Home East Side Access Project Looking beyond a Grand celebration

Looking beyond a Grand celebration

by Benjamin Kabak

Stick around for 100 years; get a stamp.

It’s a good time to be Grand Central Terminal. Currently being feted by politicians and rededicated for another century, the Terminal is celebrating its centennial today with a full slate of musical performances, celebrity appearances and a whole slate of fun and games. For such an iconic building and an important part of New York City’s transit infrastructure, the grand building deserves the accolades.

While not everyone may want to celebrate the landmark, over the past century, the building has seen a lot. It has lived through the age of the railroads, the rise of the car, rapid growth in Midtown, two World Wars, a New York City collapse and, more recently, a city revitalized. It has served as the grounds for many a romantic encounter. It has become such a sought-after destination that an Apple Store has taken up prime real estate and a Shake Shack may one day arrive in its lower level food court. No longer just a launching point for travelers from the north, the building is a destination unto itself.

Yet, for all the talk of 100 years, it’s not where Grand Central has been that counts; rather, it’s where it’s going. The next 10 years for the Terminal will set the stage for the next 100 and beyond. Under and around Grand Central, there is a lot happening that will impact the future of Midtown. An effort to rezone and up-build the area has taken off, and Grand Central will be the focal point. Along with investments in the Terminal, the city wants to improve the subway infrastructure in Midtown East as well, and I’ll have more on that next week.

Underneath, East Side Access is lumbering to completion. It’s a flawed project, with rampant cost overruns and an extended timeline well beyond its original projected completion date. It suffers from the same problems that the ARC Tunnel had — namely, that it’s about 15 stories underground — but will serve to bring around 160,000 daily LIRR riders into Midtown East.

Recently, The Wall Street Journal’s Ted Mann took a tour of the construction site and wiggled some choice words out of Michael Horodniceanu’s mouth. The head of the MTA’s Capital Construction unit spoke about the project:

“There’s no doubt in my mind that people will use it,” Horodniceanu said, walking through what was once a rail yard for trains on the existing lower level of Grand Central. The space is now on its way to becoming a concourse for travelers heading down to the unfinished platforms below…

“It’s always hard when you have a project that is, in many ways, visionary to accomplish it,” he said. “People, they want to know what’s on their plate tomorrow night when they have supper. They don’t want to know what’s going to be here in 2020 or 2019.”

Holding court with a group of reporters, Horodniceanu conjured a favorite image: Some future archaeologist uncovering the tunnel boring machine his crew buried into rock after completion of their tunnels, somewhere near 37th Street. In the meantime, he said, the station he and his workers are building would be destined to become as much a part of the city’s fabric as the grand edifice up at street level.

“After 200 years of Grand Central, they’re going to be able to see two pieces: the original Grand Central and what we’re building now,” he said.

By the end of the decade, when East Side Access work is completed, it may be tough to reconcile that experience with the one we know at Grand Central today. Tracks feed off of the main concourse or a lower level, and access is easy. In the future, it will take a few minutes longer to get down the tracks, and soaring historic ceilings will be a part of the ride but not the first sight for many. As the city grows, though, it may not matter. We need more rail capacity, and a Long Island connection to the East Side is long overdue.

Here’s to the next 100 years, no matter how imperfect.

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Jerrold February 1, 2013 - 10:59 am

Is that stamp for a 100-pound package?

Someone February 1, 2013 - 12:23 pm

Does $19.95 equal £100? No? Well, then there’s your answer.

Alon Levy February 3, 2013 - 1:24 am

I’m pretty sure he mean lb., not £.

Someone February 3, 2013 - 7:49 am

Yeah, I know, it’s a joke on my part.

Bruce M February 1, 2013 - 11:20 am

Has there ever been a full, and credible, explanation as to why the existing lower concourse level could not be used to connect to the LIRR tracks coming from 63rd Street? I am hard pressed to believe that there is not sufficient capacity since GCT no longer has long distance service, and this would surely have saved billions of $$$, and made the future commutes of LIRR passengers much more convenient.

g February 1, 2013 - 12:07 pm

The primary reasons were higher TPH during peak, extensive alterations to GCT exiting that would be required, disruption to MNRR operations, and the eventual option of extending to Penn or other locations downtown from a deep cavern station with no obstructions.

The interlocking layout and Park Ave tunnel are the limiting factors in MNRR capacity at GCT. Rush service commands all the capacity these have to offer as it currently stands. This is why MNRR is looking at bilevel trains to pump up passenger capacity without having to add more runs. Some day far in the future it will become necessary to devise a solution to increasing capacity along Park Ave and the loops/extra platform space at GCT will be needed for that service.

John-2 February 1, 2013 - 12:41 pm

The alternate plan isn’t pristine, either, as far as capacity, since IIRC, any extension south to hook up with the tracks at 33rd Street connection to Penn Station would require the shutdown of the IRT downtown local tracks for a few years. With the added stress ESA is going to put on the Lex anyway, the idea of trying to squeeze all three IRT downtown lines onto the express track between GC and Union Square is a non-starter.

(Though it would be interesting if the added crush of LIRR passengers when ESA opens ends up pushing forward, Phase III of the SAS, with the extension of the line down to at least Houston St. to relieve some of the passenger crush even a full four-track IRT Lex is going to suffer.)

AG February 1, 2013 - 6:14 pm

It is possible that there will be a somewhat offset of Met-North riders who will go to Penn Station as is planned. So the impact might not be much. Overall though – all the extra capacity will be needed if the city keeps growing the way it has in the past 20 years.

Bruce M February 2, 2013 - 12:16 pm

Well I guess the bright decision to bury the TBM in stone at 37th Street made the “eventual option of extending to Penn” a non-starter, for this generation anyway.

Speaking of TBM’s, what did the MTA do with the ones used on 2nd Avenue?

Alon Levy February 4, 2013 - 6:18 am

Grand Central has 40+ platform tracks. It doesn’t need all of them, and never will.

AG February 1, 2013 - 6:16 pm

future capacity… the region is still growing

SEAN February 1, 2013 - 8:05 pm

True. We here from time to time how NYS population has been decreasing over the past few decades, but not in the NYC metro area with the loan exception of LI. Interesting that MNR for the first time in it’s history, has eclipsed the LIRR in total ridership. This makes it #1 in the nation.

AG February 2, 2013 - 9:09 pm

exactly – but even LI isn’t “declining” – it’s more stagnant… as is the upstate population. Long Island leaders no wrealize that they have to rezone areas around LIRR stations to have some density. Young people can’t afford or don’t want single family homes right out of college… so in order to keep them they have to build “city type” housing next to public transport.

Phantom February 1, 2013 - 7:50 pm

I wish that we still had some trains to Boston and maybe elsewhere from Grand Central. It is the only proper train station that we have.

SEAN February 1, 2013 - 8:11 pm

We could do that, however there’s a greater need for regional connectivity & that’s what the ESA is for. Now if there was a way to connect Grand Central to Penn Station as well, that would be even better.

Berk32 February 2, 2013 - 12:34 am

There will never be a connection between the 2

Phantom February 2, 2013 - 1:24 pm

Probably true

NY performance in getting big projects done has been atrocious.

If we can’t figure out how to create the conditions where things can get done, we should stop pretending.

Someone February 1, 2013 - 8:21 pm

Why couldn’t you just go to Penn Station and catch a train to Boston? Why does it have to be at Grand Central?

Phantom February 1, 2013 - 9:17 pm

Many people work on the East Side and presumably would prefer the a short walk to GCT to a pain in the ass sclep to Penn.

Plus GCT is a magnificent temple, while Penn is a dingy basement.

The huge advantage of Penn is that its connected to lines and connecting passengers to the south but I’d love to catch an intercity train in a true train station in NY which Penn can never be.

Someone February 1, 2013 - 9:30 pm

in a true train station in NY which Penn can never be.

Not true- Penn once was a true train station, but not anymore; the original station building (which actually looked as beautiful, or even more so, as GCT does) was razed to allow construction of MSG.

Phantom February 1, 2013 - 9:39 pm

I am well aware

But the great station was destroyed, the lousy basement is with us, and I’m not betting that Moynihan station will do a thing for us.

Its lost

Berk32 February 2, 2013 - 12:31 am

what makes Grand Central more proper? because it’s prettier than Penn?

Grand Central has about 285 weekday departures per weekday; Penn Station has about 460. Both pretty much operate at capacity during rush.

Amtrak moved whatever limited operations it still had in GC 20 years ago to Penn because it cost too much to run in both stations (considering they only run ~20 trains east and about a dozen north on weekdays…)

LLQBTT February 4, 2013 - 9:37 am

Ironically, today’s radio was telling of the MTA’s plan to shut(!) Grand Central at certain times because of peak crowding conditions. So all for naught then!?

paulb February 6, 2013 - 10:25 am

In 30 years if the MTA needs that TBM again it can just spray in some WD40 and crank it right up. (Do you think they left the entire thing, all 500 or whatever feet of it, there, or just the drill? Astounding the things that get thrown away. This is a dining-out-worthy piece of trivia.)


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