Home Penn Station Access Initial plans, fights for Penn Station Access coming into view

Initial plans, fights for Penn Station Access coming into view

by Benjamin Kabak

A proposed build of the Penn Station Access plan.

We don’t yet know what shape the MTA’s next five-year capital plan will take nor do we know who will see it through the prickly halls of Albany. It’s looking more and more likely though that Penn Station Access will be a significant part of that plan. I delved into the idea last week, but the short of it is that once East Side Access opens, the MTA can use some slots freed up by the LIRR’s move to Grand Central to bring Metro-North trains into Penn Station.

Some Long Island politicians are not thrilled with the idea that their constituents won’t have as frequent service to the West Side, but those concerns should be obviated as Long Islanders head to the East Side instead. With that in mind, it’s hard to view this idea as anything other than a win-win for everyone involved. Recently, the MTA officials have spoken at length about their potential plans, and one report claims that the MTA hopes to send 10 Metro-North trains an hour into Penn Station.

Newsday’s Alfonso Castillo and Thomas Zambito have more:

As many as 10 Metro-North trains every hour could stream into Penn Station during the morning rush once the link to Manhattan’s West Side is opened up to Hudson Valley commuters in 2019, according to new MTA documents. Among them would be several New Haven Line trains that would arrive at Penn Station every 20-30 minutes, according to a presentation Metro-North’s parent agency, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, gave Connecticut officials earlier this month.

“It adds additional service to get more vehicles and cars off the road, to give people more transportation options not only to get to Manhattan but to get to more places in the region,” interim MTA chairman Fernando Ferrer said of the Penn Station project, which a 2008 state comptroller’s report estimated would cost $1.8 billion…

As part of the Penn Station Access project, Metro-North would run six to 10 trains an hour to Penn Station during the morning peak period, which lasts from 6 to 10 a.m. And four Metro-North trains an hour would run from Penn Station to Connecticut during the morning rush to accommodate reverse commuters. Two New Haven Line trains would run to and from Penn Station during off-peak periods and on weekends. No information was provided on how many trains Metro-North would operate at Penn Station during the 4-8 p.m. evening rush.

It’s important to realize that all of these numbers are very preliminary. The MTA is still studying the environmental impact of the Penn Station Access plan, and no funding requests have been submitted, let alone approved. Still, the MTA is trying to improve access to both halves of Manhattan as well as trying to improve transportation from the Bronx into Midtown.

As Newsday reports, however, this plan is not without its detractors. Charles Fuschillo, a Republican State Senator from Merrick, oversees the Senate Transportation Committee, and his group would have to approve the MTA’s next capital plan if he retains his position. He’s already voicing concerns. “I don’t support Connecticut trains coming at the expense of the Long Island Rail Road,” he said, further noting that Penn Station Access won’t have his vote unless “he is assured that the LIRR will not be harmed by the Penn Station plan.”

Now, in my view, that’s an absurdly siloed and selfish view. Long Island will reap the benefits of East Side Access, but its politicians don’t seem to recognize that it’s part of a larger region and bigger state that will benefit tremendously from Penn Station Access. As Long Island riders head to the East Side, capacity at Penn Station should easily enable Metro-North trains to come west.

Much of this talk is premature, but the battle lines have been drawn. The MTA wants Penn Station Access, and Westchester and the Bronx will as well. Long Island politicians are set to fight. Transit upgrades just never come easy, it seems.

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Mike March 25, 2013 - 1:01 am

Is it possible to implement a Queens Station into this? A Station by the N Train or MR Trains would benefit residents in Queens, and greatly improve access to Laguardia airport by residents of the Bronx and Connecticut with a coordinated bus service.

It’s also noteworthy that getting a station in Queens would wedge the Queens politicians away from the Long Island politicians.

Nyland8 March 25, 2013 - 7:12 am

It does seem like an awfully long distance to travel through Queens without making a single stop. And, at the very least, there’s plenty of ROW width to make a station in Astoria.

John-2 March 25, 2013 - 9:05 am

Northern Blvd. or Roosevelt Avenue would be the most logical sites, since subway stops are nearby and the track isn’t in an awkward location, as with the Hell’s Gate viaduct approach in Astoria.

Kevin March 25, 2013 - 11:59 am

I thought that ESA included a Queens Blvd station near the Sunnyside yards.
MTN trains should at least stop there, if not at 1 other station.

Nathanael March 25, 2013 - 12:32 pm

Yep, Sunnyside Transfer.

Ryan April 1, 2013 - 10:03 am

A Sunnyside station would be nice.

Frank B March 25, 2013 - 3:19 am

Well Ben, as the old saying goes:

You can lead a Long Islander to fact;
But you can’t make him think. 😛

SEAN March 25, 2013 - 8:57 am

That’s a good one!

These polititions know exactly what the score is on big picture issues like transportation, but become incrediblly small minded & petty the minute something might change.

Oh, woh is me, a few Metro-North trains want a few slots at my little Penn Station! Wahhhhhhhhhhh!

Get over yourself & focus on what’s really importent like regional mobility.

Bolwerk March 25, 2013 - 12:47 pm

It’s rather comical to think anyone would even want to go to Penn Station unless they have to. Of course, plenty of people do have to.

Walter March 25, 2013 - 1:08 pm

Long Islanders seem to forget that Metro-North commuters will now have to deal with additional thousands of people who will soon be pouring out of the LIRR cavern, straining the Lexington Avenue Line and the sidewalks outside of Grand Central even worse than they are now.

SEAN March 25, 2013 - 1:27 pm

That’s a good reason for the extention of the 2nd Avenue subway to the lower east side. The city may also need to widen the sidewalks around our transportation hubs as there importence continues to increase.

SEAN March 25, 2013 - 1:33 pm

Two solutions to that issue…

1. A southern extention for the 2nd Avenue. subway to the Lower East Side.
2. The city will need to widen sidewalks around transportation hubs as there importence continues to increase.

Justin Samuels March 25, 2013 - 5:14 pm

They need to work on funding the other phases of the Second Avenue subway now. The city and state need to present funding packages, in order to get federal funds.

Frank B March 25, 2013 - 5:51 pm

Agreed. Phase 2 and Phase 3 should occur simultaneously.

Once Phase 1 is open, large swarths of ridership to/from the Upper East Side will shift to the IND 2nd Avenue Line from the IRT Lexington Avenue Line. This will make ridership on the Lexington Avenue Line go from unbearable to bearable, so there’s that benefit.

If the Phase 2 tunnels didn’t already exist, I’d honestly say shelve that Phase until Phase 3 is open; since UES riders have switched lines and made the Lex more tolerable, there would be less of a rush for an extension to 125th Street; Midtown has got to be top priority.

Perhaps they’ll reconsider Cut-And-Cover for Phase 3; TBM is already a little too deep for a practical passageway to Grand Central Terminal, and it would be slightly faster to build.

Unless Bloomberg plans to make large areas of the East Side “Pedestrian only”, we’re going to have a major problem above ground, not to mention the overcrowded platforms below ground.

JMB March 25, 2013 - 6:48 pm

Not sure of the legality or feasibility of this idea, but I always thought that it would be interesting to tack on to all high-rise development a charge that goes to the necessary upgrade of transit infrastructure that the building(s) being developed would inflict.

We are at the point now with most of the lines in Manhattan that any additional usage will require upgrades. Lexington being chief among them, but also the west side IRT as well as the Flushing line. We simply can’t keep upzoning without also investing in the transit infrastructure that facilitate this increase in density to begin with.

Anyone else think this could be the solution?

SEAN March 25, 2013 - 7:32 pm

What you are describing is esentially the way a BID opperates, but you are trying to apply it to up zoning wich may not be legal. The 34th street partnership is an example of a BID for those who aren’t aware.

Justin Samuels March 25, 2013 - 7:35 pm

Well, Bloomberg has the city issue tax revenue bonds in order to pay for the 7 line extension. Basically the city issued bonds, and will pay the bondholders back from property taxes in the areas served by the 7 line extension, as the development there makes the real estate a lot more valuable.

Tax revenue backed bonds could pay for a portion of the Second Avenue Subway phases 2, 3, and 4, all of whom need to be built to relieve pressure on the Lexington Avenue line. And there’s no reason to just try to build phases 2 and 3. The city in the past undertook much greater expansions in its mass transit.

Bloomberg had wanted to pass congestion pricing, and issue toll backed bonds and use that money in order to expanded the transit system. But those proposals were defeated three times.

Nyland8 March 26, 2013 - 1:43 pm

“Perhaps they’ll reconsider Cut-And-Cover for Phase 3; TBM is already a little too deep for a practical passageway to Grand Central Terminal, and it would be slightly faster to build.”

I’m not sure where you got this idea, but with rock so near the surface in midtown, TBMs will be much faster, and much cheaper.

With C&C you would have a constant open trench where drilling and blasting noises abound as you make your way downtown. Every business along 2nd Ave would close for loss of business, every resident would sue for loss of peace, the road itself would have to close to traffic – and you’d NEVER be able to work at night.

With TBMs you’re operating below most of the subsurface utilities, so you don’t incur the time and cost of rerouting them. And you can bore 24/7 – at least theoretically.

As a rule, C&C is most practical where you’re only going through dirt, clay, loose fill, etc. In Manhattan, that means you’re probably going to prefer TBM all the way down to 14th St. MAYBE south of 14th, to the Chrystie St. bypass, you might find C&C a better option.

But the city can’t even afford the lawsuits incurred by trying cut-and-cover in midtown. And there would be enough “Stop Work” orders to wallpaper the Guggenheim. We live in a litigious society.

Larry Littlefield March 25, 2013 - 9:29 am

We’re I NYC’s Mayor, I’d kill this attitude really quickly.

I’d point out that often in the past, when the city was poorer, the suburbs ganged up on New York City and parochial pols stoked resentment against city residents, even though many suburban residents earned their living there.

And say “I hope people who live in Westchester, Putnam, Dutchess and elsewhere in the state see what that kind of selfish attitude could mean to them. And this is coming from a county that the rest of the state has had to bail out.”

Note that Charles Fuschillo was careful to say Connecticut. But still, those who pull this stuff are playing a dangerous game, assuming race and class resentments will continue to allow this kind of begger thy neighbor behavior.

Then again, he could always point out that the biggest victims of the grifter culture of Long Island are on Long Island. At least among those who haven’t left yet.

AG March 25, 2013 - 11:24 pm

how would you kill their attitude? these are politicians…

Larry Littlefield March 26, 2013 - 11:55 am

You can start by pointing out to people in their districts that THIS is what their “representatives” are acting like on their behalf. Thus making and announcing a judgement of what THEY are like themselves.

The problem is that selfish, nasty people are constantly buzzing around politics while normal people just go about living their lives. They can get away with it as long as the normal people aren’t paying attention.

AlexB March 25, 2013 - 10:13 am

Are these stations finalized? How might I go about complaining that there is no station at 31st and Ditmars in Astoria to connect to the N? I live there and would use the station every time I had to use the Metro North.

BoerumBum March 25, 2013 - 11:50 am

Well… every time you had to use Metro North to go to Connecticut.

Tim March 27, 2013 - 9:46 am

Or the west side…

AG March 27, 2013 - 9:55 pm

you should write to the planning committee…
as someone else suggested… putting a stop closest to La Guardia would be useful if they ran a shuttle to the airport

Nathanael March 25, 2013 - 12:34 pm

What I want to find out is what the electrification plans are. Given past history, they’re probably going to bodge together something idiotic involving extremely complicated multisystem trains which have to be ordered new. The alternative is to standardize the electrification in the area, which would save a lot of money in the long run.

SEAN March 25, 2013 - 1:15 pm

Good point. However, my question is how do you do that? Would love some insight.

Come to think of it, weren’t there recent discussions of Metro-North purchasing bi-level coaches similar to the ones on NJ Transit & the LIRR? If so, it could solve a lot of issues including but not limited to…

1. Aquiring duel powered engines like those on NJ Transit.
2. Replacement of first generation of shoreliner fleet

3. Expantion of service to both Penn Station & Grand Central.
4. Perhaps avential through running beyond train to the game service.

Jeff March 25, 2013 - 2:11 pm

My understanding is that bi-levels wouldn’t fit through the Park Ave tunnel.

Jeff March 25, 2013 - 2:37 pm

Sorry, I was wrong. While this is a concern, it isn’t completely insurmountable:


Next time I will research before I comment!

SEAN March 25, 2013 - 3:08 pm

It’s all good.

If you get a good look at the bi-level cars on the LIRR, they are squared off vs the NJT cars wich have mitered upper corners. This allows for the NJT fleet to fit inside the Hudson River tunnels. There’s also one other difference in the fleet types & that relates to the door placements & the nesessity for end doors with traps.

g March 25, 2013 - 4:33 pm

Yea, MNRR would have to buy their own custom shelled bi-levels to reach GCT. However that’s the only real way they can increase capacity to GCT without dealing with the inherent limitations of the GCT interlocking plant and Park Ave tunnel…a very costly proposition.

Spendmore Wastemore March 25, 2013 - 3:51 pm

Does it really need four stops in the Bronx? Two stops should do it for commuter rail – most of Bx already has subway service, so commuter rail should supplement rather than duplicate that.

There’s more cost than just the stations; trains that are always stopping don’t do as much going. We have subways for that.

Bolwerk March 25, 2013 - 4:30 pm

I don’t know if four stops are needed, but the service is definitely aimed at a part of The Bronx that doesn’t have much subway.

Also, there is nothing that requires using all your stops. If you have n stops, you have a menu of (n)(n-1) pairs of stops to choose from for a given service.

Spendmore Wastemore March 25, 2013 - 5:09 pm

But customer / politician complaints will probably require most trains to make all stops. Once the platform is there, people tend to demand the trains to stop at it. I could be wrong about the outcome of course.

Adding service to underserved areas is completely valid. I’m thinking of what kind of service is being added, how it fits with the system we already have and how much should be built at the inflated cost scale we have.

Bolwerk March 25, 2013 - 6:56 pm

Onerous political requirements suck, but at least they can be removed with a vote from a more sensible legislature, so they don’t hurt the future much.

As for the costs, I can’t explain them. I can understand tens of millions$ per station, maybe, but not hundreds.

Nyland8 March 25, 2013 - 4:31 pm

I’m sure most of the Bronx doesn’t think doesn’t think they have enough subway service.

Which kind of begs some interesting questions: Is it more important for any newly-activated commuter rail to service areas of the boroughs that are under-served? (The proposed stops in the Bronx are not too close to active subway lines) Or is it more important to have connectivity to already existing subway service? (The proposals on this thread for stops in Queens seem to focus on places that already have subway stops.)

Since the ROW we’re talking about is already at grade in the Bronx, it will probably be cheaper to add non-connecting stops in places where the ROW is wide enough. But the ridership from those locations may not be high, and I suspect that not all inbound and outbound trains will stop at every stop – such as the case with Morris Heights and Marble Hill.

Conversely, connecting the elevated ROW in Queens to the existing subway stops in Astoria and Woodside is likely to be very expensive – but the traffic likely to use those connections is bound to be much greater.

What is the justification formula for determining which are more likely to be built?

It would seem by the MetroNorth plans that easy stations in under-served areas are more important to invest in than broad regional connectivity to other systems.

Any insights?

SEAN March 25, 2013 - 6:12 pm

One of the proposed stations is Co-op City wich doesn’t have direct subway access. Co- op City is one of the dencest if not the dencest housing complex in the country. Direct rail service into Penn Station would be a boom for ridership. Not only that, it would untangle the mess of bus routes serving the development & perhaps create a central transfer point between bus & rail.

AG March 25, 2013 - 11:35 pm

you make a good point about Morris Heights on the Harlem line. I know there is talk about adding service to Morris Heights to foster development. It’s the “chicken and the egg” in some ways. I know in Riverdale on the Hudson line they just added trains because now that there is shuttle bus service throughout the neighborhood – ridership has increased.

Someone mentioned Co-Op City and that’s a no brainer… with Parkchester being not to much smaller of a development (though the 6 stops in Parkchester – it obviously doesn’t go to the suburbs). Morris Park – where one of the new stations is proposed has 4 hospitals and a medical college right at it’s door. There over 4 thousand workers (and still growing) across from it at Hutchinson Metro Center. Of course some of those workers live in the suburbs… so it will help take cars off the road. Plus it will help places like City Island as it relates to tourists and regional visitors – because I know City Island wanted to run a shuttle. 20 min from Penn is very different from 60 min on the 6 from Grand Central for someone going to restaurants and the like.

Mike March 26, 2013 - 11:28 am

Sometimes the best thing is a combination. Stations serving under served parts of the Bronx would work well with a station in Queens.

Existing options for public transit between Queens and the Bronx/CT require travel through Manhattan.

Getting to LGA/JFK from the Bronx/CT could be improved with an additional stop in Queens. A bus line could run between the station and LGA, and after Northern Blvd, transfers to the Local and then the E only require walking across a platform.

It’s not always the best idea to expand transportation options to areas with limited infrastructure by cramming them to what is the busiest train station in the country.

The best solution is to properly integrate new stations into the existing infrastructure.

AG March 25, 2013 - 11:24 pm

subways can’t get to Westchester and Connecticut… a lot of Bronx commuters go that way. Not to mention there are ppl who will pay for a fast trip to the west side. not sure how you can say the stations are too close. just look at the harlem line… Mt. Vernon West and Fleetwood are both less densely packed than the east Bronx. Those stops are very close together (you could technically walk from on to the other) and their is no overlap. There are plenty of riders to support both.

Nyland8 March 26, 2013 - 6:05 am

Well … according to the schedule I just checked, outbound from GCT with departures from 5:40AM to 10:55AM, Fleetwood gets only 12 trains, and Mt. Vernon West gets 15. AM inbound to GCT, roughly the same, with 15 at Mt. Vernon West for every 13 trains to Fleetwood.

So somebody at MetroNorth doesn’t think they’re equivalent stops. Fleetwood’s ridership is supported by less trains.

AG March 26, 2013 - 8:38 am

3 trains is no world of difference… my point is that they are in walking distance (literally 3 minutes drive) and both are well served. both stations – because they are on the border of Yonkers also draw residents from there. As it relates to this… the east Bronx is more densely packed – so there is no reason not to have 4 stations there… or as you would point out – “the ppl at Metro North think they should get 4 stops”.

Nyland8 March 26, 2013 - 9:05 am

Indeed. 20% fewer trains in 5 hours may be less than a world of difference. I wonder how many trains roll right past both stations in that same time period.

Back in late 2012 I had several occasions taking the MetroNorth South from Marble Hill to Morris Heights – which just happened to be closest to where I was going. It was not unusual for three trains an hour to whiz by. If they ever get built, I wonder what percentage will actually service the 4 proposed Bronx stations.

I guess time will tell.

AG March 26, 2013 - 11:12 am

here is there proposal in terms of the amount of trains…


but yeah – i know what you mean about morris heights. in that area – i’m sure it’s more of a demand issue.

SEAN March 26, 2013 - 10:26 am

Take a look at this site http://www.walkscore.com

The last time I saw ridership numbers, Fleetwood had more riders than Mount Vernon West. Today that may have changed as it is a short hop to Empire City & areas along Central Park Avenue via Bee-Line bus routes 7 & 20/ 21. Also keep in mind that the density around there is quite high with apartment buildings on Bronx River Road & along nearby streets in Fleetwood. Bronxville the next stop up the line has several large complexes of it’s own including Bronxville towers & Stoneleigh Plaza wich flank the village & are a short distance from the station.

There are several communities on the Hudson & New Haven lines that offer housing near the town & station & would benefit greatly with increased travel options.s

capt subway March 25, 2013 - 5:13 pm

I’m not sure if this was mentioned above. But a way of freeing up even more train slots in Penn Sta is by through-routing LIRR & NJT trains and/or MNR & NJT trains. Certainly the technology has existed since the turn of the last century for trains to run off DC 3rd rails or AC overhead. By through routing you eliminate much overlapping of services, eliminate a huge number of “deadhead” or “light” train moves from Penn to Sunnyside yards and/or Penn to West Side Yard, save on car equipment by combining trains, and also provide for through service between LI & NJ. It’s a boon for passengers. At least some people presently driving cars between LI & NJ would be enticed on board through trains.

I did an analysis of this for the RRWG (Regional Rail Working Group) a few years ago: trains counts, deadhead moves, etc, etc. It’s very much doable, would save on car equipment and train crews, etc. The only obstacle – an admittedly HUGE one – would be getting the various operators: NJT, LIRR & MNR, to all sign on to it and come up with an operation that would be agreeable to all parties.

SEAN March 25, 2013 - 6:58 pm


I mention through running above & you did a nice job expanding on it. One other aspect to think about relates to joint ticketing. How much easier would it be to make a single ticket purchase than to have several seperate transactions.

Caelestor March 25, 2013 - 7:24 pm

Since it uses third rail, the Hudson Line should be through-routed with some of the LIRR lines if it does go to Penn Station one day. Likewise, I think it’s also feasible to through-run NEC Corridor and New Haven line trains because of the overhead catenary.

SEAN March 25, 2013 - 9:48 pm

That’s what Train to the Game service is in a nutshell.

Walter March 26, 2013 - 1:14 am

The LIRR and Metro-North use different third rails, and current Metro-North rolling stock cannot operate on the Pennsylvania catenary system. The M8s should have been able to, but I guess MNR and Conn DOT declined that feature.

NJ Transit’s ALPs locomotives are the best bet, but there are tradeoffs (MUs accelerate faster and discharge passengers much quicker, locomotive hauled trains with double deckers can offer more seats).

AG March 25, 2013 - 11:40 pm

well it seems they are considering it…


bigbellymon4 March 25, 2013 - 9:11 pm

Phases 2 and 3 of the SAS project should be done simultaneously because once LIRR trains start running to GCT, thee is gonna be more congestion on the LEX lines. If the MTA knew how to spend their money, all of this could have been done easier to help prevent mayhem rather than wait for it to happen then fix it. If the MTA can’t fund phase 3, they could extend the Q and T to broadway and 125 to relieve crosstown service on the buses if phase 2 happens.

AG March 25, 2013 - 11:44 pm

Not only is it incredibly childish and provinical of those LI politicians… but are they not aware that Metro North ridership now eclipses LIRR???

Larry Littlefield March 26, 2013 - 11:58 am

That’s because of the way the LIRR has been run, and because those who have high paying jobs in Manhattan have NOT been moving to Long Island. They’ve been going to New Jersey, or up to the Hudson Valley, living in the city — avoiding that grifter culture.

So who is going to replace those who die off or move to Florida?

AG March 26, 2013 - 10:51 pm

their (Long Island) problem with replenishing their population is that they can’t keep their young. their percentage of rental housing is very very low. I can’t remember the #’s – but last I recall it was only half of even Westchester. They are finally realizing that young ppl don’t want/ or can’t afford a single family house the way their parents did.

Nathanael April 3, 2013 - 7:33 pm

Y’know, given that Suffolk and Nassau are going to be early casualties of sea level rise, maybe the declining LI population is just as well.

Eric F March 26, 2013 - 9:03 am

That red line on the map runs tantalizingly close to Laguardia Airport. You stick a little connecting shuttle there and it’s one stop from LGA to Penn. Think about it…

AG March 26, 2013 - 10:27 am

yeah – not sure why that hasn’t been brought up… It would take some traffic off of the Hutchinson River Parkway in Westchester and the Bronx as well as the Whitestone Bridge. For that same purpose they could also run shuttles for events at Citifield and the USTA. It would also give ppl in Manhattan obviously a cheaper “fast” option to La Guardia than taking a cab.

Michael k March 29, 2013 - 1:03 am

Charles Fusillo is my legislator in Merrick, NY.

My family as well as the local civic association has written him emails asking him to make the connections and open up transportation options for our regions so that we can better compete with emerging economic powerhouse regions in Texas.


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