Service Reliability Increased Along the Port Washington Branch
In December, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) announced that crews had completed the extension of track east of Great Neck to ensure greater service reliability on the Port Washington Branch. With the projected service increase associated with the opening of Grand Central Madison, the expansion of the Great Neck rocket track will aid in service reliability for commuters and residents that use the Port Washington branch.
The segment of track underneath Colonial Road Bridge was extended 1,100 feet to allow for the storage of an additional train of up to 12 cars. The extension allows the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) to store and turn more trains on the Port Washington Branch. An additional train can operate extra service from Mets-Willets Point.
“This infrastructure improvement enables the LIRR to run more trains more reliably on the Port Washington Branch,” said MTA Interim President of the Long Island Rail Road and President of the Metro-North Railroad Catherine Rinaldi. “Completion of this work brings us one step closer to the launch of LIRR’s historic new service to Grand Central Madison, the largest service expansion in LIRR history.”
According to a press release from the MTA, the track extension supports better rush-hour service. Rush-hour service has been a big concern for commuters and residents who frequent the Port Washington Branch since the LIRR released its draft schedule showing train service to Grand Central in the summer of 2022.
Elected officials and commuters were unhappy with the proposed changes to the Port Washington branch, affecting commuters in Great Neck, Manhasset, Plandome and Port Washington. The changes included increased commute time and the elimination of peak-hour express train services.
While the local officials and commuters were grateful for the East Side Access Project, which gives commuters two entry points to Manhattan, Penn Station and Grand Central, the issues arising from this project were deemed unacceptable. New York State Senator Anna Kaplan, Assemblywoman Gina Sillitti and Town of North Hempstead officials urged North Shore residents to voice their concerns.
Senator Kaplan and Assemblywoman Sillitti held “Save Our Express Trains” press conferences and public hearings during the summer of 2022. According to a press release from the office of Senator Kaplan, “outreach efforts engaged over 3,100 community members to fill out a survey. The results were shared with MTA leadership.”
After months of taking action, the residents and local officials affected by the Port Washington Branch changes received good news. In September, LIRR officials announced that they had heard the community’s concerns and abandoned plans to eliminate express train service to Penn Station on the Port Washington Branch of the LIRR.
In addition to adjusting the express train service for Port Washington Branch riders, the Great Neck track extension will also aid in rush-hour services.
According to a press release from the MTA, “under the draft schedules that include service to Grand Central Madison, Port Washington Branch customers will specifically benefit from 36% more AM Peak service and 42% more PM Peak service. The number of local trains terminating or originating at Great Neck and making all local stops to or from Manhattan increases to 20 per weekday after the opening of Grand Central Madison, up from 11 today, an increase of 82%. The work, enabled by three weeks of schedule adjustments and temporary substitute bus service between Port Washington and Great Neck, underscores the connection between infrastructure and better train service.”
While the opening of Grand Central Madison is not dependent on the completion of the Great Neck train station, the project is part of the LIRR’s East Side Access Readiness Plan. The LIRR’s plan was created to ensure commuters and riders still get the most reliable service possible despite the increasing number of trains.
The Great Neck station project was a three-part project carried out in phases to be completed before Grand Central Madison’s opening. According to a press release from the MTA, “the project was comprised of three main segments: replacement of the previous century-old bridge that carries Colonial Road over the Port Washington Branch in Great Neck, improvement of drainage at track level and the track extension.”
Both the bridge replacement and improvement of drainage were completed in 2016. With the pocket track extension complete, the LIRR’s East Side Access Readiness Plan has progressed even further.
As for the Grand Central Madison Station opening, which was initially slated for December of 2022, the MTA has pushed the opening date back and hopes to offer the new station this month.
On Dec. 29, 2022, MTA Construction and Development President Jamie Torres-Springer released a statement addressing commuters’ questions about the opening of the Grand Central Madison Station: “As was described at the MTA Board meeting last week, the opening of Grand Central Madison and Long Island Rail Road GCM service is contingent on the conclusion of system testing, in line with our commitment to safety. One particular zone in the 700,000-square-foot terminal requires additional work that will take more than a few days. Given the logistics of concluding testing and launching service, we have advised MTA Chair Janno Lieber that the terminal will not open this week. We will coordinate with the Federal Railroad Administration to open the new terminal and commence LIRR service as soon as possible in January.”