Home East Side Access Project A week of safety concerns as ESA drill bit pierces subway tunnel

A week of safety concerns as ESA drill bit pierces subway tunnel

by Benjamin Kabak

An East Side Access drill bit, right, and an F train had an unfortunate encounter today. (Photo: MTA)

When you or I think about a drill bit, we probably conjure up images of something small used to secure some houseware to the wall, maybe 3/4 of an inch. We don’t really think of drill bits on the scale of the East Side Access project, but today, numerous subway riders and the MTA had a close call with a giant drill bit as it pierced a subway tunnel and narrowly avoided an F train with 800 on board.

The Daily News had the story about the runaway 10-inch drill bit:

A contractor operating a drill as part of the MTA’s East Side Access project mistakenly penetrated a Queens subway tunnel on Thursday, and the massive bit scraped the top and side of an occupied F train, transit officials said. Some 800 passengers were aboard the Jamaica-bound train at the time, about 11:45 a.m. Nobody was hurt in the terrifying blunder, but it was far too close for comfort. “That’s a near miss,” an MTA supervisor said, wondering what would have happened if the bit had made a direct hit and punctured a subway car’s passenger compartment. “Oh my God! If it had hit the train, you could forget about it! Of course we are concerned.”

…A contractor working on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s East Side Access project, which will connect the Long Island Rail Road to Grand Central Terminal, was operating the drill above ground, roughly at the intersection of 23rd St. and 41st Ave. in Long Island City.

The contractor, Griffin Dewatering New England, Inc., was using the drill to expand a well, said MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz. An MTA source familiar with the work said the contractor was at fault. “Some people don’t follow instructions; they drilled deeper than they were supposed to.”

This comes at the end of the week during which the MTA David L. Mayer, formerly of the National Transportation Safety Board, to be the agency’s first Chief Safety Officer. It also comes at the end of the week during which the NTSB ripped into Metro-North, calling last year’s derailments, injuries and deaths “preventable.” For more on that — and criticism lobbed toward the FRA as well — check out Railway Age’s take and The Times’ piece on the press conference.

Much like the drill bit exiting the tunnel today, the only way to go from here is up.

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sonicboy678 October 31, 2014 - 12:26 am

Is it really so much to ask that contractors be competent, primarily in NYC?

Duke October 31, 2014 - 12:40 am

So that’s why I saw an F train at Queens Plaza this afternoon!

And here I thought it was something mundane.

Danny Powers October 31, 2014 - 2:27 am

Wow low bench wall side usually has 3rd rail running next to it. Can’t get much more nearer than that miss.

Vinny O'Hare October 31, 2014 - 2:44 am

Luckily this wasn’t a few feet over and rip into the subway car. It would have tore it open like a sardine can. I wonder what threw the train into emergency?

Simon November 3, 2014 - 12:22 pm

The conductor.

Eric F October 31, 2014 - 9:17 am

If our society was sane, the moral of the Metro North disaster would be “Screen engineers for sleep apnea.” Of course, screening for disabilities is now illegal, and so we’ll spend some multi-billion dollar sum on technology so we can continue to employ people who sleep while driving trains, rather than put that money into something that would improve commute times or capacity.

Bolwerk October 31, 2014 - 10:00 am

It’s not illegal to screen for disabilities. It’s illegal to reject an applicant on an the basis that they have a disability if the disability does not impact the applicant’s ability to do the job.

SEAN October 31, 2014 - 3:12 pm

Right on Bolwerk.

Please inform yourself before you make misstatements involving the ADA & other legal matters.

Eric F October 31, 2014 - 4:24 pm

It’s not illegal to screen but it’s illegal to act upon the screening? In that case, you’d have an employer on notice as to a dangerous condition but unable to rectify it, which means that no employer would do the screening.

Or did I not adequately inform myself?

John October 31, 2014 - 4:48 pm

I think you misread what he said. It’s illegal to reject an applicant due to a disability, if that disability doesn’t impact the ability to do the job. If the disability DOES impact their ability to do the job, they are allowed to not hire them.

But it would be foolish to say the only people who can fall asleep on the job have sleep apnea. It can happen to anyone, and where feasible there should be safeguards so when it does happen, it doesn’t cause a crash.

adirondacker12800 October 31, 2014 - 5:34 pm

Rumor has it that the “deadman switch” that the NYC subway uses has stopped the train twice in the history of the subway because the motorman was dead. Things other than being dead or falling asleep happen. And you don’t need to have sleep apnea to become disoriented and or sleepy with a radical shift change. Or have something come crashing through the windsheild. Or..

SEAN October 31, 2014 - 8:25 pm

It’s illegal to reject an applicant due to a disability, if that disability doesn’t impact the ability to do the job. If the disability DOES impact their ability to do the job, they are allowed to not hire them.

Yes exactly. A potential employer is NOT REQUIRED to hire someone who has a disability, but said disability CAN NOT be the primary reason not to hire if they are able to perform the required elements of a given job – even withsome degree of modification.

Truth is most employers don’t hire people with disabilities because… a. the law doesn’t require them to b. they don’t want to spend the money to make workplaces disabled friendly & c. quite often the disabled are looked at as a legal liabilety rather than an asset witch is unfortunate. I can personally speak to that.

pete November 1, 2014 - 11:55 am

You want to defend that “not required to hire” in litigation in court? If you allow eye glasses, someone will sue that sleep apnea is the same thing as nearsightedness, or that their sleep apnea is “well managed” by doctors and his application was rejected under a protected class.

Bolwerk November 1, 2014 - 1:39 pm

Is that an unreasonable argument for people not handling heavy machinery?

pete November 1, 2014 - 2:58 pm

“reasonable accommodation” is whatever a jury believes, the law says nothing particular http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/42/12111 .

Bolwerk November 1, 2014 - 3:35 pm

I’d think a jury would be unlikely to decide that. By the time it gets to a jury, if it gets to a jury, legality would probably have been established by the judge based on existing caselaw or the judge’s own opinion.

A jury would settle a basic question of fact – e.g., was John Doe not selected because of his disability/race/gender?

SEAN November 2, 2014 - 11:01 am

You want to defend that “not required to hire” in litigation in court?

That is the established rule in caselaw. There is ZERO REQUIREMENT of any employer to hire someone who is disabled. The law ONLY requires employers to go through the interview process. ( note the words in caps)

So to answer your question
– yes I would since in most cases defendants usually win those cases. You would need to show a total disregard of such laws in order to lose in court.

A few years ago there was a supreme court ruling involving United Airlines & a pilot that wanted to be hired although he had 20/200 eyesight. The company invoked a rule that stated that a pilots vision couldn’t be greater than 20/100 while this persons interview process was ongoing. As a result, the applicant was rejected. The court ruled that the rejection was not only exceptable, it also gave employers the ability to create standards for hiring based on disability at there least impactful state. Example… certain jobs may require fine workmanship such as artests, jewlers &the like. So as a result, there maybe a vision requirement, but a person who is visually challenged can be accepted if they ware glasses with the right type of lenses.

Nathanael November 4, 2014 - 9:23 pm

Would-be train engineers and subway motormen have been rejected for red-green colorblindness. (They can’t read the signals.) Untreated sleep apnea would be equally easy to reject for.

Bolwerk October 31, 2014 - 6:21 pm

What John said, with the caveat that some employers under some circumstances must provide “reasonable accommodations.” You can screen for whatever you want; you only run afoul of the law if you can’t justify your disparate treatment. If you ask something out of bounds but don’t actually injure the party, you didn’t technically do anything illegal.

Also, AIUI, sleep apnea isn’t that easy to diagnose. So screening isn’t always that effective. Besides that, there probably is no legal issue.

Maggie October 31, 2014 - 9:28 am

This is unbelievable. MTA is a state agency and while there are layers of management and oversight, this happened on Governor Cuomo’s watch. If Cuomo intends to sell himself to the American people as a competent leader and manager, I hope he steps up, takes the responsibility for this mess, and makes some clearly needed changes.

Ryan October 31, 2014 - 10:24 am

“The only way to go is up” is a rather bold statement, and unfortunately, it’s an inaccurate one.

This isn’t the last time East Side Can’t Access is going to end up in the news for some critical failure or delay or “near miss.” Instead of being a relatively isolated incident, this is likely symptomatic of the much larger problems that you and I and everyone know plague this project.

In an earlier comment thread I called infrastructure in NYC “a black hole which sucks in all funding and from which no useful improvement escapes.” Perhaps none of NYC’s many projects embody that quite lkke this singularity of bad decision making.

Morally, I support massive investment into and massive expansion of transit. Practically, the never-ending money stream we flush into this toilet bowl of a project isn’t going to buy us trains into a cave under GCT, but what it will buy us is more set-backs, more near misses, and many more concerns both for the project and for those who have to live and work around it.

It brings me no great joy to be the guy calling for ESA’s cancelation, but I will do it, because at a certain point even if we’re accepting of the fact that there is no hope for budget sanity in NYC, we have to say “this is too much, this isn’t working, this won’t ever work.”

I call it East Side No Access, or East Side Beyond Access, or any other number of lame negative modifiers, but really, there’s a better four words to descdescribe this effort.

Clown show dumpster fire.

It’s long past time we put the fire out.

Benjamin Kabak October 31, 2014 - 10:37 am

I hear what you’re saying, and I’m sympathetic to this argument. That said, the ship has sailed. Too much money that the MTA doesn’t have to return would have to be returned and too much progress has been made. It’s not really clear why this project is going to take another 6-9 years, but the tunnels are carved out and the money is appropriated. This isn’t ARC where 100 feet of tunnel were all that existed, and the political ramifications of canceling this now are tremendous. It will live on, clown show dumpster fire or not.

Nathanael November 4, 2014 - 9:25 pm

At this point, as far as I can tell, we’re pretty close to ready to run ESA trains from Queens to Manhattan. Unfortunately, there’s not yet a way to get the trains into the tunnels at Queens. The work at Sunnyside Yard has become a mess.

This is a case where 3/4 of the project is done, physically speaking. At this point, even with the clown show, the payback on spending the *rest* of the money is pretty good.

SEAN October 31, 2014 - 10:53 am

You realize of course that ESA will not stop no matter how many times you click your heels & wish it too be so.

ESA has tremendous utility regardless of the means to such an end. Of course the other option is to stop ALL projects & forget about system expantion forever regardless of need.

Ryan October 31, 2014 - 11:42 am

Its tremendous utility is tremendously diminished by the fact that it’s connected to a deep dark hole beneath the corner of 42 and Park instead of to Grand Central, but you’re right, it’s still a useful project.

I’m not clicking my heels and wishing for it to go away, I’m wishing that as many of its flaws that we can correct do get corrected – canceling the project is the fastest way to get there, but I’d also accept suspending the project for criminal proceedings. My goal in calling for its cancelation is that the project gets recycled into a more useful form, and that we get some answers (ideally, a lot of rolling heads) as to where, why, and how this went off the rails so badly to bring us to today, where we’ve spent more than the original cost of project to get ourselves farther from completion than we were when we started.

Because you’re also right when you say “ESA won’t stop,” but not for the reason you thought: based on the current trend line of ESA from then to now, we can conclude that if the project continues at its current pace, ESA will never actually finish (for a cost of $\infty dollars.)

SEAN October 31, 2014 - 3:06 pm


Seriously – so what if the new station is under GCT? Will it be that hard to get out of there? Besides a little workout never hert anyone.

Is the cost of this project out of hand? Yah but could you imagine what would happen without it.

Eric F October 31, 2014 - 4:23 pm

The depth of the station is a big deal. The time it will take to get to and from the depth will eat in to the time savings of not having to double back from Penn Station. I’m not saying that’s a reason to end the project, but I am noting that the depth issue, as well as the relatively circuitous routing to GCT, as opposed to the straight shot to Penn will undercut promised time savings.

ESA has a couple of big plus marks in that is greatly expands capacity to NYC, from 4 to 6 tracks and adds the redundancy of a new terminus.

The length of the delays in getting ESA done has become simply absurd. They are now talking about 2023(!!) as the delivery date! It’s almost admirable that a project can be sustained through three decades of construction. But sad that it has to take that long to get it up and running.

adirondacker12800 October 31, 2014 - 5:29 pm

The long escalator ride at the WTC PATH station has made it a miserable failure.

The tunnel to Queens was completed in 1972. It didn’t materialize overnight. The New York Central was busy avoiding bankruptcy at the time. If there had been a cheap and easy way to use Grand Central’s existing platforms for LIRR trains they would have gladly done it. They had 30 years to contemplate how to connect the existing tunnel to existing platforms in Manhattan. Yet it never occurred to anyone?

SEAN October 31, 2014 - 8:49 pm

I’m sorry – it’s not a big deal. Perhaps not ideal, but like anything else in NYC transit you adapt. Now stuck on a bus in Lincoln Tunnel traffic day after day is a big deal.

BruceNY November 1, 2014 - 12:51 pm

The PATH station has been a long escalator ride since the original WTC opened in the 70’s–I don’t understand your complaint. It’s not going to cause people to change their commuting patterns. My concern is how many years the MTA takes to install, test, delay openings, and dither every time they have to install an escalator or elevator, and then fail at keeping these running reliably.

adirondacker12800 November 1, 2014 - 5:16 pm

I’m not the one complaining that a long escalator ride is the end of the world. I want to see as many Long Islanders as possible out of Penn Station as soon as possible.
I do have a complaint with people who look at a street map of Manhattan and whine that it could have been done differently. People, with access to more detailed information than what’s on a street map, have been exploring the various options for almost 50 years and don’t come up with the solutions people who look at street maps come up with.

Eric November 2, 2014 - 3:26 am

People “with access to more detailed information” also have biases like “LIRR trains should never be able to use Metro North tracks”. People with information and without biases also think ESA should have ended in GCT not a deep cavern.

sonicboy678 November 2, 2014 - 4:57 am

Then there would need to be serious changes necessary for all LIRR and (East of Hudson) Metro-North third rail equipment! Oh, wait…

adirondacker12800 November 2, 2014 - 11:45 am

So the people who have been discussing this for 50 years are all under the evil influence of a railroad that went bankrupt in 1970? No one in the past 50 years, people who have incentives to find cheap solutions and the civil engineering degrees to implement them, have not questioned the motives of a railroad that went bankrupt in 1970?

50 years ago when people first started talking about this the New York Central was desperate for revenue. The New York Central would have jumped at the chance to rent out the lower level of Grand Central. So desperate for revenue they were entertaining plans to tear down Grand Central. Their arch rival the Pennsylvania Railroad was so desperate for revenue they had sold off their subsidiary, the Long Island Railroad and had let their flagship station be torn down.
There was no Metro North when this was planned. There were two railroads desperately trying to avoid bankruptcy who would have been delighted to sell off assets or get more rent from the state. In the 40 years since the tunnel under the East River was completed or the 30 years Metro North has been in existence, no one any where in any of the management teams or any of their consultants has thought to use the underutilized paltforms. No one has decided to spend a few thousand dollars to research why it’s wasn’t possible in 1966 or 1976 or 1986 or 1996. Or knock some heads together if it is possible. Nah it’s a nefarious plot by a railroad that almost went bankrupt in 1968 and then did go bankrupt in 1970 to screw over a railroad that was taken over by the state in 1966.

SEAN November 2, 2014 - 6:56 pm

Let me ask you a simple question – how in the world do you even know if using GCT’s lower level wasn’t considered & then rejected?

lop November 2, 2014 - 7:25 pm
adirondacker12800 November 2, 2014 - 9:18 pm

What are the chances that no one in the past 50 years hasn’t considered it? That generations of professionals that do this for a living never considered it. Nope it’s all a vast conspiracy perpetuated by the hatred Metro North has for the LIRR or vice versa. Even though both of them are owned by the state. And the people who are old enough to remember the rivalry between the predecessor railroads have been dead a long time.

lop November 3, 2014 - 1:09 am



The summary was the other PDF. Why are you so convinced that LIRR could not have used the existing GCT tracks?

adirondacker12800 November 3, 2014 - 11:17 am

It’s very difficult to find information about IRUM. Apparently their budget is a few hundred thousand dollars a year. On one year’s budget they were able to find a solution that people with budgets of millions of dollars and large staff weren’t able to find over the past 50 years.
The people with large budgets and staffs weren’t able to convince a nearly bankrupt railroad to sell or lease them some space. Or people with large budgets and staffs all working for the MTA weren’t able to find this solution.

Nathanael November 4, 2014 - 9:34 pm

Adirondacker: that’s because the problem is political.

* Metro-North doesn’t want to share with LIRR.
* LIRR doesn’t want to share with ANYONE.
* The MTA is afraid to work in the basements of expensive office buildings.

This is why the MTA rejected “Alternative G” for new Hudson Tunnels, which included the Penn Station – GCT connection. It was the cheapest to build, would actually *save* on operating costs, and would attract the most passengers… but it requires talking to the owners of very expensive office buildings. Therefore it was rejected.

This is really stupid, but it’s a matter of record. The MTA is *afraid of* any solution which involves any digging at relatively shallow levels under big expensive office buildings. Until you fix this little piece of paranoia, you won’t get any decent construction designs.

adirondacker12800 November 4, 2014 - 9:54 pm

Explain to me why Metro North a subsidiary of the MTA can tell the MTA what to do or not do with LIRR a subsidiary of the MTA. And why New York State who owns the MTA lets them get away with it.

Working in the basements of expensive office buildings can very risky. Owners of very expensive office buildings and their tenants tend to get a little bit nervous when you ask them if you can remove parts of the foundation of their buildings.

adirondacker12800 October 31, 2014 - 5:51 pm

The tunnel under the river was completed in 1972.
The LIRR is at capacity. Metro North is almost at capacity. Which means people from Long Island who want to get to the East Side are on overcrowded subways and people from Westchester and beyond who want to get to the West Side are on overcrowded subway. If LIRR shifts significant amounts of people to Grand Central they aren’t clogging up Penn Station or the shuttle to get to the East Side. And it frees up space for Metro North so that people aren’t clogging up Grand Central and the shuttle to get to the West Side. Pity that the subway and the suburban trains go through tunnels. They could coat the outside of the trains with the loop side of Velcro and issue everybody vests with the hook side of Velcro on the vests. They could just hang off the sides of the trains.

Spendmor Wastemor October 31, 2014 - 7:41 pm

I’m sure a faster means of hominid transport can be devised for the trip upstairs. Is there not a Ringling Bro’s Circus Train? No, yes there is.

Thusly, an accelerating escalating device can be invented and improvised, which successively slingshots clowns sub-subway commuters toward the crowds lining city sidewalks.
That will be, specifically, the Catapultolator™, which offers a thrilling 3.3 second trip calculated for a soft landing on a large ledge-platform at destination height.

To quell the queasy public, members of the state and city government might be imperatively invited on the demonstration run of this wonderous invention.

Billy G November 1, 2014 - 8:01 am
Tim November 3, 2014 - 5:36 pm

To be fair, the travelators at Schipol would be the ideal solution. 15 degree sloped moving walkways from platform to street side airport terminal, works like a charm.

Ryan November 1, 2014 - 11:41 am

There are plenty of legitimate reasons to not like the big hole in the ground underneath 42 and Park, but the time to get between it and surface level isn’t one of them.

pete November 1, 2014 - 3:01 pm

It takes 9 minutes to get from the start of the first escalator to the street sidewalk at 63rd Lexington if you stand still on each escalator. It will be faster to take 1/2/3 1 stop from 34th to TS than use ESA.

Spendmor Wastemor November 1, 2014 - 3:56 pm

9 minutes?

Whomsoever approved that needs a ride
on Calvin’s Catapultolator™ !

Faster escalators can be done: walk-speed moving sidewalk dumps onto faster escalator, if one has physical issues take the elevator.
This being NYC, I’m sure lawyers would swarm.

Ryan November 1, 2014 - 4:08 pm

Meanwhile, in Washington DC, commuters can get from Wheaton to the surface in under three minutes while standing completely still on an escalator that travels the same span as a 23-story building. “High-speed” elevators one stop down the line travel at a rate of 17 feet per second.

The LIRR terminal under 42 and Park, by comparison, is 140 feet underground. By using this same “high-speed” elevator and escalator technology, commuters can expect to go directly from the deep, dark hole in the ground to the corner of 42 and Park in about 8.23 seconds by elevator. Or they could stand on the escalator from the LIRR terminal to Grand Central’s lower level, which if I recall correctly is about 15 feet below street level, and make that trip in about 2’50” on an escalator which would beat out Wheaton’s as the longest anywhere in this hemisphere.

Even a “slow” escalator moving at 1 ft/s gets you from LIRR terminal to Grand Central standing on the right in 4’10”. If you then walk sloooooooooooowly, you might be able to make the rest of the trip out of the building take 9 whole minutes. (Nine whole minutes!) If you’re in a little bit of a hurry, you’re probably walking on the escalator and out the door in 6.

I’m not going to bother doing the math to figure out how long it might take John Q. Long Island to get from either terminal to Times Square, because the name of the project isn’t Times Square Access.


Ryan November 2, 2014 - 12:32 pm

I actually got bored.

Assuming that the following things are all true:
– It is 250 feet from the door of the LIRR train to the base of the escalator
– The escalator is calibrated to move at 1.5 ft/s
– The escalator arrives in Grand Central Terminal exactly 1/4 walking mile (1320 ft) from the shuttle platform
– The average commuter is walking at the average human speed of 3.1 mph (4.55 ft/s) and climbing escalators at 90% of their walking speed as per this study
– The 42 St Shuttle is on its standard 5 minute headway and takes exactly 4 minutes to Times Square

Then a commuter will detrain in the LIRR terminal and take exactly 54.9451 seconds to board the escalator, 44.6827 seconds to reach the top of the escalator from the bottom of the escalator, 290.1099 seconds to walk from the top of the escalator to the shuttle platform, wait an average of 5/2 minutes and arrive in Times Square exactly 12 minutes and 59.7377 seconds after stepping off of their LIRR train plus or minus up to 150 seconds to account for when the next shuttle departure was relative to their platform arrival. (Subtracting the full 150 seconds plus the 240 second time in transit and assuming it is also about 1/4 walking mile from the escalator to any exit from GCT, we can conclude that it will also take LIRR travels exactly 6’29.7377″ to reach the street, which means my 6 minute guess was pretty damn close. Go me!)

Alternatively utilizing the existing option to get to Times Square and assuming that it is indeed the very same 250 ft door-to-escalator calculation, 1/4 mile walking path from the LIRR platform to the IRT platform, but an escalator only 1/3 as long, a commuter could expect to make the journey from train to train in 54.9451 + 16.4867 + 290.1099 = 361.5417 seconds. The same four minute travel time applies on the Broadway-Seventh Avenue Line between 34 and 42, but the Uptown 1-2-3 combine to arrive about once every 90 seconds during the peak hour, so an individual could expect to arrive in Times Square exactly 10’46.5417″ +/- 45″ after detraining in Penn Station.

This means that there’s a differential of exactly 2’13.196″ +/- 3’15,” which translates to a best-cases scenario of East Side Access being over a minute faster to Times Square, a worst-cases scenario of Penn Station Access being nearly 5.5 minutes faster, on average Penn Station will be roughly 2 minutes and 13 seconds faster, and the average Long Islander won’t care enough to do anything but grab the first train that shows up since a time savings of 2’13” (or even the full 5’28”) gets instantly nullified by a 6+ minute wait for the next LIRR train that happens to be going to the terminal they wanted.

And, again, this isn’t “Times Square Access,” so who even cares which one is faster to Times Square? It’s East Side Access and the new terminal is indisputably faster to the East Side. If I get bored again, I’ll actually go ahead and calculate just how much faster.

(PS self note: does ± produce a plus-minus symbol?)

Ryan November 2, 2014 - 12:42 pm

Whoops! Screwed up the differential calculation slightly.

The true differential is 2’13.196? ± 4′.

adirondacker12800 November 1, 2014 - 5:28 pm

I’m confused. What does 63rd and Lex have to do with Penn Station, Times Square or Grand Central and LIRR passengers?

SEAN November 2, 2014 - 11:13 am

Depth & time to exit.

adirondacker12800 November 2, 2014 - 11:57 am

If I’m on Long Island and I want to go to Rockefeller Center what does 63st, 63rd St and any of the Avenues, have to do with my trip? Or if I’m on Long Island and want to get to 47th and Third. Or… ?
If I want to get to 63rd and Lex the fastest way is probably to take the LIRR to Penn Station and change to an F train. That doesn’t affect people who want to go to Rockefeller Center or Union Square or Wall Street or Columbus Circle or 47th and Madison or…. That there are trains from Long Island to Grand Central probably makes for a faster trip to Penn Station and the F train because there will be less people in Penn Station and less people transferring to the subway in and around Penn Station.

Ryan November 1, 2014 - 12:00 pm

I don’t care about the passenger experience. Some subway stations in DC are farther underground (including one served by the longest escalator in the western hemisphere) and people have survived those just fine.

No, it won’t be that hard to get out of there. The actual problems with the failure to connect to existing infrastructure in GCT are the penalties to operational flexibility (while Metro-North is nearing capacity and the tunnel leading up to GCT is nearing capacity, GCT itself – with its world record number of tracks and platforms – is nowhere near capacity and never, ever will be), the fact that digging out the new cavern still managed to cost Metro-North some valuable yard space, and the lost chance to try for sane unification of standards between the MTA and the MTA.

Of course, it’s now too late to do anything about that because even if we cancel and restart the project, we’re tied to the portions of it that were built already. That doesn’t mean we should (and I’m not going to) stop pointing out all the real problems with the new station as designed.

And the fact that we’d need to utilize the already-built portions of ESA 1.0 in any ESA 2.0 shouldn’t stop us from canceling ESA 1.0, because it’s there already and we just have to live with it – but we shouldn’t have to live with the metaphorical train wreck (and oh boy I can’t wait for the literal train wrecks when testing starts, because you just know this thing is going to see at least one before revenue service begins) that this project has become.

Shut it down.

adirondacker12800 November 1, 2014 - 5:11 pm

We should just toss away 7 billion dollars and wait another 50 years because it offends you sensibilities? People have been contemplating this problem for almost 50 years. They don’t come up with your fantasies. And they have access to moderately accurate three dimensional drawings of what goes on under Park Ave. and it’s environs.

Ryan November 1, 2014 - 9:12 pm

What’s the point of actually having a discussion with you if you won’t bother to read people’s comments, misconstrue what people actually say, and throw out any part of a comment that can’t be used to build a straw man for you to tear down?

Let me quote myself:

Of course, it’s now too late to do anything about that because even if we cancel and restart the project, we’re tied to the portions of it that were built already.

I’m not sure how you took this line and read it as anything other than “mistakes were made, but it’s too late to redo all of the infrastructure.”

But, I guess, if you’re more interested in winning arguments and making other people look stupid so you can look smart rather than having a reasonable discussion…

Thanks to the brilliant work by Master Debater “adirondacker12800,” I now see how wrong I was about everything. How stupid I was to question his infinite wisdom, and take any position other than full and unconditional agreement. He is right, and I am wrong!

Eric November 2, 2014 - 3:32 am

The 7 billion are SUNK COSTS. They have been spent, they can never be recovered. If abandoning the current project and building a direct connection to GCT will require lower costs from now on, it should be done.

adirondacker12800 November 2, 2014 - 11:48 am

How is it supposed to be done? could it be that sometime in the past 50 years and the various proposals that have been put forth people with civil engineering degrees and decades of experience find fatal flaws in trying to get trains from Queens to the lower level in Grand Central?

Eric November 3, 2014 - 9:43 am

As “lop” shows above, it can be done.

Tower18 October 31, 2014 - 3:11 pm

It’s far too late to cancel it. How would canceling help anything? Already billions spent for a partially-complete hole in the ground…it’s extremely unlikely that the costs forward from here will exceed the costs already incurred plus the costs of starting over on a similar, but distinct project, so it doesn’t make financial sense to cancel.

lop October 31, 2014 - 4:06 pm

Will it cost more to finish or stop, which means paying the feds back for their share of the project and the MTA only gets a big useless hole in the ground?

Ryan November 1, 2014 - 11:39 am

This wouldn’t be the first or the last big useless hole in the ground that the MTA owns. In fact, a big useless hole in the ground that existed before was actually recycled into this project, and so too would this big useless hole in the ground be recycled into another project at some point in the future.

I don’t actually have the answer as to whether it’ll cost more to finish or to stop the project at this point. I’m inclined to believe it’ll still cost more to finish than it would to stop, which is why I support canceling it – and if we do cancel it, East Side Access 2: Access Harder has the benefit of starting off with (supposedly) all of the tunneling done already, which means the 2.0 effort is a far less expensive “just prepare this crap for revenue service” job as opposed to digging out a new station, running a big tunnel to the new station from the old tunnel, and doing all of that without disrupting the active rail line sitting on top of the future rail line.

In other words, the “similar but distinct” project will be distinct in the sense that its expected price tag will be a small fraction of what ESA’s expected price tag started at, and in turn this will be a small fraction of the remaining cost to finish (which, at last check, is actually larger than the initial price tag even after you take away the money already spent.)

If it costs us $6 billion to finish the project but only $3 billion to stop it and then $1.5 billion to start up a new project by recycling the work that’s already been done, we still come out ahead.

Alternatively, it’s still an option to suspend the project (which shouldn’t trigger cancellation penalties assuming that it’s clear the project is merely suspended pending the completion of several investigations as opposed to “canceled in all but name”), haul everyone’s ass before the court, Congress, and the voting public, get some hard answers as to what went wrong here and how to prevent it from happening again, ideally throw some people into a deep dark hole in the judicial system where they can serve as an example to anyone else who thinks it won’t be a problem if future projects experience this degree of setback, and then restart the project with the benefit of having a realistic road map to completion that will be adhered to.

Nathanael November 4, 2014 - 9:38 pm

What you’re really proposing is a pause where the unfinished part (the near-surface part in Queens) is redesigned and the contracts are rebid?

Yeah, OK, that seems pretty reasonable, honestly. They did that with the Tweed Courthouse when it was 10 years late, had gone 5 times over budget, and *still wasn’t finished yet*.

They eventually finished it.

adirondacker12800 November 1, 2014 - 9:23 pm

Silly silly me. misconstruing “shut it down” to mean we don’t start fresh with another 20 or 30 year cycle of environmental review and trying to find funding. Because the environmental review isn’t good for a different project. Nor is the funding. Just let the tunnel sit there ununsed for another 40 or 50 years because you don’t like it.

Joey K October 31, 2014 - 10:25 am

It was not a “near miss.” It was a “near hit.” The drill bit nearly hit the subway car. If the drill bit actually hit the subway, then you’d say, man, that nearly missed it.

Benjamin Kabak October 31, 2014 - 10:35 am

In fact, the drill bit grazed the F train so in the realm of pedantic semantics “near miss” is probably more accurate, but they are used to mean pretty much the same thing!

R2 October 31, 2014 - 11:58 am

That was a George Carlin reference. So glad someone made it!

John-2 October 31, 2014 - 4:57 pm

Presumably they knew the depth of the proposed drill bore was X feet underground, and kept going even though the bore had swallowed up X+15 feet of drill. If you’re drilling a water well 150 feet down or an oil/gas well 1 1/2 to three miles down, that would be a bit more understandable, but from the description, it sounds like the bit went in roughly 100 percent more than the depth it was targeting. That’s a cartoonishly bad example of paying attention to details.

Michael October 31, 2014 - 6:04 pm

At the same time, within each of these projects, there is a range of infrastructure that the public does not ordinarily see, or become aware of. This infrastructure serves a vital purpose within these projects. Just a thought to keep in mind.


Tom Durkin November 1, 2014 - 10:57 am

Contractors are required to call 811 before digging so underground utility lines can be identified and marked.

Did this contractor call 811? Does an 811 call cause subway lines to be marked?

pete November 1, 2014 - 11:59 am

I’d love to know if a subway tunnel is marked with 811. What color spray paint is it (red=power, orange=telecom, white=proposed excavation, yellow=gas, etc)?

sonicboy678 November 3, 2014 - 9:01 pm

Okay, let me say one thing. For those calling for ESA to be shut down at this point in time, consider the consequences. Shutting it down means that potential capacity for LIRR will need to be postponed, if not scrapped entirely. What does this mean? This means that it will be much more difficult to transport passengers between New York City and suburban Long Island (everything east of Queens), as well as within New York City. Some of the capacity issues risk spilling over into NYCT more than they already do but not even NYCT is capable of handling the traffic efficiently, especially if talking about Queens Boulevard or Flushing. Penn Station, the current destination for most LIRR trips within NYC, is already practically maxed out, and even Atlantic Terminal has capacity issues. Hunterspoint Avenue is not exactly designed to be a terminus and has electrification issues just west over to LIC, a station in the middle of nowhere with only two short platforms for passenger service. Though there are a few people who desire to travel to/from LIC/Hunterspoint Avenue, the majority of people either don’t care or don’t want to. Even if more regular service had been provided over there, it wouldn’t be practical for two reasons (disregarding the ridership). The first thing is that it would overburden Flushing at a worse choke point (these two stations are practically adjacent to the portion of the Flushing Line with only two tracks); the second is that there is almost no space to adequately maneuver as well as accept and discharge passengers, especially without Mainline operations disrupting Penn operations. Sure, you can return Lower Montauk to passenger service, but that will still only do so much. Then there’s the fact that people wishing to reach destinations further east of Penn Station — especially if they have to continue further north in Manhattan — will have even fewer options than with ESA.

This isn’t even factoring in what efforts would be necessary to restart the general project or what resources would then be necessary simply to pay for it. Simply put, it would be like buttering a burn: you think it’s helping, but it’s really only worsening conditions for everyone.


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