A unique detail in the architecture is photographed after the...

A unique detail in the architecture is photographed after the first train arrived into Grand Central Madison on Jan. 25. Full service starting Monday will bring major changes to riders' schedules. Credit: Craig Ruttle

After two decades of construction, and nearly 60 years of planning, the Long Island Rail Road is set to begin full service to its new Manhattan terminal, Grand Central Madison, on Monday morning.

“The most transformative change to Long Island Rail Road service in over a century,” as the LIRR calls it, comes with an overhaul of the railroad’s schedules. Whenever, or wherever, you travel on the LIRR, there’s a good chance you’ll be affected by the changes.

Here are answers for questions LIRR riders might have.

Q: What is Grand Central Madison?

A: Grand Central Madison is the LIRR’s first new Manhattan terminal since the opening of Penn Station 113 years ago. The 700,000-square-foot station extends for six blocks below Vanderbilt Avenue, between 43rd and 48th streets.

Q: Is this the same as East Side Access?

A: Yes. In May, the MTA rebranded the $11.1 billion “East Side Access” effort, in part because of its long history of delays, cost overruns and mismanagement. Although “East Side Access” remains the formal name of the construction project, the station is named “Grand Central Madison.”

Q: What’s the difference between Grand Central Madison and Grand Central Terminal?

A: Grand Central Madison is the name of the LIRR’s station, which is located beneath Grand Central Terminal, which currently serves Metro-North riders. LIRR riders can access the new station from the old one.

Q: Why would I use Grand Central Madison?

A: For destinations closer to Manhattan's East Side, it may make more sense to travel to Grand Central Madison than to Penn Station, which is farther west, between Seventh and Eighth avenues, and also about 10 blocks south. Grand Central Madison also provides direct connections to the 4, 5, 6 and 7 subway lines, and to Metro-North.

Q: What’s Grand Central Madison like?

A: The station  has four levels: a concourse level, a mezzanine level and two track levels housing eight total tracks. On the upper track level, riders can access tracks 201 and 202 on the west side, and tracks 203 and 204 on the east side. On the lower track level are tracks 301 and 302 on the west side, and 303 and 304 on the east side. The concourse level includes several art installations, a ticket office with a waiting room, three sets of bathrooms and a lactation room. There’s space for several shops and restaurants, but none is open yet. A few vendors with kiosks sell snacks and beverages. 

Q: How do I get to Grand Central Madison?

A: Starting on Monday, riders on all LIRR branches will be able to take a train to the new station. On most branches, trains will alternate between going to Penn Station or to Grand Central. All trains — except for those on the Port Washington branch — will stop at Jamaica, where passengers can transfer to trains going to either Manhattan terminal. Transfers also will be available at some other stations, including Woodside and Mineola. From Manhattan, there are entrances to Grand Central Madison on 42nd, 43rd, 44th and 48th streets, and inside Grand Central Terminal.

Q: How long is the trip to Grand Central Madison?

A: The trip to Grand Central will take about as long as a trip to Penn Station — roughly 21 minutes from Jamaica.

Q: How long will it take to get out of Grand Central Madison?

A: Because Grand Central Madison is six blocks long and, at its deepest, more than 150 feet below ground, it will take LIRR riders considerably longer to get in and out of the facility than it does Penn Station. The trip on one escalator alone takes one minute and 38 seconds. Depending on which exit or subway line you use, it can take between four and 12 minutes, according to the MTA.

Q: How much will it cost to go to Grand Central Madison?

A: Because they are in the same fare zone, a ticket to Grand Central will cost the same as one to Penn Station — $7.75 one-way, off-peak from Jamaica and $10.75 peak. Tickets to Penn Station can be used for travel to Grand Central.

Q: What if I’m going to Brooklyn?

A: Capacity limitations at Jamaica mean there will be relatively few direct trains between stations on Long Island and in Brooklyn. Instead, most Brooklyn passengers will have to rely on a shuttle train that will operate between Atlantic Terminal and Jamaica, making all local stops. The shuttles will operate from a dedicated platform on the south end of Jamaica Station. Overall, there will be more trains in and out of Brooklyn than there are now, but because there will be no timed connections, you could wait longer for a train at Jamaica. The shuttle will run every 12 minutes during peak hours, and every 20 minutes off-peak.

Q: What are the benefits of the new service to Grand Central Madison?

A: MTA officials said the new service will reduce travel times for commuters working on Manhattan’s East Side, provide a second train route onto and off of Long Island in emergencies, and offer new connections with Metro-North Railroad, which also operates in Grand Central. In total, 271 trains are being added to the schedule, a 41% increase in service compared to current levels. The changes will create new opportunities for “reverse commuters” who travel during the rush hours to and from jobs on Long Island.

Q: What are the drawbacks?

A: The schedule changes mean there will be fewer morning trains to Penn Station, fewer direct trains to Penn, more frequent transfers at Jamaica, and more local stops for trains that currently run express. So, some commutes will take longer. Additionally, although all non-Port Washington trains will stop at Jamaica, the LIRR is doing away with timed transfers, meaning trains will no longer wait for connections.

Q: Will I still be able to take the train I normally do?

A: For information on their specific commutes, the LIRR advises customers to check its TrainTime app, where they can review their options, plan trips and buy tickets. That information is also available at mta.info/lirr.

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