The MTA acknowledged Monday that some aspects of its long-delayed East Side Access megaproject will not be ready this year, as has long been targeted, but is still aiming to run LIRR trains to Grand Central Terminal by the end of 2022.
After promising for nearly 5 years that the project would be finished this year, a Metropolitan Transportation Authority report posted online Monday noted that the construction of the LIRR’s new concourse and facilities at Grand Central won’t be done until February, “due to additional time required to complete all remaining work.”
It's been 15 years since construction began on East Side Access, which aims to link the LIRR to a new 700,000-square foot terminal at Grand Central via newly dug tunnels. The MTA has said the project will save 160,000 passengers 40 minutes a day in commuting time, and provide a critical second route onto and off of Manhattan.
The MTA acknowledged the “schedule variance” for East Side Access in materials published for its monthly committee meetings scheduled for Tuesday. The $11.1 billion project will link the LIRR to a new station in Manhattan dubbed Grand Central Madison.
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After promising for nearly 5 years that the project would be finished by the end of 2022, an MTA report Monday noted that construction of the LIRR’s new concourse and facilities at Grand Central won’t be done until February 2023.
MTA officials said the goal remains to run passenger trains into and out of Grand Central Madison by the end of this year.
It's been 15 years since construction began on East Side Access, which aims to link the LIRR to a new 700,000-square foot terminal dubbed Grand Central Madison.
The MTA originally aimed to finish the remaining work, which includes painting a ceiling in Grand Central's Biltmore Room, by November. In the new report, February 2023 was listed as the "actual" completion date.
MTA chief of external relations John McCarthy said Monday the goal remains to run passenger trains into and out of Grand Central Madison by the end of this year. MTA officials still have not provided a specific date when service will begin.
MTA officials said there was a distinction between completing a project and making sufficient progress so that customers could use it. They pointed to LIRR's new "Third Track" between Floral Park and Hicksville, which was put into service in October. However, the $2.5 billion "LIRR Main Line Expansion project," which includes the new track, won't be formally completed until the spring while several stations remain under construction, the MTA has said.
After multiple other delays to East Side Access, which was once projected to be finished by 2009, LIRR commuter Michael Finz called the latest complications “depressing and a little distressing.” But he won't mind if construction continues into 2023, as long as LIRR service to Grand Central commences in December.
An attorney whose office is blocks away from Grand Central, Finz, of Malverne, said he’s tired of “schlepping” to the East Side by subway.
“I’ve been waiting my whole life for this,” said Finz, 70. “Honestly, I could care less if there’s some banging going on … as long as the station is open and I could go there directly from Long Island.”
The document published Monday also includes a “schedule modification” to perform maintenance on new escalators at Grand Central Madison. To allow the contractor enough time “to mobilize staff and ramp up for their eventual takeover of the maintenance of these elements,” the contract will not be awarded until the first quarter of 2023.
MTA chairman Janno Lieber, on Oct. 26, reiterated that, "We always said we'd get done in 2022, and that's still our schedule."
A Nov. 17 Facebook post by the LIRR told riders to “Get ready to head to Grand Central … It all starts next month!”
While the MTA continues to insist the project remains on schedule, it still has plenty of work to do in the last month of the year to hit its targeted deadline, including conducting tests and bringing various systems online, including a new fire alarm system. Meanwhile, anxious LIRR commuters have been pushing the transit agency for answers, as the project will result in major changes to the railroad's schedule.
The project’s timeline and schedule are expected to be discussed at the MTA Board's railroad committee meeting Tuesday.
The MTA did get one piece of good news Monday as the Federal Railroad Administration published its decision granting the LIRR a requested waiver from a requirement that the LIRR integrate into its “positive train control” safety system software that could prevent train collisions inside the new tunnels leading into Grand Central Madison. According to the decision, the LIRR has said it won’t have the software in place until March 6.
The FRA granted the temporary waiver under several conditions, including that the railroad install the needed technology by Feb. 15, and provide weekly updates on its progress. MTA officials said they will abide by the conditions set forth by the FRA.
MTA spokesman Aaron Donovan said the authority anticipated getting the waiver, because "the LIRR train control system already has features that prevent" the kind of accidents that the federally required technology aims to address.
MTA Board member Gerard Bringmann, who chairs the LIRR Commuter Council, an advocacy group, said the extension of construction work into 2023 isn’t “that big a deal,” and that he expects it will consist of “punch-list work” that won’t affect train service.
Bringmann said he remains “confident” that Grand Central Madison will open by the end of this year
“It will be down to the wire, but they’ll do what they have to do to get it open,” Bringmann said.