the Queens Blvd conks out. There is also the alternative faster route to work when a parent is short on time, or the late for work commute. Think of it like a rail version of HOV-Toll lanes on highways.

      • BrooklynBus says:

        I agree, but as I said, it all depends on the fare differential.

      • mjp says:

        Subways run approximately every 5 minutes. The LIRR runs half-hourly. Even with the reduced travel time to Penn Station, the time savings is basically a wash if you are in a rush and have to leave immediately unless you catch the LIRR flush. Different fare structure means you have to carry LIRR tickets or take the time to buy a ticket from a machine.

        • If you’re really in a rush you can buy a ticket on the train. If the conductor even gets to you between Elmhurst and Penn.

          I agree that LIRR fare reform (e.g. making in-city LIRR equivalent to an express bus swipe) is necessary to make this station particularly useful. But LIRR fare reform needs to happen /anyway/, and can potentially happen on a shorter timescale than capital construction projects. If anything this station helps build the political constituency for it.

        • al says:

          We’re talking about rush hr, when existing service would bring 6-7 trains per hr. Expanded service after ESA (~2020) could add a few more trains. If they ever decide to use the Willets Pt station as another terminal, the service frequency would jump further.

          • Only if the trains actually stop there. Currently Flushing sees only six inbound trains between 07:00 and 10:00 (with one gap of over 45 minutes), even though another 10 trains pass through. A lot depends on whether LIRR can be persuaded to stop more trains at Queens stations.

            • sonicboy678 says:

              I’d say focus on building a third track for emergencies, work, and peak express trains. It would make more sense to have that beforehand, especially if ridership continues to increase.

              • lop says:

                Third track? You mean on the mainline? They have two and run peak express, they sacrifice reverse peak service to do it. Elmhurst and flushing are on the Port Washington branch, these trains don’t pass that segment of track. Track expansion on PW means adding a second track or at least sidings to store trains east of great neck, room for another train or two in port washington. You don’t need another track to stop more trains at flushing. Just schedule the existing trains to stop. Not necessarily worth it if you don’t lower prices first though.

                • sonicboy678 says:

                  While the Mainline does need a third track, I would say it wouldn’t be too bad if there’s also a third track between Woodside and Great Neck. It’s all about planning for emergencies, more prioritized peak express service, and possibly future benefits.

                  My main concern on that is where it would be placed.

  11. margaret fell says:

    Well, I can see that refurbishing an existing station makes some sense– and it wouldn’t only be Elmhurst residents who use the station; betcha Jackson Heights bourgeoisie will use it, too, since they have only the packed #7 to get to work in Manhattan right now. Still, I do rather think it makes far more sense to have a station at the 48th Avenue/ 70 Street triangle where the Pt. Wash- & Jamaica-bound tracks meet. I would suppose the northern Queens folks wouldn’t want another point at which the south Queens denizens can make their way north, but it is hard for N. Queens travelers to get to the LIRR mainline if they want to go out to LI points beyond the Pt. W line, especially to the south shore.

    • Tower18 says:

      Jackson Heights residents have the E, F, M, and R, in addition to the 7. I doubt anyone would walk to the LIRR instead. Not one person.

      Even at this exact spot in Elmhurst, you can do the M/R to E to Penn Station in 29 minutes. LIRR would likely be ~15 minutes. By the time you actually get out of the bowels of Penn Station, you’re talking 20 to maybe 22 minutes. Not sure how this station makes sense or is worth it for ANYONE.

    • anon_coward says:

      most times the E is so crowded at jackson heights you can’t even get into the train. F is like a lot of times as well. i’ve seen it so crowded you can’t even hold an ipad comfortably in front of you

      • lop says:

        Can’t comfortably hold an ipad? Is this the new crowding standard on the subway?

        • Matthias says:

          That applies to any reading material. Many times the Lex is so crowded I can’t read my magazine or newspaper unless I prop it on someone’s shoulder.

  12. Phillip Roncoroni says:

    Until the zone 1 to 3 LIRR fares are permanently reduced to the CityTicket fares, any LIRR travel within the scope of the subway is extremely unappealing. $7 to get from Flushing to Penn Station off-peak? Ridiculous.

    • anon_coward says:

      it’s $190 or so for a monthly pass with unlimited travel and a lot faster than taking the 7 which is delayed almost daily

      • Which is fine if you don’t mind paying nearly 70 percent more per month for your commute and have no plans to go literally anywhere else via bus or subway in New York City. The current (non-existent) inter-agency fare policy does not make this a good deal.

        • anon_coward says:

          honestly, the only time i even think of taking the bus is when i don’t have to drive any kids to daycare except mine and i don’t feel like losing a nice parking spot. even at rush hour the Q60 is not very full because it’s slow. the M23 is even slower and i mostly walk from 8th to 12th

          a lot of people in that area have cars so they only need to take the train into manhattan during the week

          • Bolwerk says:

            Glad it’s all about you. As usual.

            • anon_coward says:

              amazingly the forest hills LIRR station was crazy busy for the 8:12 train this morning. even better, i still have my ticket. it’s pretty busy for the trains between 8 and 9.

              if you work close to Penn and on 7th ave, it’s pretty awesome compared to the subway

        • Phillip Roncoroni says:

          The MTA should really structure the LIRR’s inner-city fare the way SFMUNI/BART does.

          An MUNI monthly (equivalent to NYCT) is $68. The MUNI monthly which includes SF city limits BART service is $80.

          http://sfmta.com/getting-aroun.....hly-passes

          • That works in SF in part because BART’s peak load is between West Oakland and Embarcadero, outside the city limits, and most SF city residents are riding in the opposite of BART’s suburban peak direction. Whereas Queens residents are directly competing with suburbanites for LIRR seats through the East River tunnels, making a reasonable fare structure more politically difficult (though still ultimately a good idea if you can manage it).

        • It’s expensive but still much less than drivers spend on transport per month. And of course less than the amount you save by living in Elmhurst rather than somewhere closer to Midtown.

  13. Shake says:

    I know, I know, riots about closing subway stations, but I really think that 18th St could be closed without problem, and it would probably improve service overall.

  14. patrick says:

    Where are your stats showing low service on LIRR stops next to subway stations?

    I used to take the LIRR from Forest Hills when I worked near Penn Station. It was amazing. Cushy seats and a 20 minute train journey compared to standing room only and frequently listening to teenagers music that they decided to blast for the entire train on the Queens Boulevard line. A few months ago, I took a job in lower Manhattan and gave up the LIRR commute because of the cost and because it would no longer save me the time it had previously. I hated my commute. (I recently moved to the UWS).

    At least 100 people would exit the station at Forest Hills during the evening – most likely as much if not more than at other LIRR stations. You may not get the traffic that you get on NYCT, but you’re comparing apples to oranges. NYCT’s ridership is miles above LIRR for any station.

    The addition of LIRR service to Elmhurst will benefit those middle and upper middle class who want have ridden the subway for years and would like a less chaotic commute. They’re willing to pay a little more for the convenience. Some may argue that we shouldn’t invest in this because it will benefit those who can afford to pay $200 a month for commuting, but I think it’s a worthy investment because it may encourage those living in the area who currently drive to work to commute via the LIRR and could deter other who are aging out of the transit system to defer driving to work.

    • AG says:

      Somewhat similar – I know someone in Mt. Vernon who goes to Co-Op city to take a Bronx express bus downtown rather than get on the Metro North – which is crowded with Connecticut and Upper Westchester riders. I asked them why? A few ppl they knew had made the switch… They all did it because there were seats on the bus.

    • Eric says:

      Every rider that switches from the Queens Ave subway to LIRR means one more rider who can fit on the Queens Ave subway. It doesn’t matter if the switchers are all upper class, because the Queens Ave riders benefit too.

  15. Jeremy says:

    If they’re looking at reopening closed stations, then I think a good case can be made for reopening the station at Center Moriches.

    • Peter says:

      That was the station closest to me when I was growing up. I was sad when it closed, but it wasn’t too far to Mastic-Shirley, which had more frequent service anyway.

      But yeah, reopening it would be cool.

      • Jeremy says:

        As a testament to the area though, I wouldn’t feel particularly comfortable parking my car at that station. Speonk definitely, Mastic-Shirley no.

        But yeah, the area is slowly growing, so I believe it’s definitely a feasible option.

  16. Rob says:

    IMO, main reason to take RR vs subway is NOT time savings, which might be zero unless you are going right to Penn or Woodside in this case, but COMFORT. For that reason, I chose the commuter rail when living in the City of Phila, and close-in DC suburbs.

    That said, I don’t understand why more people don’t see it that way; the few extra bucks/day won’t break a lot of people. Who have no problem spending on lots of other things [e.g. even parking in some cases].

    But I suppose that attitude explains why the airlines have found that operating buses in the sky is what people want.

  17. Dan says:

    Again, I really don’t think this is for Manhattan-bound commuters. They all know the M/R is already right there. Plus, the Port Washington Branch peak trains tend to be very full.

    This stop is more likely for people who need Bayside or Great Neck and obviously it will be far quicker and more reliable than the current bus from Flushing (plus the transfers at both Jackson Heights and Flushing). Capacity is plentiful too.

  18. marv says:

    Turn the Port Washington into a premium subway line (FRA free) using the capacity of the 63rd Street tunnel and Broadway.

    -Run 2-3 trains/hr east flushing (similar to the current schedule)
    -Run 4 trains/hr over new tracks from LGA down the flushing river joining the line east of the the tennis center station through to Manhattan
    -Run 4 trains/hr over these new tracks from LGA down the flushing river joining the line east of the the tennis center station to a Long Island City station linking and providing transfers to both Queensboro Plaza and Queens Plaza
    -Run 4 trains/hour over from JFK up a reactivated Rockaway line to the main line with new trackage to the merge with “Port Washington 63rd line”
    -Run 4 trains/hour from JFK terminating at the new Queensboro/Queensboro Plaza station.

    **You will have 11 (3+4+4)trains per hour joining the current 15 F trains through the 63rd Street tunnel.
    You will have a maximum load of the Port Washington tracks of 19 per hour.
    **JFK and LGA will both have trains every 7.5 minutes with every other one being a through train. The non through trains would still provide transfers to the E/R/M/N & 7 trains.
    **using a center platform Station there will be easy cross platform transfers between the JFK and LGA trains allowing easy travel between the Airports.
    **Current users of the Port Washington will not be affected and in fact would have the potential for increased trains while not having to switch in Manhattan for the subway.
    **Terminating the Triboro Rx at a new station where it meets the Port Washington line would provide numerous connections to Brooklyn, LGA, JFK, Flushing etc

    • sonicboy678 says:

      Right off the bat, you run right into the wall of impossibility.

    • Eric says:

      A LGA-Willets Point subway is one good idea.

      Turning the Port Washington branch into a subway (at least as far as Little Neck) is an independent idea. An efficient and fare-integrated LIRR would be a preferable to this, but if that won’t happen any time soon, then this might be a reasonably cheap way of relieving Queens Blvd.

      The LGA-Willets subway could connect to the Port Washington subway or the 7 – it doesn’t really matter.

      Reactivating the Rockaway line is another independent idea. It would be useful for serving certain neighborhoods in Queens, but not for JFK, since it would not be much more efficient than Airtrain+Jamaica, if at all.

      By the way, while rail to LGA is important, LGA-JFK rail is not. The number of people who need to make that connection is small (airports do not have THAT much traffic to begin with, and a lot of what they do have is airport workers rather than fliers, and most fliers don’t need to connect between airports). Also, there have been plans to demolish LGA and divert its traffic to JFK; this does not decrease the need for rail to LGA because the airport would be replaced by a high-density development, but it does mean there may not be any airport-airport connections in the future.

      • AG says:

        I agree with most of your points… but as to that plan to get rid of LGA… Yeah it sounds good – except there is no way JFK could absorb all those flights. This is the most congested airspace in the country… It is only second in the world to London… Unless 100k people are going to be relocated so JFK can expand – I doubt it will happen. Even diverting between Newark and JFK poses problems.

  19. AlexB says:

    It seems like bringing the Corona Station (@ 44th Ave & National St) back would serve more people than the Elmhurst Station. It’s near the 7, but not as redundant and would save riders more time.

    I agree with some of the other comments that the more important use for the Elmhurst Station will be to transfer between the Port Washington line and the Queens Blvd local subway (M & R trains). In the future, the frequency on the Port Washington line should continue to increase to approach subway level service. You should be able to go between Steinway or Queens Center Mall and Bayside or Murray Hill without a schedule.

    • Setecq says:

      The potential time savings are greater from Corona to Manhattan, but the middle- or upper-class fares? Definitely not in Corona. It’s also worth noting that Elmhurst specifically and the Queens Blvd corridor generally are in the process of pretty substantial residential development. Corona isn’t.

  20. Ed Unneland says:

    Would it work better to have a main line Rego Park station at Woodhaven Boulevard?

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