LIRR Ride to New Grand Central Madison Begins Full Service

Despite the generally favorable reception to the new East Side link, some commuters grumble it increases commute times because of new transfers at Jamaica station. Also, the number of trains going all the way to Penn Station has been cut and unlike Penn’s 24/7 operation the new terminal will shut down between 2 am and 5:15 am every day.

| 27 Feb 2023 | 12:29

It’s been years behind schedule and billions of dollars over budget, but the Long Island Railroad finally began full service to the brand new Grand Central Madison terminal on Feb. 27

“Today,” Governor Kathy Hochul said as she started a pre-inaugural opening for the $11 Billion Grand Central Madison LIRR Terminal on Feb. 26, “we make history.”

The Governor, Senator Charles Schumer, Representative Jerry Nadler, and MTA CEO Janno Lieber, joined other elected officials and MTA staff to celebrate the terminal’s official opening. Also invited were former MTA chairman and officials responsible for the 25-year project during its gestation from drawings to an endpoint for 150,000 commuters; initial plans to create a new Long Island Rail Road terminal at East 48th and Third Avenue were dropped in 1977, when Grand Central became the location. Grand Central Madison is part of a $17.7 billion investment to transform and modernize the Long Island Rail Road

The 34-minute ceremony took place in a part of the Madison Concourse, which links the new facility with Grand Central Terminal exits and new exits at 45th, 46th, 47th and 48th Streets, linking new commuters with Madison Avenue. Large LCD screens highlighted the project’s details and the city’s longest escalator–which takes two minutes to traverse from top to bottom gets passengers from the terminal below the original Grand Central to the street.

The Governor noted that it’s been 113 years since the LIRR’s last major terminal, Penn Station, was completed, and 60 years since the current project was first thought of. She pointed out the new connection could save East Side commuters between 20 to 80 minutes a day in their travels. “You could always use that time to go to the gym,” she quipped. She finished by remarking that with this new link, the City is back.

The new schedules add 271 LIRR trains per day and increase LIRR systemwide service to 936 trains per day, of which 296 will be to or from the 700,000 square foot Grand Central Madison, which goes down as far as 150 feet below street level.

Senator Charles Schumer detailed the funding for the project from his standpoint as one of politicians responsible for some of the funding for the over $11 Billion dollar project, and charted it’s 25-year time line through political wrangling, 9/11 and Hurricane Sandy. As a long-term Congressman and Senator, he put it plainly—“Look, I’ve been here for so much of the East Side Access journey—all $2.7 Billion of it. That’s how much I got the feds to kick in here. Securing public transit funding is not the easiest thing to do in Congress.”

Manhattanites will appreciate that during rush hours, there will be an LIRR train into either Penn Station or Grand Central every 3 to 6 minutes, a frequency rivaling our subway rush hour service.

MTA CEO Lieber noted that the new connection will enhance reverse commuting from NYC to Long Island, opening up many job opportunities for New Yorkers, as he mentioned great on-time train performances for both Metro-North and the LIRR.

As with just about anything in NYC, nothing is perfect.

Long Island Herald columnist Larry Penner, noted recently, that unlike Penn Station, which is open around the clock, Grand Central is closed overnight from 2 to 5:15 am, leaving Long Islanders who commute at odd times, or return late from events in Manhattan that end way past midnight not able to use Grand Central in the wee hours.

ABC Channel 7 pointed out that the new schedules eliminate several morning trains to Penn Station, require more frequent transfers, add local stops on trains that currently are express, eliminate timed connections at Jamaica, and also eliminate most direct trains between Long Island and the Atlantic Terminal, which will have a shuttle service from Brooklyn to Jamaica. Commuters on the Port Washington and Oyster Bay branches, which both service affluent North Shore communities, complained that the schedule changes are adding more time to their commute.

Crain’s New York Business reported on Feb. 26 that on the LIRR’s Oyster Bay branch, commuters have decried service changes that in some cases might add more than an hour of commuting time; more than 1,500 people have signed a digital petition calling on the MTA to improve the schedules.

“We’re disappointed to see that the new service plans have not incorporated feedback from thousands of public comments,” said Kara Gurl, research and communications associate with the MTA Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee.

Whether commuters will be positive or negative about the new changes taking effect on the LIRR, Cathy Rinaldi, Interim President of the Long Island Rail Road and President of Metro-North Railroad said “You can work in public transportation for 100 years and never have a day like today.”

Depending on how the new commuting patterns evolve, Long Island Rail Road riders will either love or hate their rides even more than before the new era of service.

“You can work in public transportation for 100 years and never have a day like today.” Cathy Rinaldi, interim president of the LIRR and Metro North