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East Side Access milestone: Dignitaries ride first LIRR train into Grand Central

In an early preview of the MTA's $11.2

In an early preview of the MTA's $11.2 billion East Side Access megaproject, which is projected to open in December 2022, a Long Island Rail Road train carrying dignitaries including Gov. Kathy Hochul traveled Sunday from Jamaica Station to Grand Central Terminal for the first time. Newsday's Steve Langford reports. Credit: James Carbone

A Long Island Rail Road train carrying passengers traveled from Jamaica Station to Grand Central Terminal for the first time Sunday, in a preview of the MTA’s long-delayed $11.2 billion East Side Access megaproject.

The train departed Jamaica at 8:04 a.m. with Gov. Kathy Hochul and other dignitaries on board for the 27-minute trip to the LIRR’s future second home in Manhattan.

Watching the train’s front-facing view from a monitor set up in the train aisleway, Hochul marveled as the train sunk into one of the newly completed tunnels carrying the LIRR under the East River to its new 350,000-square-foot passenger concourse.

"We're going to get it right, and that's why this project is finally on track," Hochul said while chatting with MTA and LIRR officials on board the train. "A little over a year from now, we'll have a very different customer experience."

What to know

  • A Long Island Rail Road train carrying passengers traveled from Jamaica Station to Grand Central Terminal for the first time Sunday, in a preview of the MTA’s long-delayed $11.2 billion East Side Access megaproject.
  • The MTA's acting chairman and chief executive officer Janno Lieber said East Side Access remains on target for its December 2022 opening day.
  • The program aims to reduce travel times for some commuters by 40 minutes a day, as compared to taking the subway between Penn Station and Grand Central.

East Side Access, whose origins date back to the 1950s, aims to reduce travel times for some commuters by 40 minutes a day, as compared to taking the subway between Penn Station and Grand Central. It will also provide needed redundancy for the LIRR in Manhattan, where problems at Penn Station can sometimes cripple the region’s transportation network.

After multiple delays and cost overruns, major construction on the project — once predicted to be finished by 2009 at a cost of $4.3 billion — was completed earlier this year.

Although some technological systems still need to be installed, and hundreds of employees need to be hired and trained, MTA acting chairman and chief executive officer Janno Lieber said East Side Access remains on target for its December 2022 opening day.

With the tracks and station platforms already in place, the LIRR recently began running test trains to and from Grand Central. Sunday’s Halloween morning ride on what was officially designated the "GOVTRAIN" was the first to carry non-MTA personnel.

"To be able to be part of history being made today was really special," said Matthew Cohen, president of the Long Island Association, a business group, who was among the invited guests on the trip. "We were able to ride the train for the first time into Grand Central station. It’s an awesome, awesome thing."

It's unclear how many people will actually use the LIRR’s new link to the East Side once it opens late next year. With many commuters continuing to work from home during the pandemic, the LIRR’s weekday ridership remains at just over 50% of pre-COVID levels, and the MTA has said ridership may only get to around 80% by 2025.

Hochul expressed optimism that New Yorkers will get their money’s worth with East Side Access.

"I do believe that people — one year from now — they’ll be back," Hochul said. "By the time this is done and people see that they can have a much better commuting experience than they had pre-pandemic, that’ll also be an enticement for people to say, ‘I’m going back to my job in midtown.'"

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