Metro-North's West Side Access plan gets boost from Bronx lawmakers

A southbound train pulls into the New Rochelle A southbound train pulls into the New Rochelle Metro-North station. (March 27, 2012) Photo Credit: Angela Gaul

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Metro-North's plan to bring its trains into Penn Station for the first time would be an economic boon to the Bronx, generating $1 billion in business while delivering some 5,400 jobs to a borough that desperately needs them, according to a report commissioned by state and New York City leaders.

Bronx lawmakers used the report's findings to call on Metro-North's parent agency, the MTA, to include in the agency's next five-year capital program money to build four new Bronx station stops in Co-op City, Morris Park, Hunts Point and Parkchester.

"The benefits are clear and will be critical to launching the Bronx into the 21st century and beyond," said state Sen. Jeff Klein (D-Bronx, Westchester).

Also known as the West Side Access Project, the proposal to bring trains into Penn Station remains in the talking phase as details are hashed out and as officials try to summon the political and financial support that will make it a reality.

Aside from the four station stops in the Bronx, the project would require the construction of stations on the Upper West Side of Manhattan as well as one near Columbia University. A state comptroller's report has pegged the cost at $1.2 billion. The white paper estimates the cost of the four new stations at $364 million.

The goal is to open up the rail link in the fall of 2019, around the same time that Grand Central Terminal would open to LIRR trains for the first time, alleviating crowding at Penn Station. Currently, Metro-North is the only commuter rail using Grand Central.

The report, released Tuesday, highlighted Metro-North's emergence as the commuter rail with the nation's largest reverse market. Over the past two decades, the number of New York City commuters using Metro-North for jobs in the Hudson Valley and beyond has surged from 5,000 to 13,000, MTA figures show.

The trend has transformed Metro-North from a commuter rail identified mostly by the grey-suited morning Manhattan commuter of the "Mad Men" era to one that ferries health care workers, housekeepers and others to jobs in New York and Connecticut.

In White Plains, one of Metro-North's busiest station stops, the number of commuters getting off (3,400) during the morning rush now rivals the number getting on (3,650) for a ride into Manhattan, according to railroad officials.

"They (the stations) make sense because now we can have folks looking for employment opportunities not just in Manhattan but up in Connecticut," said Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz.

Metro-North union leaders also argued for Bronx station stops, saying they will create jobs for people living in a borough with one of the state's highest unemployment rates at 11.6 percent.

"Investing in rail expansion now will have economic benefits, including quality job creation for years to come," said Anthony Bottalico, the general chairman of Metro-North's largest union, the Association of Commuter Rail Employees, representing mostly conductors and engineers.

The report estimates that the stations will increase the value of residential properties near the stations by an average of $142,000 to $587,000.

To make the West Side Access Project plan work, Metro-North's New Haven Line tracks would link up with existing Amtrak rails on its Hell Gate Line. Metro-North trains heading south would split after New Rochelle, with some going to Penn Station and others on to Grand Central. Six Westchester County stops on the New Haven Line -- New Rochelle, Larchmont, Mamaroneck, Rye, Port Chester and Harrison -- would benefit by gaining Penn Station access.

In a later phase, Hudson Line trains would be linked to Amtrak rails on its Empire Connection Line.

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