Connecticut residents seeking to travel directly to Penn Station in New York City may be in luck, thanks to a proposal passed by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority last month.
The $743 million plan, part of the 2015–2019 MTA Capital Program, would add four new stations in the East Bronx on current Amtrak track. Metro-North trains, which are run by the MTA, would branch off at New Rochelle and arrive at Penn Station after those four stops.
The current New York transit system is divided into two parts. Metro-North, which serves passengers in Connecticut and northern New York state, has its terminus at Grand Central Station. Amtrak, the Long Island Rail Road, and New Jersey Transit, all terminate at Penn Station, approximately 12 blocks away. Several students interviewed voiced support for the plan, noting that an additional stop would incentivize more students to take trips to New York City. Others were more ambivalent about the usefulness of this additional stop, pointing to Penn Station’s difficult geography and the fact that students can get to Penn Station using the subway after traveling to Grand Central.
If the plans go through, riders from Connecticut would be able to transfer to trains headed to Long Island or New Jersey without transferring to another station.
Transit authorities have been pushing to integrate the mass transit system in New York for decades. The East Side Access project, begun in 1969 and scheduled for completion in 2019, will create a new section of the LIRR line, making Grand Central its new terminus.
A report released by Metro-North said that the proposal would significantly reduce travel times to the West Side of Manhattan and “introduce convenient, direct rail service to communities underserved by mass transit” in the East Bronx.
The proposal approved by the MTA has so far gained a few notable supporters. In January, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo declared public support for the project in his State of the State address.
“We will open a new spur for Metro-North Railroad to provide more resiliency and access to Penn Station,” Cuomo said.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio also endorsed the proposal, noting that it would add essential mass transit options to the East Bronx.
Connecticut political leaders have not commented on the proposal so far, even though the MTA is a joint New York-Connecticut institution. Instead, they have spoken about improving access to Manhattan from Connecticut on the New Haven line.
In last year’s mayoral campaign, Mayor Toni Harp announced her support for a one-hour fast train from New Haven to Manhattan. Senator Richard Blumenthal LAW ’73 and State Senator Martin Looney also voiced support, though Metro-North officials said that the plans were unfeasible given the current state of infrastructure.
Throughout his term as senator, Blumenthal has devoted significant attention to rail safety, especially after a series of accidents in 2013 that injured a total of 100 people and killed six.
In May, at an event hosted by the Regional Plan Association, a policy think tank in the tri-state area, Senator Chris Murphy similarly stressed the importance of improving infrastructure, noting that investment in transportation would decrease the commute time from Bridgeport to Manhattan and have an enormous positive effect on that city.
Developing transport infrastructure in the tristate area is no easy task, Murphy said. He added that officials must coordinate large-scale plans across three state governments, and the lack of meaningful regional government in Connecticut only complicates matters further. Nevertheless, he called for inter-governmental coordination to invest in this infrastructure.
Students interviewed expressed mixed opinions about the plans.
“It would make it a lot more convenient to get to JFK [airport],” said Martin Lim ’18. Currently, the best way for students to travel from Grand Central to JFK involves a long subway ride and transfer.
Varun Sah ’18 said that including a stop at Penn Station could incentivize him to take the train more often.
Other students were more ambivalent about the new stop’s potential benefits, citing the current low demand for LIRR and NJ Transit.
“As someone who doesn’t travel very much, Penn Station is very hard to navigate,” said Yerin Kim ’18.
Penn Station’s reputation of chaos, confusion and crowdedness is an age-old complaint among commuters.
Jon Rolfe ’18 took a different stand and said that a Metro-North stop at Penn Station might be unnecessary, considering that the subway connects the two stations.
Regardless of whether Metro-North decides to act on the MTA’s proposal, trains from New Haven to Penn Station are still a long way away. Penn Station will have no room for Metro-North trains until the East Side Access Plan — which will create a new LIRR stop at Grand Central — is completed in 2019.
Amtrak announced yesterday that it will have to close significant portions of the Hudson River Tunnel over the next year to repair damage from Hurricane Sandy. This may severely curtail NJ Transit capacity, which could add further difficulties in passing the MTA Capital Program.
Metro-North’s most recent change came in September, when it announced the addition of a significant number of off-peak trains.