Grand Central Station to become LIRR destination

August 5, 2011 4:48:18 AM PDT
Buried in the bedrock of midtown Manhattan, a hundred feet below Grand Central Terminal, is an army of workers who call themselves "Sandhogs" who are making history.

"This is the most exciting moment that I can tell you in my life as a professional to get to build this," Michael Horodniceanu said.

Horodniceanu is in charge of the nation's single largest public infrastructure project. And when it's over, the Long Island Rail Road will be virtually unrecognizable.

For decades, commuters have been funneled into dark, dank Penn Station on the West Side, forcing half of them to fight their way back across town to their offices on the East Side.

The so-called East Side Access Project will change all that.

In just a few years, the cavernous, mucky space will be transformed into a train concourse. There will be a new platform. There will be tracks on either side. Hundreds of thousands of Long Islanders will have a whole new way to get to work.

For the past few years, life has continued uninterrupted up top as workers have been blasting the first phases of underground concourses.

The project, which costs $7.2 billion, uses the previously abandoned 63rd Street tunnel under the East River.

The Sandhogs have dug a new path for tracks to Grand Central Station, and they've just started one into Queens to link up with the existing LIRR tracks heading east.

It's pretty much that complicated. To connect the East River Tunnel to the LIRR's tracks, workers have to tunnel under the busiest rail yard in America, operated by Amtrak and New Jersey Transit, to store trains bound for Penn Station. They have to build those tunnels without disrupting any service.

In the end, after all the painstaking planning and all the cost, the railroad says the payoff will be obvious. They plan to buy new trains and nearly double their service to Manhattan, with two parallel schedules, one to each station.

Of course, "today" is still a long way off. It'll likely be September of 2016 before the first Long Island train pulls up to a platform there.