• The East Side Access Project Discussion (ESA)

  • Discussion of the past and present operations of the Long Island Rail Road.
Discussion of the past and present operations of the Long Island Rail Road.

Moderator: Liquidcamphor

  by photobug56
Typical commute for me in my most recent position. Leave house by 6AM to meet the alleged 6:18 train to Penn. Usually departs E Northport between 6:21 and 6:25. Arrives in Penn usually (officially 7:20) 7:23 to 7:30. Rush to the 123 station, guess whether local or express because signage, if working, is usually pure fantasy. Eventually squeeze on a super packed train to go one stop to Times Square. Climb up, try to run to the shuttle, now even harder through the crowd squeezing through the construction. Squeeze on, hold on for dear life, get to GCT. Squeeze again up the stairs and head to the former Pan Am building escalators, hopefully more than one working. Then north to my office a couple blocks farther. Time from house to my breakfast cart across from my office building about 2 hours. Plus, of course, the subway fare added to the railroad fare.

Let's say I transfer at Jamaica. And if we out east get really, really lucky, it will be across the platform and not up and over. Times for train meets seldom match, so there's a wait, then you squeeze onto a badly over crowded train for the ride to Penn or GCT, hanging on again for dear life. Typically rather exhausting. The one good thing, hopefully, is that I hop on an escalator, assuming any of them are working (same company did them for the 2nd Avenue Stubway and they constantly break down). Up to concourse level, then another escalator to the walkways under the Helmsley building, then to an exit on Park or Madison, hopefully with a working escalator. This will save subway fare, of course.

The big question mark is what happens at Jamaica. It's a horrible place, always badly overcrowded, lots of pushing and shoving, and if you are very lucky, a transfer only takes a few minutes. Not so much, 20 minutes and the up and over, praying your connection doesn't pull out in the meantime. Then whatever you connect to in either direction is always overcrowded. Whole point of the DM's was to allow a direct Penn train so you could avoid Jamaica or Hicksville or Huntington transfers. But the PJ line has only 2 direct trains each way daily, and the 2 PM trains are both before rush hour. But so many of us need to go to the east side. So tell me, why should passengers from diesel country be punished, be treated like 2nd class passengers compared to those in electric country? But this is the decision that LIRR made in the mid 1990's that out in diesel country we are just farmers taking an occasional expedition to the city. But hey, as they buy the C5's and new DM's, they COULD finally choose to give us direct, non transfer access to GCT, let alone improve our access to Penn with one or 2 more morning trains, and a choice of eastbound PM rush hour trains. But they won't.

As to Hunterspoint, that horror show needs complete rebuilding. An integrated subway and train station, fully handicapped accessible, not the rotting away train platform with super long stairs rusting away like we have now. But the TA will likely never allow it. And LIC service is a joke. A few trains here and there at a 'station' that's hard to find and not close enough to subways.

So how about you move to the PJ line east of Huntington and see if you still see things the same way. In reality it badly needs double tracking and electrification, and has needed it for years. Now that Ronkonkoma has decent service, we need it too.
  by Head-end View
Photobug56, you might ask yourself if it's really practical to live that far east on Long Island and commute to Manhattan every day. Even in a perfect LIRR world of electrification to Pt. Jefferson with two tracks, and even if the railroad ran far more efficiently than it does, it would still be a grueling commute every day.

I commuted for four years back in the 1970's from central Nassau County on the main line and that was bad enough. If you intend to continue working in NYC, maybe you should consider relocating further west to say eastern Nassau County. At least you'd have a more reasonable, shorter commute from electric territory.
  by photobug56
40 miles from Manhattan should mean a train ride on a modern, well run system of maybe 30 to 40 minutes - or less? And if you want a decent, safe place to raise kids, and you want it to be semi affordable, and the jobs are concentrated in Manhattan and a few other expensive to live in places? When I was getting married I was living in Manhattan in a tiny apartment, but no room for kids,etc. And like millions of others, typically but not always the husbands, I made a sacrifice. It should never have been so difficult. But part of the difficulty was that it was pretty much Penn or nothing. Sure, HPA, but it's truly awful, and yes, I know it because I've done it. Not all of my jobs over the years were East Side, but even the West Side was seldom easy - almost as soon as the subway rebuild was done years ago it started getting worse again. But at the heart of it, the ALWAYS late LIRR made it worse. Subway schedules didn't help. If (and it only happened once every several years) my train actually arrived at 7:20 on schedule, I'd have a quick ride to where I needed to be. 5 minutes later, and I'd have to wait 10 to 20 minutes for the next, now overcrowded train.

As to moving into Nassau, house prices and property taxes are even worse than in Suffolk, and for that you get no yard and a much smaller house. And even then, the constant breakdowns on LIRR would still make for an awful commute. Plus the lack of ESA - which should have been finished almost 15 years ago.

So getting back to the real world, we have one of the world's worst commuter rail services. Super slow trains, horrible signal systems that frequently break, and worse. And if you want to live somewhere semi livable, you go to Suffolk, where LIRR services goes from pathetic to purely awful. Where the railroad decides that you, living it what it still sees as farm country, couldn't possibly need frequent, fast, reliable direct connections.
  by njtmnrrbuff
The third track on the Main Line is going to help a lot. The LIRR is better than NJT but not as good as Metro North. When Eastside Access Opens up, it will give people better access to many places on the Eastside that are a hassle to get to from Penn Station. For example, many lawfirms are located closer to Grand Central Terminal than Penn Station. Rather than having to walk to Penn Station or take two subways, if your law firm employer is within the shadows of Grand Central, you could probably look forward to either getting some extra sleep before commuting or just showing up to work early rather than late. Many museums in NYC are located on the East Side like the Metropolitan Museum of Art and it's a little easier to get there from Grand Central Terminal than Penn Station, although you have to walk a few blocks east of the museum to access the subway.
  by photobug56
My last position (I was laid off because my employer moved hundreds to West Chester so senior managers could eliminate their commutes), but until then was on Park North of the Helmsley building. My work is a mix of technology and sourcing within financial institutions, heavy on things like negotiating contracts, and New York City is at the center of that world. The 2 biggest vendors globally are in Manhattan. So when I was at this firm, ESA, as long as the transfer was quick and easy, would have cut 45 minutes off my daily commute and saved me the subway fare on the days I was on site. The irony was that nothing I did except attend some optional lectures (later put on video) had to be done on site. But I love Manhattan, and ignoring the virus, want to be there as much as I can. And my wife and I love visiting the East Side museums!

In regards to those, getting to them from Penn is painful at best. It used to be that I could grab an M4 half a block from Penn, it would go up Madison to within a block of the museums we like. I liked that because I have some physical issues. Going back to Penn was equally easy. Then NYC DOT decided that they wanted a lot fewer buses near Penn, and moved the terminus of the M4 most of the way towards 5th Avenue (not near anything). TA went along, they never did a public hearing, and the only notice was put up the day before it went into effect. Since I also sometimes used the M4 to get to work, that was another problem.

I think that part of my frustration is the general mediocrity of MTA. Trains that are almost never on time yet have a 90% on time rate as published, buses that ALWAYS run in herds like cows, and far more. When I lived in Manhattan I was a Community Board member, and actually could and did have some influence on buses in particular. And if there was a subway problem, I had NYCTA people I could call. Later with LIRR I also had managers I could reach if needed. One of them was Helena Williams, who if presented with a fixable problem made sure it got fixed. I like Philip Eng, enjoy talking with him, but he seems to be super well shielded from what is actually going on in real life, except for when he rides to work on the same PJ train I would ride. I think the only way he could see what went on.
  by Head-end View
Photobug56, it sounds like you're really a city guy at heart. If you think MTA is an only mediocre transit agency, you should try riding the commuter rail and transit systems in a few other Northeast cities like Boston's MBTA or Philadelphia's SEPTA. Try those for a few years each and you'll come to see that New York's MTA is more of a class act than many people realize. And no, I never worked for any of these transit agencies. LOL
  by photobug56
When I lived in Manhattan I had frequent communication with NYCTA and I was able to get some things fixed. Like on one bus route where mid July no buses were air conditioned. I wrote down the number of every single hot coach, called TA, got the head of surface maintenance and talked with him. He was a little surprised - he thought the entire depot had a couple hot buses - I gave him a list of 30. Turns out the depot boss was falsifying records.

NYCTA has gone way downhill since the David Gunn days when the above incident occurred (afterwards I actually got to discuss this with him). It's now trying to recover again. LIRR has had frequent low periods. Getting rid of the rust bucket fleet helped - but they made numerous mistakes in getting the C3's and even worse mistakes with the DE's and DM's. I won't even go into the mistakes they made with the Bitanic (C1's?). But one consistent thing - horrible maintenance. Philip Eng is trying to fix it - I wish him luck. You might want to read the book 'The Gravy Train - An Inside Look at the Long Island Rail Road Paperback – July 6, 2006' . Helena Williams had made some progress (probably why she lost her job).

You are right in a way - there have always been some very good people at LIRR. But mediocrity still reigns supreme. The basic schedules from the 1890's are still, more or less, still in use today - except trains seem to have gotten even slower. A few main places get heavy service, others get far less than they need. PJ is one - keep in mind that beyond piles of commuters, there's also a huge university. It badly needs to rethink and redo. Yes, the 3rd track will help, the 2nd track did help some, and ESA, if and when it ever is finished and everything works (including the GCT escalators), will help some riders.
  by njtmnrrbuff
Yes, LIRR is mediocre as a whole. However, that doesn't mean that overall they are poor but yes, before Eastside Access opens up, they are going to want to have good punctuality and not think in the mind that people might as well just go to NYP and then head to Midtown. Not so much related to Eastside Access but I know that in the past, it's been discussed to add more track on the Pt. Washington Branch. This would help the railroad add more trains to both transit hubs in Manhattan as well as out. As for the Pt. Jefferson Line, depending on how far out you are, that's a very long commute. The line is not that fast in diesel territory. I have ridden it a few times. It's very curvy in multiple areas. Yes, SUNY Stony Brook is along the route and contributes to a lot of ridership. Those students could be heading to internships in Manhattan that don't happen daily. I certainly wouldn't be surprised if people starting their trip out east of Huntington will have to change trains when heading to and from Grand Central Terminal. There will probably me many people who drive to Huntington and I'm sure that right now, many people do that for more frequent rail options.
  by photobug56
LIRR and MTA start out with a mediocre approach to 'on time'. A train is on time if it arrives within 6 minutes of schedule. But given the way that TA schedules buses and subway trains, a 6 minute late train can add 20 minutes to one's commute. Plus it's not very clear of what "arrival" means. For years I've heard that getting near the east end of the East River tunnel is considered on time for Penn bound trains. To add to the mediocrity, LIRR sends out EVERY SINGLE train a minimum of one minute late, usually about 90 seconds - on a good day. After many years of commuting, I hadn't recorded more than maybe one real on time arrival until the 'Summer of Hell' reduced traffic into Penn so much that some trains actually arrived on time. And it's not just that they are late, it's that the trains are so slow. On one unusual occasion, the Penn direct train in the morning got held up just west of East Northport for quite a while. When it resumed, it actually got to Penn in about 45 minutes rather the usual 60 plus. Never saw a repeat, because normally once a train is late, LIRR sidelines it to try to prevent other trains from also being late.

Port Washington has a massive level of service. Sure, they have a single track problem at the east end of it, but they pretty much have the best service on LIRR. I've no issue with dealing with their bottlenecks, but other areas are desperate for improvement and need it way ahead of PW. Whenever I've observed PW trains at Penn, I have NEVER seen them full.

In regards to Stony Brook, many of their students commute there. But there are multi hour gaps in service, for instance inbound in the afternoon. I've had afternoon interviews in Manhattan and have had to go in several hours early and find somewhere to hang out because there is such a lack of inbound PJ service after morning rush hour. And on the PJ run, some years ago we had a couple crews eastbound PM rush who did everything they could to make passengers miss their stops - no announcement east of Jamaica. So it was common to sleep through your stop, go farther than planned, and then have a 2 to 3 hour wait for a west bound train to take you back to your stop. Fortunately, Helena put an end to that once she heard about the abusive crews. But it's a reminder of just how bad the line is. It badly needs double tracking, and one would lose the GCT quandary if they electrified at the same time.

If you take a close look at schedules and departing Penn trains and more, you would realize that LIRR needs to completely redo their schedules to match current needs and train capability, not the needs from the 1890's. Sure, a huge problem is the Jamaica bottleneck, which has long needed dealing with, but overall they need to closely look at the overall situation and redo the schedules from scratch. But needless to say, they also need to fix the huge backlog in fixing switches and signals, which are still constantly breaking down. Plus switches need to be high speed wherever possible. And they need to eliminate their traditional delays and mediocrity such as the always start late rule, and they need to start reporting the real on time percentages, which in my experience on the PJ line are lower than 10%.

One more thing - if you've ever come to the East Northport station post 'rebuild', you could notice a few oddities. Seats in the building have been made to be painful to sit on. If you want to charge your phone, you have to stand so no one steals it. If you walk outside at night, intense lights buried in the sidewalk blind you as you walk. If you are on the crumbling platform, you'll notice that the 'train alerts' signs are so far apart that on most of the platform you can't actually see what they say. The PA barely works - in a few spots, at times, so only way to see if a wb train is coming from the platform is to look for it, not from the announcements. Plus, every morning the announcement timing is normally identical even if a train is 20 minutes late. Then try taking the super high rusted out stairs to cross over - and just for fun, do it after a snow fall, and see if you can make it in one piece. And this is just a preview of one station.
  by Jeff Smith
Okay, let's get back on topic, and move on please. I appreciate the sentiments as a former rider; but this is less about the current iteration of the ESA project than it is more about "LIRR sucks". If you'd like to create a separate topic addressing some of these concerns, please do so.
  by photobug56
Might be worth it. But not right now. My primary concern at this time is to do what I can to prevent PJ and other diesel line riders from having a 2nd class experience or worse if and when ESA finally opens. There are certain issues;

1. That from the very beginning of the work back in 1996 that LIRR made a decision that would prevent diesel country passengers from ever having direct trains to GCT, and to remind them that as they finally buy some new equipment - DM's and C5 cars, that they make an honest effort to correct that previous choice if, of course, it's not too late. I don't know whether, if new locos and cars can be designed and built to be able to use the ESA tunnels. But if is too late, if the tunnels simply cannot accommodate properly designed double decker cars and / or the locos, to hear an explanation in plain English from LIRR. And if it's not too late, that they design this new equipment appropriately.
2. In the meantime, since they chose not to build the Sunnyside area transfer point, that they make sure that trains from diesel country have a quick, matched time across the platform transfer to GCT trains in both directions to the greatest degree practical.
3. That they don't punish diesel riders by reducing the already extremely limited direct trains schedule for trains from diesel country to Penn.
4. That they make sure that the horrid timing of direct trains into the Penn does not get duplicated for diesel to GCT connections. There absolutely needs to be a decent choice of rush hour trains to / from diesel country to Penn and GCT.
5. That LIRR and NYCTA finally get their act together regarding HPA and safe, easy connections LIRR and subway, and look into making this a free transfer with the rider only paying specifically for the LIRR ride. This is especially important in the years we wait for ESA, but also long term.

We also need to make sure that LIRR hears us on that.
  by Pensyfan19
Might be stating the obvious but diesel territory passengers could always make the ever so famous "change at Jamaica" for trains to Grand Central. Also, there is a possibility that the new single-level passenger equipment and dual-mode locomotives could be low enough to fit in the tunnels for Grand Central for direct GCT service to diesel territory.

Also, why didn't the LIRR make a slight turn right and build tunnels above or under the 7 train to Grand Central? More of a somewhat straight line from Sunnyside to GCT, even if that means LIRR trains would be facing west rather than south.
  by photobug56
Change at Jamaica has long been painful - ranging from a little painful to very painful. Least painful is a quick easy cross platform transfer to a train that has enough capacity for those boarding. We know, of course, that is not so typical. You fight your way off your train, try to squeeze through the dense crowd - if you're lucky, to the waiting train across the platform, try to squeeze your way on, and then try to get a seat for the fun filled right to Manhattan. Except that frequently, there is no other train at the time. So you join the dense crowd, another train comes in and makes the crowd worse, and finally a badly overcrowded train to Manhattan shows up and you try to board and find something to hang on to. Going east bound, it's typical to transfer from some point on a 12 car electric, to a 3 or 4 car diesel with nowhere near enough room. Now if they got it right, with longer diesel trains and enough room on the train you are transferring to, it wouldn't be as bad. But at best, at least for some number of years, that's the best scenario. A worse one has you having to go up and over. E/B you get off your electric, with no idea where the diesel will be. Maybe they announce it (correctly), maybe not. And if you don't get it quite right you may spend an hour waiting for another eastbound train.

I can't imagine LIRR ordering single deck cars for diesel country - just not cost effective. Besides that, the DM locos would have to fit. No, the right way to do it is to design a lower profile double decker designed to fit not just height wise but also lengthwise (I'm concerned about curves too tight for longer cars to make the turn).

Interesting question about your idea of following the 7 train. I'm guessing that there wasn't room for such a tunnel or train storage at various points, but concept wise sounds nice. Or maybe just no one thought of it.
  by railfaned
why didn't the LIRR make a slight turn right and build tunnels above or under the 7 train to Grand Central? More of a somewhat straight line from Sunnyside to GCT, even if that means LIRR trains would be facing west rather than south.
Pensyfan19, I don't know how familiar you are with NYC, so here are the reasons why ESA is where it is,
1- The 63st tunnel has been there empty since the 60's and the subways already knew going across near the #7 was impossible.
2- The #7 tunnel aka the Steinway tunnel was originally a trolley tunnel from LIC to Grand Central. I believe it was the oldest with a turn around in LIC.
3- The #7 goes under the Lex. Ave subway, the Shuttle, the other subway lines going west, not to mention the lower long distance level of Grand Central Terminal that also had a turn around loop for long distant trains.
4- I don't know if ESA will be done in my life time using an already built tunnel, think, even if you could build a tunnel at the #7, it would be another 100 years and an engineering nightmare.
5- re-diesel equipment, NYCTA uses DM engines that fit thru the subway Tunnels and I think I heard that the LIRR is ordering a couple for ESA Protect service, as the present Diesel protects don't fit in the ESA Tunnels. A few more of them, and lower level passenger cars, could make some Diesel territory trains make GCT.
6- Existing Diesel fleet can still make Penn Sta.
7- The tunnels to Penn Station start right next to the #7 tunnel in LIC.
Photo Bug,
I was commuting back when there were Ping-Pings and the old ALCO's. you don't know what bad really was.
  by mkm4
photobug56 wrote: Mon May 04, 2020 3:05 pm since they chose not to build the Sunnyside area transfer point,
Sunnyside was never going to be a transfer to GCT station. It was originally being designed as a replacement of HPA with connections to the area subways.

If you've never read any of ESA studies, you might want to start with this one: http://web.mta.info/capital/esa_docs/fe ... atives.pdf

The full impact study: http://web.mta.info/capital/esa_docs/feis.htm
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