Home Metro-North Back to the drawing board for Metro-North’s West Side stop

Back to the drawing board for Metro-North’s West Side stop

by Benjamin Kabak

Nearly one year ago, I reported on Metro-North’s desire to build a station near Riverside Park on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. The station, eyed for 60th St. as part of Extell’s Riverside South development, would have provided for access into both Grand Central and Penn Station and could have served business, such as CBS, along the Far West Side and Lincoln Center.

While Metro-North is still looking to develop a stop on the West Side, the location at 60th St. is off the table, according to a report in The Journal-News. While the agency still plans to open a stop at 125th St. and Riverside, the authority the MTA no longer has the option to open a station at West 60th St. because development is too far along at the Extell site. Instead, the authority will explore sites at 72nd or 57th Sts. as alternate possibilities.

Metro-North Vice President of Planning Robert MacLagger spoke with Ken Valenti of the suburban-focused Journal-News to discuss the railroad’s plans, but right now, those at Metro-North seem divided over the focus of the station. MacLagger imagined Manhattan residents using the stop to commute to their jobs in Westchester, but Metro-North spokesperson Marjorie Anders believed that more suburban commuters would take the trains to their city jobs or evenings out in Manhattan.

Meanwhile, MTA reps and Extell developers have engaged in a bit of a back-and-forth over the death of the 60th St. project. MacLagger noted that the buildings were, in the words of Valentin, “built too close to the tracks to allow for a station to be built there. ” Those planning Riverside South disagree:

The Riverside South Planning Corp. worked first with Trump and more recently with the project’s current owners, Extell Development Co., to insure that the project complements the area. Paul Elston, chairman of the Riverside South Planning Corp., faulted Metro-North for missing the chance to request that accommodation be made for the station as Extell built over exposed tracks. “If they had acted two years ago, it would have been a slam-dunk,” he said.

Anders said Metro-North had told Elston two years ago that a site he pushed for, between 59th and 61st streets, wouldn’t work because the tracks curved too sharply. The Trump Organization did not respond to repeated requests for comment. An Extell spokeswoman did not return calls.

Jeffrey Zupan, the RPA’s senior fellow for transportation, questioned whether there would be enough demand for trains at the station. He expressed doubt that there would be the market for suburban-bound commuters that Metro-North expects. “There’s just not a lot of job concentration,” around the suburban stations, he said.

So what’s going on here? In a way, it sounds similar to typical MTA delays and in-fighting that have marred many of their expansion efforts. Extell had to move ahead with its construction at Riverside South while the MTA couldn’t come to terms on either a purpose or location for a West Side Metro-North station. Either way, the agency says it will select a site by the summer and begin the planning process. Some day, we’ll have Metro-North access along Manhattan’s West Side whether we need it or not.

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Steven Romalewski March 22, 2010 - 3:34 pm

For some visual context, here are some links to the 60th St area from OASISnyc. Of course, you can zoom in on the 57th Street and/or 72nd Street areas to see similar views. I had emailed these to the Journal-News reporter as well.

This link (http://bit.ly/aiu4iX) displays the land use patterns and current rail lines in the area of 59th Street to the low 60s.

This one (http://bit.ly/diVO3g shows major zoning (including commercial overlays), sites with restrictive/environmental designations, and schools.

Here are two before-and-after links:
– what the area looked like via aerial photos from 1996 and,
– the same view from 2008.

And, you can see a photorealistic image of the neighborhood circa 1609 (c/o the Mannahatta Project), comparing it with current property boundaries.

Hope these are helpful.

Marc Shepherd March 22, 2010 - 3:58 pm

The marginal cost of building those two stations would be relatively low, as they would be at grade level, and the tracks are already there.

The question is, who would use them? For a commuter rail station to be successful, it needs to have good connections to local transit. Penn Station, Grand Central, Flatbush Terminal, and Jamaica (the major NYC hubs) all have excellent connections. Harlem–125th Street is not so good (the walk to the 4/5/6 is a long block), although it will improve if SAS Phase II is ever built.

125th & Riverside is tolerably close to the 125th St. stop on the 1 train. Maybe it would be useful for people going to Columbia? Otherwise, it’s hard to see who would use it.

I don’t think it matters that they “lost” the 60th Street opportunity, as 57th Street would be just as good, and perhaps better. If they build the bus connections right, it would be fine for Lincoln Center, Columbus Circle, and upper midtown. But those connections would be key, as the walk to Columbus Circle would be intolerably long.

In contrast, I don’t see the point of putting it at 72nd Street.

Andrew March 22, 2010 - 10:46 pm

There’s plenty of residential and (further inland) commercial development by 72nd. And 72nd is much closer to the subway. (But that also means that a station at 72nd wouldn’t be as useful to area residents heading south.)

Alon Levy March 22, 2010 - 11:49 pm

Columbia is helpfully demolishing and rebuilding the area around 125th and Riverside. In addition, it has a large amount of retail in Fairway.

Plus, if SAS is ever extended as a crosstown 125th Street subway, it can terminate at the station to provide East Side connectivity.

Jerrold March 22, 2010 - 4:57 pm

HOW would there be some kind of connection between a station at Riverside Park and Grand Central?

Jonathan D. March 22, 2010 - 5:16 pm

There wouldn’t – these trains would go to Penn Station. Unfortunately, because our fine states won’t work together, the greatest idea EVER won’t happen. Imagine for a second if the two tunnel boring machines currently building the ESA were turned west after the job and run to NJ (Secaucus!). Wouldn’t it be lovely if all the trains in the area had access to everywhere else? This would also save billions in the cost of the ARC, but no one is willing to share.

Aaron March 22, 2010 - 5:00 pm

What MNR lines use the West Side? Don’t all East-of-Hudson trains converge into the Park Avenue line between the Bronx and Manhattan? I feel like I’m missing something here.

Jonathan D. March 22, 2010 - 5:14 pm

None right now. The Hudson Line trains can come across the Wye (currently used by Amtrak only) and into Penn Station. The idea is to used excess capacity in Penn once LIRR sends some trains to GC through the ESA, and/or excess capacity when NJT starts using their own station below Penn.

The part I’m missing is that everyone says the Penn slots are all taken, but the northern turning trains not going through the tunnel from Penn all leave from the low tracks (1-6 or so), and the tunnel trains almost never do. They can put the short(er) MNR trains behind NJT trains in this area, as Amtrak does, and call it a day. My understanding is that it’s all tunnel slots taken, not all platform space.

Aaron March 22, 2010 - 5:18 pm

I’ve taken that wye before on Amtrak when coming from Boston, over Hell Gate. It’s not a quick trip, you detour pretty far into Brooklyn/Queens as I recall. I’ve wondered before if it would be faster to transfer from Amtrak to an MNR train at New Rochelle. So trains would go from New Rochelle to NYP via Hell Gate and THEN continue north along the Hudson River to 57th/60th/72nd and 125th/Riverside? And there is a measurable demand for this bizarre service?

Jonathan D. March 22, 2010 - 6:07 pm

I think we’re talking about different wyes! Sorry. The Amtrak trains from NYC to points north and west (Adirondack, Maple Leaf, Lake Shore, etc) come north out of Penn Station and cross a bridge at the north side of Inwood Hill Park and then onto the CSX/Amtrak/MNR tracks in the bronx. It’s a pretty direct route. As of right now the trains turn and stay in the Bronx to stop at the various west side stations, Yankee’s stadium, etc.

JPN March 22, 2010 - 6:21 pm

I believe Jonathan is talking about the wye near the Spuyten Duyvil MNR station. The path via the Hell Gate you are talking about is used by MNR trains from the New Haven Line when there are games at Giants Stadium.

Through MNR train service, though, similar to through LIRR/NJT service at Penn Station is an interesting suggestion.

JPN March 22, 2010 - 6:23 pm

Sorry, I had a delay in writing my post and noticing the response. Should have refreshed!

Jonathan D. March 22, 2010 - 5:11 pm

So this hasn’t been brought up in the context of the whole MNR stops on the west side thing yet, but there are a number of reasons why having these (and other MNR stops – we’ll get there in a minute), would be wildly useful. For starters, the ability to run MNR trains into Penn is a huge huge deal and needs to happen ASAP. This changes the commute time for people around the Hudson lines significantly and positively. Let’s think a little bit more about transportation options. Let’s take this one step further and talk about access, capacity, and fares for a second though:

1.) The nearest Subway station to here is either 66th St on the 1, or Columbus Circle. Both of these are a half mile away. Having a stop here makes a huge difference in access to transportation.

2.) Bring back the 86th and 59th St stops under Park Avenue. The SAS is another 6 – 8 years from completion, and the Lex line is hammered. Why not bring back a pair of stations to get people to midtown that could be renovated and reopened within a year and at minimal cost? Why not have done this years ago?

3.) Build the planned Bronx and Queens stations for MNR now instead of after ESA. Even a few trains a day taking this route will help immensely with capacity.

3.) Extend the city ticket program to be all the time. All rides on Commuter rail inside city limits should be 3 dollars (or less! Maybe a subway fare!). This will promote the use of excess capacity in commuter rail, encourage people to live within city borders, and greatly expand the affordability and availability of transit options for a number of locations that are not currently well served by the subway/buses.

4.) Advertise the newly found availability of commuter rail to city residents. The MNR station at yankee stadium has incredibly low awareness. I know it’s something we all hold near and dear to our hearts here, but people are not up on this sort of information. They were shocked when the V started and the F switched. It takes time. It also takes in language advertising. You can’t build something in the bronx without advertising it extensively in Spanish.

5.) Extend the seemingly popular Riverdale/Sputyn Duvil (sp) shuttles to other MNR stops. The other bronx stops could benefit immensely, not just from the city ticket, but from better access to the stations at University Heights, and Morris Heights.

6.) One final crazy idea related to #5 above – Build the 168th St bridge and put an MNR stop between there and 181st as well. Add shuttle (from both bridges).

Marc Shepherd March 22, 2010 - 7:49 pm

The reason CityTicket is not offered full time is that the commuter trains on weekdays are already quite full as they approach the city. They generally do not have excess capacity, so there is no good reason to make them attractive alternatives to the subway.

The former 86th St and 59th St. stops cannot easily be brought back online. They lack full-length platforms, ticketing and/or waiting areas, street entrances, and so forth. You’re kidding yourself if you think all of that could be quickly and cheaply built within a year. Moreover, there are good reasons why those stations closed: they slow down operations into and out of Grand Central, and most trains at that point don’t have room to take on extra passengers anyway.

Alon Levy March 23, 2010 - 12:17 pm

What’s “Quite full”? The definitions of full for commuter and urban rail are not always the same. I usually don’t take New York-area commuter rail at peak hour, but when I do, it’s crowded like an off-peak subway train, not like a peak subway train. There’s ample standing room on those trains, and if you’re taking the train for only a short distance, you can stand.

Jonathan D. March 23, 2010 - 12:40 pm

Exactly. Additionally, while I suggest the fare could be equal to the subway, it could just as easily stay at 3.00 or 3.50. If the subway is then unbearable in that area, it’ll be worth the extra buck. These stations, if I recall correctly, were actually closed because of reconfigurations of the tunnel. Only 2 of the tracks stop here. Additionally, commuter rail frequently does not platform all cars. I don’t think the platforms need to be extended at all. You can just platform the 2-4 cars. This limits the ability of riders to get off at these stations, so you are correct, my assumption is that few trips are made into GC and then back north to 86/59th sts. Even if this assumption were not perfect, the people on the train are incredibly self selecting, and the people who might want to get off at these stations would quickly figure out how. If it only takes a year or two to completely renovate a subway station, there’s little difference here. While I agree the benefit would have been greater had it been done any time in the past, there’s no way they couldn’t reopen these stations before the SAS comes online.

SEAN March 22, 2010 - 5:57 pm

The Amtrak route that extends off the Hudson Line is the Empire line, not the Helgate line. The Empire line could occomidate future Hudson Line service to Penn Station. On the other hand, The helgate Line could have stations built in areas such as Co-op City in the Bronx for service to Penn station as well. Such plans I recall reading in the NY Times a year ago.

If I can find the artical I’ll post it here.

Also a station should be constructed in Queens on the Main Line for transfers between the LIRR & MNR trains comeing over the Helgate line.

SEAN March 22, 2010 - 6:04 pm

Here is the article.

MTA Metro-North Railroad Renews Study of Access to Pennsylvania Station
MTA Metro-North Railroad is streamlining its study of how best to provide direct train service from its New Haven and Hudson lines into Penn Station, New York via the east Bronx and Manhattan’s West Side.
An environmental review began a decade ago with the intent of developing a Draft Environmental Impact Statement for a “Preferred Alternative” pursuant to the National Environmental Protection Act. Through two screening processes, an initial list of 22 service alternatives was narrowed to four “Build” alternatives; two alternatives for Hudson Line service to Penn Station and two alternatives for New Haven Line service to Penn Station.
For each line, one alternative would have provided service in all time periods and included the construction of new stations in New York City in areas not currently served by regional rail service.
The second alternative involved providing service only during off-peak and weekend periods with no new stations. While still under consideration for implementation, the off-peak and weekend service alternatives will no longer be included in the federal environmental review. It was determined that the off-peak and weekend services, without new stations, could be implemented using existing equipment and infrastructure without the need for federal funding.
In consultation with the Federal Transit Administration, Metro-North has decided to progress both the full service Hudson and New Haven Line alternatives as one proposed “Build” alternative including: Hudson Line Service to Penn Station during all time periods via Amtrak’s Empire Connection with two new stations on Manhattan’s west side in the vicinity of West 125th and the Upper West Side; and New Haven Line Service to Penn Station during all time periods via the Hell Gate Line with three new stations in the eastern Bronx in the vicinity of Co-op City, Parkchester, and Hunts Point.
Analyses performed to date on this alternative reveal no significant impacts that cannot be mitigated. Therefore, Metro-North has decided to prepare an Environmental Assessment (EA), which is expected to be complete in 2011, rather than an EIS.
Metro-North’s EA will incorporate data now being gathered about the best long range uses of Penn Station by MTA Long Island Rail Road, New Jersey Transit, Amtrak, which owns the station, and MTA Metro-North Railroad.

E.S. March 22, 2010 - 9:26 pm

Having a station around 60th st in the Riverside South area would be a huge benefit to the area. There are what; 10-15 brand new high rises that were recently completed or in the pipeline. Right now the 2/3 is supporting all of them, after theyre all done and tens of thousands of people live in the area, having a straight shot to 42nd by MNR will be pretty nice.

Walter Sobchak March 23, 2010 - 1:07 pm

Well, it would be a straight shot to 34th, as this train would go to Penn Station, not GCT.

Edan May 26, 2010 - 1:53 pm

Extell has not yet built on the area between 59th & 61st Street. They have already planned what they will build. Their plans do not include the station. I assume with sufficient political pressure or carrots, they would modify their design to accommodate a station.

Moving the station to 57th St. would be much more difficult because that area is already built up. Buildings would have to be torn down to build such a station.

The curved tracks should not prevent a platform. There are several subway stations which have automated bridges which deal with such issues.
Given the current economic situation, the MTA and Extell would have sufficient time to update the plans to accommodate a station.

John June 11, 2010 - 7:58 pm

I wonder how many people would take the line down into Penn Station. It is 26 blocks south and about 5 crosstown blocks west. It couldn’t be much more expensive than taking a bus like the M11 down to 34th Street and then transferring to a crosstown bus, and would be a lot less time consuming.
The thing is that the far West Side doesn’t have a subway, which is part of the reason why the 1, 2, and 3 are more crowded than the B and C- because the 1, 2, and 3 are absorbing the crowds from the west. This would alleviate the crowding on the subway.
I don’t really think it is necessary to make the station into a transit hub. Marc Shepherd said that the sucessful commuter hubs like Jamaica, Grand Central, Penn Station, and Flatbush Avenue all have numerous subway connections. The whole point would really be for the people living right near the station. After all, a person taking a bus to the station would be coming from the east, and could just as easily take the subway. Obviously, some feeder services should come in, for the sake of reverse commuters out to Westchester, but otherwise, the station would be fine with a few bus connections.
I would be surprised if Extell doesn’t make a concession and allow the station to be built. It would increase the property values by having a train right into Midtown right next to the apartment houses. The station gets a ridership base and the people get an easier commute. It is a win-win.

Chris Swendsen January 5, 2013 - 8:59 pm

Though train service via Penn Station should also be discussed with New Jersey Transit and Amtrak’s other routes, once New Jersey Transits new dual powered catenary locomotives are proven reliable

All these railroads should have representatives meet to discuss this issue and come up with a plan and implement it.


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