The LIRR’s plan to add a second Manhattan station later this year could inconvenience thousands of Brooklyn commuters, who will lose most direct trips to and from Long Island stations and have to go out of their way to transfer at Jamaica, riders and advocates said.
Most of the Long Island Rail Road's Brooklyn trains are expected to operate out of a newly built track and platform at Jamaica station starting in December, so the railroad can free up track capacity for its new Grand Central Madison station. That means commuters who are used to riding a train from their home station directly to Atlantic Terminal, or simply transferring across a platform, instead will have to disembark at Jamaica, walk up to the pedestrian overpass, over to the newly built Platform F on the south side, then go back down. That could add several minutes to their transfer.
With the LIRR doing away with the scheduled connections at Jamaica, missing a Brooklyn train also could mean waiting 12 to 20 minutes for the next departure.
Grand Central Madison station is scheduled to come on line at Grand Central Terminal as part of the $11.2 billion East Side Access project. The project, which has been in various planning stages for almost 60 years, aims to shorten the commutes of those working on Manhattan's East Side, LIRR officials said.
WHAT TO KNOW
- The LIRR's plan to serve a second Manhattan terminal, as part of its East Side Access project, will result in the elimination of most direct trains between Long Island and Brooklyn stations, and of scheduled transfers at Jamaica.
- Most Brooklyn passengers will have to transfer to and from a shuttle train operating out of a newly built, dedicated track and platform on the far south side of Jamaica. Trains will run every 12 to 20 minutes, making all Brooklyn stops.
- Although the LIRR says the new shuttle trains will boost Brooklyn service by 28%, riders say the inconvenient transfer could add several minutes to their commute, and be especially burdensome for riders with disabilities.
“Years ago, it was recognized, because of the layout here at Jamaica, just from an infrastructure standpoint, that it wasn’t possible to service three major western terminals simultaneously,” LIRR chief service planning officer Charles McKiernan said in an interview.
McKiernan noted that only 2% of the LIRR’s approximately 60,000 morning rush-hour commuters use Brooklyn as their final destination. Many more travel through Atlantic Terminal on their way to lower Manhattan. The railroad is currently carrying about 179,000 passengers on an average weekday — 62% of pre-COVID-19 levels.
None of that matters to Al Chalk, who works as an accountant in Brooklyn. He predicts his commute will become “a nightmare.”
“That would be a great inconvenience, to have to go up and change over to another train,” said Chalk, 59, of Baldwin. “It’s going to make those of us traveling to Brooklyn have a harder time getting there.”
LIRR officials have acknowledged the added inconvenience for some Brooklyn riders and, under the urging of riders’ advocates, kept a handful of Brooklyn trains on the West Hempstead, Babylon and Hempstead lines. During the morning peak period, four trains will run from Long Island stations to Brooklyn, compared with the current 20.
Ian Siegel, who commutes from Glen Cove to Atlantic Terminal, said that under the LIRR's proposed schedule, he’ll have to sprint to catch the 8:13 a.m. Brooklyn shuttle train out of Jamaica, which departs just one minute after his train is scheduled to arrive at Jamaica. Missing the train will add 12 minutes to his commute, and could make him late for work, he said.
“It’s going to be a very dangerous, chaotic situation,” said Siegel, 48, who works for a Sunset Park real estate firm. “I’m really upset about it, because commuting to Brooklyn for the last 10 years has been a really wonderful experience. It’s not as busy a station as Penn, obviously. There’s a direct transfer all the time. . . . And they’re just wiping that all away now.”
LIRR officials have said their new interval-based shuttle train operation out of Jamaica will increase the number of Brooklyn trains by 28%, plus provide more “reverse commuting” opportunities for those traveling to and from jobs on Long Island.
The Brooklyn shuttle service model also will mean more opportunities for people heading to Atlantic Terminal on nights when the nearby Barclays Center holds events, and more service to the LIRR's two other Brooklyn stops, East New York and Nostrand Avenue. The shuttle trains will run local, making all stops.
“The Brooklyn service is going to look different. It’s superior in some ways. The frequencies, the headways [spacing between trains] are much more frequent than they are currently,” LIRR interim president Catherine Rinaldi said Wednesday. “We certainly invite our Brooklyn customers, as well as anybody else who has an interest in the new service plan, to take advantage of the public information sessions that we’re providing to be able to register concerns and hear about what we’re doing, and why.”
The LIRR has scheduled three such virtual sessions: on June 23, June 30 and July 7, but just one virtual public meeting, on July 13, where customers will be able to comment on the proposed service changes.
Gerard Bringmann, chairman of the LIRR Commuter Council, wants the railroad to provide more opportunities for the public to sound off on the plan, which he said will require some compromise all around.
“It’s just a logistical nightmare. I wouldn’t want to be the person at the Long Island Rail Road who has to put this all together. . . . No matter what they do, people aren’t going to be happy,” Bringmann said. “It’s not going to be fun. But we can’t just abandon Brooklyn either … because of East Side Access.”
The proposed service changes caught the attention of Assemb. Charles Lavine (D-Glen Cove), who in a letter to Rinaldi this month urged the railroad to consider “the commutes of those not utilizing the new Grand Central option” and not make “their trek to the city any worse than it already is.”
While the LIRR’s new service model will require all Brooklyn riders to adapt, it’s “going to pose much more than an inconvenience” for riders with disabilities, said Therese Brzezinski, director of planning and public policy for the Long Island Center for Independent Living, an advocacy group.
“This is troublesome,” Brzezinski said of the requirement that most Brooklyn riders navigate up to, across, and down from Jamaica’s often-crowded pedestrian walkway. “It’s another situation where the burden is on people with disabilities to jump through a lot more hoops and get around a lot more potential barriers than those without disabilities.”
Asked to respond to Brzezinski's criticism, MTA spokesman Eugene Resnick, in a statement, said: "Roughly 2% of all riders departing Jamaica to destinations further west are heading to Brooklyn, and under the proposed new schedules they will enjoy 28% more service, so while transfers may require crossing additional platforms, overall options for all LIRR riders using Jamaica station will increase.”