Photos: Major Construction Completed At East Side Access, Still On Schedule For 2022

Major construction on East Side Access located under Grand Central Terminal is complete. The 15-year long, $11 billion terminal and concourse is seven stories underground, and will allow Long Island Rail Road trains to pull into Grand Central Terminal, reducing the burden on Penn Station—and ultimately shave up to 40 minutes off commutes into Manhattan. 

About half the Long Island Rail Road trains will be diverted to Grand Central Terminal.

Crews are now doing the finishing touches on the station, and Governor Andrew Cuomo promised Thursday it will open to the public sometime next year.

There are 47 escalators and 22 elevators to get riders between the four levels of platforms and a mezzanine level. The lowest platform is 150 feet underground; the MTA has blasted millions of cubic yards of rock from its excavations in Manhattan and Queens. There’s also room for 25 retail shops, as well as a rotating art exhibit behind glass.

Janno Lieber, President of MTA Construction & Development who led the project, said the MTA will be able to increase capacity during rush hour by 45%, and the project will provide another option for commuters if Penn Station’s tunnels are closed.  

“This provides that back-up capacity that Long Island, with its almost 3 million people, deserves at this stage of history,” he said during a tour of the site on Thursday.

While most of the construction work is done, train operators must now receive several months of training to learn how to use the new, more complex intersection it shares with Amtrak and NJ Transit, known as Harold Interlocking.

Cuomo is betting that by the time this station opens to the public, workers in midtown will have resumed regular commutes and office hours. (The MTA projected, before the pandemic, that 162,000 customers would use East Side Access daily.) The new section of Grand Central has 25,000 square feet for retail, which he hopes people will make into a destination.

“People like people, people like socialization. Businesses like to sit around the table and bounce ideas off each other,” Cuomo said Thursday. “Just make it possible and make it attractive—that’s what this is all about.”

A cavernous escalator tunnel

From a progress tour of the East Side Access Project, May 27, 2021 Stephen Nessen / Gothamist

The governor also touted the possibility of getting to JFK Airport from Grand Central Terminal on the Long Island Rail Road in 40 minutes, once the new tracks are open.

On Thursday, Cuomo promoted the completion of the project as another example of his ability to get big infrastructure projects, like the Mario Cuomo Bridge, Moynihan Train Hall, the three new Second Avenue subway stations, and the L train repairs completed quickly. 

Unsaid were the problems that came with the speed demands of those projects. Bolts on the Mario Cuomo Bridge had to be replaced; a project manager at Moynihan was reportedly driven to suicide from the pressure; the Second Avenue subway stations opened before completing fire safety tests; and while the L train tunnel was completed ahead of schedule without a full shutdown, it remains to be seen how long the repairs will last. 

Cuomo hinted Thursday that Gateway, another major project about to begin, with federal support and a quarter of funding from New York, could use a little help from Cuomo’s team to save costs and finish more quickly.