Category Archives: Long Island Railroad

Simple, Big Solutions for Penn’s Problems

Gotham Gazette

The original Penn Station was an architectural masterpiece. The most ironic part about removing it in a “monumental act of vandalism,” though, is that as a transit facility the original Penn Station had serious flaws. In fact, the platforms and tracks haven’t been significantly altered in more than a century.

Unfortunately, those flaws are growing more obvious by the day. Narrow, crowded platforms and grossly inadequate stairs and escalators are a constant source of delays, dangerous overcrowding and frustration for commuters. But most importantly, Penn Station is not actually a station for most passengers – it’s a terminal. The difference is not merely semantic; in a terminal, trains must cross each other as they enter and leave, making it far less efficient than a through-running station. Even when this doesn’t cause delays, it severely limits capacity and ensures every train has to travel more slowly in Penn.

Twenty-five years ago, we could tolerate these inefficiencies, but passenger counts from Long Island and New Jersey have skyrocketed. Any major investment plan for Penn Station must be focused on solving the cause of commuters’ misery. Amtrak’s Gateway Program and the new Moynihan Station, if optimized, could do so.

Phase 1 of Gateway would add two new critically-needed tracks between Newark and Penn Station. Phase 2 of Gateway, though, includes a new terminal station—Penn Station South. This would require the demolition of an entire city block at a price tag of $8 billion to build another inefficient terminal, and do nothing to alleviate conditions in the existing station. Those funds are better spent on improving Penn and regional connectivity.

This alternate plan would remove the need for Penn Station South, provide additional economic opportunity for the entire region and the opportunity to invest in projects that create smoother and smarter commutes. Through-running is the key to unlocking the ReThinkNYC vision. Highlights of that vision include:

First, build new facilities in the Bronx and New Jersey so it is possible to operate Penn Station as a through station. NJ Transit trains could be extended to Queens, the Bronx, and then along existing Long Island Railroad and Metro-North Lines; similarly, Metro-North and LIRR could be extended to New Jersey.

Next, widen and lengthen Penn’s existing platforms – and use the 31st Street side of the station for eastbound trains and the 33rd Street side for westbound ones, regardless of final destination. Universal “smart” ticketing between the systems can help erase arbitrary distinctions.

This would allow nearly 50% more trains to use the station.
NJ Transit would no longer need to use Sunnyside Yards, making it possible to instead build a major station across the East River that would have access to all of the region’s 26 commuter rail lines, Amtrak, both Penn Station and Grand Central, and seven subway lines. Sunnyside could be the new East Midtown.

In Port Morris, the light industrial neighborhood east of the Bruckner Expressway and south of Hunts Point, commuters could catch NJ Transit and Metro-North – and an extended Second Avenue Subway serving the Bronx.

An AirTrain under the East River to an expanded LaGuardia Airport would provide a quick, convenient single seat ride for millions.

New Yorkers once dreamed of, and then built, big projects. Now, in this post-Robert Moses, post-urban renewal era, planners are taught to think “politically” smaller. This approach has prevented us from addressing transportation systemically and holistically. It’s time to think big…again.

below is the same chart as the featured image.

Jim Venturi is Principal and Founder of ReThink Studio. On Twitter @jimventuri and @RethinkNYCplan.

NYC transit upgrades are long overdue

AM New York

For weeks, the newest plans for MTA capital projects, including $3 billion in funding for key improvements to subways, bridges, tunnels and commuter railroads, sat in wait.

Now, after plenty of typical Albany political posturing, those proposals are on track. State Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan finally gave the last pieces of the capital plan the go-ahead on Tuesday night.

The move couldn’t have come at a better time. NYC residents have faced extensive subway delays, power and signal problems, a dangerous derailment, and a host of other issues in recent months. And this summer, as Amtrak makes extensive repairs at Penn Station, the MTA is depending on its strained subway system even more, making the need for improvements all the more apparent.

So, expanding and upgrading the system are essential. The MTA’s plans include $700 million to fund part of the important next phase of the Second Avenue Subway, which will extend the line into East Harlem but could ultimately cost $6 billion.

And the plan adds more funds for cashless electronic tolling at bridges and tunnels.

On top of that, the MTA’s amended plan creates a new span of track on the Long Island Rail Road that will help ease reverse train commutes for NYC residents who work in Nassau or Suffolk counties.
Together, the improvements will ripple through the region, boost the economy and create the opportunity for new and better-paying jobs in the city and beyond.

And all of it is part of the MTA’s larger $32.5 billion overall capital plan, which extends through 2019 and includes money for signals, subway cars and buses, along with repairs and improvements to bus depots, subway station accessibility, and more.

None of it, of course, will get done quickly enough. But it could be the start of a broader effort by state and MTA officials to think and act bigger, to recognize the extensive needs of our subways and commuter rails, and to start modernizing the public transportation system to meet the needs of its riders.

MTA can’t afford to wait on signals upgrades

Problems with both NYCT system-wide subway and LIRR signals at Penn Station require decisive action today, not tommorow.

The MTA must reprogram the $695 million Metro North East Bronx Penn Station Access, the $1.7 billion Second Avenue Subway Phase 2, and the $1.9 billion LIRR Main Line Third Track to help fund upgrading NYCT Subway System Signals. This would provide well over $3 billion as a down payment against $20 billion needed to bring NYCT Subway System Signals up to a state of good repair.

All three canceled projects can be funded out of the next MTA Five-Year Capital Plan for 2020-2024. This still provides ample time for both Metro North East Bronx Penn Station Access and LIRR Main Line Third Track project completions to coincide with LIRR East Side Access to Grand Central Terminal by December 2023 or 2024.

Governor Andrew Cuomo also needs to come up with the outstanding balance of $5.8 billion that he still owes toward the $8.3 billion shortfall to fully fund the $32 billion 2015-2019 MTA Five Year Capital Plan. The MTA can’t afford to wait until 2018 or 2019 for both $5.8 billion and additional $1 billion recently pledged by Cuomo in response to the ongoing subway and LIRR Penn Station crises.

In June 2016, the United States Department of Transportation Federal Transit Administration provided $432 million in Superstorm Sandy funding to the MTA for repairs to the East River Tunnel, including signal upgrades. As of today, no funds have been spent. The MTA and LIRR have yet to complete negotiations with Amtrak for initiation of this work.

Amtrak Says It Won’t Pay For LIRR’s Emergency Penn Station Plan. It’s Unclear Who Will.

GOTHAMIST from California Rail News

Amtrak does not want to front the bill for at least eight weeks of Long Island Railroad schedule changes, fare reductions and ferry and bus alternatives during this summer’s emergency Penn Station repairs, president C.W. Moorman confirmed in a letter to the MTA on Wednesday. The news comes a week after the MTA outlined a contingency plan of unknown cost, insisting the burden will not fall on commuters.

“The LIRR has no basis to seek compensation for such costs from Amtrak,” Moorman wrote. He added that Amtrak estimates its contribution this summer to be between $30 and $40 million, and that the MTA’s call for reimbursement would violate the authority’s contract with Amtrak (the MTA rents terminal space from Amtrak at Penn Station).

Acting MTA Director Ronnie Hakim hinted at Wednesday’s MTA Board meeting at a price tag in the millions for planned LIRR contingencies. Hakim also vowed to consult MTA lawyers about “our rights” to force Amtrak’s hand. But some Board Members were skeptical, accusing Hakim and the MTA of poor planning in assuming Amtrak would pay. Some also demanded clarification on the cost of the plan, and argued that putting time and energy into avoiding the expense would be a waste.

“We should be doubling down on seeking federal funding, and focus our legal team on addressing funding [issues] in D.C.,” she added.
Other members of the board said that they doubted the federal government would come through. Amtrak’s federal funding was cut in 2015, and Trump’s vague infrastructure plan could also spell cuts. “We would always like to talk about the receipt of federal funds,” said acting board chairman Fernando Ferrer. “I don’t engage in fantasy, so let’s be realistic about this.”
Polly Trottenberg, a mayoral appointee to the board and commissioner of the NYC Department of Transportation, was more blunt.
“I will boldly say, I don’t think we’re getting the money from Amtrak and sadly I don’t think Uncle Sam is riding to the rescue either,” she said. “I think we’re going to have to accept that we’re going to be paying for this. So I have a basic question: what’s the price tag?”

Could this ‘visionary’ plan solve the area’s transit woes? (VIDEO)

NJ.com via California Rail News

With Penn Station’s failing infrastructure at capacity, a plan to merge the area’s train and bus service into one regional system is the cornerstone of an idea floated by a New York design firm as a solution to the region’s commuting problems.

Called ReThink NYC Plan 2050, the centerpiece of the idea is a unified commuter rail that connects NJ Transit, Metro North and the Long Island Rail Road lines through a revamped Penn Station…

Some funding for the plan, estimated to cost $48 billion, would come from scaling back plans to replace the Port Authority Bus Terminal with a smaller structure. It would eliminate plans to build an annex south of Penn Station, which Rick called “a $7 billion to $8 billion mistake.”
The main criticism of Penn South annex is the extra tracks would dead end, limiting their usefulness.

“No other city is building a terminal in its core,” Rick said.
Instead, all platforms under Penn Station would be extended beneath the Moynihan Station, which will be the new name of the converted Farley postal facility.

Firm hired to develop LaGuardia’s AirTrain

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announces Parsons Brinckerhoff will develop plans for the AirTrain which will run along the Grand Central Parkway providing a link to Willets Point.

The engineering firm behind the Second Avenue Subway line has been awarded the $14.6 million contract to develop the initial plans for the AirTrain connection to LaGuardia Airport.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Monday that multinational engineering and design firm Parsons Brinckerhoff was selected to conduct preliminary engineering work on two AirTrain stations at LaGuardia linked to a complex at Willets Point with easy transfers to the No. 7 subway line and the Long Island Rail Road.

“The new AirTrain will improve passenger experience, reduce traffic congestion and serve as a key part of the modernization and transformation of LaGuardia into a world-class airport,” Cuomo said. “LaGuardia Airport is an essential part of New York’s economy and transportation network, and by providing additional transit options, we will support new economic opportunities and growth throughout the region.”

Parsons Brinckerhoff will create a conceptual design for both the train right-of-way and the stations, and develop cost estimates for the project, conduct a detailed ridership analysis, analyze public-private partnerships and other options to identify the most advantageous financing plan for the AirTrain. The firm will also evaluate expanded parking and centralized car rental operations at the new Willets Point Complex.

Reliable and efficient rail service, to and from the airport, is critical to manage on-site airport parking, improve drop-off and pick-up activities at the terminals, and reduce congestion in and around the airport, including the Grand Central Parkway and neighborhood streets, according to Port Authority officials.

“LaGuardia Airport is the only major airport in the region without direct rail transit access,” Port Authority Executive Director Pat Foye said. “With passenger demand expected to reach 34 million annually at LaGuardia by 2030, providing mass transit access to the airport is fundamental to transforming it into a world-class facility that supports future growth, while reducing roadway congestion and resulting emissions.”

Like any NY City project, the critics are coming out of the wood.

Read the full story in the Queens Times Ledger

Who brought Robert Moses down?

It was Nelson Rockefeller, Governor of New York State

He also formed the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and saved the Long Island Railroad

Robert Moses was a double-edged sword. He built a lot of great things and destroyed a lot of great things at the same time.

Moses was one of the contributing factors to the rapid decline of commuter rail in the New York City metropolitan area in the 1950’s and 1960s. Just when state governments were starting to warm up to the idea of subsidies, Moses would use his power to block funding of any type to the railroads. To understand his attitude towards commuter rail, his mantra was more or less, “The public should not be providing funds to benefit private for-profit corporations.” Never mind that the private for-profit corporations were providing a necessary service. There would be no direct subsidy until he was out of power.

When Moses was removed from power by Rockefeller, they made Moses chairman of the World’s Fair committee, a position that would make him look bad if he turned it down. Since you can’t be chairman of more than one committee at a time, he lost his powerful position, and his voice. By 1968 he was a “consultant” to the MTA, and he passed away in 1981.

Let’s look at what happened immediately AFTER Moses was gone.
1965 – Governor Rockefeller proposes to purchase the LIRR from the PRR. Some commuter rail equipment purchases are funded for NYC lines out of Grand Central.
1966 – The Metropolitan Commuter Transportation Authority purchases the LIRR from PRR.
1968 – Five transit authorities are created across New York State, MCTA becomes MTA.
1970 – MTA contracts with Penn Central to subsidize Harlem and Hudson Line operations out of Grand Central.
1971- New equipment arrives on LIRR and PC lines… and so on and so on…

Was Moses the catalyst of all evil directed towards the railroads? The jury is still out, but he was certainly a major factor.

In reading about Moses, you see that Moses was a creature of his particular time, and that in that time, the things he did were fashionable politically and popular with the public. At the time, for example, everybody wanted expressways — these were the answer to all congestion problems — and few people seemed to realize the problems they would generate. The Moses projects were the projects that the politicians wanted to spend money on, so he was successful in getting it. The dreary housing projects he built later in his career are examples of the same thing.

Moses has to be judged by the standards and fashions of his time, and not in hindsight. He was no more or less foresighted than most others then.

It would be interesting to speculate what a young Moses would be doing now, with mass transit in fashion and lots of public money available.

Governor Cuomo’s Dreams About NY’s Penn Station

New York City’s Penn Station has had a crazy history. The “real” Penn Station was torn down in the ’60s and “replaced” by the basement of Madison Square Garden. It has gotten renovated numerous times and still is one of the worst excuses for a train station. It holds Amtrak, Long Island Rail Road, New Jersey Transit and a couple of subway stations.

All kinds of mayors, governors and other people with ideas have made suggestions. Right next to Penn Station is the US Postal Services “GPO” (General Post Office) (ZIP Code 10000). It is a huge and with modern technology is kind of obsolete. Used to see cartoons of huge hall with 100 service windows and only one open. Finally the Postal Service decided to abandon it. WOW! It could become a train station!

Cuomo’s plan is to put Amtrak and Long Island RR would move and leave the “old” Penn Station to New Jersey Transit and the subways. Yes, have been many ideas over the years: Senators Moynihan and Schumer. Even people who just rode the trains.

MTA unveils budget and financial plans, proposes fare hikes

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) earlier this week released its preliminary 2017 budget and four-year financial plan, which together propose more than $1 billion for a host of initiatives.

In particular, the budget and plan would provide funds for measures to improve customer experience, increase service and service support, increase support for MTA’s capital program, enhance safety and security, and invest in necessary maintenance and operations.

As part of the financial plans, MTA is considering implementing two 4 percent fare increases in 2017 and 2019.

The four-year plan includes $195 million from 2017 through 2020 to support capital projects aimed at improving the rider experience. These include adding Wi-Fi, USB charging ports and digital screens to 400 subway cars, MTA officials said in a press release.

Other investments will allow MTA New York City Transit to enhance and expand its Lexington Avenue subway line platform controller.

In addition, MTA will invest an additional $46 million in safety and security initiatives from 2017 to 2020 to augment existing measures. Those investments include upgrading railroad crossings, adding on-board vehicle cameras, providing more “Help Point” intercoms, and improving security operations throughout the agency’s system.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) earlier this week released its preliminary 2017 budget and four-year financial plan, which together propose more than $1 billion for a host of initiatives.

In particular, the budget and plan would provide funds for measures to improve customer experience, increase service and service support, increase support for MTA’s capital program, enhance safety and security, and invest in necessary maintenance and operations.

As part of the financial plans, MTA is considering implementing two 4 percent fare increases in 2017 and 2019.

The four-year plan includes $195 million from 2017 through 2020 to support capital projects aimed at improving the rider experience. These include adding Wi-Fi, USB charging ports and digital screens to 400 subway cars, MTA officials said in a press release.

Other investments will allow MTA New York City Transit to enhance and expand its Lexington Avenue subway line platform controller.

In addition, MTA will invest an additional $46 million in safety and security initiatives from 2017 to 2020 to augment existing measures. Those investments include upgrading railroad crossings, adding on-board vehicle cameras, providing more “Help Point” intercoms, and improving security operations throughout the agency’s system.

Metro-North, LIRR mobile ticketing app to launch in August

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s eTix mobile ticketing app will be available to all MTA Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) and MTA Metro-North Railroad riders by the end of the summer, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Tuesday.
MTA’s new “eTix” app
Source: Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s website

The app’s launch date has been moved up from the original launch that had been scheduled for year’s end, according to a press release issued by Cuomo’s office.

LIRR and Metro-North riders can use the app to check schedules, see service status and purchase tickets without having to wait in line. The app also offers account management tools, which give riders the ability to secure refunds for unused mobile tickets, request duplicate receipts and manage profile information such as password and linked credit card numbers.

Beginning July 5, MTA eTix was made available for riders on the LIRR’s Port Washington Branch and Metro-North’s Hudson Line. During the week of Aug. 22, the app will be available systemwide for both commuter railroads.

“This new app puts riders first by eliminating the ticket line and helping New Yorkers and visitors get where they need to go with more freedom and convenience than ever before,” Cuomo said. “We will continue to create a 21st century transit system that embraces innovation to ensure that we are building a stronger, more competitive New York.”

Next year, MTA expects to allow LIRR and Metro-North riders to transfer to New York City Transit (NYCT) subway and buses with a single app and a single transit account, according to Cuomo’s release.

The app is powered by Masabi’s JustRide ticketing platform, which has been used by other U.S. transit agencies, including Southern California’s Metrolink.

In April, NYCT issued a request for proposals for a firm to develop a new mobile fare payment system. The agency is expected to launch that app in 2021.