East Side Access Story

Event: East Side Access: Bringing the Long Island Rail Road to Grand Central Terminal
Location: Center for Architecture, 11.11.09
Speakers: Elton Elperin, AIA — Chief Architect, East Side Access; Maria Tarczynska, AIA — Senior Project Architect, East Side Access


Cross-section of the East Side Access.

Courtesy MTA

Good things come to those who wait. And wait. And wait. The Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) estimates that Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) commuters will save 40 minutes a day in travel time to Midtown and the East Side when the East Side Access (ESA), connecting the LIRR to Grand Central Terminal (GCT), is completed. The MTA projects that, by 2020, there will be a 50/50 split between ridership to Penn Station and GCT via the ESA.

The idea of linking the LIRR with GCT has been gestating for more than 40 years. The ESA is an enormous MTA capital project — the largest construction project ever undertaken by the authority. Seven miles of new tunnels are being built 100 feet below the surface and through the bedrock of Manhattan. The new tunnels, completely independent of those traveling to Penn Station, will eventually join the existing 63rd Street Tunnel and new tunnels originating in Sunnyside, Queens.

“GCT was designed as a complex,” said Elton Elperin, AIA, of AECOM, who has been working on the ESA since 2001, “and this project extends the GCT complex.” The AECOM team, which is being led by Elton and senior project architect Maria Tarczynska, AIA, is a member of the General Engineering Consultant (GEC) team that is designing the estimated $7.2-billion ESA, which will sit 90 feet below GCT and will include: new entrances; a 300,000-square-foot concourse’ eight tracks on four platforms that lie beneath the existing Metro-North lower level tracks; eight linked mezzanines; and ticketing and waiting areas, retail, and exhibit space. “Aesthetic features keep changing,” Elperin said, but the project is on track and the design of the ESA is expected to be complete by August 2010.

The most visible change to pedestrians will be a new open public space on 50th Street between Park and Madison Avenues. EDAW, a subsidiary of AECOM, is designing the public space that will feature a landscaped plaza with seating and a water feature designed by Waterline Studios of Fort Collins, CO.

Four townhouses had to be demolished to create a new ventilation building, but due to public input, the team reduced its height and relocated more of the functions underground. Another ventilation structure is being constructed on 44th Street. Its neighbor, the Yale Club, was adamantly against having a “ventilation monstrosity” nearby, so the team designed a low-rise structure to camouflage the system and it is illuminated to appear as if people are at work inside.

One of the greatest challenges, according to Elperin, is the weaving of the space through the numerous obstacles set by Metro North, the buildings, and infrastructure in the area. He admitted that the project has “suffered the loss of additional entrances to the street, but those can be phased in later — it’s simply a question of money.” When asked if there was any analysis done to connect the new tracks to the Second Avenue Subway, for which AECOM served as the prime consultant for the engineering and design, he said that he didn’t know, “but there’s got to be a feasibility of it somewhere.”

For more information on the ESA visit http://www.mta.info/capconstr.