The concept of a Long Island Rail Road trip to Grand Central Station is no longer a trick, but rather a “real treat” that New York commuters will finally begin to enjoy next year, according to Gov. Kathy Hochul.
On Halloween Sunday, Oct. 31, Hochul rode the first passenger Long Island Rail Road train into a new station deep below Grand Central Terminal — marking a milestone in the long-delayed East Side Access Project set to open to the public next year.
Hochul took a test train with transit and union leaders from Jamaica, Queens, to the new tracks about nine stories below Madison Avenue and 46th Street around 8 a.m. Sunday, and the trip took about 27 minutes.
“This is how I celebrate Halloween, I come out and say this is a real treat for the New York City region and Long Island,” Hochul told reporters during a press conference after alighting. “This is the greatest region on the earth, and it deserves to have the best transportation networks as well.”
The $12 billion transit infrastructure expansion is scheduled to wrap by December 2022, offering a new 350,000 square-foot concourse — a little more than seven football fields big — and four new platforms with eight tracks underneath Grand Central for the LIRR.
The iconic Beaux-Arts train hub has been limited to Metro-North Railroad trains and subways, and LIRR commuters have to detrain at Penn Station or other stations in Brooklyn and Queens.
The new terminal is 140 feet below Park Avenue and straphangers will have to descend 182-foot long high-rise escalators between the concourse and the mezzanine.
Trains come in from the Harold Interlocking — North America’s busiest passenger railroad intersection in Queens — through an East River tunnel at 63rd Street, construction of which started more than 50 years ago — all the way back in 1969 under then-Governor Nelson Rockefeller.
The project stalled for decades but was revived in the 1990s and construction started on both sides of the East River in 2006.
“People have been talking about East Side Access for generations,” said MTA acting Chairperson and CEO Janno Lieber. “Now it is close to becoming a reality.”
Lieber took over the project when he became the agency’s head of construction and development in 2017.
Earlier this month, the MTA’s 21-member board green-lit the creation of a new subsidiary with fewer than 10 staff to oversee the revenue from 25,000 square-foot of private retail in the space, while unionized LIRR workers will still conduct train operations, according to the board’s monthly meeting documents.
Before Sunday’s ceremonial debut, MTA workers rode the very first test trains through the tubes last week, according to an agency spokesman.
East Side Access promises to increase LIRR capacity going into Midtown Manhattan by 45% and shave off about 40 minutes off commutes roundtrip.
Pre-pandemic, the MTA estimated the new facility would serve some 162,000 riders, but many office buildings in Manhattan’s business district remain largely empty due to more remote working options and a resurgence of COVID fueled by the Delta variant earlier this year.
Coronavirus infections are down to 1.38% across the city, according to the latest data, Hochul predicted that commuters will return in greater numbers by late 2022 thanks to the additional transit option and increasing vaccination rates in the Big Apple, which stand at 67% as of Oct. 31.
“By the time this is done and people see that they can have a much better commuting experience than they had pre-pandemic, that’ll also be an enticement to say ‘I’m going back to my job in Midtown,’” said Hochul. “In a matter of one year, I really believe that there’ll be a dramatic sea change in people’s attitude about where they want to do their work and it will be back in the city.”
This story first appeared on amNY.com.