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MTA: Another snag for East Side Access project over signal testing

The impact, if any, of the snag on the timing of the completion of the overall project — now set for the end of 2022 — is not known.

A Long Island Rail Road train rolls through

A Long Island Rail Road train rolls through the Harold Interlocking in Long Island City, Queens, in October 2015. Photo Credit: Anthony Lanzilote

The MTA’s delay-plagued East Side Access megaproject to link the LIRR to Grand Central Terminal has encountered yet another snag, as a plan to transition to a new signal system is expected to take longer than originally scheduled, officials said.

MTA Chief Development Officer Janno Lieber has advised the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s LIRR Committee that the East Side Access project team is “struggling with the news” from the LIRR’s signal workers that it will take longer than anticipated to test a new state-of-the art signal system being installed at the busy Harold Interlocking train junction in Queens. The testing was set to take place over this spring and be completed by May.

The impact, if any, of the snag on the completion of the overall project — now set for the end of 2022 — is not known; Lieber said the agency is looking into how to keep things on track.

“It’s apparently going to take some more weekends to test than the six we had been planning for a long time,” said Lieber. “This planning has been extensive. It’s gone on for years. And we have to figure out a way not to lose schedule based on it.”

East Side Access aims to transform commutes for tens of thousands of Long Islanders by providing an alternative to Penn Station on the West Side of Manhattan and reducing trip lengths by as much as 40 minutes a day.

But the project has been plagued by delays and cost overruns since it was proposed in the 1990s with a budget of $4.3 billion and a targeted completion date of 2009. That cost estimate has more than doubled and the target completion date has been pushed back 13 years.

Currently, East Side Access is budgeted at $10.2 billion and projected to be completed by December 2022. MTA officials are expected to provide a more detailed update on the project’s budget and timeline next month.

Lieber said falling behind on testing the new signal system creates “additional schedule risk” for the entire project because of the need to coordinate all work with Amtrak, which is carrying out unrelated construction near the massive Harold junction and is needed to assist in the East Side Access effort.

Christopher Natale, general chairman of the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen Local 56, which represents LIRR signal workers, took issue with MTA officials attributing the latest delays to them.

“There’s way more dynamics than just the signal work that’s causing these delays,” Natale said. “I don’t think they can blame on one single thing the amount of errors that have been made on that project.”

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