Underneath Grand Central: NYC’s Vast East Side Access Project

East Side Access Project
East Side Access Project showing the tunnel to Queens from Manhattan.

From Manhattan to Long Island, Faster Transit begins with a new terminal at Grand Central Station: the East Side Access Project

By Chelsea Staub

Underneath Grand Central Station, a new terminal that will forever change the course of New York City’s transportation awaits.

The largest transportation project, deemed as the East Side Access Project, has been taking place for the past 15 years, 15 stories below Park Avenue in Manhattan. With 8 miles of tunneling and 40 miles of new tracks, it will be the largest new train terminal to be built in the United States since the 1950s, spanning over 8 city blocks long.  After they complete the last safety device installation, the line is set to open early in 2023, about 11 years behind schedule.

East Side Access Project. Rehema Trimiew photo.
Tunneling equipment inside the East Side Access Project. Rehema Trimiew photo.

The 100-year Update

The East Side Access Project will allow direct connections from Grand Central Station to the Long Island Rail Road, also known as the LIRR, making this the first expansion to the line in 100 years. The railroad was initially built to accommodate the 37,000 residents of Long Island, which has now grown to 2.8 million over the past century.

As of now, if you’re traveling by car from Long Island, the fastest route to New York City will take you an hour and a half. If you’re traveling on the LIRR from Hicksville station in Long Island to Penn Station, the commute will take roughly 48 minutes, not including rush hour cancellations or delays.

Through the $11 billion East Side Access Project, travelers can expect more trains to reach the east side of Manhattan from Queens and Long Island. Eleven lines of the LIRR will connect to both Grand Central Station and Penn station, offering faster commutes with fewer delays and more destination options.

The nearly empty Grand Central Station during the worst of the Pandemic in 2020.
The nearly empty Grand Central Station during the worst of the Pandemic in 2020. Paul Clemence photo.

Grand Central’s New Concourse

While 750,000 people use Grand Central Station to travel each day, the expected increase of travelers will add 162,000 more people into the works. However, with eight new tracks, four passenger platforms, and a 350,000 square foot passenger concourse, commutes are expected to reduce by 40 minutes.

The new concourse and terminal beneath Grand Central Station will now allow for eight trains at a time, offering up to 24 trains during rush hours. WiFi coverage and cellular service will be available throughout the terminal, and you can expect to see digital screens with up-to-date statuses on arrival and departure times.

Reinventing NYC’s Harold Interlocking

Besides the new terminal and concourse beneath Grand Central, New York City’s Harold Interlocking, the busiest railroad junction in the United States, is undergoing its own transformation under the project. Built over 100 years ago in Queens, the Harold has nearly 800 trains passing through each day causing the intersection to congest easily, ultimately increasing delays and impacting passengers.

Under the East Side Access Project, however, these negative impacts will be reduced at Harold with new tunneling operations, track reconfiguration, and construction of new railroads. LIRR riders will be able to access the east side of Manhattan directly, which will help to alleviate crowding at Penn Station and surrounding subway lines.

Lower Manhattan from the water
Lower Manhattan from the water.

Visiting the New Station

If you’re flying into JFK Airport to visit New York, you can expect speedy connections with East Side Access, transporting you from the terminal to Grand Central Station in about 40 minutes.

While specifics on stores and dining are not yet finalized, Grand Central’s new concourse will hold 25 retail stores with additional space for pop-up shops. Commuters will be able to enter the terminal through multiple entrances on Madison Avenue from 42nd to 48th streets.

Improving Local Living

While the project will allow for a faster and easier commute with more options for passengers, additional benefits are expected to improve the economies of both Long Island and New York City. Construction on track projects in Nassau and Suffolk counties in Long Island will support the growing population through job opportunities around Grand Central Terminal.

Additionally, the rezoning of East Midtown will also contribute towards supporting economic growth. The rezoning of the 73-blocks around Grand Central Terminal will offer new construction for office spaces and will redevelop outdated buildings while upgrading pedestrian and transit spaces.

With the East Side Access, better commuting options will also allow Long Island businesses to gain new workers from the city, ultimately creating prosperous economies for both the islands.

After discussing the East Side Access Project with Aaron Donovan, a spokesperson from The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, his excitement for the project expanded over several factors.

“A combination of increasing destinations for the Long Island Rail Road into Manhattan, cutting commuting times, and decongesting Penn Station is what I’m most excited for,” said Donovan.

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