The signs are clear. "All aboard for Grand Central," they proclaim. "LIRR arrives at Grand Central later this year."
But that's it. When it comes to specifics, Long Island Rail Road riders haven't been told much recently about the massive change soon to come.
Even with the uncertainty hanging over the opening of Grand Central Madison, the new LIRR terminal on Manhattan's East Side, and the extensive effort to resolve remaining issues, the dearth of communication from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority is unnecessary and unacceptable.
Riders don't know when Grand Central Madison will open. They don't know when the first trains will arrive or depart. They don't know what final schedules look like — or when they'll go into effect. They don't even know how to get to Grand Central Madison other than, well, going into Grand Central Terminal, heading below ground, and hoping for the best. And riders don't know where to go or what to do once they get there.
Even as of last week's board meetings, MTA executives still didn't have a start date, but remained hopeful service would begin this year.
They have 25 days left.
One of the largest issues on the to-do list involves the terminal's airflow system, as the MTA has to make sure air can quickly move through the cavernous space, especially in case of a smoke condition. That's key. MTA officials have rightly assured their board and the public they won't open the terminal until it's deemed safe. But they also don't want to push off the start date unless they have to — in part to keep pressure on contractors to get the job done.
That's understandable. But the MTA should have been more communicative and upfront with riders throughout the process, even with delays and an uncertain timeline. The agency did provide such updates during the Third Track construction, but not as much here. Now, with the opening near, riders remain in the dark.
There are several ways to right this wrong. Start with a series of customer-focused updates pushed to the MTA and LIRR apps and websites, and emailed to riders. Add maps, photos, and practical details. Partner with town and village governments who can help get the word out. Post the final schedules immediately. And assure riders that existing schedules won't shift dramatically without sufficient notice. If the MTA really intends to open Grand Central Madison and start service before the end of the year, the authority will have to make that call quickly, or start some trains to Grand Central without upending the existing Penn Station schedule. Riders need and deserve time to prepare.
East Side Access has nearly reached its destination. It's an exhilarating and game-changing moment. But riders' needs must come first. The communication train is running behind schedule. Get it on track — now.
MEMBERS OF THE EDITORIAL BOARD are experienced journalists who offer reasoned opinions, based on facts, to encourage informed debate about the issues facing our community.