PHOTOS: East Side Access terminal nears completion 170 feet below Grand Central

Governor Andrew Cuomo during a press tour of the East Side Access terminal on May 27, 2021.
Photo by Mark Hallum

The massive infrastructure undertaking that has been East Side Access – over fifteen years in the making – will open to commuters in 2022, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced Thursday before touring the facility with journalists.

With eight track beds, four of which plunging 170 feet below the surface underneath Grand Central, the state government has built granite-clad mezzanines and first-class amenities the Cuomo administration and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority view as worthy of the historic terminal above.

This summer, the MTA and Long Island Rail Road will send electric currents through the third track and begin testing the hardware in anticipation of bringing commuters through Harold Interlocking to Grand Central.

It is a seven-mile journey.

Commuters will enter through Grand Central before being led through brightly lit and white corridors that will serve an art gallery function subject to regular updates before reaching the ticketing booths.

In order to get to trains, 17 hi-rise escalators, 182 feet in length will careen below the surface to a tunnel network that stretches from 42nd Street to 49th Street.

“Not only is it built functionally, but we want people to enjoy the experience. You see architectural flourishes throughout,” Cuomo said from seven stories below Park Avenue. “If you look at the George Washington Bridge, the Brooklyn Bridge, Empire State Building, this is going to make New York, New York and it couldn’t come at a better time.”

In all, about $11 billion from federal and state resources have been poured into the project that has been underway since 2005, but has been working its way through red tape for half a century. 

According to Janno Lieber, MTA’s Chief Development Officer, the state expects the ridership levels and work patterns to return to more or less to normal by the time station opens in the next year and the COVID-19 vaccines become commonplace. Cuomo explained during the press conference he believed that businesses will also return to the office as it will be human nature to want to gather in-person with coworkers.

Another justification for the project is the argument that two generations ago only 37,000 people lived on Long Island compared to the 2.8 million of today

Leiber said capacity in the peak hours will also be boosted by 60% and the project spanned some 50 total work contracts.

In order to jumpstart ridership further on the Long Island Rail Road, Lieber and the MTA are working on possibly launching more discounted fares to bring people back int0 the transit system.

While East Side Access will free up platform capacity in Penn Station, which also serves Amtrak and New Jersey Transit, Governor Andrew Cuomo plans to fill that empty capacity with Metro-North Railroad service, adding another central hub for people seeking connections between the two commuter lines.

Nonetheless, Cuomo described Penn Station as a “hellhole” that has little to offer commuters in terms of an experience. That is, unless their trip takes them through the newly completed Moynihan Train Hall.


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