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Ask George: Does New York Need the West Side Railyards?

hudson yards aerial train tracks

George Haikalis believes the LIRR’s West Side Yards, opened in 1987, were not necessary in the first place. In his view, the MTA should eliminate the yards, but keep one platform with two tracks to run a shuttle on the existing tracks between the Hudson Yards development and Penn Station. This would eliminate the need for the $1 billion deck over the yards and significantly increase the value of the land by adding a link to the region’s rail hub.

Haikalis is a civil engineer/transportation planner who co-chairs vision 42, a citizens initiative advancing a plan for an auto-free light rail boulevard on 42nd St. which is sponsored by the Institute for Rational Urban Mobility, Inc. (IRUM), a NYC-based not-for-profit corporation. IRUM also hosts the Regional Rail Working Group, an informal collaboration of rail advocates from the NY-NJ-CT metropolitan area.

george haikalisHe is here to answer your questions about transportation and the West Side, including Hudson Yards, Moynihan Station, and ARC, for the next two weeks. We’ll call it “Ask George.”

“For 77 years the LIRR operated without a West Side yard,” Haikalis said. “Their operations were such that the trains would either return to points in Long Island carrying passengers in the reverse peak direction, or would be operated without passengers to Long Beach, Babylon, or Jamaica where there was more yard space and they would stay until the evening peak. That added operating costs but nothing compared to the cost of building the yard, which was originally estimated at $100 million but turned out to be $230 million.”

Haikalis estimates that, in today’s dollars, the added cost of returning LIRR cars to yards further east for midday storage would be about $8.2 million per year, small in comparison to the value MTA would gain from clearing the yard and selling it as raw real estate, with a good access link to Penn Station.

He points out that even with the Penn Station/Hudson Yards shuttle in place, the city’s plan for the #7 line extension adds important additional connections to subway lines, particularly on Manhattan’s East Side. Yet he is concerned that it may not be worth the cost. Soaring construction costs are slowing the pace of major MTA projects, including the #7, and the Fulton Street Transit Center has already been sent back to the drawing board.

Haikalis thinks the LIRR shuttle train would require little capital cost and could be placed into service quickly. “In this day and age if you were to build only a small two track platform and ran more trains in reverse peak hours to Long Island you would come out way ahead,” he said. Furthermore, linking Hudson Yards to the Penn Station transit hub furthers the establishment of a regional rail network in the city.

Please submit questions or comments on this and other transportation issues and Mr. Haikalis will be happy to address them.