Project bringing LIRR to Manhattan's East Side nears completion

A shorter commute for LIRR riders could be in the near future. Gov. Kathy Hochul released an update Tuesday on the long-awaited East Side Access Project and the newly named Grand Central Madison terminal were nearing completion.

A quicker direct route from Long Island to Manhattan's East Side could be a wish come true. The new connection will add up to 24 trains an hour and will become the largest rail terminal built in the United States since 1950. 

In fall 2021, Hochul joined transit and union leaders on an LIRR train from Jamaica to Grand Central. The trip took 27 minutes. If all goes well, commuters will be able to take that same commute in December. It's all part of the $11 billion-dollar project.

Located beneath Grand Central and stretching eight city blocks, the plan began in 1988, construction began in 2001 and now it's almost complete. It will be the largest expansion of the LIRR in 12 years.

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"I'm proud to announce that this new LIRR terminal will be called Grand Central Madison," announced Hochul.

The underground project has eight miles of tunneling, 40 miles of new tracks, and the modernization of the Harold interlocking the busiest intersection of passenger train lines in North America.

The goal of the project is to bring 60% more traffic into Manhattan from Long Island at peak times, while also cutting down on congestion at Penn Station.

In order to do that, the MTA will be running more trains - up to 158 in the morning. 

"That's what this project is about," saids MTA CEO Janno Lieber. "It's about more service. It's about more options. It's about better connections.

For the commuter, it includes a direct connection for all 11 LIRR lines to Grand Central and Midtown East. It is expected to carry over 160,000 passengers every day saving 40 minutes of commuting time. There will be waiting areas, free Wi-Fi, real-time departure information, retail and restaurants.

"It’s no secret that East Midtown is the center of the knowledge economy, with the highest paid jobs in the United States, maybe in the country," said Lieber. "We have a lot of Long Islanders who want to come to Manhattan, whose jobs are here, for who wants to work in these skyscrapers - they now have much better access."

But ridership levels have been lagging since the pandemic. 

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Transit leaders say they expect 160,000 passengers per day, but it’s unclear how many people will return to the trains. 

"If you build it, they will come," Hochul said. "People, we believe, when they have a shorter commute then they've had before, a more uplifting experience than they've had before, with less hassle, more trains running, they may assess their options. Whether it's coming back to work five days, whether it's working three to four days."

Now why is it called Grand Central Madison? Well officials say they want the name to represent the stop. So commuters exiting the terminal will be able to go through Grand Central or exit onto Madison Avenue.

The project will total $11 billion, significantly higher than the $3.5 billion initially anticipated.