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Ask George: “The Mother of All Train Station Connections”

Reader: “Is there a way to connect Grand Central to Penn Station? Have there been any plans to do so?”

Mr. Haikalis: Yes, in fact a plan was put forward in 2003. The original plans for the new train tunnel under the Hudson River – known as Access to the Region’s Core (ARC) – proposed bringing the new 2-track tunnel directly into existing tracks and platforms at Penn Station, and then continuing under 31st Street and Park Avenue to existing tracks and platforms on the Lower Level of Grand Central Terminal (see green tracks in figure below).

penn station train connection map old

This plan – the mother of all train station connections – would have tied the two stations together, permitting thru train service between points in Westchester-Connecticut and points in New Jersey. The plan called for using existing tracks and platforms at the two stations, taking advantage of unique elements that were incorporated into their design when they were built nearly a century ago.

The Major Investment Study (MIS) phase of planning found that this plan – known as Alternative G – would have cost the least to build and operate, attracted the most riders, and diverted the greatest number of motorists of three final alternatives studied (click here to read the report). It would have afforded West of Hudson riders easy access to Manhattan’s East Side, the nation’s premier commercial district, and would have made it easier for workers from points north of NYC to reach growing West Midtown developments. Furthermore, it would have allowed Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor trains to serve both business centers en route from Washington to Boston, making the train more competitive with air travel.

The MIS planning study found no “fatal flaws” in the connection. But a key to making this plan work is for NJ Transit trains to operate on Metro-North tracks and vice versa. These inter-operability agreements are quite common in the freight industry, and could be negotiated between the two transit carriers. It’s a matter of political will.

map midtown west trains moynihan

The leadership in both states declined to advance this very attractive plan. Instead, NJ Transit was left to “go it alone”, pressing for a deep cavern dead-end station 140 feet below 34th Street and Macy’s. This plan is costly, inconvenient and poses a clear security risk. It obviously lacks the connection to Grand Central. In fact, it doesn’t even have a connection into Penn Station. The red line into Penn Station in the figure above has been dropped from the project! Now with both states facing severe budget challenges, it is especially important to move forward on a more cost-effective plan — Alternative G.

More questions about ARC? Want to know more about Sunnyside Yards, connecting Metro North to Penn Station, or the possibilities of light rail in New York? Please submit questions in the comments section.