Home Penn Station Access Forecasting the Next Capital Plan: Penn Station Access

Forecasting the Next Capital Plan: Penn Station Access

by Benjamin Kabak

The MTA is currently analyzing the environmental impact of its Penn Station Access plans.

At some point in the future — hopefully soon — the MTA will again have a permanent chairman and CEO in charge of setting the direction for the agency’s future. The MetroCard replacement project can ramp back up, and, more importantly, such a person can begin to assemble the pieces for the MTA’s next five-year capital plan. In the meantime, we can glimpse the capital future from the bits and pieces that leak out to the public.

Already, we know the MTA will be focusing at least in part on an aggressive effort to modernize its subway signals. We don’t know what will happen with future phases of the Second Ave. Subway, but it would be foolish to build just Phase 1 while allowing plans for the full line to be discarded. Meanwhile, though, Penn Station and Metro-North are clearly in the the MTA’s and politicians’ sight lines.

When the East Side Access project wraps in 2018 or 2019 and the Long Island Rail Road deposits tens of thousands of riders into a deep cavern beneath Grand Central, Metro-North will have the ability to shift some rides to the West Side. We know that the MTA is moving forward with Penn Station Access studies, and now we learn that politicians are pushing the plan as well. Officials want Penn Station Access ready to go in 2019, and do that requires some aggressive planning and funding now.

DNA Info’s Patrick Wall has the story:

Their route set and destination in sight, Bronx and MTA officials are now pushing to secure funding and station space in order to send Metro-North trains rolling through the East Bronx by 2019.
To enact the plan to build four new East Bronx stations where residents could catch Metro-North trains to Connecticut or to Manhattan’s West Side, up to $800 million and train slots in Penn Station are needed. For its part, the MTA, which operates Metro-North, has co-sponsored a soon-to-be-completed study to analyze whether Metro-North trains could fit in Penn Station and has been searching for possible funding sources, including Connecticut’s Transportation Department.

Bronx elected officials, most notably Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., have been lobbying state lawmakers to fund the project in the MTA’s next capital budget and demanding that Long Island state senators share Penn Station space currently used by the Long Island Rail Road.

On Monday [the 11th], Diaz urged members of the Bronx Chamber of Commerce to wield their influence to win politicians’ backing for the project. “You let them know that if they want you to be supportive of them, they have to be supportive of The Bronx,” Diaz said at a public meeting hosted by the Chamber. “What better way than to have this legendary, transformative project come to fruition in our borough? You make that case to them.”

This project is a no-brainer in some ways. It requires no additional tunneling and opens up the West Side to transit riders from the Bronx and points north. On the other hand, the costs are tough to pin down at this early stage. Some initial estimates pegged the spend at around $400 million, but this recent report has the cost at twice that earlier figure. Costs will shift until — and probably after — a concrete plan is in place.

Additionally, Long Island politicians are playing both tough to get and selfish. They claim that the LIRR will still need the slots in Penn Station after East Side Access opens and won’t share with other New Yorkers who may want to access the West Side from points north. On the surface, it’s a silly argument that likely isn’t supported by ridership, but it’s one that will play out over the next few years.

Meanwhile, as DNA Info notes, for this West Side Access project to be included in the next five-year capital plan, the MTA will need to wrap up the environmental impact statement, identify operating partners and develop a space-sharing plan for Penn Station. These are obstacles but nothing that cannot be overcome. To improve mobility in the reason, Penn Station Access should see the light of day, and I’m sure we’ll be hearing more about it over the next few years.

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Bolwerk March 18, 2013 - 1:25 am

$800 million for a few above-ground stations? And this horse trading is despicable. Larry is right; Long Island’s is a culture of theft.

As a side note, did you notice The New York Times is stroking itself to stealing the Rockaway Line again? Seems they’re doing their best to black out coverage of the most obvious use. Price: only “$75 million and $100 million,” on top of the $500k already wasted.

alen March 18, 2013 - 9:48 am

i saw the high line being built. $100 million is a good estimate. it took A LOT of work to fix what was there before

Bolwerk March 18, 2013 - 10:08 am

Even if that were so, in the case of the Rockaway Line, there shouldn’t be any need for the same kind of structural repairs.

Someone March 18, 2013 - 10:17 am

Have you seen the rusted, broken rails; the missing railroad ties/sleepers; and the trees growing between the rails? The Rockaway ROW needs a lot of work.

Bolwerk March 18, 2013 - 10:32 am

So what? Whether rail or park, there is nothing about it that warrants spending $100M.

alen March 18, 2013 - 10:37 am

the high line was wrapped it up in plastic before cleaning all the pollution off. same thing here. most of the cost will be cleaning out the pollution of the past

Someone March 18, 2013 - 11:39 am

Except that here, there would also have to be soundproofing, as well as viaduct restoration.

Bolwerk March 18, 2013 - 12:17 pm

You really don’t know what you’re talking about. You know how quiet rail can be made? Let’s just say, the silence is a safety hazard in some places.

Someone March 18, 2013 - 12:25 pm

Yes, I know, I heard about it from your earlier comments. People are still going to be paranoid anyway.

VLM March 18, 2013 - 12:48 pm

“You really don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Are you just learning this about “Someone”? I wish Ben would just end his commenting privileges already. He’s turning this board into a place for him to spew his personal, ill-informed garbage.

Someone March 18, 2013 - 12:53 pm

In which way are my comments ill-informed? I’m sorry if my English is confusing (I spent a long time living in China) but in no way am I wrong about this.

Even with welded rail, it’s the motors of the trains themselves that will cause the sound pollution.

Someone March 18, 2013 - 12:57 pm

Besides, you can’t block somebody (theoretically) from commenting just because their thoughts are stupid.

VLM March 18, 2013 - 1:01 pm

The owner of this site can block whoever he wants from commenting. You don’t have free speech rights on someone’s site on the Internet. Sorry.

Someone March 18, 2013 - 1:10 pm

I’ve commented on this site for four years under different names. It would be a shame for me to be blocked.

Bolwerk March 18, 2013 - 1:18 pm

No; to be clear, I don’t mind people being wrong out of innocent ignorance, as no doubt I sometimes am, but he’s repeating something that has come up before and that the most simple observation should thoroughly debunk.

It’s funny how he parades his ignorance in the response. Motors on electric rail tend to be significantly quieter than automobiles and buses the carheads and bus fappers want to impose on everyone. In some places around the world, it’s something of a problem that electric trains accidentally kill people on the street.

Bottom line: insofar as noise could be an issue for Rockaway, it’s pretty easy to mitigate.

VLM March 18, 2013 - 2:01 pm

“I’ve commented on this site for four years under different names. It would be a shame for me to be blocked.”

I have no idea what your former handles were, but long-time reader to long-time reader then, maybe think about dialing back the volume and tone of the comments. I know I’m not the only one who finds your tendencies of threadjacking to be annoying, counterproductive and destructive to the commenting environment. Just think about what you’re adding to the conversation first.

Henry March 18, 2013 - 8:07 pm

Not to be the devil’s advocate here, but how realistic is a quiet Rockaway Beach Line? The M7s, M8s, and R160s are all extremely loud trains, if recently purchased rolling stock proves to be any sort of guide.

Bolwerk March 18, 2013 - 8:58 pm

Fair enough. Can’t speak to the M7 or M8, but I think the problem with the R160 isn’t a problem with the R160 at all. It’s mainly track and structural conditions. (Well, the R160 is rather heavy.)

Either way, I’m admittedly not sure what noise mitigation measures are necessary, but I do think it’s being overplayed. I’m not trying to say it’s a non-issue.

Henry March 23, 2013 - 12:54 pm

Personally, I think it has something to do with the industrial-strength cooling and heating systems – an R160B is lower than 60 degrees during the summer.

It’s also been pretty loud in the areas with the welded rails, but I digress.

Bolwerk March 18, 2013 - 12:08 pm

Yes, okay, fine, it’s all pollution. I’m sure Rockaway is as caked with pigeon shit as the High Line. There is still no reason to think it needs $100M to bring it back to any kind of use.

Someone March 18, 2013 - 12:23 pm

Okay. $200M then? The ROW is actually discontinuous, anyway. Toggle Google Street view (or satellite view) and you’ll see what I mean.

Henry March 23, 2013 - 12:57 pm

That’s actually an encroachment, and since New York City (and the State) does not have laws allowing squatters to take property, can be seized without eminent domain. (There might be a lawsuit, but there’s no legal precedent.)

Nathanael March 24, 2013 - 3:53 pm

“since New York City (and the State) does not have laws allowing squatters to take property,”

It’s possible using adverse possession, but the adverse possessor must pro-actively file a court case to make his title good. And it’s basically impossible in NY to take adverse possession against an agency of the state. (There might be an argument over whether LIRR constituted an “agency of the state” at the time the line went out of service.)

AlexB March 18, 2013 - 12:26 pm

The Rockaway cutoff is about 5 miles from Rego Park to Howard Beach. There are no tracks there right now; to bring back rail, you’d have to re-build the whole thing, signals, stations, etc. At about $50 million/mile (the going rate for at-grade rail), that’s $250 million just for tracks and signals, and likely only half the final price. You will have to also re-build every station. If they conclude 3 stations is enough to start with, that’s probably $300 million minimum for those. Additionally, there will certainly be lawsuits and additional mitigation efforts for sound and other annoyances that will have to be given to the community. At least some of the bridges and overpasses will have to be reconstructed. After it’s all said and done, I’d be shocked if this happened for less than $1 billion.

Someone March 18, 2013 - 12:42 pm

If the cost didn’t include in-fill stations and/or the cost of restoring the embankment (the ROW is not at-grade for most of its length), then maybe it would cost $100M.

Bolwerk March 18, 2013 - 12:54 pm

Is it yank-numbers-out-of-your-ass Monday? I expect this kind of thing from Someone or even Marc Shepherd, but not from you of all people.

Now, I could believe $50M/mile for an urban line requiring lots of land condemnation. Heck, you can get an actual subway for that in much of the developed world for that. But we don’t have that such a problem here, given the availability of an intact ROW. We should be talking construction scale analogous to, say, the Lackawanna Cutoff – somewhere around $5M/mile, and probably too high at that rate, which includes everything from ballast to signaling.

Yes, stations are in addition to that. But there is no need for $100M stations, either on Rockaway or in The Bronx. Total costs should not be very high. The whole reason there is a compelling argument for rail here is the costs are relatively dirt cheap.

AlexB March 18, 2013 - 3:50 pm

I’m not arguing about what the numbers should or shouldn’t be; I’m saying that based on my reading of similar projects in the region, that’s what things tend to be. Hudson Bergen Light Rail cost $50 million per mile and it was basically the same project: new track along an existing right-of-way. The only difference is that was built a while ago and $50 million/mile is probably cheap today. Should a new station cost $100 million? No, but it does. The $800 million for the Penn Access comes out to $125 million/station, so my numbers are not that far off (not quite the same as pulling them out of my ass).

Bolwerk March 18, 2013 - 4:52 pm

HBLR wasn’t entirely a green field project either; it actually involved buying/condemning ROWs, grade separation, and IIRC limited tunneling. It was not just building on a ROW we already own. I’m not sure it should have been anywhere near that high, though at least some of it can be explained by things like starting from zero with rolling stock and acquisition costs. It was too expensive, but it should be more expensive than Rockaway, which should have almost no acquisition costs and reasonably low costs for additional rolling stock.

I wouldn’t argue they couldn’t, through graft and incompetence, spend up to $50M/mile. ‘Cause that $150M/station price for MNRR is also probably absurd. But other than Someone, I think we all have at least a ballpark grasp of what costs are and what they should be. The question is, how to get them from where they are to what they should be?

Someone March 18, 2013 - 7:19 pm

Hey, don’t be pointing fingers at me. I seriously don’t know how much it costs to rehab an old viaduct.

Nathanael March 24, 2013 - 3:52 pm

Bolwerk, a lot of the cost is in electrification.

Nathanael March 24, 2013 - 3:55 pm

“Even if that were so, in the case of the Rockaway Line, there shouldn’t be any need for the same kind of structural repairs.”

Um, yes, yes, there would be. When you’ve had trees growing on top of bridges, they generally need pretty substantial structural repairs.

Nathanael March 24, 2013 - 3:56 pm

FWIW, the lowball estimates for the “linear park” involve skipping the bridges and going to street level for the pathways. This makes it quite clear that the difference in the price estimates between rail and park is mostly the bridges.

Hank March 18, 2013 - 10:07 am

Look no further than the operating and financial performance of the respective commuter RRs for damning evidence of LI’s culture. I wonder if there is any way to actually discipline it?

Someone March 18, 2013 - 10:09 am

Would you believe it- $800 million for 6 stations? Sounds cheap.

Alon Levy March 18, 2013 - 4:14 pm

Boston builds high-platform commuter rail stations for like $6 million.

Someone March 18, 2013 - 7:19 pm

New York is pretty stupid, then.

Corey Best March 18, 2013 - 7:57 pm

Lets see , the Catenary needs to be replaced , along with all the Bridges along the route , new substations , and a whole New rolling stock the M8A’s are needed. Its not a simple station rebuild , but a line upgrade….

Henry March 18, 2013 - 8:13 pm

Not to mention, a lot of station locations are elevated above the street passing underneath, often at a height too high to build a reasonably-sized ADA-compliant ramp. (If you think you can build this line without complying with ADA, I have a bridge to sell you.)

This is the agency that said elevators for an Elmhurst LIRR station (which still exists, by the way) would cost $10M. For a single elevator shaft going between two floors. Let’s not get our hopes up on the MTA’s cost reduction skills.

(Why would new rolling stock be needed? I’ve always assumed the line would be built to the 63rd Dr portals on QBL, not reconnected to the LIRR Main Line, which in any case doesn’t have the signalling capacity to handle another branch.)

AG March 19, 2013 - 12:51 am

really? they can build them so cheap in Boston? so what happened with the “Big Dig”?

Someone March 19, 2013 - 7:06 am

For the Big Dig, Boston probably had to excavate billions of tons’ worth of rock and dirt.

AG March 19, 2013 - 10:56 pm

yeah i know – i just don’t believe the $6million figure for a new station.

Bolwerk March 19, 2013 - 12:52 pm

You’re comparing a miles-long multi-lane highway under a river with a 500′ long slab of concrete?

Yes, a station can be a slab of concrete of certain dimensions, for which labor and material costs are pretty observable on the open market. In some cases, land acquisition can be costly.

AG March 19, 2013 - 10:55 pm

you just proved my point… there is no way a station can be built for $6 million in the city of NY. Even Boston is not cheap – so I’d love to see the #’s for a $6 million commuter rail station… it must be way out in the ‘burbs.

Bolwerk March 20, 2013 - 3:02 pm

I did? What Alon is probably talking about is an at-grade suburban station without high land acquisition costs. I would expect about $6M for that, and it probably segues with the Rockaway Line’s costs fairly well.

Obviously, an underground station will be more expensive.

Nathanael March 24, 2013 - 3:50 pm

(1) High-platform stations (48″ above top of rail) are not slabs of concrete. They’re structures.
(2) Every last one of these stations will require two elevator towers (sometimes three) and an overpass.
(3) The big expense is in the electrification, as I noted below.

Henry March 23, 2013 - 12:59 pm

They were building a underground highway under an active elevated highway, in a city that is mostly waterlogged landfill.

From an engineering perspective this made absolutely no sense, but hey, if the politicos want it, then they’ll get it.

AG March 23, 2013 - 3:11 pm

yeah – I know – I was being facetious in the question. can’t say i know enough about boston (only visited a couple times) – but that $6 million sounded too low to me.

BBnet3000 March 18, 2013 - 11:02 am

Would the line through Rego Park really be that useful? The Triboro RX line through Jackson Heights is the one to put your weight and money behind as a transit line. While I agree that the Queensway park idea is a bad one, the line isnt the best choice for a crosstown rail line either.

Bolwerk March 18, 2013 - 12:10 pm

Maybe RX is more important, but it’s not a substitute for the Rockaway line. They should both be done, for entirely different reasons – the reasons being they serve different places with different transit needs.

Nathanael March 24, 2013 - 3:49 pm

“$800 million for a few above-ground stations?”

First, these are not ground-level stations. The Empire Connection is mostly in a trench, and cut-and-covered for long distances. The Hell Gate Line is at ground level, but all the roads bridge over it.

These stations will require platform construction in confined spaces, and construction of elevator / stair towers and overpasses.

Second, the cost isn’t just in the stations. In order to get Metro-North through Penn Station, the problem of electrification systems must be resolved. Most straightforward would be to electrify the Empire Connection with overhead 60Hz, and re-electrify Penn Station and the Hell Gate Line with overhead 60Hz, which probably implies re-electrifying Amtrak’s tunnels until somewhere in New Jersey. This would also mean buying some more of the stock which Metro-North uses on the New Haven Line. This is pretty expensive, though it should be done in any case.

If they try to cheap out on the electrification, then they have to get (at best) trains which can handle *three* electrification systems, and possibly *four*: Amtrak 25Hz overhead, Metro-North 60Hz overhead, Metro-North underrrunning third rail, and LIRR overrrunning third rail. The only phrase for that is “yuck”.

Now, perhaps, Bolwerk, you understand where the costs are coming from.

Nathanael March 24, 2013 - 4:01 pm

If I’m correct, then the $800 million includes the conversion from 25Hz to 60Hz of the Hell Gate Line, Sunnyside Yard, Penn Station, and the East River and North River tunnels, and further track in New Jersey, as well as putting 60Hz catenary on the Empire Connection (and probably partway up the Hudson line just to provide a reasonable point for switching from third rail to catenary).

If I’m correct, this is a totally reasonable price for so much electrification work, and it’s well worth it. Most of this stuff needs to be renewed anyway. With just a little extra work in New Jersey, NJT would be able to stop frequency-switching on most of its lines (most of NJT’s lines have 60 Hz overhead).

D.R. Graham March 18, 2013 - 1:31 am

In regard to additional phases of the Second Avenue Subway. Phase 2 is a lock. Without much publicity tunnel excavation was done as far north as 99th Street. In the 70s two seconds of tunnel were completed in the phase 2 area. 99th to 105th Streets and 110th to 120th Streets. So the 96th Street station will have tail tracks all the way up to 105th Street or maybe just shy of. I’m sure this was sort of done to help win approval for at least phase 2 as all that will have to be done is cut and cover from 105th to 110th and I’m assuming a launch box will be created somewhere in the 122nd Street area so a TBM can be lowered to finish the rest of the north section to 125th and Park Avenue. Too much of phase 2 is already in place not to get started on the work and the entire phase shouldn’t take as long as phase 1 to be completed either.

Marc Shepherd March 18, 2013 - 7:53 am

I’m afraid that is far too optimistic and mostly inaccurate. Besides 5 blocks of tunneling between 105th & 110th, they would need five blocks of tunneling between 120th and 125th, then a left turn and tunneling westbound to tail tracks extending past Park Avenue. All that, plus three additional stations, an underground storage yard, new rolling stock, and enhancements to existing yards.

In the Environmental Impact Statement Statement, Phase II had the same estimated length as Phase I (7 years) and very close to the same cost ($3.4 billion vs. $3.8 billion). Those costs and time frames were in 2004 and have surely gone up by now. I’m not saying it shouldn’t or won’t be done, but to describe it as “a lock” is way off.

When the MTA couldn’t even figure out how to get the Tenth Avenue Station done, on a line extension it was already building, you see what a daunting problem it will be to find the money for additional phases of the SAS.

D.R. Graham March 18, 2013 - 9:54 am

Yes it is debatable but that’s my opinion based on the work currently being done in a section of tunnel considered phase 2. I doubt it would be hard to gain approval for phase 2 when people realize how much is already done in that area. Plus I also agree with Ben to a degree as I feel people will not want the entire plan to fall to the wayside even if phase 3 and 4 never see the light of day. Phase 2 has too much importance to Lexington Avenue relief even if it does nothing to relieve the Grand Central area.

I’m familiar with that environmental impact study. I’m not sure how much still applies with many amendments happening in phase 1 alone. My point was the fact that 16 blocks of tunneling are already complete with just 13 blocks remaining in the phase 2 section. Yes stations need to be built but you have to understand it takes a lot longer to build stations from below via blasting as was done in phase 1 following the TBM’s work. There’s only one station in phase 2 that can built that way which is 125th St. The rest of the existing tunnels in phase 2 are built too close to grade to use blasting and cut and cover will have to be the method of excavation. Even at 106th where no tunneling was done yet the cut and cover method will be used to build the tunnel and station to meet the grade of the two sections of existing tunnel.

Now your statement on 10th Avenue is inaccurate. It’s not the MTA who could not figure out how to get the station done. It’s the city of NY. The city paid for the extension and when Bloomberg realized the cost of the project with the additional station included called for it to be excluded to keep the costs “in line.”

Regardless the MTA is going to bond out a majority of the money for phase 2 whether we like it or not. It’s really a matter of can we get the feds to kick in some money and with the way they are acting now in congress I have my doubts.

Marc Shepherd March 18, 2013 - 3:15 pm

@D. R. Graham: Nothing you’re saying is new since the EIS. All of this is well known. It’s not as if they’ve suddenly discovered a way to build Phase 2 more cheaply. In fact, there has been no publicly disclosed work on Phase 2 since the EIS.

And if anything, the usual pattern is that, as they get into the details, they discover it is going to cost more. I can’t recall a project offhand that wound up costing LESS than its EIS, unless they eliminated a lot of features.

Tenth Avenue is the perfect example, and I am not mistaken about it; I am exactly right: it wound up costing more than the EIS said it would, and to compensate for that, they ditched a major feature, namely a whole station.

To build Phase 2 is probably a $5-7 billion project, unless they eliminate a station or something like that. I’m not saying it won’t happen, only that it’s a pretty substantial undertaking, and under the current fiscal regime I am not sure where they find the money.

D.R. Graham March 18, 2013 - 9:59 pm

But that’s the problem I have with the entire argument. Where did the MTA find the money for most of it’s current capital construction contract? Bonds! It’s been that way since Peter Kalikow in the mid-90s.

In all honestly I’m not going to throw the numbers around because it’s obvious neither of us have any real certainty on what the number is because even with an estimate that number is subject to change based on a wide variety of issues just like the 7 line extension which IIRC ran into it’s own set of cost overruns. They always seems to happen but speculation on what’s going to happen with money on 2nd Avenue is useless. All I know is that with most of the tunneling actually done and very minimal amounts of cut and cover and the heaviest portion being the TBM method from 121-122nd Street to 125th being the hardest. Phase 2 has a lot going for it than phase 1 ever did and that’s really all that matters to me for now. It will sell itself and the authority and politicians will push it no matter what.

Nathanael March 24, 2013 - 4:11 pm

Divide it into “Phase 2A” and “Phase 2B”.

“Phase 2A” being everything except 125th St. station. This is easy and they could start constructing it right now.

“Phase 2B” being the complicated work at 125th St. This is hard and therefore they had better start doing engineering work and test borings as soon as possible.

Henry March 24, 2013 - 4:41 pm

The problem with Phase 2, as I understand it, is that it basically gets rid of any hope of a Bronx extension of SAS for a generation or two – the original SAS two-track plan in the 70’s would’ve had a station at 125th and 2nd, instead of at 125th and Lex, where the current plan would be to make a left turn and dig below MNRR and the Lexington Line, which is probably the most expensive part of that project.

Personally, I believe that Phase II of the SAS should head to a 125th/2nd station, before tunneling under the Harlem River and intersecting with the 6 at 3rd Av/138th St, and the 2 and 5 at 3rd Av/149th St. This would be more effective (catching all the 6 and 5 riders before 125th, which is congested enough as it is), and would have the additional benefit of siphoning riders off of the 2, another overloaded IRT line.

AG March 24, 2013 - 4:54 pm

I agree 100% with your last paragraph. The Bronx got shafted… they had El’s torn down just like Manhattan did… and the transfers to and fro on the 6 are terrible inconvenience.

Henry March 24, 2013 - 4:57 pm


Depending on how deep you have to go to pass under the Harlem River (is that river navigable by boats?), it might not even be that much more expensive than SAS Phase II, which requires tunneling under a street with an active earthquake fault underneath it.

I would hope that the MTA would do some serious engineering work about that proposed statement, because that’s going to be a very tricky place to build (and apparently the geologic record suggests it’s gone off and released magnitude 6 earthquakes about once every 200 or 250 years or so)

AG March 24, 2013 - 8:49 pm

oh… I didn’t even know about it (geological issues)… but all the more reasons.

as far as the river being navigable… I know boats and ferries go up there…. but i don’t think ships… if that’s what you mean…?

marv March 24, 2013 - 9:27 pm

The second avenue subway was supposed to head into the bronx. The bronx is north and east of manhattan. For the line to turn West at 125 street, is the MTA’s way of saying that the purpose of the 2nd Avenue line was to serve the rich on the east side and nothing beyond.

The harlem river (canal) has the turntables of several bridges effectively dividing the river in two in several places. Would it be possible to divide the river in 2 width wise, dam half allowing for a “dry river cut and cover tunnel construction” and then proceed to the other half. Would such construction save funds, and how long would each half of the river have to be closed? Is traffic on the river light enough to allow this? (I rarely see a boat on it)

Henry March 24, 2013 - 10:10 pm

Ideally, one would probably just lower precast sections of concrete tunnel onto the riverbed, then dredge dirt over it and seal the tunnels before connecting them, as was done with the 63rd St tunnel. The question is whether or not the river is of sufficient depth to allow this sort of construction without dredging work beforehand.

We’re really off topic here, though.

Andrew March 24, 2013 - 11:14 pm

I’m not sure I follow. The Bronx gets “shafted” if the SAS connects with the 4/5/6 in East Harlem but not if it connects with the 2/5/6 in the South Bronx?

Andrew March 24, 2013 - 11:10 pm

I don’t see the great advantage to that plan. It would be far more expensive, and while it would connect additionally with the 2, it wouldn’t connect with the 4 or with Metro-North at all.

And perhaps most crucially, by turning across 125th, it’s ripe for an extension across Harlem to the West Side, which would be an incredibly useful connection.

AG March 25, 2013 - 6:36 pm

well i don’t know how it would be more expensive than tunneling west on 125th. And why would you want to go all the way?

how does the bronx get shafted? simple… Manhattan lost Els on the east side and so did the bronx. the east side of Manhattan is slated to get a new subway… and even though it was originally supposed to go to the bronx.. now it’s not.

and yes – it is very much a time waster for someone on the 4 or 5 who have to go down to 125th to transfer to the 6 to get to the eastern part of the bronx.

Someone March 18, 2013 - 10:12 am

Besides 5 blocks of tunneling between 105th & 110th, they would need five blocks of tunneling between 120th and 125th, then a left turn and tunneling westbound to tail tracks extending past Park Avenue. All that, plus three additional stations, an underground storage yard, new rolling stock, and enhancements to existing yards.

Who said the new yard would be underground? It could be in the South Bronx near the Amtrak yard.

The rolling stocks orders have been already placed (the R179 and the R211 will provide the rolling stock for the line).

Tunneling is relatively easy and should only take ~2 years.

Marc Shepherd March 18, 2013 - 3:18 pm


1. For the new yard to be useful, it needs to connect to the line. There are no plans for an extension into the South Bronx at this time.

2. If you extent the line, you need new rolling stock to maintain headways.

3. If tunneling is so easy, why aren’t they doing more of it? The EIS estimated that Phase 2 would take 7 years, and if past projects are any guide, that is probably optimistic.

Someone March 18, 2013 - 3:37 pm

Phase 2 could take seven years. but if they do Phases 1 and 2 simultaneously, Phase 2 might be able to open in 2020. By then, the Jamaica Yard expansion would have been complete, and the rolling stock for SAS could be maintained there instead.

Henry March 18, 2013 - 8:20 pm

Tunneling is easy – the SAS and ESA tunnels are done, and ARC would probably have finished one tube already if it wasn’t cancelled. Most of the cost and time goes into outfitting the stations, and MTA has inherited the IND’s terrible, terrible obsession with full-length mezzanines. Don’t even begin to get me started on their new obsession with giant cavern stations with full length mezzanines (34th St on the (7) will have TWO mezzanines: an upper one, and a lower one, connected by some incline elevator that will be broken and hard to replace in about 20 years.)

If MTA built its stations more like the Victoria Line in London (small mezzanines connecting to passageways, connecting to two side platforms), then we wouldn’t be spending so much.

http://www.railway-technology......n-plan.gif for an idea of what that would look like.

Patrick March 19, 2013 - 8:40 pm

Wait, WHAT?!?!?! A full length mezzanine, for a short extension? Un-Freaking-Necessary. No wonder the cost is going through the roof! Is there going to be a Giant Mega-Mall at Hudson Yards to go along?
-The Patrick Without a Blog

D.R. Graham March 18, 2013 - 10:12 pm

But the problem I have with this is that it is more speculation. There are no plans that I have seen calling for another underground yard. Phase 1 is set to run with only the Q even if phase 2 gets constructed.

Someone is actually right about this. The R179 order will start arriving before phase 1 even opens.

You have to understand something about the EIS estimates. They are based on a wide variety of conditions. Now it may be accurate but it may be inaccurate as well. Obviously phase 1 time estimates are way off course.

You don’t know what type of issues might arise with phase 2 such as experienced with phase 1 such as property acquisition issues, but many lessons are learned now. A number of the stations built with the cut and cover method will be a great help to the pace of construction. If 96th wasn’t the launch box it would’ve been finished by now.

The retail in the phase 2 section is not nearly as extensive as phase 1. There will be an impact no doubt about it.

Nathanael March 24, 2013 - 4:07 pm

105th to 110th is the planned location for a station. So, to put it simply, the first station for Phase 2 can be built as soon as funding is found — there is no additional tunnelling necessary to get there.

120th to 125th is a much more complex and expensive problem, with curves and bellmouths and underpinning of the Lexington Avenue Line and Metro-North. But it accomplishes the crucial goal of relieving crowding on the Lexington Avenue Line. (In addition to the obvious effect of the local stations on 2nd Avenue, it should act as an interceptor for traffic from the Bronx headed to the west side of Midtown.) Accordingly it will be a high priority for the MTA.

AG March 24, 2013 - 4:49 pm

I agree that it should be done as soon as possible… but Bronx residents who are going to the west side generally transfer to the 2 at one of the 149th st. stations. It’s too bad they don’t have the money to do the original plan – which was to run the SAS up directly to the Bronx. It would bring back some semblance of when the torn down El’s from 3rd ave. used to run. It makes no sense that a person has to go to 125th st. to catch the 6 back to the east Bronx…. but oh well.

BrianVan March 18, 2013 - 1:33 am

This is optimistic by New York standards, even with consideration of the senseless political obstacles you’ve already identified. There could be all other kinds of pitfalls, like perhaps a Neighbors For Better Metro-North Trains fighting a bizarre years-long lawsuit against the state through multiple appeals trying to block any extra traffic proceeding along that line.

But I hope optimism is the correct approach in the end and this is a change that should happen.

AG March 23, 2013 - 3:20 pm

well all the public forums in the bronx attracted large crowds who only minorly worried about parking being taken by ppl (as none will have lots)… the only other grievance was that having to wait until 2019 to get service. i’m pretty sure W. 125th st. wouldn’t face opposition… but i’m sure a few of the new rich ppl on the west side might complain… but that can’t/won’t stop it.

Corey Best March 18, 2013 - 1:36 am

They need to add Orchard Beach-City Island which is still standing, Woodside (New Rochelle) and Astoria on the Hell Gate line and Dyckman Street , Either West 165th Street or West 158th Street on the West Side line. Sunnyside JCT will be built once ESA is completed so there will be transfers between the Hell Gate line and LIRR network and sunnyside area….

Roxie Mika March 18, 2013 - 3:59 am

Suggesting extra intra-city stations is fine and dandy, but it just doesn’t mean much if those extra stations cost as much to travel between as it costs now (plenty, perhaps too much).
In an ideal world, intra-city MNR/LIRR rides would be the same price as a subway ride, with transfers between MNR/LIRR and subways and buses. It’d be an easy way to supplement the dismal amount of subway access in Queens, for one thing. (And imagine, one-seat rides from Flushing-Main Street to Penn Station, or from Fordham Plaza to Grand Central!)

However, realistically I know that will never happen, though it’d be nice to see at least CityTicket getting expanded to an all-week thing. Cheaper than an express bus, at least.

AG March 19, 2013 - 1:19 am

City Ticket is a great idea and should be expanded… but it’s too difficult to place it as the same price of a subway train for various reasons.

That said though – commuting patterns have changed somewhat. Job growth is happening more and more in the outer boroughs and even in “non typical” areas of Manhattan. In the Bronx – Morris Park/Pelham Bay and Hunts Point are both major job centers (medical and industrial respectively)… Morris Park/Pelham Bay is home to four hospitals clustered next to each other… a top 50 in the nation medical school (Albert Einstein)… and the huge growth at the Hutchinson Metro Center. Hunts Point is huge for the food industry. Having additional rail access to those areas is essential for economic growth to continue. Not to mention the Bronx has the highest reverse commuting (people going to the suburbs to work) rate in the country. Connecticut is willing to foot part of the bill because they want access to the labor pool in the east Bronx.
The 2 new stations on the west side of Manhattan would serve the growth in West Harlem that is happening partially do to the massive expansion of Columbia Univ. Of course the far west side is having huge growth as well. Though it is mainly residential growth – you’d be surprised how many city ppl would like the opportunity to take the train up to quaint towns like Beacon or Poughkeepsie – or oven go hiking direct from the train in the Hudson Highlands. That said – there is still a lot of commerce in that area for ppl going to jobs on W. 57th or the Lincoln Center area. It’s a direct ride for ppl on the Hudson line without transferring to the subway.

Nathanael March 24, 2013 - 4:13 pm

Frankly, the NYC subway needs to go to a zone pricing system. The flat rate is not good. That would make it a lot easier to adopt the same system for in-city stops on LIRR and Metro-North.

Henry March 24, 2013 - 4:31 pm

Well, for starters, you would need to completely overhaul the turnstiles to swipe/tap out as well, at all 468 stations. Then there’s the issue of how to process the bus fares, and how free transfers would work with all of that. Then there are things to consider such as unlimited card fare structure, etc. From a technical perspective, daunting.

From a political perspective, most of the city’s poor and working-class families are on the periphery of the city, so this is the sure-fire way to get any politician thrown out of office. Manhattan is already perceived as getting special treatment (snowplows, schools, road funding, etc.). From a political perspective, impossible.

Personally, I believe that the express bus fare and the LIRR in-city are should be harmonized to the same level – currently $6. Express bus cards would be usable within LIRR zones 1 & 3 (in-city), and the Metro-North equivalent. This would allow for greater commuter rail utilization, and the culling of duplicate express bus routes – both have similar cost per rider statistics, anyways.

Andrew March 24, 2013 - 11:30 pm

From a political perspective, most of the city’s poor and working-class families are on the periphery of the city, so this is the sure-fire way to get any politician thrown out of office.

That’s simply false. There are plenty of poor and working-class neighborhoods fairly centrally situated, including several in Manhattan. Meanwhile, some of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the city are on the outskirts.

If you want to keep the price of transit low for the poor, then give the poor discounted transit vouchers.

Manhattan is already perceived as getting special treatment (snowplows, schools, road funding, etc.). From a political perspective, impossible.

A zone system would likely give the lowest fares to people not entering Manhattan at all. For people traveling within their home borough (or between outer boroughs), it would favor the outer boroughs, not Manhattan.

It still would be a hard sell, and the stations are not laid out for it. But in a perfect world, transit fares would vary by zone (and perhaps by time of day), not by mode.

marv March 24, 2013 - 11:57 pm

One fare zone integrates the city into one. The job of government is to facilitate trade and this happens when there is a free flow of goods and people. It is problematic that shopping malls in coop city are off the radar screens for most Queens shoppers due to a $14 (round trip) barrier on the whitestone or throgs neck bridges while Roosevelt field is on the screen despite a greater travel distance. Do we want to do this with the subways? Having a 1 hour trip into Mahattan already directs many in the outer boroughs to the suburbs for shopping, recreation and even work. Do we want to worsen this?

Higher fares are needed to “ration an over capacity facility” and as such i am not opposed to the LIRR/metro north fare being higher than the subway in the city – particularly during rush hours when there is limited capacity. (For this same reason, i am at a loss as to why time of day/congestion pricing is not used on the bridges.)

When this is not a consideration (non-rush hours) the social good of one fare in the city far outweighs the lost revenue. (Tolls on the bidges should similarly be lowered during these times).

BSS March 25, 2013 - 11:37 am

That’s simply false. There are plenty of poor and working-class neighborhoods fairly centrally situated, including several in Manhattan. Meanwhile, some of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the city are on the outskirts.

You haven’t actually countered Henry’s point, it being that the vast majority of the poor in this city live in the outer boroughs. Chinatown, the Lower East Side, Central and East Harlem, Washington Heights and Inwood don’t negate that fact. Some of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the city are on the outer edges of the city, but so are Far Rockaway, Coney Island and Co-Op City.

AG March 24, 2013 - 4:43 pm

i don’t think it can/will happen on the subway because too many low income ppl need it to use. someone who has to live at the last stop on the line because that rent is the cheapest shouldn’t have to pay a higher fare than someone who is able to live closer and pay higher rent. that’s like a “double slap in the face”. The subway system has been part of NY’s mystique… the millionaire and the homeless pay the same price no matter where they go.

commuter rails developed for different reasons… so they are and should be different in my opinion… and I use both.

Nathanael March 25, 2013 - 2:35 pm

The actual income distribution pattern in NYC is pretty weird:


If there’s any coherence to it, it seems that in Brooklyn and Queens, being next to a subway line means lower income. Also, the Bronx is simply lower income than the other boroughs. But some of the poorest census tracts in the whole city are actually in Midtown Manhattan….

I’m suspicious that a number of the extremely low-income areas are due to the deliberate location of government-run facilities for the troubled.

Anyway, if the turnstiles were ever set up for it (I know, decades in the future…), then the way a zonal fare system would be introduced would be, most likely, by introducing a discount for people who stay out of Manhattan (Bronx-only, or Queens-and-Brooklyn-only, trips) thus encouraging subway usage in the outer boroughs. Done this way, it would probably be popular.

AG March 19, 2013 - 12:56 am

Co-Op City would be the stop that ppl who would use Orchard Beach/City Island. City Island has a population of about 5k… Co-op has over 40k itself. They are too close to justify spending the extra money. Either way it has potential to seriously boost the restaurant/maritime biz on City Island since the #6 train is far. Many tourists would visit City Island if there was a 20min train ride with a shuttle right onto the main strip.

mjustice March 18, 2013 - 1:59 am

$800MM makes sense when you consider the other construction costs besides the stations. The third rail shoes on Metro-North locomotives is incompatible with the third rail used by Amtrak and the LIRR. To date I haven’t come across a solution for this issue that doesn’t involve electrifying the West Side Line or refitting the MNR locomotives with new shoes that can use both types of third rail.

Michael K March 18, 2013 - 3:38 am

Easy, side mounted third rails would allow for over and under running shoes.

Someone March 18, 2013 - 10:15 am

They do have them. The M8 has both under-running and over-running shoes.

Walter March 18, 2013 - 12:59 pm

The M8s do not have both under and over-running third rail shoes. They CAN run on both, but the shoes are fixed (not retractable) and are all currently under-running.

They could dedicate a certain amount of M8s for Penn service, but that would wreck havoc in times of equipment shortages and emergencies.

Plus, the M8s can only run on either the New Haven Railroad catenary in CT/NY and Amtraks new catenary up to Boston. They cannot run on the old Pennsylvania catenary in Queens or Penn Station, so even if they dedicate a certain amount of M8s with over-running rail shoes they would need to extend the LIRR third rail to at least the Hell Gate Bridge.

Someone March 18, 2013 - 1:16 pm

I must have made a mistake in my comments. Again.

Anyway, the third rail can be installed over the Hell Gate Bridge all the way to the junction with the MNR New Haven Line.

What’s the difference between the two types of catenaries?

Bolwerk March 18, 2013 - 5:03 pm

I think voltage. Some equipment doesn’t care how it’s juiced, but evidently the M8 does. This is a common topic on usenet’s misc.transport.rail.americas.

Nathanael March 24, 2013 - 4:27 pm

Voltage *and* frequency.

LIRR uses over-running third rail 750 Volts DC.

Metro-North mostly uses under-running third rail 750 Volts DC.

From the junction with Amtrak onward into Connecticut, Metro-North uses overhead catenary 12kV 60Hz AC.
This is also used by most of the NJT electrified lines, except where NJT runs on Amtrak and the tail of the North Jersey Coast Line.

East of New Haven, Amtrak uses overhead catenary 25kV 60Hz AC.

But west of the junction with Amtrak, through Penn Station NY, and onward to Philadelphia and beyond, Amtrak uses overhead catenary 12kV 25Hz AC. (This is also used by part of the North Jersey Coast Line, and by all of SEPTA’s electrified service.)

The 25Hz system is essentially obsolete, but for some reason Amtrak has been renewing it like-for-like rather than converting it to 60Hz.

In fact, Amtrak is currently replacing the Kearny substation with flood relief funds, in order to get it out of the flood zone. This is the substation which supplies Penn Station and points east through the Hell Gate.

This is a perfect opportunity to replace it with a 60Hz substation and move the frequency break south of New York City. Which would account for a huge mass of the “Penn Station Access” costs. But nobody is coordinating.

Alon Levy March 18, 2013 - 4:20 pm

You’re making it sound like dedicated equipment for each line isn’t standard practice on the subway (or tons of commuter railroads and subway networks around the world). Yeah, full compatibility is best, but a competently designed schedule will allow maintenance to be done in a way that prevents equipment shortages.

Nathanael March 24, 2013 - 4:19 pm

First, let’s note that a sensible “Penn Station Access” design would involve Hudson Line trains turning into New Haven Line trains — anything else involves unnecessary platform occupancy. Penn Station needs more through-running, not less.

Given that, the current situation is pretty horrid: diesel on the outer Hudson line; underrunning third rail on the inner Hudson line; no electrification on the Empire Connection; overrunning third rail on the final bit of the Empire Connection into Penn Station; 25Hz electrification over the Hell Gate bridge and along the Hell Gate line; 60 Hz electrification on the New Haven Line.

There’s no such thing as a captive fleet for this mess; it would have to have two sets of shoes (overrunning and underrunning), DC transformers, AC transformers with two taps, and a diesel engine. At that point it would run anywhere. But this is just *stupid*.

Re-electrification is the only sensible thing to do.

mjustice March 18, 2013 - 10:29 am

Not easy — as the MTA doesn’t have any side-mounted third rail. Hard to say if there’s clearance for it in all areas where it would be needed. It would probably be cheaper to refit the existing MNR locomotives with moveable shoes. Either way it costs money and that has to be accounted for as a cost in the project.

Someone March 18, 2013 - 11:40 am

By “side mounted”, I think Michael means “to the side of the rail”, and not actually mounted on the side of the rail.

Larry Littlefield March 18, 2013 - 7:12 am

We will know what people at the MTA want to do long before we find out what anyone is willing to pay for.

For 20 years or so, when it comes to cash money, only the federal government has paid for anything. And even that can’t be counted on now.

“Long Island politicians are playing both tough to get and selfish.”

Someone needs to announce that Long Island is under a plague of locusts. They wrecked NYC as they moved out, and bankrupted Nassau. And now they are looking for the next field to loot.

The question is, where is the response “the rest of the state made sacrifices to put you first, and now you are complaining that something might be done for someone else too. What kind of people are you?”

And “Long Island politicians” won’t cut it. The people who are like that need to be named and shamed — or made heroes of their generation. Generation Greed.

Scott March 18, 2013 - 7:52 am

The old Rockaway Line should be in that budget. Now is a great time to improve transit to southern Queens. Especially after Sandy. Show the people that the MTA cares about transit for everyone. Re-activating that line would bring a faster trip to midtown for all south Queens and help alleviate congestion on Cross Bay and Woodhaven Blvd. It really is a no brainer… The ROW is available and it is 90% at grade so it should not come with an excessive price tag.

D.R. Graham March 18, 2013 - 9:58 am

You have to win over the park planners first.

Scott March 18, 2013 - 11:36 am

Queens is full of parks… we do not need one on an abandoned Rail Line… instead, if we rebuild the Rockaway Line residents could take the train to Forest Park, Rockaway Beach, Jamaica Wildlife Refuge, Flushing Meadow Park, etc…

And, I am sure that a bike/walking trail could be added to the ROW… There is enough room for most of the trip.

Henry March 18, 2013 - 8:21 pm

Queens needs to develop the capacity for maintaining its current park system before it starts expanding it. Have you seen the amount of litter in Corona Park?

AG March 19, 2013 - 11:00 pm

responsible citizens would fix the litter problem.

Henry March 23, 2013 - 1:01 pm

Tell that to Central Park.

It also doesn’t help that most of the Queens parks are underutilized because they’re cut off, or split in half by the area’s highways.

AG March 23, 2013 - 3:07 pm

huh? the ppl who litter in central park are just as irresponsible as those who litter in corona park. litter is just plain poor behavior…. even in wilderness places persons are to be careful even with organic material as to not introduce invasive species. I recall even hiking one time upstate and near the trails signs were posted telling ppl to clean up after their horses (like in the city we do a dog) just in case their horse ate some seed from somewhere that would bring in invasive species… true story.

in any event – central park has a private conservancy that takes care of the park through millions in donations… not really comparable.

Someone March 18, 2013 - 10:13 am

The Rockaway Line should not be converted into a public park, because no one would use it. The MTA has a huge opportunity now that they’re not taking.

Bolwerk March 18, 2013 - 10:20 am

Worthlessness has never been an obstacle to the park faithful. If anything, the lack of use validates the park-like nature for them, and affirms that what they’re doing is right.

Someone March 18, 2013 - 12:07 pm

…And then the transit situation in Queens will get worse as people try to flock to an area that is already badly served by mass transit.

John-2 March 18, 2013 - 10:18 am

What is the load factor on the LIRR’s current daily trips into Penn Station, and what percentage of current riders into Penn does the MTA project will switch over to Grand Central? Take those factors, and factor in any estimate on increased ridership on the LIRR due to East Side Access, and that should allow the agency to decide how many slots they can cut from Penn Station to allow for Metro-North Access.

If you’re an LIRR rider who is going to Penn Station no matter what changes are made by the ESA option, odds are you’re going to lose a little flexibility, because some trains are going to be moved over to Grand Central. It’s similar to what happened after the Chyrstie connection opened — it allowed for far more trains to travel to midtown from the old BMT Southern Division, but if you lived on the West End line (or, back in ’67, the Brighton line) and worked right in the area of Union Square or west of Times Square, the change was actually a downgrade in service for you, even if it helped a vast majority of riders.

People and politicians who try to hoard all the access slots at Penn for the LIRR away from Metro-North, while at the same time getting to use Grand Central along with M-N passengers likely aren’t going to get much sympathy from the rest of the metropolitan area.

AG March 19, 2013 - 12:58 am

Metro-North has been running at higher ridership than LIRR for a couple of years now… it’s only fair to give Met North those slots.

Norm March 18, 2013 - 10:49 am

Ben, got excited when you posted the map with all the lines for GCT and Penn Station in the Tristate Area and thought you were going to do a piece on integrating service/fares across the region, with a spotlight on through-running trains.

Benjamin Kabak March 18, 2013 - 10:53 am

I think getting Penn Station Access into the next capital plan would go a long way toward realizing that dream. Eliminating the separate fiefdoms of LIRR and MNR would do wonders for MTA efficiencies.

Jim March 18, 2013 - 11:15 am

One step at a time. Hang catenary on the west side line and run MNR trains through: Poughkeepsie to Stamford, New Haven to Croton Harmon. If we can’t get through running between two MNR divisions, it’s hopeless to dream of more.

Someone March 18, 2013 - 12:02 pm

Or, run trains with both catenary and third rail shoes on te West Side Line. There doesn’t have to be catenary for the entire Hudson line.

Nathanael March 24, 2013 - 4:34 pm

All of Metro-North’s “New Haven Fleet” can handle 60Hz catenary and underrunning third rail already.

60Hz catenary is the future national standard, because 60Hz is our electrical grid frequency, which means that very few rotary converters are needed.

Accordingly, the logical thing to do is:
(1) Order more of the “New Haven Fleet”;
(2) Hang 60 Hz catenary over the Empire Line;
(3) Convert the Hell Gate Line, Sunnyside Yard, the East River Tunnels, Penn Station, the North River Tunnels, and Portal Bridge from 25Hz catenary to 60 Hz catenary.

All this catenary needs to be renewed anyway, and the Kearny substation needs to be moved due to the Hurricane Sandy flooding. It’s a good time to re-electrify.

I believe there is an issue related to NJT’s “Arrow III” fleet, which can’t convert from 25 Hz to 60 Hz on the fly.

However, if frequency conversion is extended as far as Newark, NJT can move the Arrow IIIs to the lines which head for Newark Broad Street, and put the trains which can switch frequency on the fly onto the NEC.

Alon Levy March 18, 2013 - 4:23 pm

People aren’t as interested in traveling in a U as in a line or an L, though. And specifically re the destinations served, the most important secondary destination to be served by through-running on the New York side with existing infrastructure is Jamaica, followed by Flushing (if you include New Jersey, Newark is even more important). Yonkers, New Rochelle, etc. are too far north for anyone to bother going the long way through Manhattan.

Bolwerk March 18, 2013 - 5:13 pm

Some Ls in our region aren’t too bad conceptually. Yonkers and White Plains are probably fairly small potatoes for the region, but a well-run railroad option still might be preferable to a morning car commute from LI or NJ.

But, since we’re masturbating, why not just use the Beacon Line?

AG March 19, 2013 - 1:00 am

White Plains is not small potatoes… it’s a very important biz center for the region… probably right below Stamford, CT.

Bolwerk March 19, 2013 - 11:21 am

That’s not what I’m talking about. Daily weekday ridership at White Plains is maybe north of 10,000, and the bulk is probably trying to get to GCT.

AG March 19, 2013 - 10:59 pm

of course the majority are going to GCT… doesn’t change the fact White Plains is not “small potatoes”.

Bolwerk March 20, 2013 - 3:47 pm

It doesn’t even exceed the average use for an NYCTA station. As a rail destination, it’s small potatoes.

AG March 21, 2013 - 1:26 am

why bother to compare it to NYCTA????? reality is that after GCT and Stamford, CT – White Plains is the next most important station in the Metro-North network… which is the busiest commuter rail in the country.

Bolwerk March 21, 2013 - 2:37 pm

The comparison to NYCTA was a demonstration of its low importance. White Plains is probably more important than Stamford, actually. But the only station of any major significance for MNRR is GCT; the rest primarily feed it.

Meanwhile, Jamaica and Newark, as Alon mentioned, are some of the busiest stations in the country.

AG March 21, 2013 - 6:05 pm

when i have to take trains headed to white plains or stamford to visit clients and such – the trains are much more crowded now than 15 years ago. of course they have less trains going north than into GCT… but it is signficant. the phenomenon of the reverse commuter in NYC has been chronicled for a few years:



in actuality – directly related to this blog and the 4 east Bronx stations to open to serve access to Penn Station… business leaders in Connecticut are in support of it because they want access to reverse commuters in the Bronx:


Bolwerk March 22, 2013 - 3:17 pm

Uh, I know the numbers. I even told you how (in)significant it was. A bunch of poorly researched NYT articles won’t change that. Of the <10,000 riders to/from White Plains, surely some fraction are very important white people in suits. Perhaps more a janitors or something.

Yes, reverse commuting is getting more important, but the reverse commuting is diffused across multiple stations – not centered at White Plains the way downstate commuting is focused on GCT. Or, to get back to the point of why White Plains is small potatoes, there isn’t really any other service to catch from there as there is in Jamaica or Newark. White Plains use would need to increase by an order of magnitude before it became that important. Kapish?

AG March 22, 2013 - 7:29 pm

what does “white people in suits” have to do with anything? you have some racial problems you need to sort out away from this site.

you use a lot of words but don’t say much. I used the NY Times because I thought you could understand it. From a business standpoint – if you don’t understand the important of White Plains and the Platinum Mile between there and Stamford then there is not much to say. You are really going to compare the economic clout of the White Plains area to Jamaica or downtown Newark??? Seriously?

Total riders is not the issue. If that was the only issue. Trains would only run back to those places in the evenings. I guess if you had it your way they would.

Nathanael March 24, 2013 - 4:37 pm

“And specifically re the destinations served, the most important secondary destination to be served by through-running on the New York side with existing infrastructure is Jamaica, ”

Expanding either the LIRR or Metro-North third rail system along the Empire Line is dumb. It would require yet another captive fleet with two sets of third rail shoes (overrunning and underrunning).

And it wouldn’t help at all towards the goal of NYS High Speed Rail, which overhead catenary actually would help with.

Some coordination please. It should be clear that, as needed, the existing systems should be replaced with overhead catenary at 60Hz AC.

Nathanael March 24, 2013 - 4:39 pm

FWIW, if Metro-North ran a “U” using overhead catenary, and LIRR kept on doing what it does, Sunnyside Transfer would allow for LIRR / Metro-North transfer *somewhere other than Penn Station*, which would help some.

AG March 19, 2013 - 10:52 am

I agree in principle… but taking the train from Poughkeepsie to Stamford or New Haven to Croton would make no sense. you lose too much time taking such a long route. That was actually one of the points of adding rail and BRT to the new Tappan Zee. Ppl from Orange and Rockland who work in Connecticut were to be able to transfer at Tarrytown and take those buses to Port Chester along the I287 corridor and then further to CT. Since that won’t be happening anytime soon – I think the MTA/Metro North should consider running their own shuttle buses between Tarrytown – White Plains – Stamford. and even Poughkeepsie – Wassaic – Danbury, CT stations. That way the lines could have some connection north of the city.

Matthias March 19, 2013 - 2:53 pm

The point would not be to travel from end to end (who rides from Metropolitan Av to 71 Av on the M train anyway?) but to vastly increase the number of possible trips. Imagine being able to travel directly from Yonkers to Stamford or from Woodlawn to Scarborough.

AG March 19, 2013 - 11:02 pm

“Yonkers to Stamford or from Woodlawn to Scarborough.” ok – but how?

Larry Littlefield March 18, 2013 - 12:01 pm

I’m not sure of that Ben. Where would the President of the combined railroad be? They need to be right there watching these folks.

Metro North riders are opposed. They fear their railroad becomming like the LIRR.

Someone March 18, 2013 - 12:04 pm

What harm would that do?

Bolwerk March 18, 2013 - 12:57 pm

I think I agree with Larry. Organizational division is always going to be necessary and arbitrary; look a the line manager program from a few years ago.

It’s fine to organize hierarchically, to a point. The problem is people think hierarchically to the point that they can’t think out of the box.

Ant6n March 18, 2013 - 8:05 pm

People talk about trains with shoes that are compatible with multiple kinds of third rails. Is it instead possible to have third rails that are compatible with multiple kinds of rail shoes? If that’s possible, then that should be much cheaper to build for the Empire connection compared to putting overhead wiring.

(btw, does anybody know how wide the Empire connection is? I’ve taken it a couple of times, and some of it seems wide enough for four tracks. This would allow easier local/express service, and more stations in Manhattan.)

Someone March 18, 2013 - 8:09 pm

SIngle-tracked, except fot the section from 39th Street to the Spuyten Duyvil bridge, which is double-tracked.

Someone March 18, 2013 - 8:10 pm

I don’t know. I’m estimating, about 40-50 ft. wide?

Bolwerk March 18, 2013 - 9:01 pm

It was quad-tracked at one time. Since at least WWII, privately owned RRs literally were incentivized to single-track when they could because it reduces their tax bills.

Someone March 19, 2013 - 7:41 am

You mean, it was quad-tracked north of Spuyten Duyvil.

Ant6n means the section that was built in 1991 between Spuyten Duyvil and Penn Station.

Bolwerk March 19, 2013 - 11:16 am

Oh, I misread Empire Connection as Empire Corridor.

Nathanael March 24, 2013 - 4:41 pm

Third rail DC is more expensive than overhead catenary AC for almost all applications. It requires more substations, which is a huge cost.

The Empire Connection is two tracks most of the distance. There’s a single-track tunnel at the Penn Station entrance and IIRC a single-track bridge at Sputen Duyvil. (That could be doubled at reasonable cost. Doubling the Penn Station approach tunnel would be… harder.) North of Sputen Duyvil there’s a four-track right-of-way for a very long distance.

Henry March 18, 2013 - 8:23 pm

Big problem: MNRR and LIRR run at different voltages – I think one runs 700V DC and the other runs 750V DC. Any sort of MNRR access to Penn would need to accommodate the 50V difference, which in a best case scenario is going to result in suboptimal performance and increased wear and tear on electrical equipment, and in worst case is going to lead to inoperable trains.

Ant6n March 18, 2013 - 8:40 pm

50V difference is not much. If the third rail is kept at 725V, then the difference is only 25V, ~3%. The Voltage dip due to distance from substations and multiple accelerating trains on a rail should be much bigger than that. Once could also increase the MNRR voltage to 750 globally (which was done to LIRR some time ago), or have “dual”-voltage trains, which would be trains that simply have slightly higher tolerance. This should all be relatively cheap.

To give you an idea of the tolerances for railway electrification, consider that for 25KV electrification it’s 19KV min/27.5KV max permanently, and 17.5KV min/29KV max temporarily.

D.R. Graham March 19, 2013 - 1:30 am

Very much correct. 50V DC is not much at all. One thing to remember about DC current. It doesn’t flow consistently at all. It can vary at many times in a lot of different locations of the rail itself resulting in voltage a lot lower than the advertised number. What’s been the saving grace itself for the newer subway cars is their ability to convert the 600V DC to 480V AC. AC is a much more fluid and consistent current and actually saves on the electrical systems of these newer cars.

Nathanael March 24, 2013 - 4:44 pm

The voltage isn’t the issue. The incompatible third rail shoes are a significantly larger issue.

I believe (though I can’t prove it) that when “overrunning” shoes are installed they foul the Metro-North third rail, and when “underrunning” shoes are installed they foul the LIRR third rail.

So it would be tricky to devise a car which ran on both; I’ve heard descriptions of “flip-shoes” which flip out of the way when not being used.

It’s much easier to handle one type of third rail plus multiple types of overhead catenary.

FWIW, it seems to be relatively easy to handle multiple voltages of catenary. Multiple frequencies is a big pain, though.

Henry March 24, 2013 - 4:48 pm

Flip-shoes are technologically possible, as they were used on the frequent Eurostar services before HS1 was completed. However, the problem with flip shoes was that drivers would forget to flip them up, and once in France, the shoes would basically take out wayside equipment. SNCF eventually got very upset about this and installed concrete bumper blocks outside of the Chunnel to snap them off before they could do harm.

There’s always human error involved somewhere

Nathanael March 25, 2013 - 5:01 pm

OK, so then we need two sets of bumper blocks to snap two sets of flip-shoes off at the bridge… yeah, this is probably what the MTA will do, given a ridiculous bias against just *standardizing the damn electrification systems*

marv March 19, 2013 - 1:06 am


A long term standard for electrical systems for North American rail.

The long term goal should be for all North American rail to use the same electrical current and shoe/catenary.

*Interchangability/route flexibility would be acheived
*Cost of equipment purchases would be reduced due to standardization.

The standard should be chosen
All systems should then draw up 50 year plans toward migration to the standard under the bribe/penalty of federal mass transit dollars.

Interium solutions such as side mounted third rails should be used over the 50 year transition period.

No area’s rail is so unique that it requires unique features. Electrical trains are 100+ years old and the lack of standard are too wasteful to continue for ever.

Nathanael March 24, 2013 - 4:52 pm

For longer-distance trains, the standard has already been established: 60Hz 25kV AC overhead catenary.

– AC is cheaper for long-distance travel than DC because it requires far fewer substations and allows thinner wires.
– The frequency is chosen because it’s the grid frequency, which means you can avoid expensive frequency converters
– The voltage is an international optimized standard. For areas with restricted clearance you can use a lower voltage and most trains will handle it with no difficulty (they’ll just have less power).
– Overhead catenary is preferred to third rail because it (a) uses less materials and (b) it’s really damn hard to do AC third rail safely, given the required clearances for high-voltage AC. See the reasons for AC above.

This standard was used for the electrification from New Haven to Boston. It was used for every NJ Transit electrification program. All the other electrification systems are *leftovers* — Amtrak and SEPTA’s 25Hz overhead system dates from the Phildaelphia Railroad and the Reading Railroad; Metro-North’s underrunning third rail dates from the New York Central Railroad; LIRR’s overrunning third rail dates from LIRR’s era of independence, which is a really really long time ago.

For shorter distances, DC is still used — basically in case of accidents. This isn’t a big issue because short-distance trains (subways, HBLR, etc.) usually don’t need to switch to each others’ lines; isolated lines are good practice on metro systems, as they prevent accidents from causing cascading line delays.

Longer-distance trains (LIRR, Metro-North, NJT, Amtrak) *do* need to switch onto each others systems, so standardization *matters*.

Nathanael March 24, 2013 - 4:55 pm

“For shorter distances, DC is still used — basically in case of accidents.”

To elaborate, a downed AC power line at 25kV is really extremely dangerous. A downed DC power line at 600 V, somewhat less so. Hence the use of DC for operations with “streetcar” sections like the HBLR.

AG March 21, 2013 - 6:13 pm

I didn’t realize… according to the MTA – they are negotiating through runs with NJT… (page 13)


Nathanael March 24, 2013 - 4:53 pm

This is the one piece of through-running which can be done without any additional re-electrification work.

They can’t run the Arrow IIIs through. But apart from the Arrows, all the other NJT trains can run right through on Metro-North and Amtrak catenary, as far as Boston if necessary.

AG March 24, 2013 - 4:56 pm

hopefully it will happen… or at the least the fare systems can be integrated so even if you have to transfer you can use your smart ticket/device with minimal inconvenience.


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