By Mark Hallum
East Side Access is coming closer to being a reality as crews begin work in Sunnyside to relocate hundreds of feet of track by a few yards to accommodate Long Island Rail Road trains heading through a tunnel entrance that will eventually lead to Grand Central.
The $10.2 billion project has come under fire for the sticker shock associated with it in a time of scarce resources for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, but East Side Access seeks to increase service by supplementing current service into Penn Station, which has fallen into disrepair under the ownership of Amtrak.
“This track relocation reflects real, tangible progress at East Side Access – bringing us another step closer to starting LIRR service to Grand Central,” said Janno Lieber, MTA chief development officer. “After this step is completed, the contract to build the tunnel entrance, which will begin active construction this fall, is the last major contract needed for the start of service.”
The new tunnel has been built under Sunnyside Yard and will connect with the Main Line at Harold Interlocking, according to the MTA.
“I’m pleased that this is taking place in a compressed time frame of just six weeks during the summer when rush hour commuting is generally lower,” LIRR President Phillip Eng said. “I thank our customers for bearing with us as the MTA makes this historic improvement to the railroad.”
East Side Access brings the MTA and LIRR once step closer to freeing some of its dependence on Penn Station, where a backlog in repairs led to what Gov. Andrew Cuomo called the “summer of hell” last year. But discussion of an extra tunnel linking the LIRR to Grand Central goes back to the 1950s.
Over the course of eight weeks last summer, Amtrak announced it would repair 20 percent of LIRR tracks under Penn Station in what is currently the nation’s largest rail hub after a series of derailments caused by a switching point and other service disruptions.
Cuomo has also commissioned the conversion of the Farley Post Office adjacent to Penn Station into the Moynihan Train Hall, an annex to Penn Station which will service LIRR trains.
East Side Access is expected to transport 162,000 customers a day through eight miles of tunnel when both eastbound and westbound service begins in 2022. It is considered one of the largest infrastructure projects currently underway in the United States, according to the MTA.
Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhall