Transit Briefs: LIRR, CaltrainWritten by Carolina Worrell, Senior Editor
Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) announces Grand Central Direct service to Grand Central Madison. Also, Caltrain awards contracts for on-board Wi-Fi.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) on Dec. 19 announced that LIRR will introduce special Grand Central District service to Grand Central Madison beginning when the facility systems testing is complete, to “enable the public to begin exploring the new terminal and its route while the LIRR continues to maintain full existing schedules to Penn Station.”
Grand Central Madison is the first major new downtown rail terminal to open in the U.S. in 67 years and the first extension of the LIRR in 112 years since service began to Penn Station in 1910.
According to the MTA, Grand Central Direct trains will operate between Grand Central Madison and Jamaica every 30 minutes during middays and on weekends, and hourly during weekday rush periods. They will be overlaid as additions to the LIRR’s existing timetables to “ensure there are no changes to existing trains to Penn Station and other destinations.”
During this initial period, MTA says, the LIRR will have customer ambassadors on the Grand Central Madison concourse to greet customers and offer information about the new space.
According to the MTA, Grand Central Direct service will conclude with the initiation of full train service mirroring what was put forward in draft schedules published last June. To enable travel planning, the MTA will provide at least three weeks’ notice before the new full schedules go into effect.
The opening of Grand Central Madison will enable the possibility of transferring directly between LIRR and Metro-North Railroad. To “encourage riders from each railroad to try the other,” the MTA will introduce the “Combo Ticket”–a single ticket that enables customers to travel between Long Island, Manhattan’s northern suburbs and Connecticut all with one fare.
The new LIRR timetables, MTA says, will include 274 more trains each weekday than currently operate, a 41% service increase made possible in part by the completion on Oct. 3 of a new 9.8-mile Main Line third between Floral Park and Hicksville. The timetables will represent the first comprehensive rewrite of LIRR schedules in decades and the MTA “encourages all riders, no matter when or where they travel, to review their options on the TrainTime app or review the LIRR’s service overview to see new options for their travel. “
Grand Central Madison and Main Line Third Track are part of a $17.7 billion investment to transform and modernize LIRR with 100 projects throughout the system, including construction of a more spacious LIRR Concourse at Penn Station with a new entrance at 33rd Street and Seventh Avenue; renewal and upgrading of 36 stations and 17 bridges; elimination of eight at-grade railroad crossings, activation of the Positive Train Control (PTC) safety system; installation of 13 miles of second track between Farmingdale and Ronkonkoma; upgrades to 15 electrical substations; parking capacity increases; and yard expansions.
“The MTA has held the line on Grand Central Madison’s opening date and budget since I rebooted the project in 2017 by empowering project management, developing a clear understanding of 44,000 work items and creating priority-based scheduling,” said MTA Chair and CEO Janno Lieber. “It was an approach to reset a long-running project I inherited and ensure we could open now. This work presaged the MTA’s new determination to deliver projects on time and on budget, as exemplified by the L Train project and by LIRR Main Line Third Track, which were both delivered on time and $100 million under budget. Specifically, we streamlined contracting to one team accountable for integrated design and construction, and also incentivized that team to finish early.”
Additionally, following the opening of Moynihan Train Hall in 2021, the MTA, together with Empire State Development, NJ Transit and Amtrak, is transforming Penn Station into “a world-class, single-level terminal with abundant natural light, high ceilings, increased access to platforms, and enhanced wayfinding.”
“It isn’t every day that customers get access to a world-class new train terminal, so we wanted to open up the opportunity to see the space weeks in advance of the full-scale new service going into effect,” said Catherine Rinaldi, Interim President, LIRR and President, Metro-North Railroad. “Customers who are curious about the new terminal will be able to try it out, and we hope anyone who wants to will come take a look at the impressive new space.”
LIRR published draft timetables showing Grand Central Madison service on June 2 for public review and held six virtual information sessions and public meetings between June 23 and Aug. 11 to gather public feedback.
Caltrain on Dec. 16 awarded two contracts to Nomad Digital, Inc. of Hayward, Calif., for Broadband Communications Services. Nomad, which provides “industry-leading high-speed internet connectivity,” will be installing, operating and maintaining Caltrain’s broadband services, both to provide valuable wireless connectivity between the agency’s new electric train fleet and central control, as well as for public-facing Wi-Fi.
The two contracts cover system implementation and deployment for $20.9 million and operations and maintenance support for $5.6 million over a four-year term. Initial funding of $14 million for the Broadband Communications Project was provided by the State Transit and Intercity Rail Capital Program.
The broadband solution, Caltrain says, will allow the agency to launch long-awaited public Wi-Fi on board its new electric fleet that will run along its San Francisco-San Jose rail corridor.
In October 2021, a Request for Proposals (RFP) for the project went out with four firms submitting. Nomad, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Alstom was the highest-ranked firm. According to Caltrain, Nomad has more than two decades of experience providing on-board internet connectivity and passenger experience services, having worked with Amtrak, Montreal REM, NS Dutch Railways, Austrian Federal Railways and Denver’s Regional Transportation District (RTD).
“Silicon Valley’s train needs Wi-Fi,” said Caltrain Executive Director Michelle Bouchard. “Onboard Wi-Fi will allow our riders to get a head start on the workday, or decompress on their way home, staying connected with the world outside. This is one more reason for commuters to choose Caltrain over sitting in highway gridlock.”