Metro-North looks at trains to Penn Station

Metro-North Railroad is seriously considering creating a new route connecting the New Haven Line to Penn Station New York, using tracks on which only Amtrak trains currently run.

The goal of the project is to make passengers’ commutes to their New York destinations quicker and more convenient, particularly for those travelling downtown or who need to connect to trains out of Penn Station. Past studies have indicated that 18 percent of New Haven Line passengers travel to a destination in Lower Manhattan and thus would be better served by a train arriving farther downtown than Grand Central Terminal, Connecticut Department of Transportation Bureau Chief Harry Harris said.

Jeff Watson, a community liaison for Metro-North, said the project would be a major boon for commuters.

“This connection would make the commute a lot easier for everyone who has to either take the subway or the Times Square shuttle,” he said. “But I couldn’t even speculate when it will occur or attempt to outline a timetable.”

Harris also said it is not yet possible to predict when the changes would go into effect, and he added that Yale students and other New Haven commuters should not expect to take full advantage of the improvements in the immediate future.

“It is possible that you might see some [connecting trains] within the coming year, but my guess is that it would be limited to one or two trains in the a.m. and p.m. and not much more,” he said in an e-mail.

Dan Brucker, a community spokesman for Metro-North, said committees are currently meeting on a regular basis to study the proposal.

If the changes are implemented, ticket prices on the new route would probably not increase dramatically over current service, Harris said.

“I suspect that the price will be closer to the cost of taking Metro-North to the city than it would be to the cost of taking an Amtrak train, but this is only speculation with a whole lot of variables,” he said.

In addition to Metro-North, the newly created Transportation Strategy Board in Connecticut is also investigating the issue. Harris said the board has attempted to convince Amtrak to permit immediate access directly from Connecticut into Penn Station even before Metro-North solidifies its own plans, but Amtrak’s financial problems have prevented any negotiations.

The lack of Metro-North service into Penn Station is a remnant of the historical competition that existed between the original railroad companies that built Penn and Grand Central. The owners of each railroad saw no reason to encourage passengers to use the other company’s station.

Today, however, many travelers must make the transfer on a regular basis and are inconvenienced by the lack of a direct connection from Metro-North to Amtrak, New Jersey Transit and the Long Island Rail Road. The subway — which itself requires changing from one line to another — is currently the most widely used method of traveling between the two stations.

The potential new connection would likely be a harbinger of future changes to all rail lines converging in New York. Specifically, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority has fashioned a major plan aimed at bringing Long Island Rail Road trains — which currently terminate in Manhattan at Penn Station — into Grand Central while connecting some Metro-North Harlem Line and New Haven Line trains to Penn.

Yale students from New York said they are excited about the prospect of a direct route to Penn Station. Helena Ajudua ’03, who lives in Upper Brookville on Long Island, said she believes that a connection could save her up to 30 minutes every time she travels home.

“It would totally help if there was a direct connection. Right now, it’s not too bad if I go into the city with a small bag, but when I go home over break, it’s really difficult to schlep my bags through the subway terminals. It gets really hot down there, and there are so many stairs,” she said.

Richard Ramsay ’04, who is from Uniondale, also expressed enthusiasm about the project.

“It would be fabulous,” he said. “It definitely is inconvenient to just have a train to Grand Central, because I have to make my way to Penn Station to take the Long Island Rail Road home. So I’d give my full support to a project like that.”

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