East Side Access is a public works project being undertaken by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) in New York City, designed to bring the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) into a new East Side station to be built below and incorporated into Grand Central Terminal in Manhattan.
The new LIRR East Side station under Grand Central Terminal will offer new entrances, a concourse, eight tracks on four platforms lower than the existing Metro-North lower level tracks, and a mid-level mezzanine. This new station would allow easier transfers for commuters travelling between Long Island on the Long Island Railroad, Metro-North Railroad destinations (in the Bronx, Westchester County, the Hudson Valley, and Connecticut), and the New York City Subway. The new terminal will increase the number of tracks at Grand Central from 67 to 75. The terminal will be reached by high-rise escalators.
Initially the East Side Access (ESA) project was supposed to reduce congestion at Penn Station and allow Metro-North (MNR) to offer train service to that station via the old New York Central West Side Line and the New York, New Haven and Hartford RR's Hell Gate Line, both currently used only by Amtrak. However, due to ridership growth on the LIRR, the ESA project will simply add critically needed capacity for the LIRR. MNR still plans to offer service to Penn Station, but will likely wait until New Jersey Transit completes its Trans-Hudson Express Tunnel project, which — though significantly increasing New Jersey Transit traffic between New Jersey and New York City — will also expand Penn Station.
Current plans call for 24-trains-per-hour service to Grand Central Terminal during peak morning hours, with an estimated 162,000 passenger trips to and from Grand Central on an average weekday. Connections to AirTrain JFK at Jamaica Station in Jamaica, Queens, will facilitate travel to John F. Kennedy International Airport from the East Side of Manhattan.
A new LIRR train station in Sunnyside at Queens Boulevard and Skillman Avenue along the LIRR’s Main Line (into Penn Station) will provide one-stop access for area residents to Midtown Manhattan. The station may spur economic development and growth in Long Island City.
Construction of the line to Grand Central was begun in November 1969 (see IND 63rd Street Line) as the lower level of a cut-and-cover project to build the New York City Subway's 63rd St Line. The MTA's contractor floated premanufactured four-chamber tunnel boxes into place in the East River and sank them to create the East River crossings for the subway and the LIRR. After a long delay caused by New York City's fiscal collapse of the 1970s, the 63rd St subway line and LIRR tunnel were completed as far as 21 St in Long Island City. Between 1995 and 2001, the 63rd St subway line was connected to the Queens Blvd. corridor, and the LIRR tunnel was extended under 41 Avenue in Queens to the west side of Northern Blvd. The western end of this tunnel sat under Second Avenue at 63 Street.
The current East Side Access Project represents the construction effort to complete the line to Grand Central Terminal. After voters in New York approved a bond issue to provide state funds to the project, the federal government committed to provide $2.6 billion to help build the East Side Access project by signing a Full Funding Grant Agreement (FFGA) in December 2006. The construction contract for a one-mile tunnel in Manhattan west and southward from the long dormant lower level of the 63rd Street rail tunnel to the new station beneath Grand Central terminal was awarded on July 13, 2006, to Dragados/Judlau, a joint American-Spanish venture (the American company is located in College Point, Queens, NY). The total contract award is $430 million, and is utilizing two large tunneling devices owned by the Spanish firm.
Judlau created a launch chamber for tunnel boring machines under Second Avenue at 63rd St using a controlled drill-and-blast method, then assembled and launched each 640-ton machine. The first TBM was launched west and southbound from the 63rd Street tunnel in September 2007 and reached Grand Central in July 2008. The second machine began boring a parallel tunnel in December 2007 and had completed its tunnel at 37th Street September 30, 2008 Geocomp Corporation was hired to monitor the boring, using a battery of instruments to record vibration, ground settlement and any tilting or drift suffered by the TBM. The instruments include inclinometers, extensometers, seismographs, observation wells, dynamic strain gauges, tilt meters and automated motorized total stations (AMTS) with prismatic targets. The next step in construction is to back the TBMs out of the tunnels and cast-in-place concrete sections placed to create the lining. Each tunnel will be 22 feet in diameter and carry trains 140 feet beneath street level. The TBMs bored an average of 50 feet per day. Cross-connections between the tunnels are being created under Park Avenue, between 49th Street and 51st Street, by controlled drill-and-blast; the second tunnel is far enough along so that this work will begin in mid-July and require between six and eight months to complete.
In Queens, Pile Foundation Construction Company is building an $83 million open-cut and deck project, which is extending the tracks under Northern Blvd into Sunnyside Yard, and creating an area that serves as both the launch chamber for soft-bore Queens tunnels, connecting the 63rd St line to the main LIRR branches, and an interlocking and emergency exit and venting facility.. Perini Corporation was awarded a $161 million contract to reconfigure Harold Interlocking, increasing its capacity to accommodate Grand Central-bound trains and accept new yard lead tracks to allow trains to enter the storage yards. On February 15, 2008, MTA awarded Dragados-Judlau a $499 million contract to excavate the LIRR station cavern and track wye caverns.
The East Side Access project cost has increased from $3 billion in 1998 to US$6.3 billion in 2006. Construction work is ongoing and a 2015 completion date is projected.
Given the massive size of the project, the plan has aroused concerns and opposition. In 2005, businesses and Edward Cardinal Egan began to express concerns about the tunneling process. Egan in particular is concerned about the impact on St. Patrick's Cathedral, which faces Fifth Avenue with its back on Madison Avenue north of 50th Street. The project is proposing that an air vent be placed south of 50th Street and east of Madison Avenue, just outside the existing trainshed.
At the same time, East Side Access will reduce the load on morning northbound rush-hour service between Pennsylvania Station and Midtown East.