By Larry Penner, Transportation Advocate
The end of direct thru service from Jamaica on the Atlantic branch to Atlantic Terminal Brooklyn was based upon two factors. The LIRR signal, track and interlocking system west of Jamaica did not have the capacity to manage simultaneous services from Atlantic Terminal, Penn Station and Grand Central Madison (not including Hunters Point and Long Island City service). The second was need to reassign many MU electric cars from the Atlantic branch to support new Grand Central Madison service. Initiation of the shuttle service between Jamaica and Atlantic Terminal resulted in the expenditure of several hundred million. These funds paid for a new platform, new tracks nine and ten, platform along with accompanying track, signals and interlockings to access to this new facility..
One of the negative outcomes from the start of LIRR East Side Access to Grand Central Madison is the process of changing trains at Jamaica. Prior to the start of this service on Monday, February 27th, there were far more direct timed connections. Trains arriving from different branches would arrive on tracks one, two and three. Hundreds of millions in capital investments by the LIRR for upgrades to communications, signals, track and interlockings east of Jamaica Station made it easier to coordinate parallel arrival of Atlantic Terminal Brooklyn and Penn Station bound trains. It was a simple walk across the platform. Sometimes during AM rush hour, this might include a third Hunters Point or Long Island City bound train. A closed door express to Penn Station might be followed within minutes by a local making stops in Kew Gardens, Forest Hills and Woodside stations within minutes. A closed door express to Atlantic Terminal would also be followed by a local making stops in East NY & Nostrand Avenue stations within minutes. These seamless transfers are no longer so common. LIRR policy is to keep trains moving west bound as quickly as possible. In too many cases, you now may have to wait several minutes more for your connecting train. Grand Central Madison trains from east of Jamaica will no longer wait for connections to a Penn Station bound train also arriving from a different branch east of Jamaica.
A second negative impact with the initiation of LIRR East Side Access service to Grand Central Madison is the suspension of virtually all direct thru service between Jamaica and Atlantic Terminal, Brooklyn. Travel time for thousands of LIRR riders bound for downtown Brooklyn, Wall Street, World Financial Center, World Trade Center or other destinations in downtown Manhattan via Atlantic Terminal Brooklyn now have longer commutes. Several years ago, previous LIRR President Phil Eng’s promised a feasibility study to look into the possible preservation of some direct service between Jamaica and Atlantic Terminal Brooklyn. Was MTA Chairman Janno Lieber and current Acting LIRR President Catherine Renaldi aware of this commitment? The study was never made public prior to implementation of the new LIRR service plan effective February 27th with commencement of full time Grand Central Madison operations. .
There are other adverse impacts to thousands of LIRR customers traveling between Atlantic Terminal, Brooklyn and Jamaica Station. They now have to walk up the stairs, take an escalator or elevator from platform levels from Jamaica Station tracks one, two or three to the mezzanine level. This is followed by walking across the mezzanine and down the stairs, escalator or elevator to the new tracks 9 or 10. Next, wait for the next scoot service train running between Jamaica and Atlantic Terminal on tracks 9 and 10. There are twenty scheduled to run west bound from Jamaica to Brooklyn between 6 and 10 AM rush hour. Another twenty are scheduled to run east bound from Brooklyn to Jamaica between 4 and 8 PM rush hour. Riders miss the good old days when it was a simple switch walking across the platform between tracks 1, 2 & 3 to the desired Penn Station, Atlantic Terminal, Hunters Point or Long Island City bound train. This is now more challenging for those physically disabled who require the use of an elevator.
Depending upon how long the wait is for a connecting train between Jamaica and Brooklyn, this could add up to between 5 to 10 minutes each way or a total of 20 minutes per day. LIRR scoot service between Jamaica and Atlantic Terminal will be not be running with head ways every few minutes like a subway. Thousands of riders whose trains originated to or from Brooklyn who once had a one seat ride have lost this benefit. This conflicts with the MTA promise that the ESA to GCM will save LIRR riders up to 40 minutes each day round trip in daily commutes.
One rider’s gain in time savings (being able to arrive in the Manhattan midtown east side via Grand Central Terminal versus Penn Station) is a loss for another rider trying to access downtown Brooklyn or lower Manhattan via Atlantic Terminal Brooklyn.
Those whose final destination is the new Elmont-UBS Arena station, in a majority of times, also have to change at Jamaica. No longer needing to change at Jamaica depends upon which branch riders are arriving from. Hempstead branch trains will stop at the Elmont-UBS Arena station full time . Huntington and Ronkonkoma branch trains will be less frequent. They will only stop weekday evenings (coinciding with events at the UBS Arena) and frequently on weekends. Babylon, Speonk, West Hempstead, Long Beach, Far Rockaway and Oyster Bay branch riders will continue having to change at Jamaica and double back east to the Elmont-UB Arena station. Port Jefferson branch riders will have to change at Huntington or Jamaica stations. Since the Atlantic Brooklyn branch is now a shuttle service operating between Flatbush Avenue, Brooklyn and Jamaica, riders will also have to change at Jamaica. Most Port Washington branch riders will have an additional second transfer at Woodside before arriving at Jamaica.
So much for truth in advertising by the MTA & LIRR.
(Larry Penner — is a transportation advocate, historian and writer who previously served as a former Director for the Federal Transit Administration Region 2 New York Office of Operations and Program Management. )