By Larry Penner
There is more to “Islanders arena on tap near Belmont Race Track: Cuomo” (Mark Hallum, Dec. 22) when it comes to Gov. Cuomo’s promise of significant increases in Long Island Rail Road service to coincide with the Islanders stadium’s planned opening by 2020 at Belmont Park, which may be unrealsitic.
Conversion of the Belmont Park LIRR Station and other capital improvements to provide improved and more frequent off-peak service to and from the future arena may take three to five years. You may just end up with off-peak shuttle service between the Jamaica and Belmont Park LIRR stations. The real challenge will be trying to provide full-time rush hour service in both directions. This may not be possible until 2032. There is also the need for a bus terminal to accomidate NICE, New York City Transit and private charter bus operators who may establish new routes for serving Belmont Arena.
It will be several more years before the LIRR completes upgrading interlockings and signals adjacent to Jamaica Station. East Side Access to Grand Central Terminal will not be completed until 2023. New equipment to expand the current fleet needs to be delivered. Amtrak may delay the start of work by six years from 2019 to 2025 for work on the East River tunnels.
Remember, only one of four East River tunnels can be worked on at a time. This will result in a direct reduction in rush hour service. It will take one to two years to finish work on each tunnel. As a result, this project may not be completed until 2032.
Initiation of LIRR East Side Access to Penn Station means the end of direct service to Atlantic Terminal in Brooklyn. This will be replaced by a scoot service to Jamaica. This means change at Jamaica for riders to and from Brooklyn.
Based upon all of the above, there is may be little capacity for LIRR increase of new service including to Belmont Park, especially during rush hours.
There is no room to run additional trains in or out of Penn Station during either a.m. or p.m. rush hours via the East River tunnels with connections to Long Island. This has been the case for decades. Three of four tunnels running inbound during a.m. and outbound p.m. rush hours have very tight spacing between trains. One tunnel is shared by the LIRR, New Jersey Transit and Amtrak for reverse train movements, with equally tight spacing during rush hours. There is no platform capacity at Penn Station to accommodate any additional trains during the rush hour. Penn Station is currently operating at 100 percent capacity during rush hours. If one of the four tunnels is temporarily out of service, the result is numerous delays and cancellation of trains.
There are other competing new services looking for nonexistent rush hour Penn Station platform, track and East River tunnel capacity in coming years. Metro-North wants to begin service at a cost of $700 million plus from the east Bronx via the Hell Gate Bridge and Harold Interlocking in Sunnyside Queens to Penn Station after December 2023 to coincide with LIRR’s move into Grand Central Terminal. Metro-North also has future plans ($200 million) to run additional service from Poughkeepsie and other Hudson Line stations via the Amtrak Empire Corridor Hudson Line using tracks on Manhattan’s West Side. The LIRR has invested $450 million to complete double tracking on the Ronkonkoma branch. Once Main Line Third Track is completed at a cost of $2.6 billion, the LIRR plans to expand Ronkonkoma branch Penn Station rush hour service. Gov. Cuomo also wants to provide new frequent 24/7 direct LIRR service on the Port Washington branch between Penn Station and Mets-Willets Point station. This is to support his $1-billion-plus La Guardia AirTrain. Additional service from Grand Central Terminal to Mets-Willets Point station may also begin once LIRR East Side Access to Grand Central Terminal is completed.
Many Rockaway Queens residents want restoration of LIRR service on the old Rockaway Beach branch, which suspended service in 1962. (Today NYC Transit runs the A subway along a significant portion of the old LIRR right of way.) Amtrak (Northeast Corridor between Washington and Boston along with Empire Service north to Albany and Buffalo) and New Jersey Transit have future plans to expand service in and out of Penn Station.
The ongoing $1.6 billion Moynihan Train Hall station project fails to add new tracks or platforms at Penn Station. This results in no capacity increase for adding any additional new rush hour Amtrak, New Jersey Transit, LIRR or future new Metro-North trains to serve Penn Station.