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East Side Access

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East Side Access
Overview of the location of work being done for the East Side Access project.
The   red and   blue lines represent new tunnels.
The   green line represents the existing 63rd Street Tunnel.
The points represent the new stations being constructed as part of the project.
StatusUnder construction
OwnerMetropolitan Transportation Authority
LocaleNew York City
TerminiSunnyside Yard/Harold Interlocking (Queens)
Grand Central Terminal, LIRR platforms (Manhattan)
WebsiteOfficial website
TypeCommuter rail
SystemLong Island Rail Road
ServicesCity Terminal Zone
Operator(s)MTA Long Island Rail Road
Ridership162,000 daily (projected)
CommencedSeptember 2007 (2007-09)
Planned openingDecember 2022; 1 year's time (2022-12)
Line length2 mi (3.2 km)
Track length6.1 mi (9.8 km)
Number of tracks2-8
Track gauge4 ft 8+12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge
Electrification750 V DC third rail
Route map


East River 

LIRR Main Line
to Greenport
63rd Street Subway
Metro-North main line
63rd Street Subway
63rd Street Tunnel
Midday Storage Yard
Arch Street Yard
Hunterspoint Avenue
Grand Central
Long Island City
to Penn Station
East Side Access route
Other routes

East Side Access (internally abbreviated to ESA by the MTA) is a public works project in New York City that will extend the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) from its Main Line in Queens into a new station under Grand Central Terminal on Manhattan's East Side. A project of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), the new station and tunnels are tentatively scheduled to start service in December 2022.[1] The project's estimated construction cost has risen nearly threefold from the planned $3.5 billion to $11.1 billion as of April 2018, making it one of the world's most expensive underground rail-construction projects.

East Side Access is based on transit plans from the 1950s, though a terminal on Manhattan's East Side was first proposed in 1963.[2]: 17 (PDF p. 20)  The planned LIRR line was included in the 1968 Program for Action of transit improvements in the New York City area. Lack of funds prevented the construction of any part of the connection other than the 63rd Street Tunnel under the East River. Plans for the LIRR connection were revived in the late 1990s. The project received federal funding in 2006, and construction began the following year. The tunnels on the Manhattan side were dug from 2007 to 2011, and the connecting tunnels on the Queens side were completed in 2012. Afterward, work began on other facilities related to the line, such as new platforms at Grand Central, ventilation and ancillary buildings, communication and utility systems, and supporting rail infrastructure in Queens. The completion of the line has been delayed several times since construction started.

The new terminal will contain eight tracks and four platforms in a two-level station 100 feet (30.5 m) below street level. It is being built in conjunction with several other expansion projects across the LIRR, including an additional track along parts of the LIRR's Main Line and a new Sunnyside station in Queens. For many riders, the new terminal is planned to remove or reduce the need for subway transfers, as many office jobs are in the Financial District and Midtown East sections of Manhattan.


Portals for the four tunnels under Sunnyside Yard in Queens. There are three tunnels on the upper level and a fourth tunnel on the lower level.
Starting point for the four Queens tunnels under Sunnyside Yard. The top three tunnels (Tunnels A, B/C, and D, from left to right) will connect to the LIRR Main Line, while the bottom tunnel will connect to storage and maintenance tracks.


Extending between Sunnyside Yard in Queens and Grand Central Terminal in Manhattan, the East Side Access project is creating an LIRR branch from its Main Line through new track connections at Harold Interlocking within Sunnyside Yard, and through the lower level of the existing 63rd Street Tunnel under the East River. A storage yard adjacent to Sunnyside Yard is also being built, connecting to the 63rd Street Tunnel via a loop. In Manhattan new tunnels begin at the western end of the 63rd Street Tunnel at Second Avenue, curving south under Park Avenue and entering a new LIRR terminal beneath Grand Central.[3] Excluding storage tunnels, the project is about 2 miles (3.2 km) long, consisting of 5,500 ft (1,700 m) of new route in Queens, 8,600 ft (2,600 m) of preexisting route under the 63rd Street Tunnel, and 7,200 ft (2,200 m) of new route in Manhattan.[4]: 8 

On the Queens side, four tunnels merge into two tracks and enter the lower level of the 63rd Street Tunnel. Three of them (Tunnels A, B/C, and D) will connect to the busy Harold Interlocking, splitting off the Main Line. A fourth tunnel on a lower level will connect to the Midday Storage Yard.[5] The Midday Storage Yard, located to the northwest of the existing Sunnyside Yard, comprises 33 acres (13 ha) and will contain 24 storage tracks once completed.[6] Tutor Perini is constructing the $291 million yard just south of the existing Harold Interlocking.[7]

The line would then fan out into a bi-level station under Grand Central Terminal with eight tracks, four on each level.[8] South of the station, the four tracks on each level will merge into two 1,700-foot-long (520 m) storage tracks, with one in each cavern on each level. These storage tracks, which extend under Park Avenue south to 38th Street, will be able to store one 1,020-foot-long (310 m), 12-car train. The storage tracks were not part of the original proposal, as they were added in a 2008 modification to the plans for East Side Access.[9]

The project also includes the construction of several ventilation plants. One is located at 44th Street, near the Yale Club of New York City, while another is located at 50th Street east of Madison Avenue.[10]: 11 [11] Ventilation facilities are also located on Park Avenue at 38th Street and at 55th Street, as well as on 63rd Street at York Avenue and at 2nd Avenue.[11]


Construction on a lower-level platform within the Grand Central LIRR terminal
Lower-level platform of the new terminal under construction, January 2019

The new LIRR terminal at Grand Central, located 14 stories below ground, will have 350,000 square feet (33,000 m2) with four platforms and eight tracks, plus a new retail and dining concourse with 25 retail spaces. There will be two caverns containing one platform and two tracks on each of two levels; a mezzanine would be located between the two platform levels.[8][12] The LIRR terminal would initially be accessed via stairwells, 22 elevators, and 47 escalators connecting to the existing food court at the lower level of Grand Central. The number of elevators in this terminal would exceed the 19 escalators in the remainder of the LIRR system combined.[13]

The MTA originally planned to build and open additional entrances at 44th, 45th, 47th, and 48th Streets.[14]: 3 [15][16]: 5  The station would connect to existing entrances at Grand Central North. The new LIRR station would also contain entrances at 335 Madison Avenue, near the southeast corner with 44th Street; at 270 Park Avenue and near 47th and 48th–49th Streets, respectively; and at 347 Madison Avenue, on the east side of the avenue at 45th Street. An entrance on 46th Street between Lexington and Park Avenue was also built, connecting with Grand Central North.[16]: 5–6  However, the MTA later announced its intent to defer construction of an entrance at 48th Street because the owner of 415 Madison Avenue wanted to undertake a major construction project on the site.[16]: 7  The MTA would also connect the new station to the existing 47th Street cross-passage.[14]: 3 [15] The escalators would be up to 180 feet (55 m) long and descend more than 90 feet (27 m). The escalators and elevators would be among the few privately operated escalators and elevators in the entire MTA system.[13]

Proposed service patterns[]

Trains are expected to run 24 hours a day.[17] Plans call for 24 trains per hour to run to Grand Central during peak morning hours, with an estimated 162,000 passenger trips to and from Grand Central on an average weekday.[15][18][19] Bilevel rail cars, such as the LIRR's C3 fleet, would not be able to serve Grand Central because of low height clearances in the 63rd Street Tunnel.[20]: 10–11  The project is likely to increase passenger loads on the already overcrowded IRT Lexington Avenue Line and on surface bus routes on the East Side. At the same time, the project will reduce the load on rush-hour E train service between Pennsylvania Station and Midtown East and 7 train service across the East River.[21]


Costs and construction delays[]

The project's estimated cost has increased from $3.5 billion when first proposed[22] to $4.3 billion in 1999,[22][23][24] $5.3 billion in 2003,[25] $6.3 billion in 2004,[22][23][25][26] $7.2 billion in 2008,[25][27] $8.4 billion in 2012,[22][23][28] and either $9.7 billion[25] or $10.8 billion in 2014.[21][22] By 2017, the projected cost was either $12 billion[29] or $10.2 billion,[1] making it the most expensive construction project of its type in the world by either measure.[1][29] The MTA budgeted a total of $10.178 billion to the project over five 5-year capital programs, up to and including the 2015–2019 capital program. Of these, 27% are federal funds and the other 73% are local funds. As of November 2017, the MTA had spent $7.397 billion of the available funding.[30]: 40  As of April 2018, the project was expected to cost $11.1 billion, an increase from a previous estimate of $10.2 billion.[1][25][31] The project had $10.3 billion in funding, which allowed construction to continue through 2020.[12] The state legislature had to approve an additional $798 million to allow construction to be completed, but this had not been approved by late 2019.[32]

An extremely long cavern, which was excavated as part of East Side Access. This cavern will become part of the future Grand Central LIRR station.
West cavern, seen in January 2014
Cavern excavated as part of East Side Access, with a work train in the foreground that is dwarfed by the immensity of the freshly carved cavern.
Cavern in January 2013

The completion date for the project has also been pushed back multiple times. Once planned to be operational by 2009 at a cost of $4.3 billion,[21] East Side Access was then rescheduled to open in 2017,[33] 2016,[34] 2018,[35] 2019,[26] September 2023,[36] and then either December 2023[37] or late 2023.[38] However, by April 2018, the MTA was looking to start passenger service in December 2022, at an estimated cost of $11.1 billion.[1][25][39]: 36  As of July 2020, the MTA had a "target revenue service" date of May 2022 (whereupon construction would be essentially complete), while the line was planned to open to the public in December 2022.[4]: 13  The timeline was only slightly delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic in New York City, although social distancing measures related to the pandemic could potentially delay the timeline more.[4]: 18 

In 2012, the United States Department of Transportation (USDOT)'s Inspector General announced that it wanted an audit done on the project, after the USDOT learned of the fourteen-year delay in the completion date and the more-than-100% cost increase.[40][28] In 2015, the USDOT's Deputy Principal Assistant Inspector General for Auditing and Evaluation, Joseph W. Come, testified before the United States House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform's Subcommittee on Transportation and Public Assets. Come said that several New York City transportation projects also experienced significant delays and cost overruns. This was due to a variety of factors, such as fraud, poor management, and a lack of oversight.[41]

The New York Times reported in 2017 that the project was slated to become the most expensive of its kind in the world. With an estimated cost of $12 billion, or approximately $3.5 billion per mile ($2.2 billion per kilometer) of new tunnel, the East Side Access tunnels were seven times as expensive as comparable railroad tunnels in other countries.[29][31] Over the years, the projected cost of East Side Access had risen by billions of dollars due to unnecessary expenses. Contractors for the MTA were paid more than those working in other cities, even though that provided no construction benefits. Planning for East Side Access cost upward of $2 billion, and planning for MTA projects in general also made up a more significant part of the cost than in other cities' projects. In addition, politicians and trade unions had forced the MTA to hire more workers than were needed. In 2010, an accountant had found that the project was hiring 200 extra workers, at a cost of $1,000 per worker per day, for no apparent reason.[29] The bidding process for MTA construction contracts also raised costs because, in some cases, only one or two contractors would bid on a project.[29][25] Similar construction projects in New York City, such as the Second Avenue Subway and 7 Subway Extension, had been more expensive than comparable projects elsewhere for the same reasons, even though other cities' transit systems faced similar, or greater, problems compared to the MTA.[29] Other delays were attributed to the fact that dozens of contracts, some of which conflicted with each other, were bid out separately. Cost increases also occurred due to changing the design while construction was underway; ordering components that were the wrong size; failing to cooperate with other transit agencies in Sunnyside Yard; and making infeasible construction-timeline estimates.[25]

In September 2018, in an effort to alleviate the high costs and shorten delays, the LIRR hired Arthur R. Troup, who previously worked in high-level positions at Atlanta's and Washington, D.C.'s rapid transit systems, as the new leader for the East Side Access project.[42][43]

Incidents and accidents[]

Several major accidents have occurred during construction, and as a result, East Side Access has been cited for numerous safety violations.[44] In late 2011, a construction worker died after a tunnel collapsed on him.[44][45] In October 2014, a contractor who was digging wells on the Queens side accidentally punctured the subway tunnel underneath, grazing an F train with passengers inside.[46][47]



The East Side Access project is based on regional planning proposals that were first brought up in the 1950s.[2]: 18 (PDF p. 21)  In March 1954, the New York City Transit Authority (NYCTA) issued a $658 million construction program. The proposal included a tunnel for the Second Avenue Subway, which would cross the East River between 76th Street in Manhattan and Astoria in Queens before continuing onto the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR)'s Main Line in Queens.[48] The 76th Street tunnel proposal resurfaced in 1963, though the location of the tunnel was changed several times thereafter.[49] In 1965, the NYCTA finally decided to construct the subway tunnel at 63rd Street.[50]

The first proposals to bring LIRR service to a terminal in eastern Midtown Manhattan arose in 1963.[2]: 17 (PDF p. 20)  To facilitate planning for this terminal, a third track was added to the plans for the 63rd Street subway tunnel in April 1966. The track would serve LIRR trains to east Midtown, alleviating train traffic into Penn Station on Manhattan's west side while integrating the LIRR with the subway.[51] A fourth track was added to the plans in August 1966 after it was determined that LIRR trains would be too large to run on subway tracks. This amendment increased the number of LIRR tracks to two, and provided segregated tracks for the LIRR and the subway.[52]

In February 1968, the NYCTA's parent company, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, released the Program for Action, which proposed numerous improvements to subway, railway, and airport service in the New York metropolitan area. The plan included a new LIRR terminal at a proposed Metropolitan Transportation Center at Third Avenue and 48th Street in East Midtown. It also included connections to Grand Central Terminal, with a new northern entrance leading to the center, and the Second Avenue Subway, among other transit services.[53]: 5 [54] The new LIRR line was to branch off from existing lines in Sunnyside, Queens and enter Manhattan using the new two-level 63rd Street Tunnel. The upper level was to be used by the New York City Subway's 63rd Street lines and the lower level was to be used by the LIRR.[54] According to renderings of the transportation center, the mezzanine would be placed above four island platforms and eight tracks, which would be split evenly across two levels,[53]: 48–49  similar to the structure under construction at Grand Central.[8][12]

A ventilation tower for the 63rd Street Tunnel, as seen at ground level
A ventilation tower for the 63rd Street Tunnel

Construction on the project began in 1969.[2]: 17 (PDF p. 20)  Four 38-foot-square (12 m) prefabricated sections of the 63rd Street Tunnel were constructed under the East River, the first of which was delivered in May 1971.[55] That first section was lowered into place on August 29, 1971,[56] and the last section was lowered on March 14, 1972.[57] The double-deck, 3,140-foot (960 m)[58] tunnel under the East River was "holed through" on October 10, 1972, with the separate sections of tunnels being connected.[59] The estimated cost of the project was $341 million, and the MTA applied for $227 million in Federal funds.[60]

The construction of the terminal was opposed by the residents of the Turtle Bay neighborhood, where the terminal was planned to be located, as it would have changed the character of the neighborhood.[61] Turtle Bay residents wanted the terminal moved to Grand Central. They also disliked the proposed traffic congestion the new terminal would bring.[62] The MTA contended that its studies had shown that Third Avenue was the only feasible place to put the terminal, and there would have been too great of a concentration of rail lines at Grand Central. It concluded that having the LIRR going to Grand Central would further strain the Lexington Avenue Line. If it were on Third Avenue, passengers would have been more inclined to use the Second Avenue Subway, which was partially under construction at the time.[61] On April 16, 1973, a Federal directive directed New York State to consider expanding and modernizing Grand Central before building the new terminal under Third Avenue.[60]

Preliminary planning for the Metropolitan Transportation Center had been completed by January 1975.[2]: 17 (PDF p. 20) [63] Due to continued opposition to the Transportation Center, a "Grand Central Alternative" was published in September 1976. It called for the LIRR to use Grand Central Terminal's lower level instead.[2]: 18 (PDF p. 21)  The MTA's board of directors voted to use Grand Central as the terminal for the proposed LIRR route in 1977.[64]

Plans stalled[]

Due to the 1975 New York City fiscal crisis, the LIRR project was canceled long before the tunnel was completed. The New York Times noted that the lower level of the 63rd Street Tunnel was still under construction by 1976, even though "officials knew that the tunnel would never be used."[65] Richard Ravitch, the MTA chairman, said that to stop the work was impossible or so costly as to make it impractical subsequent to the construction of the subway portion."[65] The lower level of the 63rd Street Tunnel was completed along with the upper subway level.[2]: 17 (PDF p. 20) [65] The western end of the tunnel lay dormant under Second Avenue at 63rd Street for three decades. By the time that construction on the LIRR tunnel level stopped, the tunnel was built for a distance of 8,600 feet (2,600 m). The 8,600-foot "tunnel to nowhere" was completed "largely for structural reasons — to support the subway tunnel above."[65]

The 63rd Street subway line and LIRR tunnel were completed as far as 29th Street in Long Island City, Queens, with the subway level of the tunnel opening in 1989. The LIRR tunnel remained unused beneath the subway tracks.[66] In 1994, work began to extend the 63rd Street subway tunnel east to connect to the Queens Boulevard subway line; the LIRR tunnel was also extended east, under 41st Avenue in Queens to the west side of Northern Boulevard in Queens.[67][68] The subway connector was opened to full-time F train service in December 2001.[69][70]

Plans revived[]

Plans were made in 1995 to bring LIRR service to East Midtown, and had resurfaced by the turn of the century.[14]: 3  At the time, the MTA was quoted as saying that the LIRR East Side connection would not be completed within the next generation. Two years later, in 1997, U.S. Senator Al D'Amato started petitioning for an allocation of federal money to connect the LIRR to Grand Central. New York Governor George Pataki had previously proposed completing the project, but D'Amato's support, as well as the promise of financial backing, increased the likelihood that construction would actually commence. At the time, if everything went favorably, the LIRR link could open by 2010.[71] By that time, the LIRR was the busiest commuter railroad in the United States, with an average of 269,400 passengers each weekday in 1999.[2]: 4 (PDF p.7)  As of 1998, there were almost 1.77 million jobs in Manhattan. An increasing number of these jobs were white-collar "office" jobs, with most of these new jobs in East Midtown.[2]: 7 (PDF p.10)  Penn Station, located on the West Side, was operating at capacity due to a complex track interlocking and limited capacity in the East River Tunnels.[2]: 8 (PDF p.11) 

In 1999, the MTA proposed a $17 billion five-year capital budget. This budget included a $1.6 billion LIRR connection to Grand Central, as well as several subway extensions.[72] The project's final environmental impact assessment (FEIS) was released in March 2001.[73]: 1 [a] The FEIS reviewed two key options for bringing LIRR service to Grand Central. The first option was to connect the tunnels to the existing lower level at Grand Central, while the second option was to build an entirely new station underneath the Metro-North Railroad's existing upper- and lower-level platforms at Grand Central. The MTA ultimately recommended selecting the second option because it was cheaper and less disruptive to Metro-North service.[73]: 4 [14]: 4  Two months later, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) gave a favorable "Record of Decision", a mark of approval, to East Side Access after reviewing the project's FEIS.[14]: 3 [73]

A temporary one-story structure, which houses the East Side Access Project Information Center
East Side Access Project Information Center

After the September 11, 2001, attacks, the MTA announced plans to accelerate the timeline for constructing East Side Access. LIRR president stated, "The incident of September 11 shows the importance of East Side Access to a greater degree. If something happened at the East River tunnel, you wouldn't be able to run trains to Penn Station."[74] The MTA and Governor Pataki supported East Side Access and the Second Avenue Subway, both of which involved building new railroad infrastructure on the East Side.[75] In 2002, Congress passed a bill that allocated $132 million for infrastructure projects in New York State, of which $14.7 million was to go toward funding East Side Access.[76] Approval of a final design for East Side Access was granted in 2002, and the first properties for East Side Access were acquired in 2003.[14]: 4 

In 2004, some business owners in Midtown announced their opposition to a proposed 16-story ventilation building at 50th Street east of Madison Avenue. They stated that the building would cause pollution and that it could be vulnerable to terrorist attacks.[77] In particular, Catholic Archbishop Cardinal Edward Egan of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York was concerned about East Side Access's impact on St. Patrick's Cathedral, which faced Fifth Avenue with its back on Madison Avenue north of 50th Street.[78] Despite this, the MTA affirmed its plans for the ventilation tower at that location.[79] After continued opposition from the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York and other nearby entities, the MTA reduced the size of the building and relocated the structure's cooling towers.[80]

Construction progress[]

Funding for MTA capital projects such as East Side Access, the Second Avenue Subway, and the 7 Subway Extension were included in the Rebuild and Renew Transportation Bond Act of 2005. As part of this act, the state would take on $2.9 billion in debt to issue bonds to fund these projects.[81] Voters ultimately approved the bond issue by a margin of 55% to 44%.[82] The federal government committed to provide $2.6 billion to help build the project by signing a full funding grant agreement in December 2006.[83][84] The construction contract for a 1-mile (1.6 km) tunnel in Manhattan westward and southward from the dormant lower level of the 63rd Street Tunnel to the new 100-foot-deep (30 m) station beneath Grand Central Terminal was awarded in July 2006. The contract went to Dragados/Judlau, a joint American–Spanish venture whose American headquarters were in College Point, Queens, close to the East Side Access site.[85][86]: 10  The total contract award was $428 million[69][85][86]: 10  and used two large tunnel boring machines.[69] After Hurricane Sandy flooded the East River Tunnels between Queens and Penn Station in 2012, officials prioritized the construction of East Side Access so that LIRR trains could be diverted to Grand Central, allowing the East River Tunnels to be renovated.[12]

Manhattan side[]

A tunnel cavern located north of the new Grand Central LIRR station, with two tubes diverging from the cavern. A railroad switch will be installed within the cavern, connecting the tracks that run through the tubes.
A tunnel cavern deep under Park Avenue, which will house a switch to the north of the new LIRR station

Work on the Manhattan side included building a new 8-track train station with storage tracks extending to 38th Street.[87]: 1 (PDF p. 2) [14]: 3  North of the station, the tunnels would connect to the 63rd Street Tunnel's lower level.[87]: 1 (PDF p. 2) [14]: 2  The new station would be housed in two gigantic caverns blasted out of the Manhattan schist rock formation under the station.[18][87]: 3 (PDF p. 4)  A three-level structure was being built in each cavern, with one 1,020-foot-long (310 m) train platform and two tracks each on the top and bottom levels. A passenger concourse was being constructed between each cavern's upper and lower levels.[14]: 3 [8] An upper-level concourse, accessed by a series of stairs, elevators, and escalators,[13] would replace ten tracks on the west side of Metro-North's Madison Yard.[10]: 3  The cavern structure is located under the Park Avenue Viaduct, which surrounds Grand Central Terminal, while the storage tracks are located under the Park Avenue Tunnel, which is located south of Grand Central Terminal.[87]: 6 (PDF p. 7) 

Workers constructing the station's upper concourse, which is located within part of the Grand Central Terminal's Madison Yard. There is construction equipment being stored alongside the walls of the yard.
Construction of the station's upper concourse in the Grand Central Terminal's Madison Yard in May 2014. Two of the yard's tracks were kept in service during construction to bring in equipment and remove debris.
Concept art of a pocket park with seating and gardens
Concept art for the 50th Street Commons pocket park

The track connections from the new station to the 63rd Street Tunnel were excavated using tunnel boring machines.[88] The first machine was delivered in May 2007.[69] Dragados/Judlau created a launch chamber for the tunnel boring machines under Second Avenue at 63rd Street in Manhattan using a controlled drill-and-blast method, then assembled and launched each 640-ton machine.[27] The first tunnel boring machine was launched westbound then southbound from the 63rd Street Tunnel in September 2007, and it reached Grand Central Terminal in July 2008.[89] The second machine began boring a parallel tunnel in December 2007 and had completed its tunnel at 37th Street on September 30, 2008.[27][90] Geocomp Corporation was hired to monitor the boring, using a battery of instruments to record vibration, ground settlement and any tilting or drift suffered by the tunnel boring machines. The instruments include inclinometers, extensometers, seismographs, observation wells, dynamic strain gauges, tilt meters and automated motorized total stations with prismatic targets.[91] The tunnel boring machines bored an average of 50 feet (15 meters) per day. Cross-connections between the tunnels were created under Park Avenue, between 49th and 51st Streets, by controlled drill-and-blast. The work began in mid-July 2008 and required between six and eight months to complete.[89]

In April 2008, the MTA awarded Dragados/Judlau another contract. The $506 million contract was for excavating caverns for the three-level platform structures, mezzanine, escalators, passageways, and track crossovers.[86]: 12  The MTA gave Gramercy Group Inc. the $38.9 million contract to reconfigure part of Madison Yard in March 2009.[86]: 14  In September 2009, the MTA awarded Yonkers Contracting Company a $40.8 million contract to demolish a building at 47 East 44th Street and construct a ventilation plant & concourse entrance on the building site, along with constructing a station entrance at an existing office tower at 245 Park Avenue (at East 46th Street).[86]: 16  Smaller contracts for electrical installations and structural repairs were also awarded in 2008.[86]: 16, 18  In 2010, the New York City Business Integrity Commission found that a subcontractor for the East Side Access project was involved with an organized crime family. The subcontractor, who had been hired to haul away the dirt from the excavation process, was replaced.[92]

In July 2011, after the tunnel boring machines finished drilling through the Grand Central station box, they were left in place under 38th Street and Park Avenue, as it was more economical than disassembling them in Queens and selling them for scrap, which could have added $9 million to the project's final cost.[93] The next step in construction was to make cast-in-place concrete sections to create the tunnel lining.[15] Each tunnel was 22 feet (7 meters) in diameter, with an average depth of 140 feet (43 m) beneath street level.[94]

In September 2014, the MTA opened a 2,400-square-foot (220 m2) pocket park, at 48 East 50th Street between Madison and Park Avenues, created along with a $97 million ventilation facility at that location. The pocket park, known as 50th Street Commons, has a capacity of 100 people standing, or 40 people sitting down.[95] The park, containing abundant greenery along a granite backdrop with tables and chairs,[96] was meant to reduce noise pollution from the ventilation facility, which also served as an emergency exit.[97][98]

Tracks being laid in the 63rd Street Tunnel
Tracks being laid in the 63rd Street Tunnel

On October 26, 2015, a 1,920-square-foot (178 m2) seating area in Grand Central Terminal's lower-level dining concourse was closed in order to build structural framework that would allow for the construction of stairways and escalators between the concourse and new LIRR station. This was deemed as a major milestone in the construction of East Side Access by Dr. Michael Horodniceanu, President of MTA Capital Construction.[99] On November 10, 2015, a groundbreaking ceremony was held to celebrate the emergence of the project into Grand Central Terminal.[100]

On January 27, 2016, the final major contract for the construction of East Side Access was awarded to Tutor Perini Corporation. The contract was for the construction of four railroad platforms and eight tracks for the new Grand Central Terminal.[101] The first tracks inside the 63rd Street Tunnel were laid in September 2017.[38] The pre-cast platforms inside Grand Central Terminal were completed in May 2018, followed by the completion of the tracks in August 2018. The MTA also started installing escalators between the lower concourse and the platform mezzanine. Beginning in April 2018, the MTA began conducting site tours of the project; it had given 35 tours by September 2018.[102]: 26  In advance of the planned deconstruction of 270 Park Avenue above East Side Access,[103] the MTA and 270 Park Avenue's owner JPMorgan Chase signed an agreement in July 2019, in which JPMorgan agreed to ensure that the deconstruction of 270 Park Avenue would not disrupt the timeline of East Side Access.[104]: 22 

Queens side[]

Map of the construction site in Queens.Workers launched tunnels under Sunnyside Yard and created a connection to the 63rd Street Tunnel under Northern Boulevard.
Construction site in Queens, nicknamed the "Q-tip," where tunnels under the Sunnyside Yard were launched and the connection under Northern Boulevard to the 63rd Street Tunnel was made

Previous work extending subway service through the upper level of the 63rd Street Tunnel to lines in Queens also extended the lower level to a point west of Northern Boulevard, across from the Sunnyside Yard.[105] Work in Queens included extending the tunnel under Northern Boulevard and boring four tunnels under Sunnyside Yard. This was a particularly delicate and expensive task due to the existence of the elevated BMT Astoria Line and the underground IND Queens Boulevard Line directly above. In addition, the existing tunnel bell mouth west of Northern Boulevard was expanded to serve as the staging area for the Manhattan work, bringing in workers, equipment and supplies and bringing out the muck and debris from excavation.[106][5] A temporary narrow-gauge railway and a conveyor belt system were constructed behind the tunnel boring machines and through the 63rd Street Tunnels to the Queens bell mouth.[15] Due to its shape, the Queens work site was nicknamed the "Q-tip".[107]

Pile Foundation Construction Company built an $83 million cut structure, which extends the tracks under Northern Boulevard into the Sunnyside Yard. It created an area that served as both the launch chamber for soft-bore Queens tunnels, connecting the 63rd Street line to the main LIRR branches, and an interlocking and emergency exit and venting facility. The cut was then covered with a deck.[108] In August 2009, Perini Corp. was awarded a $144 million contract to reconfigure the Harold Interlocking, increasing its capacity to accommodate trains bound for Grand Central Terminal and to construct new yard lead tracks to allow trains to enter the storage yards.[86]: 24  Smaller contracts for structural work, environmental monitoring, and data measurement were also awarded.[86]: 21–23  Some Amtrak buildings in Sunnyside Yard were demolished to make room for the East Side Access portals in Queens.[86]: 24 

In September 2009, the MTA awarded Granite-Traylor-Frontiere Joint Venture a $659.2 million contract to employ two 500-ton slurry tunnel boring machines to create the tunnels connecting the LIRR Main Line and the Port Washington Branch to the 63rd Street Tunnel under 41st Avenue.[86]: 23 [109] The four tunnels, with precast concrete liners, total 2 miles (3.2 km) in length.[110] The contract included a $58 million option to dig three tunnel pits and three emergency shafts, as well as complete an open cut.[86]: 23 [109] The two custom-built slurry TBMs, which could dig through several types of earth, were the first such machines to be used in the New York City area.[109]

The two tunnel boring machines began digging on the Queens side in April 2011.[111] On December 22, 2011, breakthrough was achieved in Tunnel "A" of the four Queens tunnel drives from the 63rd Street Tunnel bellmouth.[5] By July 25, 2012, all four Queens tunnel drives were complete.[88] In April 2014, contracts were awarded for the final modifications for the tunnels, as well as for communication systems.[112]

Rail laying for the Amtrak westbound bypass tunnel in Queens

The scope of the project within Queens also included the construction of two bypass tunnels for Amtrak trains within Harold Interlocking. While eastbound Amtrak trains to New England would be able to go through the interlocking without crossing the paths of East Side Access trains, westbound Amtrak trains to Penn Station would use tracks that intersected East Side Access tracks. East Side Access trains to Grand Central came from the east and would diverge to the northwest while Amtrak trains to Penn Station came from the north and would continue west, so the final environmental impact statement called for a bypass for westbound trains.[113] Around $295 million was allocated for the bypass in 2011,[114][115] and work on this project started in 2013.[116] However, by October 2015, the tunnels were behind schedule because Amtrak and the MTA could not cooperate on track access schedules.[117] These delays ultimately raised construction costs by almost $1 billion as of April 2018,[25] and in a report that month, the MTA attributed the delays to a lack of cooperation on Amtrak's part.[39]: 27–31  The work at Harold Interlocking also included the installation of a microprocessor-based signal system, replacing the old track circuit-based signal system.[118][119]

In July 2018, workers started realigning tracks to make way for the construction of the Queens tunnel portal, which was the final major contract not underway at the time.[120] The realignment of the three westbound Main Line and Port Washington Branch tracks, as well as the construction of a new eastbound Main Line track to replace an existing track, were completed by the end of summer 2018.[102]: 26  The last major construction contract, a $60 million contract for the relocation of tracks in Harold Interlocking and the construction of a tunnel portal structure for Tunnel B/C, was awarded to Skanska in October 2018.[121][122] Work on the tunnel structure was expected to begin in mid-2019 and be complete by mid-2021.[123][124] Work on the Midday Storage Yard also progressed, and by 2019, tracks were being laid in the storage yard.[104]: 14–18, 23  By May 2021, the yard was 99 percent complete.[125]: 9 

Final work[]

By May 2021, finishes were being placed in the station and the third rail, signals, and other right-of-way equipment were being tested.[125]: 9–10  On October 31, 2021, Governor Kathy Hochul rode the first passenger test train through the East Side Access tunnels to Grand Central Terminal.[126][127]

Associated projects[]

Arch Street Yard and Shop Facility[]

The Arch Street Maintenance Yard and Shop, a short gray and blue building with maintenance tracks running into the building from the right side
The Arch Street Yard and Shop, which was built for East Side Access
Street entrance

The Arch Street Yard and Shop is located in Long Island City, near the Hunterspoint Avenue station.[128]: 249  The yard itself has been in use since at least 1910.[129] The Arch Street Facility includes tracks that were built on the right-of-way of the LIRR's former North Shore Branch. Although the branch formerly extended west to what is now the Gantry Plaza State Park on the East River shoreline,[128]: 252  the Arch Street Facility's storage tracks only extend as far as 11th Street, several blocks away from the river.[128]: 255 

The LIRR planned a maintenance facility in the yard as part of the East Side Access project.[130] The building was completed in either December 2004[131]: 4  or June 2005.[128]: 252  The $80.4 million facility was built using a mix of federal and non-federal funds.[131]: 4  The LIRR had built the Arch Street Facility in advance so it could test its then-new M7 cars. When the MTA planned the facility in 2002, it had anticipated that East Side Access would open in 2011 and that the Arch Street Shop could be used to maintain the LIRR fleet. It was thought that the Hillside Facility would not be able to maintain the expanded LIRR fleet on its own. However, after the East Side Access project was repeatedly delayed, the Arch Street Facility was ultimately leased and licensed for other uses.[131]: 5 

Just south of the Arch Street Yard, the connected the Main Line to the Montauk Branch until it was decommissioned in 2015.[132] As part of East Side Access, a portion of the cutoff was demolished to make room for the Midday Storage Yard.[133][7]

New Sunnyside station[]

A new LIRR train station in Sunnyside on the west side of Queens Boulevard and Skillman Avenue[134][135]: 20–21  along the Northeast Corridor (which the LIRR uses to get into Pennsylvania Station) would be built, which would provide one-stop access for area residents to Midtown Manhattan.[136] The station would have two side platforms and one island platform, all of which would be able to accommodate 12-car trains.[135]: 20–21  In its 2015–2019 capital program, the MTA budgeted $76.5 million for the construction of the station.[137] Construction is scheduled to start in January 2021, and is expected to be completed in December 2022.[138]

Capacity increase[]

The East Side Access project, along with several readiness-improvement projects, will allow the LIRR to run 24 more twelve-car trains during rush hours. This will boost its rush-hour passenger capacity from 300,000 to 425,000 daily commuters, a 45% increase.[12]

Main Line third track[]

The Post Avenue Bridge near Westbury station in Westbury, New York. Although two tracks cross the bridge, there is space for a third track on the left side of the photo.
A bridge, built in October 2017 to accommodate a third track on the Main Line

Related to the MTA's East Side Access project is its long-planned widening of the two-track LIRR Main Line by adding a third track.[139][140] Completion of Main Line third track construction was assumed during East Side Access project planning and referenced in the original East Side Access environmental impact statement as necessary to support service level increases caused by adding service to and from Grand Central.[141] The MTA has said that it considers the Main Line third track an "essential" project to support East Side Access,[142] and that the Main Line third track will "complement the East Side Access megaproject, which is doubling the LIRR's capacity into Manhattan."[140]

Main Line third track construction was deferred indefinitely by the MTA in 2008 due to budget constraints.[139][143] In January 2016, Governor Cuomo and the MTA announced plans to restart construction of the Main Line third track.[139][140] In December 2017, the LIRR awarded a contract for the project to the consortium 3rd Track Constructors for $1.8 billion. Completion was estimated for 2022, in time for the opening of East Side Access.[144][145][146] A groundbreaking ceremony for the third track project was held on September 5, 2018.[147][148]

Readiness projects[]

Five "readiness projects" are also under construction to increase peak-hour capacity across the LIRR system in preparation for expanded peak-hour service after the completion of East Side Access. Together, they are expected to cost $495 million.[149][150][151]

The largest of these projects is at Jamaica station. As part of the Jamaica project, the MTA is constructing a new platform for the Atlantic Branch, as well as re-configuring track layouts and installing high-speed switches.[152] After the project is complete, the Atlantic Branch would function as a high-frequency shuttle service to Atlantic Terminal, and all trains from Long Island would proceed to either Long Island City station, Penn Station, or Grand Central via the Main Line.[153] The first phase of the project, which includes the new platform, is planned to be complete in the fourth quarter of 2019 at a cost of $301.6 million.[154]

The MTA is also installing storage tracks at two LIRR stations as part of the East Side Access readiness project. One storage track, a 1,700-foot (520 m) siding under construction near Massapequa station on the Babylon Branch, would be used to store trains that originate or terminate at Massapequa, allowing for increased peak-hour service between Massapequa and Penn Station/Grand Central. As of 2017, it is planned for completion in April 2019.[151] The MTA is also extending Track 2 on the Port Washington Branch, which ends as a pocket track east of Great Neck station, an additional 1,200 feet (370 m) east, making it long enough to store two trainsets. It is also installing a new bridge at Colonial Road, near the station.[155][156][157][158] The construction of the pocket track is scheduled for completion in December 2018 at a total cost of $45.2 million.[151]

Finally, the MTA is planning to expand two yards as part of the project. The Port Washington Yard, adjacent to Port Washington station on the Port Washington Branch, would be expanded to allow for storage of two additional ten-car trains. As of 2017, construction is scheduled to begin in late 2020 or early 2021 and would cost $500,000.[151][159] The MTA would also expand the existing rail yard along the Main Line/Ronkonkoma Branch adjacent to Ronkonkoma station. This expansion would increase the number of total tracks in the yard from 12 to 23.[160] The project is budgeted for $128 million.[151][161] Construction started in July 2017,[162] with completion projected for March 2020.[163]

New railcars[]

M9 railcars, which are being purchased prior to East Side Access's opening

The LIRR is also purchasing railcars to provide more passenger capacity as a result of East Side Access's construction. Up to 160 M9 cars might be built specifically to allow for train capacity increases, and are paid for using federal grant money attached to the East Side Access project.[164][12]

Penn Station Access[]

Redirecting LIRR trains from Penn Station to Grand Central Terminal would free up track and platform space at Penn. This new capacity, as well as track connections resulting from the East Side Access project, would allow Metro-North Railroad trains on the New Haven Line to run to Penn Station via Amtrak's Hell Gate Bridge. Four new local Metro-North stations in the Bronx are planned as part of this project, at Co-op City, Morris Park, Parkchester, and Hunts Point. The MTA also proposes a second connection from the Metro-North's Hudson Line to Penn Station using Amtrak's West Side Line in Manhattan.[165] The Penn Station Access project would provide direct rides from Connecticut, Westchester County, the Lower Hudson Valley, and the Bronx to West Midtown; ease reverse-commuting from Manhattan and the Bronx to Westchester County, the Lower Hudson Valley, and Connecticut; and provide transportation service to areas of the Bronx without direct subway service.[166]

See also[]

Route map:

KML is from Wikidata
  • Center City Commuter Connection, a similar tunnel opened in Philadelphia in 1984 to connect two previously-separate rail terminals
  • Fulton Center, another MTA Capital Construction project
  • Gateway Program (Northeast Corridor), a proposed railroad expansion project on the west side of Manhattan
  • History of Grand Central Terminal, more details about the history of Grand Central Terminal
  • Lower Manhattan–Jamaica/JFK Transportation Project, a formerly proposed LIRR project
  • North–South Rail Link, a set of proposals for a similar project in Boston
  • Second Avenue Subway, another MTA Capital Construction project, whose Phase I entered service on January 1, 2017
  • 7 Subway Extension, a completed MTA Capital Construction project


  1. ^ For the full FEIS, see:
    • "East Side Access Final Environmental Impact Statement: Overview". Metropolitan Transportation Authority. March 6, 2001. Retrieved February 2, 2018..


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External links[]

External video
video icon "What Is East Side Access?", Metropolitan Transportation Authority; January 29, 2010; one-minute YouTube video clip
video icon "The East Side Access Project", MTA Long Island Rail Road; February 18, 2010; 6:19 YouTube video clip
video icon "East Side Access Soft Ground TBM Launch", Metropolitan Transportation Authority; April 7, 2011; 2:22 YouTube video clip
video icon "East Side Access – 1/24/2012 Update", Metropolitan Transportation Authority; January 24, 2012; 1:51 YouTube video clip
video icon "East Side Access Project Update 2", MTA Long Island Rail Road; March 5, 2012; 7:39 YouTube video clip
video icon "East Side Access 9/21/2012 Update", Metropolitan Transportation Authority; September 21, 2012; 2:27 YouTube video clip
video icon "East Side Access 9/11/2015 Update", Metropolitan Transportation Authority; September 11, 2015 YouTube video clip
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