Newsday transit reporter Alfonso Castillo got a behind-the-scenes tour of the progress being made on the Grand Central Madison project. Credit: Craig Ruttle

The MTA still intends to make good on its promise to run Long Island Rail Road trains to Grand Central Terminal by the end of 2022, but is several weeks away from its planned full-scale opening of East Side Access, officials said.

With some work still left to be done on the $11.1 billion megaproject, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority plans to begin operating limited LIRR shuttle service between Jamaica and its new Manhattan home, dubbed Grand Central Madison, some time this month, project officials told Newsday on Friday. The plan is contingent on the completion of ongoing testing, MTA officials said.

The “Grand Central Direct” service is a far cry from the agency’s original plan to run up to 24 trains an hour to the new station upon its opening. But the soft opening will allow the MTA to, just under the wire, meet its longtime goal of bringing LIRR passengers to the East Side by the end of 2022. It will also provide riders with a chance to get acclimated to the massive new terminal before commencing their regular commutes there, the railroad’s interim president Catherine Rinaldi said.

“It’s a new facility — very different from Penn. This will give people the opportunity to get to know the facility a bit … so that people can sort of plan their travel and sort of understand the service before we make that big switch,” Rinaldi said.

MTA officials said they will give the public at least three weeks’ notice before the full-scale launch of service to Grand Central Madison, which will entail a major overhaul of train schedules for all customers. That includes those who will continue commuting to and from Penn Station, which stands to lose some service as part of the plan.

Because the LIRR intends on squeezing in its “Grand Central Direct” service without disrupting the rest of its schedule, the shuttle trains will operate more frequently during off-peak hours, when the railroad has some extra capacity and extra trains on hand.

Trains will run every 30 minutes during middays and on weekends, and hourly during weekday rush periods. The LIRR will deploy "customer ambassadors" at its new Grand Central Madison concourse to help guide customers in the new space.

Gerard Bringmann, chairman of the LIRR Commuter Council, a rider advocacy group, said the LIRR’s phased-in approach to opening the new station makes "perfect sense.”

“It’s like a Broadway show. You want to get your previews in before opening night, when the critics are there to do their reviews,” Bringmann said. “This is probably the best way to go. And it will give people an opportunity … to see how Grand Central is before they have the major schedule change.”

MTA officials have said, overall, the completion of East Side Access will result in a 40% boost in service for the LIRR, and also save commuters up to 40 minutes a day, as compared to the time it takes to get to Grand Central by subway.

During a Friday tour of the facility for Newsday, the 700,000-square-foot, four-level facility appeared nearly complete. The longest escalators in the MTA system are running, and take nearly two minutes to transverse. Mosaic artwork adorns the marble walls. And signs direct LIRR passengers to the station’s eight tracks — numbered 201, 202, 203, 204, 301, 302, 303, and 304. The lowest level sits nearly 150 feet below street level.

“For all intents and purposes, this is a completed transportation facility, the fourth largest in North America, when it’s done,” said Jamie Torres-Springer, president of MTA Capital Construction. “We have a few little items here and there, but we’re ready to go.”

Despite shooting for a 2022 completion, MTA officials have acknowledged that some aspects of construction on the project will last into 2023.

Some of the work left to be done was apparent during the tour. Makeshift lumber doors hung on the entryways to a bathroom. Some signs directing passengers around the station were scrawled with pens on sheets of paper. A waiting room remained under construction. And temporary walls covered an escalator well.

None of those issues are expected to get in the way of opening the station. The key obstacle is testing and commissioning various fire and emergency safety systems, officials said.

“That’s to make sure people are safe in the system,” Torres-Springer said. “We’re fully functioning. But we have to make sure the testing is done so that people are safe.”

The altered launch plan marks the latest wrinkle in an effort plagued with problems, delays and cost overruns since Sen. Alfonse D’Amato began pushing the megaproject effort a quarter-century ago. Plans to link the LIRR to Manhattan’s East Side go back even further, as construction on the tunnel being used to route LIRR trains under the East River began in the 1960s.

East Side Access was once expected to be finished by 2009 at a cost of $4.3 billion, but has run into myriad problems since its 2007 groundbreaking, including softer-than-expected subterranean soil conditions in Queens that complicated tunnel-boring, a convoluted design that resulted in multiple contractors getting in each other’s way, a lack of needed cooperation and access from Amtrak, which shares some facilities with the LIRR, and several other mishaps.

In 2011, a construction worker helping dig out the LIRR’s new home in Manhattan was killed in front of his father when a piece of concrete fell on him. In 2014, a massive drill nearly pierced a moving subway train — an accident the project’s chief blamed on “stupidity.”

In 2018, Janno Lieber, who now heads the MTA as its chairman and CEO, took over the project as the transit agency’s new chief development officer. He streamlined various contracts and made major changes to its management structure, and promised that it would be done by the end of 2022 — a date he said was “absolutely written in stone.”

Now that it's just about here, Samuel Chu — Suffolk County's representative on the MTA Board — expects that LIRR riders will be "extremely pleased" when they first step foot in Grand Central Madison.

"Everyone has heard people aloud question if America is still capable of building big things," Chu said in an interview Sunday. "This is proof that we still can." 

The MTA still intends to make good on its promise to run Long Island Rail Road trains to Grand Central Terminal by the end of 2022, but is several weeks away from its planned full-scale opening of East Side Access, officials said.

With some work still left to be done on the $11.1 billion megaproject, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority plans to begin operating limited LIRR shuttle service between Jamaica and its new Manhattan home, dubbed Grand Central Madison, some time this month, project officials told Newsday on Friday. The plan is contingent on the completion of ongoing testing, MTA officials said.

The “Grand Central Direct” service is a far cry from the agency’s original plan to run up to 24 trains an hour to the new station upon its opening. But the soft opening will allow the MTA to, just under the wire, meet its longtime goal of bringing LIRR passengers to the East Side by the end of 2022. It will also provide riders with a chance to get acclimated to the massive new terminal before commencing their regular commutes there, the railroad’s interim president Catherine Rinaldi said.

“It’s a new facility — very different from Penn. This will give people the opportunity to get to know the facility a bit … so that people can sort of plan their travel and sort of understand the service before we make that big switch,” Rinaldi said.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • The MTA still expects to open the Long Island Rail Road's new Grand Central Madison station this month, although full service won't begin for several more weeks.
  • The LIRR's "Grand Central Direct" service will run between the new station and Jamaica. The shuttle trains will operate primarily during off-peak hours.
  • The $11.1 billion East Side Access megaproject is decades in the making, and aims to give LIRR riders a direct link to Grand Central Terminal — cutting 40 minutes a day from their travel time.
LIRR officials walk along the main concourse during a tour...

LIRR officials walk along the main concourse during a tour on Friday of the East Side Access project, also known as Grand Central Madison. Credit: Craig Ruttle

MTA officials said they will give the public at least three weeks’ notice before the full-scale launch of service to Grand Central Madison, which will entail a major overhaul of train schedules for all customers. That includes those who will continue commuting to and from Penn Station, which stands to lose some service as part of the plan.

Because the LIRR intends on squeezing in its “Grand Central Direct” service without disrupting the rest of its schedule, the shuttle trains will operate more frequently during off-peak hours, when the railroad has some extra capacity and extra trains on hand.

Trains will run every 30 minutes during middays and on weekends, and hourly during weekday rush periods. The LIRR will deploy "customer ambassadors" at its new Grand Central Madison concourse to help guide customers in the new space.

Gerard Bringmann, chairman of the LIRR Commuter Council, a rider advocacy group, said the LIRR’s phased-in approach to opening the new station makes "perfect sense.”

LIRR president Catherine Rinaldi, left, takes part in the tour on...

LIRR president Catherine Rinaldi, left, takes part in the tour on the main concourse at the East Side Access project on Friday. Credit: Craig Ruttle

“It’s like a Broadway show. You want to get your previews in before opening night, when the critics are there to do their reviews,” Bringmann said. “This is probably the best way to go. And it will give people an opportunity … to see how Grand Central is before they have the major schedule change.”

MTA officials have said, overall, the completion of East Side Access will result in a 40% boost in service for the LIRR, and also save commuters up to 40 minutes a day, as compared to the time it takes to get to Grand Central by subway.

During a Friday tour of the facility for Newsday, the 700,000-square-foot, four-level facility appeared nearly complete. The longest escalators in the MTA system are running, and take nearly two minutes to transverse. Mosaic artwork adorns the marble walls. And signs direct LIRR passengers to the station’s eight tracks — numbered 201, 202, 203, 204, 301, 302, 303, and 304. The lowest level sits nearly 150 feet below street level.

LIRR officials on Friday ride a long escalator to the lower-level...

LIRR officials on Friday ride a long escalator to the lower-level concourse leading to the train platforms. Credit: Craig Ruttle

“For all intents and purposes, this is a completed transportation facility, the fourth largest in North America, when it’s done,” said Jamie Torres-Springer, president of MTA Capital Construction. “We have a few little items here and there, but we’re ready to go.”

Despite shooting for a 2022 completion, MTA officials have acknowledged that some aspects of construction on the project will last into 2023.

Some of the work left to be done was apparent during the tour. Makeshift lumber doors hung on the entryways to a bathroom. Some signs directing passengers around the station were scrawled with pens on sheets of paper. A waiting room remained under construction. And temporary walls covered an escalator well.

None of those issues are expected to get in the way of opening the station. The key obstacle is testing and commissioning various fire and emergency safety systems, officials said.

“That’s to make sure people are safe in the system,” Torres-Springer said. “We’re fully functioning. But we have to make sure the testing is done so that people are safe.”

The altered launch plan marks the latest wrinkle in an effort plagued with problems, delays and cost overruns since Sen. Alfonse D’Amato began pushing the megaproject effort a quarter-century ago. Plans to link the LIRR to Manhattan’s East Side go back even further, as construction on the tunnel being used to route LIRR trains under the East River began in the 1960s.

East Side Access was once expected to be finished by 2009 at a cost of $4.3 billion, but has run into myriad problems since its 2007 groundbreaking, including softer-than-expected subterranean soil conditions in Queens that complicated tunnel-boring, a convoluted design that resulted in multiple contractors getting in each other’s way, a lack of needed cooperation and access from Amtrak, which shares some facilities with the LIRR, and several other mishaps.

In 2011, a construction worker helping dig out the LIRR’s new home in Manhattan was killed in front of his father when a piece of concrete fell on him. In 2014, a massive drill nearly pierced a moving subway train — an accident the project’s chief blamed on “stupidity.”

In 2018, Janno Lieber, who now heads the MTA as its chairman and CEO, took over the project as the transit agency’s new chief development officer. He streamlined various contracts and made major changes to its management structure, and promised that it would be done by the end of 2022 — a date he said was “absolutely written in stone.”

Now that it's just about here, Samuel Chu — Suffolk County's representative on the MTA Board — expects that LIRR riders will be "extremely pleased" when they first step foot in Grand Central Madison.

"Everyone has heard people aloud question if America is still capable of building big things," Chu said in an interview Sunday. "This is proof that we still can." 

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