Proposals by Amtrak to delay the decades overdue major repairs to the four East River tunnels until after the LIRR begins service into Grand Central Terminal in December 2023 will be bad news for both riders and taxpayers. Remember only one of four East River Tunnels can be worked on at a time. It will take one to two years to finish work on each tunnel. As a result, this project may not be completed until end of 2032. This adversely impacts many potential plans for new services into Penn Station.
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, NJ 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.
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 billion, the LIRR has plans to expand Ronkonkoma branch Penn Station rush hour service. Governor Cuomo also wants to provide new frequent direct LIRR service on the Port Washington branch between Penn Station and Mets Willets Point station. This is to support his $450 million plus LaGuardia Air Train. 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.
There is also new LIRR service to support the Islanders and other events at Belmont Arena as promised by Governor Cuomo during his recent 2018 State of the State speech. This would provide a full-time transit connection to the planned 2021 or later opening for the Islanders stadium at Belmont Park.
The $1.6 billion Moynihan Train Hall Station project fails to add any new additional 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 Rail Road trains to serve Penn Station.
Based upon the most recent project recovery schedule, the LIRR may begin service into Grand Central Terminal by December 2023. A majority of the promised 24 trains a.m. and p.m. rush hour peak service will be either new trains or those which previously terminated at Atlantic Terminal Brooklyn. Few will be diverted from Penn Station. With only two tunnels serving Grand Central Terminal, there is little capacity to add additional diverted trains from Penn. Station. There is no equivalent West Side Storage Yard to store trains between rush hours at Grand Central Terminal. Initiation of LIRR East Side Access to Penn Station means the end of direct service to Atlantic Terminal Brooklyn. This will be replaced by a scoot service to Jamaica. Trains can no longer be diverted to Atlantic Terminal Brooklyn as was the case last summer. Only a handful of additional trains could be diverted to Hunters Point. Amtraks excuse to wait for LIRR East Side Access to Grand Central Station before starting work on the East River Tunnels is a poor one.
It is doubtful that the LIRR will give up any current 42 peak service train slots at Penn Station even when expanding operations into Grand Central Terminal. There will continue to be a three way competition between Amtrak, LIRR and New Jersey Transit for Penn Station access, Metro North will also look for rush hour access to Penn Station resulting in a four way competition. Don’t be surprised if there are no changes to level of Penn Station rush hour service in the foreseeable future.