Less Is More?

A visit to the LIRR’s main concourse at NYP reveals that the LIRR’s only restrooms, and the dingy waiting room between them, have vanished behind a wall of plywood. (Not noticed: did we also lose that famous overhead structure said to be one of the last pieces of the old Penn Station?). A sign only says, “Rest rooms available on the upper level.” (Those would be those of NJT and NJT/Amtrak; there was no signage pointing the way.) What’s going to replace them?  Dunno; perhaps they are building new facilities and a waiting room, possibly expanding into the space of the now-gone Tracks bar, which should be right behind the closed restrooms.  Or maybe instead it will be something that makes money for the MTA, like a pot dispensary maybe?
 
I have to say that a lot of the vaunted “improvements” that MTA and NY State in general have been making to NYP have not produced much for the actual riders who are supposed to benefit.  Within the last year, they opened what looks like a magnificent set of escalators to a new LIRR entrance at 7 Av and 33 St.  It looks great in the politicians’ photo ops, but the foot of the new escalators is smack in the way of the great number of riders who arrive or depart the station via the 7th Ave. subway, and also those who rely on the corridor to the years-ago-added entrance on 34 St just west of 7th Ave. (For those who haven’t been to the city in a few decades, this was all directly in front of the old LIRR ticket windows, and roughly where the octagonal information booth once stood—all gone now.)  All of these crowds collide with the folks using the new 33 St entrance.  At peak hours, like when I was there yesterday at 5:10 p.m., it becomes downright dangerous, with lemmings headed for their trains colliding with arriving passengers and themselves.  Many of these “dashing commuters” are running full-tilt to make their trains.  It’s a real zoo.
 
Also noted was the crowding, under what seemed to be normal rush-hour conditions, of the area in front of the LIRR’s track gates.  Getting through that area was not easy.  I am starting to believe that what NYP needs most is expanded areas where people can just stand and wait for trains. 
 
The best thing that’s ever happened to NJT customers is the one thing they can’t use: Moynihan. As I predicted for years, it has cleared out the 8th Ave. concourse of Amtrak and particularly Amtrak’s conga lines of waiting passengers—and it has secured for NJT riders the best waiting room anywhere, although it could use more power plugs, as the ones at the white tables are always in use for laptops and cellphone charging.  Maybe the NJT IT department could reprogram the departure monitors—there are two of them in the waiting room, stacked—so the top one shows the first set of departing trains, and the bottom one shows the second set.  As it is now, both monitors show the same display, alternating between the two sets—infuriating when you have to wait 10 seconds to find out the track of the train you hope to board in the next 2 minutes.

Side Issues

Side issue, uptown: Lincoln Center.  The new Geffen Hall has opened to rave reviews, and its glass wall opening to the Lincoln Center Plaza is truly beautiful.  Lost in all the hoopla is the underground passage under Geffen Hall that allows access to the Metropolitan Opera House from the subway without braving the weather.  Closed for the Geffen rebuilt, it’s still closed.  A peek around the barriers revealed it is, like the NJT passageway between upper levels at the 7th Ave end of NYP, still full of construction-type trash.  So opera-goers still have to cross the Plaza to get to the subway, which is longer and no fun at all in foul weather.  (A long underground detour all around the Plaza via the basement of the Koch Theater may still work—and fear not: users of the underground parking garage still can get into the Met without having to mix with the weather . . . or, of course, the lowlife that uses the subway.)
 
Side side note: On the 10:13 local to Dover last night, train ran on track 1 (center track) Newark to Millburn, necessitating delays and confusion at the 3 stops (Orange, Highland Av, Mountain Station) that lack track 1 platforms.  Work equipment was sighted on track 3, the normal (westbound “local”) track.  Dunno how long this persisted . . . and there are weekend travel alerts posted that track 2 at Newark Broad will be out of service, expect delays “in addition to the Amtrak track work delays.”

Penn Station Expansion to Begin

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has announced the imminent start of the first phase of the expansion of Penn Station, a long-term project that will eventually reconstruct the main Post Office west of Eighth Avenue into the new Moynihan Station, mostly to be used by Amtrak.  According to the Associated Press, published in the Star-Ledger (May 9), Port Authority chairman Patrick Foyle said, “From the point of view of NJ Transit Riders, this is going to be a significant advancement.”  The first phase concentrates on improved access to the west end of Penn Station and will expand an existing concourse that today serves only Long Island Rail Road riders; the concourse is at the northwest corner of Penn Station and is actually under the Post Office.  There will be new escalators and elevators and new street-level access to Eighth Avenue at 31th and 32t Streets.  This first phase is due to begin this summer and be finished by 2016.

The Lackawanna Coalition is concerned that the existing access to NJ Transit trains at Penn Station, despite improvements over the years, remains inadequate and sometimes even dangerous as heavy passenger loads attempt to board and leave trains, sometimes simulataneously on the same platform.  Access to the west end of the platforms, as planned by the new program, is particularly critical, given that many NJT off-peak departing trains inexplicably are positioned so that the only open cars are at the extreme west end.

Rider Advocates Push for Moynihan/Penn Station First

The Regional Rail Working Group and its member organizations, the Lackawanna Coalition and the New Jersey Association of Railroad Passengers, continue to advocate for new tunnels to the existing Penn Station, with station enhancements under the Moynihan Station plan advanced by New York, with additional improvements for more capacity.  Representatives of the organizations made statements to that effect at the New Jersey Transit Board meeting on Wednesday, November 10th.
The advocacy organizations are pushing for the Mynihan/Penn Station First alternative, now that the former proposal, including a deep-cavern terminal, has been taken off the table.  “This is the right project, and this is the right time for it,” said Coalition Chair David Peter Alan.  The advocates’ proposed alternative would build new tracks that both NJT and Amtrak can use, and it allows eventual expansion to the East Side; features that the deep-cavern proposal lacked.

Sept./Oct. Report from the Chair

From our September/October 2010 Railgram newsletter 
Every major decision New Jersey Transit makes affects transit riders everywhere in New Jersey.  That will be our topic of discussion as the New Jersey Transit Board and the Lackawanna Coalition “take our shows on the road” to Atlantic City on Sept. 10.
There are a number of projects under discussion that would expand NJT’s rail network, so it can serve riders better.  One is in South Jersey: a transfer station between the Atlantic City Rail Line (which goes to Philadelphia) and the River Line, a light rail line between Trenton and Camden.  Funding has been approved for the new station, but a colleague of ours in South Jersey reports that construction has not yet gotten under way.  Also, NJT reportedly will not kick in its share of funds on new light rail service between Camden and Glassboro,
which is being funded largely by the Delaware River Port Authority.
New projects around the state are not going forward.  The extension of light rail in Bayonne to Eighth Street, one stop from the current terminal at Twenty-Second Street, is not progressing, either.  The Lackawanna Cutoff Project to restore service to the Pocono Region and Scranton, which the Lackawanna Coalition strongly supports, still appears to be 6 years off, just as it has been for the past 10 years.  Extension of the Raritan Valley Line to Phillipsburg, West Trenton, and Flemington are stalled at the talking stage.  So is rail service to inland Ocean County.  So is the Northern Branch Light Rail extension in northern Bergen County.  There are other projects, too.
The reason is simple. The proposed deep-cavern terminal far below 34th Street in Manhattan is sucking up all available capital funding, including the purchase of rail cars and locomotives that NJT management claims will be necessary to operate into the proposed deep cavern.  This is not a temporary situation; it would be well into the decade of the 2020s before NJT has the money to build anything else of any consequence that would improve transportation for New Jersey’s transit riders, especially on rail.
That is why it is so critical that NJT change direction and work with New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority and Amtrak to build an enhanced Moynihan/Penn Station First.  Between New Jersey, New York and Amtrak, there is enough money available to build a station that would have enough train capacity that a second terminal (NJT deep-cavern proposal) and a third one (Amtrak “780” proposal) would be needed.  NJT rail riders would benefit from easy connections with other lines, and expansion to the East Side of Midtown Manhattan is feasible in the foreseeable future. New Jersey would also save $3 billion by scrapping the deep-cavern terminal plan.
We are aware that New Jersey does not have money for its share of the cost of the proposed deep cavern.  This means that New Jersey certainly does not have enough money to build anything else.  If you use transit anywhere in New Jersey, you will not see any capital improvements for many years if the proposed deep-cavern terminal is built.  We urge you to make your voice heard now.  Join us in calling for an enhanced Moynihan/Penn Station First, so NJT will have money to build projects we all need and your transit can be improved in the future.

Coalition Calls for Moynihan Station in Manhattan, but With Changes

The Lackawanna Coalition has endorsed the concept of the Moynihan Station planned for the Farley Post Office building west of Eighth Avenue in Manhattan, across the street from the existing Penn Station, but has not endorsed the plan in its current form.  We call for all tracks to be extended to accommodate trains of any length, and for walkways above track level to accommodate all platforms.  These changes will improve pedestrian flow, facilitate rail operations, and increase station capacity during peak commuting hours.  The basic plan calls for extending existing platforms to the west and building a new station under the Post Office building, which would be used primarily by Amtrak for intercity trains.

Moynihan Station Plan Gets Stimulus Funding

The plan to extend the existing Penn Station into the historic Farley Post Office Building on the west side of Eighth Avenue received a boost as the Federal Government gave the project a grant of $83.3 million under the TIGER (Transportation Improvements Generating Economic Recovery) Program.  New York State and Amtrak officials hailed the move, which would improve capacity in the station and provide a place where it would be easier to make connections than in the current Penn Station layout.  The Lackawanna Coalition urges NJT to build new tunnels and tracks that will go to the existing Penn Station, so New Jersey’s rail riders can also take advantage of the improvements that the Moynihan Station plan is slated to produce.