Home MTA Construction Eying the next generation of MTA megaprojects

Eying the next generation of MTA megaprojects

by Benjamin Kabak

As hard as it is to believe, the current slate of MTA megaprojects are, by and large, operating at something akin to autopilot. While the authority still has to worry about construction timelines, budget caps and placating neighbors, the various expansion projects are generally well on their ways toward completion. Thus, it is never too early to talk about the far-off future.

Over the past few months, it’s become clear that, despite some concerns about timeframes and budget figures, the MTA has its projects under control. The 7 line is on pace to open in late 2013, and the Fulton Street Transit Center, after years of delays and a lack of leadership, is set for a 2014 debut. The authority is making progress underneath Second Ave. and continues to stress a 2016 revenue service date. The East Side Access Project’s timeline remains in limbo, but Capital Construction should be coming back with an update within the next few weeks.

So what’s next? We don’t know where the money will come from, but the MTA can’t stop expanding its system. There are too many worthwhile projects that have been years or decades in the making. As the MTA is no longer planning its current slate of projects, the authority could begin to look toward its next round of so-called megaprojects. As I see it, the authority could have four projects ready to go pretty quickly.

1. Second Ave. Subway Phase 2: As far as I’m concerned, this is a no-brainer. While Phase 1 of SAS is supposed to carry 200,000 passengers daily, for the line to be worthwhile, it must fulfill its full potential. Phases 3 and 4, through midtown, will be costly and tricky; after all, Michael Horodniceanu recently guessed the total price tag on the remaining sections to be over $23 billion. But Phase 2 should be the easiest. Much of the tunneling has been completed, and this Phase offers the promise of a connection to the Lexington Ave. IRT at 125th St. Furthermore, it allows the MTA the option to build north or west at a future date.

2. Reactivation of the Staten Island North Shore Rail: Restoring rail to Staten Island’s North Shore has been in the works for some time. At the behest of local politicians, the MTA has been hosted planning open houses for a few years, and they have developed a fairly extensive North Shore Alternatives Analysis website. The city’s Economic Development Corporation appears to be on board, and the authority issued a study last year focusing on the various transit possibilities.

3. Metro-North Access to Penn Station: Again, this is another project that has been percolating within the MTA for some time now, and it is largely dependent upon the East Side Access Project. Once ESA is completed, the MTA could bring some Metro-North trains into Penn Station to provide better access to both sides of Manhattan for residents from Westchester. In fact, this plan first popped up in the early 2000s, and the MTA revived discussions this past fall. The authority plans to release an environmental assessment in 2013 and has up a project website. For some reason, Long Island politicians and residents aren’t yet on board though.

4. Third-Tracking the LIRR Mainline: In 2005, the MTA to began to discuss plans to improve service along the LIRR Mainline, and those plans included a highly controversial third track. Long Island politicians and transit advocates feel that this is an entirely project that will help the LIRR adapt to a planned jump in ridership that a completed ESA will bring. Yet, NIMBYs along the route have long spoken out against it. Four years ago, some LI representatives stressed how this project would happen, but it’ll take a battle to see this one through.

These aren’t particularly out-of-the-box ideas for the MTA’s next big expansion push, but reading the tea leaves here is not challenging. The authority appears to have its sites set on these projects, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them become the focus of MTA Capital Construction as its current works wind down over the next few years. The key to all of them however will be the costs. The authority must figure out a way to get construction costs down to reasonable levels or else these projects won’t move from beyond the drawing board.

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Alex C February 24, 2012 - 12:09 am

For #4 I think there’s a chance Nassau County politicians might turn against it. NICE’s new service plans include two new express routes they hope will compete with reverse-peak LIRR service (which isn’t very good). If the express service is a success, Nassau will push to stop a 3rd track to appease NIMBY’s/get votes and to ensure their private bus service rakes in the fare cash.

Frank B. February 24, 2012 - 12:44 am

NICE isn’t even two months old, and they’re already slicing and dicing Nassau routes.

$100 dollars that within 5 years, they’ll be ripping off the ‘NICE’ logos to get to the MTA Bullets underneath… Nassau may be full of people who can’t follow logic (Privatization + ???? = Profit!) but eventually they’ll realize that they need adequate transportation services more than ever (since the suburbs nationwide are slowly becoming the new slums; as they always were in countries like France) and come crawling back to the MTA, pleading to pay that pittance of an increase in county contributions to restore bus service.

I think it would be one of the final nails in the coffin for Nassau county in its long, slow death if Nassau politicians decide to fight the third track. A bus is not a train. Period.

Alex C February 24, 2012 - 1:50 am

Agree 100%, but you know they’ll keep slamming their heads against the proverbial wall just to show us all how smart they are. I do agree that the MTA will eventually probably be welcomed back, and with Suffolk to join. Suffolk lobbied to have the MTA operate their buses back in 2009, but I’m not sure why that never materialized.

Now, as for a return of the MTA, I’d be a jerk on this if I was the MTA. To get the MTA back, Nassau should: a) reimburse the MTA for the freeby bus service they got in 2011 and b) pay their damn fair share as far as their monetary contribution to the bus service.

Scott E February 24, 2012 - 9:49 am

LIRR trains are among the longest passenger trains in the nation (up to 14 cars!), and many of the passengers are well-to-do stockbrokers and in other affluent professions. No way are they taking a bus to transfer at Jamaica, because of capacity, convenience, and pride.

But I thought the third-track project was officially dead and gone.

Benjamin Kabak February 24, 2012 - 9:52 am

But I thought the third-track project was officially dead and gone.

Officially is a bit of a strong word, I’d say. It’s apparently dead right now, but that doesn’t mean it can’t come back. Same with a train to Laguardia, right? It can come back.

Marc Shepherd February 24, 2012 - 12:17 pm

What exactly is the NIMBY objection to the third track. I can somewhat understand (while not sharing) the objection in places that do not already have operational railroad tracks. But where two tracks already exist, why would they mind a third?

al February 24, 2012 - 1:13 pm

Signal modernization and building offline stations might do the trick too. You can time the trains so that the locals will be off in the offline stations segments while express trains zip by on the Through tracks. Its a electronics and organization solution to increasing capacity.

_________/————-|| Station ||————-\__________ +++++++++//======================\\ offline station tracks =========================================== Through tracks

If that doesn’t yield the same cost benefit ration, then retrofit one existing segment temporarily (3 months) to demonstrate modern ROW noise abatement. They can be very effective, and you can disguise sound absorbing walls as evergreen shrubs or with vines.

Alex C February 24, 2012 - 2:07 pm

Remember, they’re NIMBYs so they oppose anything and everything unconditionally. Even things that would bring them benefits are opposed on the principle of NIMBY. They prefer to ignore the fact that the railroad has been there for over a century.

Chris February 24, 2012 - 2:47 pm

(1) Disruptive construction, (2) as I understand it there will be increased service. Obviously if you don’t like the trains going by, you won’t be happy about more trains.

Eric F February 24, 2012 - 3:49 pm

The objections are to the takings that will change streetscapes near stations, which are some of the most built up and charming areas of the affected towns, and, I’d imagine, putting train noise and vibrations incrementally closer to houses. Construction activity probably doesn’t help either.

If I had to guess, I doubt that the closer-in towns that get the detriments of the project won’t really see much increased service, as the extra track is more of a passing lane for through trains. It’d be the equivalent of condemning some land by the L.I.E. to add express lanes that would bypass the affected area. Look, there are very real negatives to the project for affected towns. My personal view is that the project is worth it. The state should provide lots of funds for property buyouts and for streetscape improvements (I bet they would in fact do this anyway), and get on with it. Unfortunately, if you actually want to get something done you need to just do it and stop trying to make everybody happy. And, you’re right, the irony is that these towns exist because of and owe their property values in part to the LIRR’s presence.

marvin February 24, 2012 - 4:20 pm

The LIRR main line is a potential route for NE corridor high speed rail. It should be connected to New England via a Long Island Sound bridge or tunnel(and onto Boston). The line from Hickville through Jamaica (and into Brooklyn) is as straight as an arrow and is better than hilly/inlet abound CT for transportation. (This was the original purtpose of the LIRR and the topography and hills have not changed.)The mainline is well connected to JFK Airport (via the airtrain) and could would be easily connected to LaGuadia. Jamaica Station through which it passes is most likely one of the most important transportation hubs in the country.

The issue should not be whether to 3 track it, but rather how to 4 track it and provide for a tunnel to Ct. This could provide real two service to the local communities, through routings, and an effective freight connections. Long Island could finally move past it’s unhealthy dependance on the long Island Expressway funneling all traffic for headed anywhere else in the country through Queens/NYC.

If I lived near the tracks I would not be happy with these ideas. Those living but blocks away, as well as the rest of Long Island would win as they would see an economic shot (and increased economic activity/property values/tax collections) as well as greatly enhanced transportation options. Those barring the brunt of such improvements should be compensated to say nothing of discounted fares for 10-15 years for those who can prove that they lived within 4 blocks of the tracks prior to the expansion.

If the MTA focuses on cosmetic improvements, we may wind up with a pretty dying region. Bold initives can help maintain and grow this region.

Frank B. February 24, 2012 - 11:07 pm

I very much agree with that plan; no offense to Connecticut, but its one of the “lesser” states along the northeast corridor. (Think Delaware.) While Stamford and New Haven are “cute” cities, it’s the heavy bruisers like Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and D.C. that are worth stopping in.

Frank B. February 24, 2012 - 11:08 pm

I very much agree with that plan; no offense to Connecticut, but its one of the “lesser” states along the northeast corridor. (Think Delaware.) While Stamford and New Haven are “cute” cities, it’s the heavy bruisers like Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and D.C. that are worth stopping in.

However, if we can’t even finish a half-built 2 mile-long tunnel to Staten Island, I’m afraid I just don’t see how we can realize this HSR dream.

But a man can dream…

Alon Levy February 25, 2012 - 5:15 am

The LIRR Main Line is only a candidate because a bad plan proposed it. If it’s four-tracked, it should still be used exclusively for commuter trains, and maybe low-speed intercity trains providing one-seat rides from the NEC to Jamaica, Hicksville, and Ronkonkoma. See further explanation here. Connecticut may be a minor state, but Long Island is equally a minor region.

Bolwerk February 25, 2012 - 1:10 pm

Some people on m.t.r.a seemed to have a stiffy for using a tunnel from the eastern end of LI to Rhode Island to bypass Connecticut. It’s pretty close to a good idea, since the ROW is straighter and the NIMBYs aren’t quite as bad.

Alon Levy February 27, 2012 - 2:10 am

The LIRR Main Line is straight, but still has a few bad curves and flat junctions. On top of it, the area is built-up fairly densely by suburban standards as far east as the Nassau/Suffolk county line. You’re not getting full speed there – too many legitimate noise and commuter train capacity issues as well as NIMBYism. Do not forget, there’s more traffic on the LIRR Main Line than on the New Haven Line. It’s good for 200 km/h, but the same is true of the New Haven Line with some curve modifications and 1-2 short tunnels, much easier than tens of kilometers of underwater tunneling.

JimD February 25, 2012 - 2:28 pm

NICE isn’t even two months old, and they’re already slicing and dicing Nassau routes.

One doesn’t have to defend Ed Mangano’s shameful lack of support for his county’s bus system to recognize that Veolia is actually showing some much-needed thought and creativity in attempting to redirect resources from routes with little ridership to the busiest parts of the Long Island bus system that have been starved for years. Contrast this to the MTA’s 2010 ‘solution’ of simply axing routes and leaving large swaths of the system without any bus service at all.

JimD February 25, 2012 - 2:32 pm

Correction – I meant to note that they are proposing to reduce service and/or reconfigure routes, but leave almost every area currently served with some level of service.

Frank B. February 24, 2012 - 1:03 am

I’m particularly excited for the Staten Island North Shore Rail the most. Here’s hoping that if it’s light rail, it will one day head over the Bayonne Bridge, and if its heavy rail, it will one day cross the Narrows. Staten Island deserves better transit. If there’s a tunnel to Secaucus, over a Staten Island Tunnel, I’ll be quite upset.

I’m also very excited for Phase II of the IND Second Avenue Line since it will most likely be built, and it won’t take very long. Hopefully, since the only the stations have to be dug, it will be an quick task. The largest challenge lies in building the transfer station with the IRT Lexington Avenue line; this portion will be the most difficult of the entire second phase, but will provide the most utility out of the entire four phases.

Overall, if both projects are operational by 2020, I’ll be pretty satisfied. 😀

Chet February 24, 2012 - 6:00 am

What I would like to see with a North Shore line would be for the western end to go ove a new Goethals Brudge and hook up with NJ Transit trains.

A Bayonne Bridge crossing should be for a West Shore Line going down to Tottenville.

Frank B. February 24, 2012 - 11:27 pm

Amen Chet! I’ve been saying that for years now, except that we already have a working, underused rail bridge… in fact, Staten Island is home to the longest vertical-lift bridge in the world, believe it or not. (It was also home to the longest steel-arch and suspension bridges at one point as well; the Bayonne and Verrazano, respectively.)

We’ve already got the track connections over the (FUNCTIONAL) Arthur Kill Bridge; it would take less than a year to rebuild a single track from the St. George to the bridge; the tracks already link up to the national rail system, and intersect with the Northeast Corridor, and the now disused Richmond County Ballpark Station can serve as its platform.

Virtually no new construction; reinforcing of old elevated tracks and viaducts; re-building of the tracks that washed away into the sea.

For comparison, Elizabeth to Pennsylvania takes about 30 minutes; the NJ Transit Staten Island Line would connect approximately there, using a rebuilt flying junction. So St. George-Pennsylvania Station service could potentially take only 45 minutes.

Run it as a joint MTA/NJ Transit operation, like Port Jervis. Charge $7.00, slightly more than an express bus.

The amazing thing is, the infrastructure is largely already in place; largely active, and this could’ve been accomplished years ago without too much of an effort.

JoshK February 24, 2012 - 1:22 am

I think that all of these are very worthy projects, but there are a few things that also must be considered priorities:
1) SAS phase 2 should be extended along 125th St all the way west to the IRT Broadway line. This would provide a much needed northern crosstown line.

2) Full commuter rail across the replacement Tappan Zee Bridge. No wider bridge will ever allieviate congestion without a real mass transit option.

3) Extend the #7 to LaGuardia Airport. While the #7 line does have its idiosyncrocies, having a line that directly connects LaGuardia, Grand Central Terminal and Times Square is a no-brainer.

4) The TriBoro line, connecting Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx together, using existing rail right of way.

Hank February 24, 2012 - 3:03 am

i like the ideas and the priorities, though I will make on point. The most expensive part of SAS Phase II will be the tunnel that will have to bored from 115 to 125. However, if you’re going to TBMing, would make a lot of sense to drill it all the way to Broadway.

That being said, I still think it best for phase II to be done in two steps. The first (and cheapest) steps would be to build the stations at 105 an 115, connecting phase I up there with the existing tunnels. This will keep momentum on the project at a time of leaner budgets. Then build an expanded phase II that covers all 125 (or build phase III, which I think would do more to expand subway access to areas with no current service, unlike 125th)

Nyland8 February 24, 2012 - 6:56 am

I, too, am inclined to agree with much of this. The ChimpanZee replacement should include a rail corridor – and the time to fight for that is NOW. Regarding service to LaGuardia, I’d rather see that handled by another subway – say from Ditmars Blvd/Astoria. The SAS across 125th to B’way makes perfect sense. The “Triboro” line amounts to, in essence, an inner beltway – and the train that comes to mind for that role is the “G” train. It’s the only one, save some shuttles, that doesn’t go into Manhattan. Extending it to sections of the Bronx would make sense.

Alex C February 24, 2012 - 1:54 am

1) SAS Phase 2.
2) TriBoro line.
3) Rockaway branch reactivation. I don’t even care how they do it at this point.
4) Tappan Zee Bridge. Immensely important. They absolutely cannot rebuild it as just another extra wide highway bridge. MUST have commuter rail.

Anon256 February 24, 2012 - 3:36 am

The Tappan Zee Bridge To Nowhere should not be rebuilt at all. There’s nothing wrong with the current bridge that decreasing capacity by a lane or two wouldn’t fix.

Nyland8 February 24, 2012 - 7:02 am


Nyland8 February 24, 2012 - 6:34 am

Allow me to spitball a few.

Starting backward, from last to first, I cannot comment on number 4. Hey . . . that was easy.

Regarding number 3, I used to work on the Empire corridor and it is terribly underutilized. It’s also relatively isolated, so there should be no objections whatsoever from NIMBYs for the increased traffic – in fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if nobody even noticed a Metro North presence there. The idea brings greater balance to the overall system and should be as close to a no-brainer as we can get. Long Island politicians have to take their heads out of their asses on this one, and frankly, they shouldn’t even have a say in it. They are getting their skyscraper under GCT. They can give up a little room at Penn for the MN Hudson Line.

Regarding number 2, I just can’t help thinking that the shortest distance to finally connecting Staten Island to Manhattan via commuter rail service is for the MTA to subsume the PATH system. If the North Shore corridor is reopened – and it SHOULD be – and PATH extends two stations further south to Newark Airport – and it WILL be – then it doesn’t take Ferdinand Magellan to read a map and see that a land bridge connection across the Arthur Kill, and using existing ROW to Elizabeth, will cost a tenth as much as a tunnel across the Narrows. And even if money were made available to tunnel the R train to SI, the two systems are incompatible. But the PATH and the SIRR both run under modified FRA regulations and are a closer fit. So with much less time, money and effort a person could eventually get on a train in Staten Island and get off at WTC or Herald Square. Imagine a one-seat ride from Tottenville to Midtown !?!?! Running the SIR/PATH train as a C Division would bring that horizon into focus. And the Port Authority certainly does not need to run a commuter rail.

Regarding number 1, at least a few issues do stand out. At the northern end, it DOES make perfect sense for the SAS to extend crosstown to Broadway. But realistically, it would require TBM work and tunnel mining exclusively, because there’s simply no way to cut-and-cover across 125th Street. In an ideal world, the TBM(s) would start in Manhattanville where Columbia University is already breaking ground, and work their way eastward toward their eventual connection with the SAS. Since they stand the most to gain, make Columbia pay for the TBM borehole, the vent, the runout tunnel (this COULD be cut-and-cover, if it’s done now!) and the station connection to the 1 line. Some alumni can write that check.

At the southern end, how’s this for a creative financing idea? Allow developers to expand Governors Island with whatever rock is extracted from tunneling north, at least to Fulton Street, and east through Red Hook, across the Gowanus and over to the 4th Avenue line. Calculate what it would cost in NYC real estate to own 20-30 acres of land only one subway stop from the financial district. They could build luxury condos with Statue of Liberty views, harbor sunsets and a marina for yachts. The ultimate gated community with a moat the size of New York Harbor! What would that be worth? The developers would pay for the tunneling in exchange for the most prime real estate in the country! And in exchange for that, New Yorkers would get the “T” train extended from Prospect and 4th Ave. in Brooklyn all the way up to … Chatham Square ??

Naturally, the current 172 acres of park and historic landmark sites would remain owned by the city, and administered as public space. But now there’d be a subway stop right in the middle of it, just south of Division Road between Enright and Gresham Rds. Like any other park, Governors Island would be opened year round and not require a ferry ride – a great leap forward, especially with intentions to make parts of it a city campus. Red Hook would finally get their subway station, and quit harping on notions of trolley cars to downtown Brooklyn. And with such a huge chunk of the SAS already bored, future funding down from midtown would all but be assured.

Rather than taxpayers paying forever for ferries to Governors Island, make Governors Island pay for its own subway station – with the ultimate real estate swap. There’s plenty of room in that harbor.

Chet February 24, 2012 - 2:53 pm

Love it!

For all the times I’ve stared at Google Maps, I never realized how close the PATH train is to Newark Airport.

Woody February 24, 2012 - 10:46 pm

Excess and surplus excavated rock from any new tunnels should not be wasted.

Maybe it could be used to expand Governor’s Island, OK by me, but watch out for the environmental issues. The West Side Highway, to be partly on landfill, was stopped 30 years ago because some fish like to lay their eggs in the shallow water near the Manhattan shore. I suspect that concern, or similar, would stop you from using landfill to expand Governor’s Island.

Instead, we should be looking at using the excavated material to raise a dike around Manhattan, to protect against the next big storm and the rising sea level.

Srsly. The roads that loop around lower Manhattan should be raised 8 or 10 feet. That’s the tail end of the FDR Drive and West Street. Sorry. I know that would impede the water view from downtown streets. Maybe those should all be raised a few more feet whenever opportunity (major new buildings and street rebuilding) arises.

Without a dike we’ll see many subway tunnels flooded with sea water when we eventually get hit by the perfect storm.

Nathanael March 1, 2012 - 6:18 pm

The Manhattan and Brooklyn Seawalls should definitely be top priorities.

Queens is gonna be a lot harder. And New Jersey… oy. Live west of the Palisades, is all I have to say.

tds February 24, 2012 - 7:29 am

Does anyone know if the MTA has ever considered adding a CPW stop for the 2/3 at 103rd street with a connection to the B/C/A/D? From the station maps it looks like the 2/3 tunnels intersect with the B/C line right at that station. It might help with overcrowding on the 1/2/3 from 34-96th too.

Nyland8 February 24, 2012 - 9:26 am

Good idea. They certainly seem close enough (the street vents pop up at 104th and Central Park West) and one wouldn’t even have to build another street ingress/egress (read: “no NIMBY objections to giving up precious sidewalk space”) Just connect them underground with people movers or pedestrian tunnels. Also, the distance between 96th/B’way and 110th/Malcolm X is not too short to add a station in between … the Broadway line already has one.

Joe Steindam February 24, 2012 - 9:26 am

It might help with overcrowding, but only in the sense that it provides a direct transfer between the 2/3 and the 8th Ave line (right now only made with the 1 at 59th Street). Otherwise, the trip from 103rd to 42nd is longer with the B/C local than it is with 2/3 express. The 2/3 makes reaches 42nd street in 3 stops; the C takes 7, the B 8 stops. I don’t know if many would make the transfer if they’re heading further south than 59th Street.

Also, this is near the part of the island where Manhattan geology goes haywire, I don’t know the relative depth of the IRT vs the IND at that point.

AlexB February 24, 2012 - 11:16 am

It was planned for a future stop at CPW if desired, but there was never a big push for it I don’t think.

marvin February 24, 2012 - 7:57 am

The #7 should be extended to the tip of Manhattan and then under the Hudson through a doubledecked tunnel (like 63rd street). The 7 should then head south to and over the (raised) Bayonne Bridge to connect with the SIRR.

The other level of the Hudson tunnel should be used for commuter rail running from NJ out to Jamaica via Atlantic Avenue.

This combined project would address many of the regions transit needs.

Nyland8 February 24, 2012 - 9:09 am

The 7 is an “A” division train … whereas I think the SIR runs modified R44s … which means that it’s 9″ wider than the cars running on the 7 line. It would be a lot of tunneling and bridging, and after all that work, it would still never “connect”.

Russell February 24, 2012 - 9:47 am

It would be far less expensive (but still extremely expensive) to extend the 1 to Staten Island, possibly via Red Hook.

As for the difference in loading gauges between the A Division and the SIRR, widening the platforms is relatively inexpensive compared to the entire cost getting the subway to Staten Island.

Larry Littlefield February 24, 2012 - 8:30 am

Think global, and don’t call these megaprojects.

Call them minor expansions.

MetroNorth to Penn is a matter of different rolling stock on the Harlem Line, which Conneciticut has already bought, and installing third rail on the Hudson Line down the West Side.

Phase II of the SAS is three stations in a system with something like 450. You forgot to mention an important benefit — redundancy, in case deferred maintenance causes service on the Lex to collapse.

Adding a third track in the suburbs? Only the NIMBYs make it a big deal.

Marc Shepherd February 24, 2012 - 9:19 am

SAS Phase 2 and North Shore re-activation are very large projects by NYC standards. I am not sure about the LIRR third track, as I haven’t studied it much.

MetroNorth to Penn, I agree, is a fairly small project on its own, but it becomes a larger one if you add stations (as they would most likely do).

Christopher February 24, 2012 - 10:45 am

But the problem is symantics. They might be very larger projects by New York standards, but people latch on to things like “megaprojects” and that word alone is scary. You have to be able to change the dialogue and using words that don’t scare people is helpful. A “much needed 3 station extension” is preferable to a “Second Avenue Phase II Megaproject”.

Larry Littlefield February 24, 2012 - 11:01 am

Right. Not only that, but people think the “Megaprojects” are driving the MTA debt. Ongoing normal replacement is driving the MTA debt.

al February 24, 2012 - 1:31 pm

North Shore might end up being much more expensive. The reemergence of the marine borer worm (that eat wooden piles) may have compromised some of the older bulkheads. They might need to reconstruct them.

Additionally, how well did the MTA maintain the overpasses and viaducts to the west? Passenger service ceased in the 1950’s. Freight service dropped sharply as shippers and manufacturers moved from break bulk to shipping containers and trucks. It was even eliminated between 1991 and 2007.

Alon Levy February 25, 2012 - 5:20 am

Marc, how much do you think stations cost?

Guess a number, and then look here for an example of the order of magnitude in question. Yes, it involves shorter platforms, but still with level boarding (to lower-floor trains – it looks like 2.5′ instead of the NEC’s 4′), and the amenities you’d expect of any minor station.

BrooklynBus February 24, 2012 - 11:18 am

Agree these are not megaprojects except in terms of dollars spent. A mega project is a new subway line or major extension.

Also, last I read, the MTA and Scott Stringer who wants to be the next Mayor are leaning to Select Bus to replace Staten Island’s North Shore Line, not light rail. I woud not call that a reactivation of the North Shore Rail line.

Benjamin Kabak February 24, 2012 - 11:20 am

Scott Stringer has absolutely nothing to do with the SI North Shore Alternatives Analysis right now. And where did you read that? The last public statements focused around the following order of preference:

1. Heavy rail
2. Light rail
3. Dedicated bus lanes

ajedrez February 24, 2012 - 10:41 pm

When I went to the meeting, it seemed as if they put light rail before heavy rail. As I said before, it would be a mistake, and heavy rail should definitely go along the corridor.

Bolwerk February 25, 2012 - 2:03 pm

Unless it’s going to connect to the rest of the subway system, why would heavy rail be preferable? SI of all places could use an effective rail transportation system, and light LRT seems like an affordable way to provide one.

Alon Levy February 27, 2012 - 2:19 am

Because heavy rail is compatible with the SIR, for easier maintenance and spare sharing, and with the subway, for easier rolling stock procurement. The infrastructure should be at-grade rail with gated crossings, like on some LIRR lines and on the subway and the SIR in the early 20th century, but the technology should be subway- and SIR-compatible.

Bolwerk February 27, 2012 - 9:07 am

I agree those features are great, but so is being able to cheaply build new ROWs. On a per-station basis, LRT means nearly the cheapest electrified ROWs out there, capacity approaching a moderately used subway line’s usage, easy extensions, and low compliance costs (e.g., cheap level boarding). I just don’t see the North Shore needing subway levels of capacity.

Alon Levy February 28, 2012 - 4:18 am

You’re confusing technology with infrastructure again. The ROW construction costs are the same – neither option should be grade-separated – so the main question is station construction costs. And those are pretty low. Yes, it’s more expensive to build high platforms than low platforms, but the order of magnitude in question is still much lower than the cost of building out the line in the first place.

Bolwerk February 28, 2012 - 11:43 am

I’m not confusing them (again?). If we never integrate with New Jersey, and never want to integrate with more than the current SIRT line, then I agree with you.

However, I can’t help but look a step or two down the road. LRT becomes a tremendous money saver if ever you want to, say, turn down Richmond Avenue on an SBS-style lane to get to the SI mall – or – the horror! – integrate with HBLR. High level platforms aren’t an option on the street level without grade separation, afterall. And call me crazy, but I don’t think there will ever be a need for an internal heavy rail network in Staten Island.

Alon Levy February 28, 2012 - 3:25 pm

Ah. Yes, you’re right, integration with HBLR requires light rail, and so does running in tram-train mode to the SI Mall. The question then is whether it would be better than to integrate with the SIR. I think not, but then again I also think the city should be looking into a cross-harbor tunnel from St. George to Lower Manhattan, carrying SIR and North Shore trains.

Bolwerk February 25, 2012 - 2:02 pm

Well, if he is angling to be the next mayor and has a shot at winning…right now is less important than after Jan. 1, 2014. I would guess a mayor has enough influence to pull a Cuomo and reverse course on transit in a way that goes both against public interest and friggin’ logic.

Still, Stringer doesn’t seem to have the hostility to sane transportation policy that Cuomo has or Anthony Weiner had.

Nathanael March 1, 2012 - 6:19 pm

It would be better to install standard overhead catenary on the Empire Connection rather than Metro-North third rail (which is a world-unique system). The line is going to be wanted for electric trains to Albany, eventually.

nbluth February 24, 2012 - 9:25 am

Speaking as a non-New Yorker, why isn’t there more interest in connecting Grand Central with Penn Station? It would be expensive for sure, but it seems such a sort distance and allowing through running as well as eventually combining all three commuter rail systems seems like it lead to much more reliable service.

Joe Steindam February 24, 2012 - 9:36 am

IIRC, there were various proposals coupled into the ARC studies that looked into connecting Penn to Grand Central. The cost of beneath expensive real estate was likely a stumbling block.

There’s also the issue of how it connects in to Grand Central: the station is a terminal, the tracks all end and they end at level with both the main and lower concourse. Any attempts to extend the tracks south of the station house would require significant reconstruction of the tracks and likely destruction of the lower concourse, which is a tough bill in a landmarked building. Extending south from the ESA terminal beneath Grand Central might be an option, but that station is nearly 200 feet beneath Manhattan, and I don’t know if it was ever considered.

Larry Littlefield February 24, 2012 - 11:03 am

Moreover, you are talking about three railroads with three different power systems, paid for by three different states two of which are out to drain the poorer third (New York) which may be catching on.

Tsuyoshi February 24, 2012 - 5:03 pm

2010 GDP
New York: $1.2 trillion
New Jersey: $487 million
Connecticut: $237 million

How is New York poorer?

Bolwerk February 24, 2012 - 6:40 pm

Per capita?

ajedrez February 24, 2012 - 10:50 pm

I just did the division. Connecticut is the wealthiest, followed by NY, followed by NJ.

* For NY, it comes out to $61,925
* For CT, it comes out to $66,310
* For NJ, it comes out to $55,392

The population data is available here: http://projects.nytimes.com/census/2010/map?hp

Bolwerk February 25, 2012 - 2:11 pm

Interesting, I would have expected NJ to have a higher GSP. But given the degree of interstate commerce, GSP is a kind of misleading measure here. If you live in New Jersey and work in NYC, your economic efforts are part of the New York economy. Your income still comes home to New Jersey. So by some measures, New Jersey might still be richer, depending how you define “wealthy.”

Ed February 24, 2012 - 11:16 am

Could something be done with the 7? Or with Penn Station?

The 7 already connects Grand Central with Times Square, and is being extended further east and south on the West Side. Amtrak is supposed to move from its current location in Penn Station one block east across 8th Avenue. Where to expand the 7 and what to do with Penn Station are recurring topics in this blog.

Could the 7 loop around and come back west towards Penn Station along 34th Street? Or part/ all of Penn Station be moved further west, meeting the 7? I recall one of the main objections to any relocation of Penn Station here was losing its subway access, though living on the East Side I have never found the subway access to Penn that great.

Walter February 24, 2012 - 1:32 pm

The tracks at Grand Central are pretty constrained; remember they end at about 44th Street, and it’s getting south of there that is the problem. The main and lower concourses already block most of the tracks. But to extend the yard tracks to the east of the GCT platforms you’ve got the Murray Hill Tunnel with the Lex under it, you’ve got the Shuttle and it’s track connection to the Lex, and the 7 under all that. I think the only GCT track that could possibly be extended south (other than ESA) is the stub remnant of the old Lower Level loop.

Even if you get south of Grand Central, to go west to Penn there’s a whole mess to deal with, including (correct me if I’m wrong) Water Tunnel 1.

Alon Levy February 25, 2012 - 5:24 am

Water Tunnel 1 is extremely deep-level. Shallow tunnels (i.e. ARC Alt G) would pass far above it; it’s deep tunnels (i.e. an onward connection from ARC Alt P to ESA) that would require shoring up the tunnel.

Although you’re right that Penn-GCT is a difficult project relative to the length, it’s still a short tunnel without stations. GCT wouldn’t ever need more than 4 tracks connecting to this tunnel, and neither would Penn. Taking any 4 lower-level tracks, extending under the concourse, and closing sections of the food court and shoring them up is not that expensive.

Jon February 24, 2012 - 6:00 pm

Would it actually require the destruction of the lower concourse? As far as I can tell, several of the tracks run below the concourse already. Could they not be extended south?

Nathanael March 1, 2012 - 6:25 pm

It’s been studied. Most of the lower concourse would be unchanged.

According to the study, it would impinge on the “Oyster Bar”, and this was not expected to create historic preservation issues.

Then it would impinge on the old horsecar tunnel/ramp (remember, tracks used to lead directly into Grand Central from the south) which is now occupied by roadway; it would also run into part of one of the four tubes for the East Side IRT (which can be relocated the necessary couple of feet for a reasonable cost).

Then it’s a clear shot south, without even any utilities to speak ov (thanks to those horsecar tracks), until you get to the turn to connect to the tracks to Penn Station.

And it’s that turn which appears to be the problem. It would have to go under one block of very expensive buildings, and this was explicitly listed in the study as the reason why it was rejected.

Find out who owns those buildings. Or find a pro-Alt. G billionaire who can buy the buildings in that block, and you will find Alt G being built very quickly…

E.S. February 24, 2012 - 9:27 am

I would love to see the 7 line continued to be extended south – 23st/11th ave, 14th st/11th ave and all the way down to the WTC.

Joe Steindam February 24, 2012 - 9:42 am

Priorities 1 and 2 would be great if they happened as the MTA finished work on the 7 line and Fulton Street. I’d really like SAS phases 2 and 3 could be constructed at the same time (with Phase 2 going all the way to 125th and Broadway) but that’s wishful thinking at every level.

Missing from the discussion is the expansion of BusTime and the expansion of SBS. These need to happen, because unfortunately outer-borough subway expansion isn’t happening anytime soon.

Benjamin Kabak February 24, 2012 - 9:48 am

The expansion of BusTime is’t a megaproject, and it’s already happening. The Bronx along with one other borough will be outfitted before this year is out, and the remaining two will be outfitted by the end of 2013.

I hesitate to call SBS a megaproject or put it under the guise of MTA CC simply because it should not viewed as a replacement for rapid transit expansion. It’s fine if the city wants to implement it, but they shouldn’t do so at the expense of future subway and commuter rail growth.

Eric F February 24, 2012 - 9:58 am

Statement from Floral Park mayor on Third Tracking. These people are unbelievable.


Alex C February 24, 2012 - 2:31 pm

So they really are actual lunatics, right? They already have two tracks coming through there with lots of peak service. What do they honestly think a third track would do?

Woody February 24, 2012 - 9:13 pm

Maybe they think more LIRR tracks and trains will bring more black and brown people. Oh my God. There goes the neighborhood!

Frank B. February 24, 2012 - 11:51 pm

The sad thing is, you’re probably right about that.

My God. These people, they’re just so damn stupid.

Alon Levy February 27, 2012 - 2:22 am

I doubt it’s about race – those areas already have LIRR service, and it’s not as if the LIRR is proposing a radical change in service plan to be more urban and less suburban. It looks like ordinary fear of change to me, plus hysteria over eminent domain (where were all of you when the Cross-Bronx was under discussion?).

JDNY February 24, 2012 - 10:02 am

With all the talk of Convention Center & Casino near Aquaduct / JFK — I have to imagine that an express rail connector between there and Manhattan (Robotrain to Fulton Transit Center?) must be in the MTA or PA thoughts. Having such makes SE Queens at least plausable for a Convention Center & Casino. Not having such makes the Aquaduct locale very implausable.

Geoff February 24, 2012 - 10:26 am

Agree with the megaprojects listed above although I would prioritize 4 over 3, especially with additional capacity GCT will offer LIRR in 6-7 years.

I would include these additional projects that have been considered at one point or another:

5. Extend the N train to Laguardia (especially with the Port Authority’s plans to completely rebuild the terminals)
6. Extend the 2,5 from Brooklyn College to Kings Plaza
7. Extend the 7 east from Flushing (isn’t it the busiest stop outside of Manhattan?)
8. Reactivate Rockaway Branch (subway not LIRR though)
9. Metro North service along the Amtrak line in the Bronx and include stations in Astoria (transfer to N) and Sunnyside.
10. Phase 3 and 4 of SAS with expansion north into the Bronx, west across 125th and south to Staten Island with a stop at Governor’s Island.

I’m sure there are more that I’m missing!

Ed February 24, 2012 - 11:24 am

Apparently residents of northern Astoria don’t want any subway extensions in their neighborhood and seem to have the political clout to block at. And any further extension of the system is problematic due to costs.

My hobbyhorse is to extend the Airtrain north go La Guardia, mainly to allow passengers to fly into one airport and transfer by rail the other, which might do something to alleviate the increasing congestion issues at all NYC airports. It would have the side benefit of providing a rail connection between La Guardia and the Jamaica terminal, and much of the route would be through parkland or in the middle of existing expressways. But I doubt this is feasible.

But maybe something could be done with the existing bus connections to LaGuardia, which right now is a feasible way to arrive at or leave from LaGuardia, though it takes some work to figure it out and is not so good if you have alot of luggage. The ideal would be SBS, and maybe diverting the existing 1st/ 2nd Avenue SBS across the Triborough and to La Guardia would be a start.

Nyland8 February 24, 2012 - 1:40 pm

Costs for extending the el a couple of stops is a pittance compared with tunneling – and that’s really what we’re talking about. Just a couple of residential blocks. Because the only opposition to N/Q expansion would come from the residential component. Once the train passes 20th Ave, the journey to LaGuardia is through an industrial zone – and they would favor connectivity for their workers.

The problem, it seems to me, is dealing with the old noisy type of elevated trains commonly seen throughout the system. Nobody wants to listen to steel columns ringing and singing for half a mile before and after the train comes along. But the expansion could be done with much quieter concrete channels, pre-stressed and post-tensioned. The ringing vibration is virtually eliminated, and the sound of the train itself is directed skyward. The long-term maintenance costs are less – because you never have to scrape and paint the superstructure. Once the train passes the Ditmars Blvd. stop, you’d barely be able to hear it. And half of that trip has low commercial property on the east side of it, so there’s not even that many residence in the 2-1/2 blocks of travel.

Unless the Emperor lives there, it should be easy, politically speaking, to extend that line to LaGuardia. Much, much easier than ESA – and a tiny fraction of the price. And certainly a tiny, tiny fraction of running Air Train all the way from Jamaica – which in itself would be swamped by NIMBY lawsuits. Unless you run it through parkland, which would make it more than twice as long as it need be. And if you’re going to do that, why not cut-and-cover a subway through the same parkland and expand the subway system?

While I agree that connectivity between major airports would be great, the obstacles, it would seem, far outweigh the need. But generating the political will to push the N/Q terminus to LaGuardia seems like something that is well within the realm of possibility.

The distance is so short, and the project is so doable.
We should start a petition.

Nathanael March 1, 2012 - 6:27 pm

It’s unbelievably difficult to convince the NIMBYs that new Els are different from old Els. Perhaps pay to take them all on a trip to visit a new concrete El? I see no other way.

Nyland8 March 1, 2012 - 7:17 pm

Not a bad idea. Ask the NIMBYs if they’ve ever heard an AirTrain while driving under it down the Van Wyck. The answer will be that they haven’t – because nobody has. Granted, that light rail is only a couple of cars long, but it doesn’t even run in a channel, like the design I’m referring to.

In any event, there are plenty of NIMBYs contesting various aspects of both the SAS and the ESA, but those projects are preceding along despite that opposition. Maybe the key to advancing this project is to appeal to the downstream users – the industrial area that would stand to benefit from the extension, and the LaGuardia using public. Let their voices drown out the NIMBY opposition. What we’re really talking about is generating political will.

marvin March 2, 2012 - 3:56 pm

Perhaps having the new elevated structure running only over the GCP would be more (politically) doable. This would require terminating the existing EL by one stop.

Another way to serve LaGuadia would be to have some or all LIRR Port Washington trains leave the current ROW at CitiField and follow the GCP into LaGuadia and then connect into the AMTRAK Line into the Sunnyside Yards with trains then going into both Grand Central Terminal (ESA) and Penn Station.

The reduced ussage of the Port Washington tracks could then the be allocated to a re-activated Rockaway/JFK branch.

Metro North trains (from all branches) should also be brought into/through Laguadia into a terminal and yards at Flushing Meadows/CitiField via a connection to the Hell Gate approach.

If a branch of the Kennedy Airtrain was extended up to LaGuadia via the Van Wyck, a stop at Citifield and a reverse move at Jamaica, real regional connectivity including access to both Kennedy and LaGuadia from the Bronx/Westchester could be acheived without going into Manhattan.

Scott February 24, 2012 - 10:46 am

I still think the MTA should find the money for the 42nd and 10th 7 stop. The area has EXPLODED in recent years, and is totally unserved by subway. Then extend the 7 further south of 34th and 11th if possible.

Benjamin Kabak February 24, 2012 - 11:03 am

I think that’s a more contentious political issue than we all sometimes realize. The city promised to fund the 7 extension and basically reneged on half of its promise when the costs grew. Rightly or wrongly, the MTA didn’t view this extension as a priority and didn’t want to spend their finite capital resources on it. We certainly need and want the station there, but I don’t think the MTA is going to be willing to spend even if the cost is relatively low ($500-$800 million) compared with the price tag for other ventures.

JebO February 24, 2012 - 12:00 pm

This is what has to happen for the long-term health of the region in an oil-constrained world. The Fulton Street Transit Center needs to be connected east and west to the regional rail network.

1) LIRR to Fulton Street Transit Center via a new tunnel (NOT a repurposed or shared subway tunnel).

2) At the same time, NJTransit should connect from Hoboken Terminal to the Fulton Street Transit Center via a new under-river tunnel.

We need two east-west railroad routes through Manhattan. Right now we are dependent on just one. Also this would stimulate downtown Manhattan. East Side Access stimulates Midtown, which frankly is already stimulated plenty.

Imagine being able to transfer between LIRR & NJTransit via Fulton Street Transit Center in addition to Penn Station. It would be really cool.

Kevin February 24, 2012 - 1:21 pm

While we’re all posting wishlists:

1.) Utica Ave. subway. If you’ve ever had to ride the B46 during rush hour, you know why this is necessary.

2.) 125th st. crosstown. Whether this is part of SAS or not is not critical, but 1 to 4/5/6 is required.

3.) Co-op city connected to either the subway, or Metro North (preferred).

4.) Triboro Rx.

Disclaimer: I’m from Jersey, so take everything with a grain of salt.

Bolwerk February 24, 2012 - 1:46 pm

Is it just me, or was that 7 expansion planned, funded, and executed in a fraction of the time it took the Fulton Street Transit Center to finish?

Nathanael March 1, 2012 - 6:31 pm

It’s a basic principle that it takes longer to work around ACTIVE lines than it does to build NEW lines. Many, many, many, many times longer.

Fulton St. would have been quite fast if they’d shut the A/C lines, the J/R lines, the 1/2/3/4/5/6 lines, and Fulton Street for the entire period. But, Not Going To Happen. Accordingly, the A/C concourse rebuild is an agonizingly slow multi-year operation.

Staten Island JOHN February 24, 2012 - 2:46 pm

Staten Island could be connected to New Jersey Transit tomorrow if it wanted. There is already a working Train Bridge that transports all the garbage to different parts of the country. Staten Island needs connection to NYC baddy, but We are surrounded by New Jersey, and a bigger focus should be connecting up with NJ. Tottenville should not be the end of the line, the SIRR should connect to the NJ shore line in perth Amboy. The North shore should connect to the North East corridor, with a 20 min train ride to Newark airport. Light rail to Bayonne also makes sense. All these projects could happen with little cost. My long term goal would be to build a secondary tunnel to BK for cars and a subway connection to the “R”. If something happened to the VZ bridge, millions of people be harmed. That bridge is too important to stand alone. Might as well say that a “cross harbor” tunnel to connect BK to NJ would do marvels for Staten Island.

Eric F February 24, 2012 - 4:13 pm

How about double-tracking the PATH line from Newark to WTC and extending the line to Newark airport? If you did that, you could run a service with an airport terminus, one stop to Newark center city and then express to WTC in about 15 minutes. On a new state of the art track there’s no reason you couldn’t get that thing on a run of 20 minutes from airport to downtown, if not better.

Alon Levy February 25, 2012 - 5:28 am

First, do you mean four-tracking?

Second, the only reason to extend PATH to the airport is if it takes over the Newark AirTrain and provides a real one-seat ride, in which case the time you spend stopped over at Journal Square, Grove Street, and Exchange Place (~45 seconds each) is tiny compared to the benefit. Otherwise, there’s a stronger argument for bringing the AirTrain to Newark Penn instead – it connects to PATH as well as intercity and commuter trains, most of which skip the airport station.

Eric F February 27, 2012 - 8:54 am

Yes, 2 tracks in each direction. You’d extend PATH to the airport to provide a one seat (1 1/2 with the monorail) ride from lower Manhattan, including the massive WTC complex. If you are making the point that the airport stop is in an odd no-man’s area between existing stations, I totally agree. I think the monorail should have been built up to Newark Penn.

That said, presumably, the station isn’t going anywhere and will never be decommissioned. It’s configuration seems to virtually cry out for a PATH connection from its northside.

The other reason to double track the PATH line is because there are severe capacity constraints on that line. I understand that there is an eventual plan to 10 car the line (from 8 car trains now), but that won’t do much. It’s also a bit silly to have a huge percentage of passengers suffer through interim stops on a sardine-packed train when there is adequate demand for a Newark-WTC express run, given that the same would have jam packed trains.

The capacity constraints will only get worse with the residential growth in Jersey City and Harrison. The latter is happening slowly, but it’s happening.

Alon Levy February 28, 2012 - 2:23 am

The main issue then is to add tracks across the Hudson, which is much harder than four-tracking a line in a wide ROW in Jersey City and Harrison. Personally my preference would be two tunnels – one doubling the North River Tunnels, acting as a sort of skeletal ARC but without the unnecessary yards or the cavern, and one going from NJT’s Erie lines to Lower Manhattan and then to Brooklyn to connect to the LIRR. The latter is expensive (it requires building a new train station in Lower Manhattan) but solves any and all access and capacity issues in the central parts of the commuter rail network for a couple of decades.

If the Jersey City-Lower Manhattan tunnel alignment follows the old PRR, then in a sense PATH would be four-tracked between Journal Square and Exchange Place, but the express tracks would carry commuter rail. In either case, both tunnels would turn PATH from a last-mile system for suburban Jersey commuters whose trains can’t reach Manhattan to a local system for residents of Hudson County and Newark.

The monorail probably can be extended to Newark Penn. The question is then what happens to the existing train station; I wouldn’t close it, but instead try to get more development there, on the model of Metropark but with better pedestrian access from the train station to the office buildings.

David Alexander February 24, 2012 - 8:49 pm

In contrast, this is my main preference for spending transit dollars:


In other words, two loops, one for New Jersey Transit and LIRR two tracks only for each loop and multiple stations for downtown, Greenwich Village, and Midtown, and rolling stock choice would be heavily influenced by German S-Bahn multiple units instead of commuter rail stock. The idea is to avoid replicating poor commuter railroad practices and building massive caves underneath Manhattan when the ideal should be to implement a high frequency regional railway that helps to distribute suburban ridership within the core, and make commuting via rail more attractive.

Kevin Walsh February 24, 2012 - 11:16 pm

Before he hired Richie Kotite in 1990, the late Jets owner Leon Hess said “I’m old, I want to win now.” The Jets have been through 7 coaches since and still haven’t won. When I read about MTA megaprojects, I want to say, “I’m old, I want to use the Staten Island North Shore Line now.”

George February 25, 2012 - 12:08 am

I want TriboroRX plan. Tell the NIMBY people to go frak themselves.

Alon Levy February 25, 2012 - 5:47 am

In my view, fixing organizational problems is far more important than adding more lines. I think everyone here is familiar with my rants about construction costs, but independently, all of the following should be done:

1. Fare integration between different agencies – at a minimum, one ticket works for both commuter rail and connecting transit at both ends, with no extra charge, and commuter rail costs the same as the subway within the subway’s service area. Who needs a subway under Third Avenue in the Bronx, as frequently proposed in fantasy maps, when Metro-North could offer the same service?

2. Much more frequent off-peak local commuter service than currently offered, using first-world staffing levels, i.e. 1 person per train, or maybe 2 if they feel like providing redundant jobs.

3. Simple clockface schedules with timed connections. Even the subway could benefit from those: with two new four-track overtake stations at locations where there’s room, the Jamaica Line could host a local J and an express Z each running every 10 minutes all day. Elsewhere in the city, still ignoring bus-commuter rail connections, the buses in Staten Island should be timed to meet the ferry.

4. Off-board fare collection on all buses. The cost: every bus stop and every bus door would need to be equipped with a card reader that costs a few hundred dollars. Buses would still need fareboxes for cash, but they already have these.

5. Agency mergers. Allowing for arbitrary state boundaries to keep NJT and the MTA separate, there’s no excuse for keeping the LIRR and Metro-North separate. It would’ve saved nearly $8 billion if it had been done 15 years ago. Alas, that’s incompetence due to Albany, which is much harder to fix than at public agencies where one can get rid of bad managers.

Nyland8 February 25, 2012 - 11:34 am

Interesting list, Alon … but some questions – in the order of your points.

1) Is it realistic to expect Metro North to stop as frequently as the subways when their ultimate destination is somewhere in … say Connecticut? Or are you just saying for those stops that are already within the city limits – without creating more stations? If no more stations are to be built, if Metro North doesn’t have a stop every ten blocks, then how is that a substitute for building a subway?

2) I’m not sure I follow the staffing reference as it relates to more frequent off-peak. I’ll assume you’re referring to trains … but what does this mean?

3) I was not aware that busses anywhere could run on a schedule. I don’t know why Staten Island could be different. Whenever I’m forced to take crosstown busses in Manhattan, or in remote areas of Brooklyn, invariably the busses wind up clustering – because one bus will take longer to load, because one bus will stop to pick up a handicapped person in a wheel chair, because of the capricious nature of road traffic, because of construction, because of weather conditions, … etc. I don’t ride busses often – and despite that infrequency, they are NEVER on time. At least never on the posted schedule at the bus stops. Perhaps busses can sit and wait to be dispatched after an incoming ferry, but I can’t imagine much success timing an arrival for outgoing ferries. And if all the busses wait for ferry arrival, then all the other people along the bus route who are not going to and from the ferry have a longer wait, only to then watch a long cluster of busses pass their stop within minutes. So again, I’m not sure what you mean by being timed to meet the ferry. I don’t think busses can be scheduled like trains usually can.

4) Regarding number 4, shall I assume that this suggestion is just a time saving measure? Or does it have some other purpose?

5) I’m inclined to agree outright with point number 5. We all live in a single tri-State area served by a disintegrated melange of public transit systems – and it does cost us billions. That redundancy and inefficiency led to the unification of the inter-borough subway systems decades ago, and it’s long past time to expand upon that sound reasoning. LIRR, MNRR and NJT should become a single tri-State integrated system, and PATH should be subsumed into the MTA Subway system ASAP. Then better decisions can be made that serve the entire region, smarter expansions can be planned and funded, and billions of dollars can be saved.

Bolwerk February 25, 2012 - 2:52 pm

An S-bahn style service makes #1 possible, though it’s expensive and illegal for now in the USA even though it is the sensible thing to do. But, if he means the service that exists now could be better utilized by fare integration, he’s absolutely right.

For #2, modern trains don’t need conductors. The only sensible use of a second employee on a commuter train is a bar tender. But let’s not give the transit union any ideas, because they’ll want bartenders on subway cars. Even though subway cars can’t realistically utilize bar cars! Seriously, though, unless the FRA provides an exemption on the staffing matter, I don’t see what can be done about this for now. They could improve fare collection and cut back to a 2-man crew though, which at least saves some money.

Pretty much all transit runs on a schedule. One of the reason buses are an inferior product (in the economic sense!) is they kind of suck at keeping schedules even under the most optimistic conditions. They end up clustering mostly because of poor traffic policies making it hard to keep scheudles.

#4 is both a money and time saver. It also improves driver safety because they won’t have their asses on the line when people don’t pay anymore.

#5 is the only one I sorta disagree with Alon on in principle. It’s not a hard and fast disagreement, but thinking the agency separation causes the waste kind of misses the point. I suspect the agencies could work together more sanely as easily as they could merge, and to some extent keeping the token brands in place makes sense. At least the LIRR has a long history, and people strongly identify with that.

Nathanael March 1, 2012 - 6:38 pm

The LIRR’s history seems to be the problem.

Institutional culture is a big thing, and the LIRR has developed an institutional culture which is proud of not cooperating with anyone else (they don’t even like cooperating with Amtrak, and run their own “fiefdom” within Penn Station); the union culture there is proud of steam-era work rules and generally anything archaic, with hostility to anything modern; et cetera. LIRR has a rather impressive degree of “not invented here” mentality, which isn’t surprising given the institutional culture, but makes for a *problem*.

Nathanael March 1, 2012 - 7:03 pm

Incidentally, Amtrak has responded in kind. Amtrak is actually very cooperative with many, many railroads around the US. Alon has wondered why they’re trying to get complete separation from the LIRR in Sunnyside, with a very expensive bridge — answer: the LIRR *attitude*.

Functionally, the merge point with Metro-North is more of an issue, but Metro-North is *cooperative*, and LIRR is *uncooperative*, so it’s the LIRR conflicts which get priority.

Alon Levy February 27, 2012 - 3:25 am

In order:

1. What I’m saying is that the local trains should serve all city stops, at local fare. The Harlem Line is four-tracked to Wakefield and the LIRR Main Line is four-tracked to Floral Park; people from farther out could still take express trains. It could do a lot to add service to an underserved area in the Bronx and capacity-constrained areas in Queens, by providing essentially the same stop spacing as express subway trains.

2. I mean commuter trains, yes. One huge barrier to frequent off-peak service is the need for 5 conductors, vs. 1 on the subway and 0 on many regional operations worldwide.

3. The less frequent buses do run on a schedule, though timetable adherence is poor (and this can be fixed with better dispatching practices). The problem is that some of them are timed to miss the ferry. For a better practice, look to Vancouver’s SeaBus, where all the connecting buses at the suburban end are timed to arrive at the terminal 5-7 minutes before the ferry departs.

4. It’s a time saving measure, yes. I suspect it’d also be popular with the unions because bus drivers wouldn’t need to worry about collecting fares as much.

Nathanael March 1, 2012 - 6:35 pm

“5. Agency mergers. Allowing for arbitrary state boundaries to keep NJT and the MTA separate, there’s no excuse for keeping the LIRR and Metro-North separate. It would’ve saved nearly $8 billion if it had been done 15 years ago. Alas, that’s incompetence due to Albany, which is much harder to fix than at public agencies where one can get rid of bad managers”

Wrong source of trouble. “MTA Rail” was proposed just a few years ago (by Walder or his predecessor). It was prevented by four entities, and this is public information:
(1) LIRR management
(2) LIRR unions
(3) Metro-North management
(4) Metro-North unions

It is not clear which of the four was most to blame, though given their track record I’d expect the LIRR unions. But anyway, it is absolutely clear that it was *internal management issues* which prevented MTA Rail.

marvin March 2, 2012 - 3:28 pm

As eastern Queens in unserved by subway service, an Airtrain style elevated line should be built over the LIE east of the Van Wyck. It could connect with and use half the capacity of the Queens Blvd local track (I assume that the other will eventually be used by a Rockaway line) via the Van Wyck/Jamaica Yard to 71St/Continental.

Beyond Francis Lewis Blvd there are 3 options:
*the line could continue to Springfield Blvd
*the line could take over the 2 center lanes of the Clearview Expressway (a road that would still be tolerable with 2 lanes in each direction) up to the east river with 3+ stops along the way
*the line could head south along the Cleaview with a stop at Union Turnpike or 73rd Avenue, then turn east along the GCP with a terminal stop at Springfield Blvd. Minor modifications of bus routes would allow this to be a bus to subway tranfer point for Union Turpike, Hillside Avenue, and Bradock Avenue bus lines.

Possible stops would include: Jewel Avenue, Main Street, Kissena Blvd/Qns College, 164 Street and 188 Street/Fresh Meadows. The line would help with the overcrowding on the #7 line.

The Jewel Avenue stop has the potential to be a major connection point if the Airtrain is extended up to LaGuadia and would provide access to both airports.

At Main Street, a short one track monorail shuttle (5 blocks) could provide access to Booth Memorial/NY Hospital which has become a major facility.


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