November 2017
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Ask George: More on the West Side Yards

hudson yards aerial train tracks

In response to our first “Ask George” post we received a detailed response regarding the necessity of the West Side Yards:

“Mr. Haikalis’ asserts that the West Side Yards are somehow an unnecessary luxury that the MTA can ill afford. On the contrary, they are a vital asset serving a valuable function and must remain in place. Any development that takes place there must be in the form of an overbuild, precisely the process that is being pursued today. Of course, the MTA has a fiduciary responsiblity and an obligation to the public to maximize the proceeds it receives from any scheme to the greatest extent possible.

Mr. Haikalis leaves out two critical points. First, he neglects to give the reason why LIRR trains are stored there at all. In the late 1980s, it was forseen that the ability to handle traffic growth at Penn Station and in the East River Tunnels would be impeded as long as the tunnels were being used to send back empty trains east after their morning runs. Building the yard allowed trains to move west after unloading their passengers, getting out of the way of succeeding trains and freeing up additional slots in the tunnels for more trains to be added. A similar operation takes place for NJT trains which move to Sunnyside Yard in Queens for daytime storage after their morning runs.

Second, there is no room at the LIRR’s existing yards on Long Island to support more storage, and the possibility of easily building new yard capacity will be difficult. The LIRR already discovered this in the late 1990s, when trial balloons about new yards were floated in Suffolk County and were immediately met with stiff local resistance. That is not to say they that new yards shouldn’t be built; in fact they will be needed in the future so that East Side Access and the proposed additional track on the Main Line can be worked to their maximum advantage.

Mr. Haikalis may respond to this by saying that Penn Station is not being used effectively today because of its inherent design as a through station, and that sending LIRR trains to NJ in continued service is more efficient. This should be pursued in the future if we are to ever have an effective regional rail system. He may also point out that the East Side Access scheme is flawed and should be dropped (it is not flawed; it is a very expensive and ambitious project that needs to be finally built). However, these are not valid reasons for giving up the West Side Yards. They must remain in place.”

We will be back later with George’s response!