Transit Briefs: LIRR, MassDOT/Northern Tier Passenger Rail, St. Louis Metro Transit

Written by Carolina Worrell, Senior Editor
Marc A. Hermann/MTA

Marc A. Hermann/MTA

The opening date of the Long Island Rail Road’s (LIRR) Grand Central Madison station has been delayed due to an ongoing issue with an exhaust fan; Massachusetts Department of Transportation’s (MassDOT) Northern Tier Passenger Rail service could cost up to $2 billion; and four MetroLink stations in St. Clair County will receive the system’s first fare collection gates next year.


According to NY1 and Yahoo! News reports, opening of Grand Central Madison station for the LIRR is still delayed due to an ongoing issue with an exhaust fan, Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) Chairman and CEO Janno Lieber said Jan. 11. No opening date has been set.

According to the NY1 and Yahoo! News reports, Lieber had planned to open the otherwise complete station to commuters before the end of 2022, but vent fan problems, which were disclosed in December, have forced a pause on those plans.

NY1 reported Lieber as saying, “I’m not putting a date on it, but we’re making progress. It’s as if you had a walkthrough of a house that was done, and you can smell the new house and you can smell the new paint, and they told you there’s still a village code inspection that needs to take place.”

According to Yahoo! News, “the fan is supposed to suck air from the new LIRR platforms, which are located in a giant cavern 175 feet below street level.”

“There’s one area that is near the entrance from the existing Grand Central lower level where the exhaust system was not able to suck enough air,” Yahoo! News reported Lieber explaining.

The problem, Lieber added, is that “there were counteractive airflows that were coming from existing Grand Central.”

According to the Yahoo! News report, those counteractive airflows, which Lieber also described as a “downdraft,” “interfere with the fan’s ability to move enough air—measured in cubic feet per minute—from the new terminal.

Grand Central Madison station is part of the LIRR’s East Side Access project to bring commuter rail service to Manhattan’s East Side. Construction of the project—originally conceived in the 1960s and developed in the 1990s—began in 2006 (see map below) and represents the largest expansion of LIRR service since the original Pennsylvania Station and its East River Tunnels opened Sept. 8, 1910. The project was originally scheduled to be completed in 2011 and has seen its cost “balloon by billions of dollars” since then, according to NY1. However, Lieber, who rejected the suggestion that staffing shortages were to blame, said the station could still open in January.

According to the NY1 report, Lieber said he did not “anticipate any additional spending needed for the issues, and that insurance payouts from any engineers at fault could cover the costs—though the authority was still determining how to mechanically fix the issue.”

MassDOT/Northern Tier Passenger Rail

According to a Greenfield Recorder report, MassDOT during a virtual workshop on Jan. 11 shared two options for Northern Tier Passenger Rail, which would provide passenger rail service from North Adams, Mass., to Greenfield, Mass., and Boston, with price tags ranging from $1.044 billion to $2.187 billion.

According to the Greenfield Recorder report, officials at the virtual meeting discussed, with 155 attendees present, “what it would take to provide train access from the western part of the state to Boston, which hopefuls think will lead to economic development and population increases.” A Northern Tier Passenger Rail service would follow the Route 2 corridor through Franklin and Berkshire counties.

According to the Greenfield Recorder report, the two options discussed in the meeting follow the same path with four stops in Boston (North Station), Fitchburg, Greenfield and North Adams, but include the low and high investment options.

This total estimate, the Greenfield Recorder reports, “breaks down to costing the state nearly $7.36 million per mile of track for the low investment option and more than $15.4 million per mile for the high investment option.”

“Introduction of passenger rail service requires significant investment, even for moderate improvements of speeds,” the Greenfield Recorder reported Anna Barry, Program Manager and Vice president of civil engineering firm HNTB, which was contracted by MassDOT to assist with an initial study, as commenting.

According to the Greenfield Recorder report, “both options include five daily diesel-powered passenger trains, with the same cars seen in Amtrak’s north-south Valley Flyer service, that would travel the length of the state. The low investment option includes limited signal improvements, upgrades to Class I track at the East Deerfield Railyard and some track additions to support passing. The high investment option includes more rehabilitation to tracks and use of superelevation, which is when one rail is higher than the other through a curve, allowing the train to navigate the curve at higher speeds and with greater comfort for passengers.”

Graphic Courtesy of HNTB via MassDOT

HNTB used Rail Traffic Controller (RTC), a simulator used for trip planning, to calculate the ride times for the two options, and found that there is nearly a one-hour difference. With the low investment option, according to HNTB and as reported by the Greenfield Reporter, it would take about four hours to travel from Boston to North Adams, including a two-hour-and-35-minute trip from Greenfield to Boston. By comparison, the high investment option would take a little less than three hours, with a two-hour ride from Greenfield to Boston. HNTB Transportation Planning Manager Paul Nelson explained that “only the high investment option would make the travel time similar to a trip by car.”

According to the Greenfield Reporter, when calculating potential ridership using Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) and Streetlight data, HNTB found that the low investment option “would have 220 to 440, or 1.5% to 3% of riders annually, using the train in North Adams and 2,420 to 6,600, or 4.9% to 13.4% of riders annually, using the train from Greenfield.”

“With the high investment model, however, HNTB found that 1,430 to 4,180, or 9.7% to 28.2% of riders annually, would use the train in North Adams and 7,370 to 20,350, or 15% to 41.4% of riders annually, would use it from Greenfield.”

In the presentation, Barry noted “the baseline travel market decreases with distance along the corridor, but the amount of travelers may increase for special events.”

The goal of the Northern Tier Passenger Rail Study, HNTB says is “to support economic development along the northern portion of the state, promote transportation equity, and minimize the impact on public health and the environment,” Nelson explained. Wednesday represented the first workshop in the study process. In Phase 2 of the project, HNTB plans to discuss four other alternatives, which include adding stops in places like Orange, Gardner, Ayer and Porter Square within Boston.

Nelson said the potential benefits of having a passenger rail system include the creation of new jobs, attracting new residents, increasing property values, inspiring transit-oriented development and increasing the tax base, according to the Greenfield Reporter.

“There is so much potential and excitement for Western Massachusetts rail,” said Rep. Natalie Blais (D-Deerfield). “You can see by the numbers. We are excited to see this process move forward.”

St. Louis Metro Transit

Four MetroLink stations in St. Clair County will receive the St. Louis Metro Transit’s first fare collection gates and related fencing next year under a $52 million plan outlined Jan. 12 to “show progress in increasing safety on the trains,” the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch report, Kevin Scott, General Manager of Security for Bi-State Development Agency, which oversees Metro Transit, told agency board members that “similar equipment and related upgrades at the remaining 34 stations across St. Louis, St. Louis County and St. Clair County would be installed by 2025.”

The initial four—Emerson Park and Jackie Joyner-Kersee Center stations in East St. Louis, the Washington Park station and College station in Belleville—were picked because “they will require minimal redesign and construction and can be outfitted relatively quickly,” according to the report.

“The idea is to show progress to the region,” Scott said. “Some of the other locations will offer our engineering team some challenges.”

Since its inception in 1993, MetroLink has relied on fare enforcement by roving security officers on its trains, but Bi-State is reversing the decades-old policy with the ticket gate program “aimed at boosting public confidence in the light-rail’s safety following high-profile incidents of violent crime in recent years,” according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch report.

According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch report, Kansas City-based engineering firm HNTB was selected by Bi-State earlier this year to design the gates with construction being handled in up to five phases. Bids on the first four stations will be sought in July.

Construction, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch report, is expected to begin this fall and take about six months unless delayed by weather or supply-chain issues. “Dividing the work into phases will result in the project being completed sooner and also could open it up to smaller contractors,” the agency said.

The plan also includes installation of hundreds more closed-circuit cameras on the system and a new “real time” camera monitoring center that has opened.

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