East Side Access

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Overview of the location of work being done for the East Side Access project

East Side Access is a public works project being undertaken by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) in New York City. It is designed to bring the Long Island Rail Road into a new East Side station to be built below, and incorporated into, Grand Central Terminal. The new terminal may not be operational until September 2023.[1]


Progress on Manhattan station cavern in January 2012
Progress on Manhattan station cavern in February 2013
Progress on Manhattan station cavern in January 2014

Extending between Sunnyside, Queens, and Grand Central, the project will route the LIRR from its Main Line through new track connections in Sunnyside Yard and through the lower level of the existing 63rd Street Tunnel under the East River. In Manhattan, a new tunnel will 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.

Current plans call for 24-trains-per-hour service to Grand Central during peak morning hours, with an estimated 162,000 passenger trips to and from Grand Central on an average weekday. Connections to AirTrain JFK at Jamaica Station in Jamaica, Queens, will facilitate travel to John F. Kennedy International Airport from the East Side of Manhattan. However, the tunnels of the East Side Access can only be used by M3, M7, and M9 railcars due to a height restriction created when the 63rd Street Tunnel was first built. C3 railcars and EMD DE30AC and DM30AC locomotives will not be able to use the tunnels.[2]

A new LIRR train station in Sunnyside at Queens Boulevard and Skillman Avenue[3] along the Northeast Corridor (which the LIRR uses to get into Pennsylvania Station) will provide one-stop access for area residents to Midtown Manhattan.[4]

The project's estimated cost has increased from $4.3 billion when first proposed, to $6.3 billion in 2006, $8.4 billion in 2012, and $10.8 billion in 2014.[5] Though construction work is ongoing, the completion date for the project has been continually pushed back by the MTA. Once planned to be operational by 2009,[5] the MTA has pushed back the completion date several times, most recently to September 2023.[1] Previous projections for the terminal were for it to open as soon as 2019.[6][7][8][9] With the fourteen-year delay in the completion date and the 150% cost increase to $10.8 billion, the U.S. DoT Inspector General wants an audit done on the project.[10]

The project is likely to increase passenger loads on the already overcrowded IRT Lexington Avenue Line, the sole East Side subway line, and on surface bus routes on the East Side. The project has, therefore, focused attention on the long-delayed Second Avenue Subway along the far East Side of Manhattan, which is again under construction and is expected to relieve north/south commuting pressure. At the same time, the project will reduce the load on morning, northbound rush-hour E train service between Pennsylvania Station and Midtown East, as well as reduce crowding on 7 service across the East River.[5]



Rendering of the completed East Side Access terminal

Construction of the LIRR line, then planned go to a new Metropolitan Transportation Center at 48th Street and Third Avenue, began in November 1969 on the lower level of a cut-and-cover project to build the New York City Subway's 63rd Street Line. The line was part of the Program for Action, which detailed numerous subway, railway, and airport improvements to the New York metropolitan area. The MTA's contractor floated pre-manufactured four-chamber tunnel boxes into place in the East River and sank them to create the East River crossings for the subway and the LIRR. It would be a transfer point to Grand Central – 42nd Street. Access to Grand Central Terminal would be provided through a new north end access point. Construction costs would be offset by building office space above the transportation center. There would be a mezzanine above the four island platforms and eight tracks, which were split evenly across two levels; this is similar to the structure currently under construction. By late 1974, the finishing date for East Side Access was set to 1993.[11]

Construction on the lower level of the 63rd Street tunnel, which was to be used by LIRR trains from and to the planned Metropolitan Transportation Center, was completed along with the upper subway level.[11][12] However, the LIRR project had been canceled long before the tunnel was completed. In 1976, the New York Times noted that the lower level of the 63rd Street tunnel was still under construction, even though "officials knew that the tunnel would never be used." 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."[13] The 8,600 feet (2,600 m)[12] "tunnel to nowhere" was completed "largely for structural reasons — to support the subway tunnel above."[13] The 63rd Street subway line and LIRR tunnel were completed to as far as 21st Street in Long Island City, Queens, with the subway level of the tunnel opening in 1989. However, the LIRR tracks sat unused beneath the active subway tracks.[14] Between 1995 and 2001, the 63rd Street subway line was connected to the Queens Boulevard train corridor, and the LIRR tunnel was extended under 41st Avenue in Queens to the west side of Northern Boulevard in Queens.[15] The western end of this 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).[16]


ESA Project Information Center

The project represents the construction effort to complete the line to Grand Central. After voters in New York approved a bond issue to provide state funds to the project, the federal government committed to provide $2.6 billion to help build the project by signing a Full Funding Grant Agreement in December 2006.[17] The construction contract for a 1 mile (2 km) tunnel in Manhattan west and southward from the dormant lower level of the 63rd Street rail tunnel to the new station beneath Grand Central was awarded on July 13, 2006, to Dragados/Judlau, a joint American–Spanish venture (the American company is located in College Point, Queens).[18] The total contract award is $430 million,[18] and is using two large tunneling devices owned by the Spanish firm.[19]

Dragados/Judlau created a launch chamber for tunnel-boring machines (TBM) under Second Avenue at 63rd Street using a controlled drill-and-blast method, then assembled and launched each 640-ton machine. The first TBM was launched west and southbound from the 63rd Street tunnel in September 2007 and reached Grand Central in July 2008.[20] The second machine began boring a parallel tunnel in December 2007 and had completed its tunnel at 37th Street on September 30, 2008.[21][22] 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 TBM. The instruments include inclinometers, extensometers, seismographs, observation wells, dynamic strain gauges, tilt meters and automated motorized total stations (AMTS) with prismatic targets.[23] The next step in construction is to back the TBMs out of the tunnels and cast-in-place concrete sections placed to create the lining.[24] Each tunnel will be 22 feet (7 metres) in diameter and carry trains 140 feet (43 metres) beneath street level.[25] The TBMs bored an average of 50 feet (15 metres) per day. Cross-connections between the tunnels are being created under Park Avenue, between 49th and 51st Streets, by controlled drill-and-blast; the work began in mid-July 2008 and was expected to require between six and eight months to complete.[20]

Emergency exit under construction in Sunnyside Yard
Entry of tunnel in Long Island City

As of June 2011, eight station tunnels under Grand Central – where trains will berth at platforms – were fully bored, and station excavation was still underway.[26]

In Queens, Pile Foundation Construction Company is building an $83 million open-cut and deck project, which is extending the tracks under Northern Boulevard into Sunnyside Yard, and creating an area that serves 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.[27][28] Perini Corporation was awarded a $161 million contract to reconfigure Harold Interlocking, increasing its capacity to accommodate Grand Central-bound trains and accept new yard lead tracks to allow trains to enter the storage yards. On February 15, 2008, the MTA awarded Dragados-Judlau a $499 million contract to excavate the LIRR station and track wye caverns. On September 10, 2009, the MTA awarded Yonkers Contracting Company a $40.76 million contract to demolish a building at 44th Street and construct a ventilation plant and station entrance. On September 28, 2009, the MTA awarded Granite-Traylor-Frontiere Joint Venture a $659.2 million contract to employ two 500-ton slurry TBMs to create the tunnels which will connect the LIRR main line and the Port Washington Branch to the tunnel under 41st Avenue (the 63rd Street tunnel).[29][30] Four tunnels, with precast concrete liners, will total two miles (three kilometers) in length. In March 2011, the MTA announced that these two TBMs would begin tunneling in April 2011.[31][32]

On December 22, 2011, breakthrough was achieved in Tunnel "A" of the four Queens tunnel drives from the 63rd Street tunnel bellmouth.[33] On July 25, 2012, all four Queens tunnel drives were complete.[34] In April 2014, contracts were awarded for the final modifications for the tunnels, as well as for communication systems.[35]

On September 16, 2014, MTA opened a 2,400 square feet (220 m2) pocket park at 48 East 50th Street between Madison and Park Avenues, created along with the $97 million ventilation facility; the latter is not yet operational, but the former has a capacity of 100 standees, or 40 people sitting down.[36] The park, containing a lot of greenery along a granite backdrop with tables and chairs,[37] is meant to reduce noise pollution from the ventilation facility, which is also an emergency exit.[38][39][40]


Given the massive size of the project, the plan has aroused concerns and opposition. For example, in 2005, businesses and Catholic Archbishop, Cardinal Edward Egan, began to express concerns about the tunneling process. Egan in particular was concerned about the impact on St. Patrick's Cathedral, which faces Fifth Avenue with its back on Madison Avenue north of 50th Street. The project is proposing that an air vent be placed south of 50th Street and east of Madison Avenue, just outside the existing train shed.[41] The contract for the 50th Street air vent was awarded by the end of 2011, and as of May 2012 construction of the vent was underway.[42] The vent was finished on September 2014.[36]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Castillo, Alfonso A. (January 27, 2014). "East Side Access completion date extended – again". Newsday. Retrieved March 5, 2014. The MTA's monumental East Side Access project to link the Long Island Rail Road to Grand Central Terminal could carry a price tag $2.6 billion over budget and not be completed until 2023, four years behind schedule, according to a new report. 
  2. ^ "Blogger". Retrieved September 17, 2014. 
  3. ^ "Chapter 2: Project Alternatives" (PDF). East Side Access – Final Environmental Impact Statement. Federal Transit Administration and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority of the State of New York, in cooperation with the MTA Long Island Rail Road. March 2001. pp. 2–20:2–21. Retrieved February 15, 2008. The station's main entrance would be at street level on the west side of the Queens Boulevard bridge near its Skillman Avenue end, directly above the center platform. 
  4. ^ Vandam, Jeff (February 4, 2007). "An Enclave at Once Snug and Inclusive". The New York Times. Retrieved February 14, 2008. When the Long Island Rail Road's East Side Access project is completed in 2013, its trains, too, will go to Grand Central. Sunnyside's new station in the system will create a nonstop commute to Midtown. 
  5. ^ a b c Donohue, Pete (January 27, 2014). "MTA walks back targets on East Side Access yet again, completion now not expected until 2023". New York Daily News. Retrieved March 5, 2014. 
  6. ^ Redwine, Tina (July 7, 2011). "NY1 Exclusive: East Side LIRR Terminal under Construction for 2016". NY1. Retrieved July 8, 2011. 
  7. ^ Donohue, Pete (July 21, 2009). "Second Avenue Subway Setback: New Hurdles Will Likely Push Phase One Completion from 2015 to 2017". Daily News. Retrieved January 9, 2010. 
  8. ^ Shutack, Jackie. "LIRR-Grand Central Tunnel Project Delayed until 2018". FiOS1 (via its YouTube channel). Retrieved January 10, 2012. 
  9. ^ "Lhota: East Side Access Now Expected in 2019". secondavenuesagas.com. 
  10. ^ Redwine, Tina (May 21, 2012). "Feds Audit East Side Access Project as MTA Stands by New Completion Date". NY1. Retrieved May 24, 2012. [dead link]
  11. ^ a b nycsubway.org—By 1975, The "Plan" Lacks Action
  12. ^ a b "Project Overview". MTA.info. Retrieved 21 April 2014. 
  13. ^ a b Andelman, David A. (October 11, 1980). "Tunnel Project, Five Years Old, Won't Be Used". The New York Times. p. 25. Retrieved October 20, 2011. 
  14. ^ Lorch, Donatella (October 29, 1989). "The 'Subway to Nowhere' Now Goes Somewhere". The New York Times. Retrieved October 20, 2011. 
  15. ^ Darlington, Peggy. "IND 6th Ave./63rd St. Line". www.nycsubway.org. Retrieved October 20, 2011. 
  16. ^ "Project Overview". MTA.info. Retrieved 21 April 2014. 
  17. ^ "U.S. Transportation Secretary Signs Record $2.6 Billion Agreement To Fund New Tunnel Network To Give Long Island Commuters Direct Access to Grand Central Station" (Press release). U.S. Department of Transportation. December 18, 2006. Retrieved January 18, 2007. 
  18. ^ a b Cuza, Bobby (July 12, 2006). "MTA Takes Major Step Towards Completing East Side Access Plan". NY1. Retrieved January 9, 2010. 
  19. ^ "MTA Capital Construction – Procurement". Retrieved September 17, 2014. 
  20. ^ a b "East Side Access Tunnel Boring Machine Reaches Grand Central Terminal" (Press release). Metropolitan Transportation Authority. July 2, 2008. Retrieved January 9, 2010. 
  21. ^ Neuman, William (July 18, 2008). "19 Stories Below Manhattan, a 640-Ton Machine Drills a New Train Tunnel". The New York Times. Retrieved January 9, 2010. 
  22. ^ "MTA ESA Progress Map". Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Retrieved October 9, 2008.
  23. ^ "Geocomp Corporation Brochure" (PDF). Geocomp Corporation.
  24. ^ MTA's Official East Side Access Project Page. Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
  25. ^ [1] (PDF). Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
  26. ^ "Project News, East Side Access". Retrieved September 17, 2014. 
  27. ^ [full citation needed] "MTA East Side Access Work Underway".
  28. ^ "New York's Subway System Finally Starting Major Expansion". newyork.construction.com. May 2006 issue.
  29. ^ "MTACC Recent Contract Awards". Retrieved September 17, 2014. 
  30. ^ "Granite/Traylor/Frontier-Kemper Venture Awarded $659 Million for Queens Bored Tunnels and Structures". Construction Equipment. September 30, 2009. Retrieved October 9, 2009. 
  31. ^ "Tunneling To Begin in Queens for East Side Access Project". Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Retrieved March 18, 2011. 
  32. ^ "MTA Officials Dedicate Tunnel-Boring Machines". NY1. March 18, 2011. Retrieved March 19, 2011. 
  33. ^ mtainfo. "East Side Access – 1/24/2012 Update". Metropolitan Transportation Authority (via its YouTube channel). Retrieved May 8, 2012. 
  34. ^ "MTA Completes Tunnel Boring On East Side Access « CBS New York". Retrieved September 17, 2014. 
  35. ^ Castillo, Alfonso (16 April 2014). "MTA: Two key East Side Access contracts awarded". Newspaper. Newsday. Retrieved 21 April 2014. 
  36. ^ a b "50th Street Commons Pocket Park Opens as Part of East Side Access". Metropolitan Transportation Authority. September 16, 2014. 
  37. ^ "MTA opens "pocket park" on 50th Street – Newsday". Newsday. Retrieved September 17, 2014. 
  38. ^ "MTA Inaugurates New Pocket Park 'Oasis' in Midtown New York – Inhabitat New York City". Retrieved September 17, 2014. 
  39. ^ "Photos: MTA Opens Adorable "Pocket Park" On East 50th Street: Gothamist". Gothamist. Retrieved September 17, 2014. 
  40. ^ "MTA Deflects Noise Pollution With Waterfall at Pocket Park – The Epoch Times". The Epoch Times. September 17, 2014. Retrieved September 17, 2014. 
  41. ^ Yates, Maura (February 10, 2005). "East Side Access Draws Opponents". The New York Sun. Retrieved January 9, 2010. 
  42. ^ "Manhattan Tunnels Construction Progress 50th Street Ventilation Facility". Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Retrieved May 8, 2012. 

External links[edit]

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

Route map: Bing / Google