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Jeffrey Syken

“This is the train to Grand Central Madison”

Just eight words spoken by a LIRR conductor that took over $11-billion dollars and seventeen years of design/construction to make manifest. Dubbed “Grand Central Madison” (to distinguish it from the adjacent, but separate, Grand Central Terminal), the project to design and build it was better known as “East Side Access” (ESA). The achievement is impressive: removal of 1.5 million cubic-feet of “muck” to create 13 miles on new tunnels in both Queens and Manhattan; over 40 miles of new track laid; a 24-track Mid-Day Storage Yard (MDSY) for 200 rail-cars; 97 new track switches and 5 new bridges; 47 escalators total, 17 of which are high-rise escalators - 182-feet-long; 550 miles of cable; 44 ventilation fans; 975 security cameras; 15 overhead gentries; a 2,500-foot-long curvilinear slurry wall; Jet-grouting; a new LIRR station at Sunnyside; a short tunnel under Northern Blvd. (a“Triple-Transit Corridor”) which required a complex ground-freezing operation; a modular C08 traction power sub-station; a “Pocket Park” on 50th Street to help mitigate noise produced by an adjacent ventilation structure; a 350K sq. ft. concourse with 25 retail storefronts; 29 major operative control systems; reconfiguration of switches, signals and track in Harold Interlocking, the busiest interlocking in the U.S.; two caverns (one for West-bound trains, the other for East-bound) dug-out of Manhattan Schist below and along Madison Avenue to accommodate eight tracks on four platforms (two above, two below); a train storage area at 38th Street; 63 separate work headings; 2,702 controlled blasts in Manhattan, about 190 in Queens; “Jet Grouting” of leaking slurry walls; underpinning of existing elevated subway structure; TBM launch pits; two slurry TBMs (for nixed-face conditions in Queens) and two hard-rock TBMs (for Manhattan Schist); conveyor system for muck removal; 50 separate contracts; concurrent MTA/LIRR projects (i.e. Second Avenue Subway/LIRR Expansion Project) and a "Proposed Service Plan" which will bifurcate the LIRR schedule to accommodate service to/from all eleven LIRR branches to both Penn Station and Grand Central Madison on a roughly 50/50 basis.

Essentially a train terminal built below an existing terminal, the origins of the idea for ESA date back to 1930, when Trumbull Marshall - a letter-writer to The New York Times, suggested, in order to relieve the growing congestion in Manhattan’s two commuter rail facilities (Penn Station and Grand Central Terminal) that a new “East-Midtown Terminal” be built to solve the problem once and for all. A Depression, WWII and the Korean War would get in the way of Marshall’s idea being realized, but by the late 1960s, with the demise of the Pennsylvania Railroad (a/k/a “Pennsey”) and subsequent take-over by New York State and the formation of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) in 1968, the prospects for finally bringing Long Island commuters directly to their jobs on the East-side, rather than their having to double-back on the subway from Penn Station, on the West-side, was within grasp.

The construction of a bi-level, 4-track immersed tube tunnel, begun in 1969, would further the dream. With the upper level reserved for subway trains and the lower level for future LIRR trains, ESA seemed inevitable. Alas, when the tunnel was completed in 1975 the world had changed and NYC was in the depths of a financial crisis. Dubbed “The Tunnel to Nowhere,” it would not be until the early 1990s that ESA would be revived and receive financial support by City, State and Federal agencies. However, objections by Turtle Bay residents to a terminal at 48th Street and Third Avenue and the MTA’s objections to utilizing existing upper level tracks under Park Avenue leading into GCT would result in delays and a compromise design whereby LIRR trains would be brought into its own dedicated terminal via new tunnels from Queens. Design work began in 2002 and construction in 2007. Plagued by cost overruns and extended schedules, the light at the end of the tunnel is the commencement of revenue service in December 2022 and the dawn of a new era for Long Island and its 2.8 million residents.

This course includes a multiple-choice quiz at the end, which is designed to enhance the understanding of the course materials.

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