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A Journey Underground – East Side Access

Over the one hundred plus years of its existence, Grand Central Terminal has reinvented itself many times to keep pace with the needs of its customers. When long range passenger trains were the norm, passengers could sit and watch a movie at Grand Central’s theater while waiting for their train to depart, or sit in the Terminal’s grand waiting room in Vanderbilt Hall. Today, all of the long distance trains have disappeared, replaced with Metro-North’s commuter service where trains are frequent enough that one rarely has to wait long. While today’s dashing commuter would have little use for a theater, they certainly make use of Grand Central’s new market, where they can quickly grab the ingredients for the dinner they’ll make after the train whisks them home. Even the less-used waiting room (which in high-society days had segregated fancy areas for both men and women) has moved out of the large Vanderbilt Hall into the smaller Stationmaster’s Office, converted into event space to capture the wandering person’s interest. Yet even part of that event space is slated for a conversion into more on-the-go eateries for the dashing commuter, an alternate option to picking up the ingredients in the market.

All of this reinvention has kept Grand Central relevant – it has retained its character as a landmark, yet constantly refreshed itself to keep with the times, all while remaining dedicated to its primary purpose of being a train station. As we speak, Grand Central is in fact reinventing itself yet again, although you may not be able to see the changes quite yet – they are far below your feet and deep underground. As cars clog our highways and roads, public transportation on the east and west sides of Manhattan are almost islands unto themselves. The MTA’s two railroads, Metro-North and the Long Island Rail Road, operate from separate stations with little linkage between them. Metro-North’s riders filter into the east side of Manhattan, while Long Island’s into the west. But what if we could change all that – give Long Island riders the option to arrive in the east side, and give Metro-North riders the ability to board trains to Long Island inside Grand Central, all while opening up a far easier public transit connection to JFK airport from the east side? All of these are goals of the ongoing East Side Access project, which is expected to continue for at least the next eight years. The project will create a link between the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North, adding a new terminal below Grand Central with eight new tracks, as well as the addition of 22,000 square feet of new retail space.

 
Diagrams of East Side Access, how the new terminal is situated under current buildings (left), and how trains from Long Island will be routed into Grand Central (right).
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Construction on East Side Access Project Halted Indefinitely

While celebrating Grand Central Terminal’s 100th anniversary, we discussed a wide array of topics regarding GCT’s history, and its place in our lives today. The one thing that we failed to mention was one of Grand Central’s futures – a major one being the East Side Access project. Designed to connect the Long Island Rail Road to a new station underneath Grand Central, the new facility was estimated to open by 2019. Unfortunately, that timeline has been called into question after the discovery of fossilized remains in one of the underground tunnels where construction is currently going on.

The first fossil found in the deep underground tunnel was discovered by a machine operator after partially running over it with his vehicle. Because of the damage to that specimen, all work on the East Side Access project has been halted indefinitely, and experts have been called in to examine what has been found. Paul Olsen, a paleontologist at Columbia’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory will be one of the scientists brought in to examine the fossils, which appear to be reptilian in origin. Olson has previously identified reptile fossils in nearby Exeter, Pennsylvania, and is excited to investigate these fossils “right in our own backyard.” To date, a total of four sets of fossilized remains have been found in the tunnels. In addition to those remains, several metallic items which appear to be tools of some sort have also been found, as well as several colored ribbons. It is unknown whether these items are related to the fossils in any way.

Speaking unofficially, one of the construction workers on the project said the fossilized remains bear a striking resemblance to a turtle – although a very large one. Fossils of a turtle that large have not been found in this area previously, which means that this could be a completely new species, or perhaps a mutant of some sort. Such discoveries are rare, but not completely unheard of – in 2005 a North Carolina State University student discovered the remains of an extinct species, Carbonemys cofrinii, a large turtle with a shell that measures just over five and a half feet long.

Unfortunately, this discovery may set the East Side Access project back by at least a year or more. Besides investigating and removing the fossils that have been found, further excavation will likely take place to determine whether there are any other fossils in the tunnels. This work will likely be slow going, as to not damage anything else that may be in the tunnel. Few photos of the discoveries underground have been released to the public, as the MTA is attempting to keep this setback quiet. To date, this is the only photo that has been released of the findings.

East Side Access

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Pac-Man Inspired Transit Maps

The subtitle of this post might as well be “stuff that happens when Emily gets bored.” For some reason I thought it might be amusing to make a completely useless Pac-Man transit map, where all the little dots Pac-Man eats could be stations. Besides maybe looking cool, they’re not going to help you get anywhere… hence my classification of “useless.”

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Journey the Harlem Line in 6 minutes: Grand Central to Southeast Time Lapse

Have you ever seen these awesome time lapse videos the MTA has done on the LIRR? When I first saw them, I decided I wanted to try the same thing at some point on the Harlem Line. Yesterday I finally got a chance to try it, unfortunately not in HD (didn’t have a big enough memory card to do the whole ride in HD). The ride first starts out in Grand Central, and heads all the way to Southeast. We make all local stops north of White Plains, with the exception of Mount Pleasant. The hour and twenty minute ride has been condensed into a little over six minutes.

Because I know a few of you more astute observers will find some issues with the video (signals? track?), I will say that this video was taken not from the cab, but from the rear of the train. The footage was reversed to make it appear like it was from the front of the train. This is my first attempt at a time lapse, and I think I’d like to try it again at some point. Perhaps in HD, and possibly from the front of the train, so everything doesn’t look wrong. But as a first attempt, I think this is a pretty cool way to see the Harlem Line.

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Who Uses Web Ticket? Metro-North & LIRR Online Discounts to be Discontinued

Yesterday the New York Post reports that Metro-North and LIRR may be phasing out yet another thing to save money: the discounts for buying tickets online. I have to admit though, I am curious: how many people have actually used Web Ticket? It has been around for a few years… I’ve used it a few times. But the one and only reason why I have is because of those discounts. Hell, they even market the whole thing by saying “Welcome to a convenient way to buy Metro-North train tickets for less.” Would people still use Web Ticket if there were no discounts? Anyone have thoughts on that? I don’t think I’d use it. There are quite a few people out there that need to buy their ticket from an actual person, they won’t use the machines. And certainly they wouldn’t use Web Ticket. But people that buy from Web Ticket probably have no issues buying from one of the many ticket machines available. And isn’t that more convenient? Buying the ticket when you need it, and not worry about the ticket taking a few days to come in the mail? The Mail and Ride system is separate, being subscribed and not having to buy the ticket on your own is convenient… and I imagine people would still use this service.

Another proposed change would effect returning tickets: a small fee will be charged, instead of being free. I suppose I can understand this, and so many places nowadays won’t accept returns period. Or they charge fees of an arm and a leg, and possibly your first-born child. Most people don’t even realize you can return tickets.

The possible elimination of off-peak fares remains the big change. Apparently more information will be revealed next week, after the MTA has their monthly board meeting.

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WTFopoly: New York City Subway Edition Monopoly Game

I am so eagerly waiting for my WTF subway shirt. But it hasn’t arrived yet. So in order to console myself, (and in my boredom) I created some more amusing subway WTF-ness. Now not only can Metro-North hate me, but NYC Transit (I still love you, I swear!) can hate me too! And maybe even Parker Brothers, who publish the game.




Instead of Community Chest (what the hell is that anyways?), I opted to replace it with the “Service Change.” For pieces, I figured it might be amusing to throw in a delightful subway rat, and even a pigeon in there. If you bought the “extended version” of the game, there would even be a special “limited edition” Sadie the Subway Cat piece. Gotta market that stuff! And everybody loves cats!

As for the properties in the game, and how I determined where each of them belong, I used the 2009 Subway Ridership Facts & Figures. Blue, green, and yellow properties (the highest value) are the top subway stations, system wide. Red represents Manhattan, Orange is Brooklyn, Magenta is Queens, Light Blue is the Bronx, and the top subway stations for each (not counting any stations previously used). The Purple spots are the bottom two stations in the subway system by use. Instead of the four railroads typically used in Monopoly, there are the other MTA entities: Metro-North, Long Island Rail Road, Long Island Bus, and the other half of NYC Transit, the bus system. There are no “utilities” but instead MTA Bridges, and MTA Tunnels.

Oh, and in order for you to get thrown in jail, you are caught with a copy of the master key.

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Wi-fi on Metro-North and Long Island Rail Road

The New York Post this morning reports that wi-fi may be coming to Metro-North and the Long Island Rail Road. The MTA is looking for developers to submit plans detailing how the service would be implemented and maintained. The plans include wi-fi in Grand Central Terminal, as well as Penn Station. The service must include a 24-hour help desk for commuters, and the service can’t be spotty at any part during the trip. Each company that submits a plan will detail whether the service will be free, or they intend to charge commuters. Plans must be submitted by May 17th. The MTA is possibly looking for this service to be installed by the end of the year.


“Real” online news sources have taught me that readers are stupid and require pictures. Often hilariously stupid and almost irrelevant pictures. Perhaps I can purchase one of these for riding on the train. That may be a step up from Crazy Cat Girl to Complete Crazy Nut Job.

Do me a favor though, and don’t tell my boss. The Post talked to a wonderful woman named Anna Greatbach, who said, “It’ll give me a great chance to keep in touch with… my employer on the way to work. That can be a huge advantage to businesses… when employees can be working for them outside the office.” Don’t give them any ideas!

I certainly would use the service if it existed… even if they charged a small fee. (Though of course it would be much better if it were free). This comes after Amtrak announced not too long ago that Acela trains would be having wi-fi. Amtrak’s wi-fi would be free, at least during the “introductory” period. The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) also offers wi-fi on their commuter trains, and that service is free. Hopefully those free services will serve as a precedent, and the MTA’s wi-fi will also be free. The only bad thing I predict about this wi-fi? I’d probably never again read a book on the train. And if you could play WoW on this wi-fi, I have a co-worker that would without a doubt begin riding the train again…

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The Fight for the Solari in New Haven

Despite growing up in Connecticut, about halfway in between Waterbury and Danbury, both New Haven line branches, I’ve only been on the New Haven line once. It was always easier to cross the state border and get on in Brewster, or Southeast (then Brewster North). I’ve never been to New Haven’s Union Station, although I’ve certainly driven by it. But I can certainly relate to the current New Haven train riders that are now fighting for the last Solari departure board in use on Metro-North. I don’t quite know why, but I really loved the Solari board that used to be in Grand Central when I was very young. I remember standing under the Solari that was for Amtrak in Penn Station many years ago when I took my first ride on Amtrak, going to Florida with my grandmother. I even remember the board in use also in Penn Station for the Long Island Rail Road, under which everyone would stand waiting for the information on their trains to flip up, and when it did, would race like marathon runners to their tracks. I remember all these, but today, they are all gone.

Most unfortunately, the New Haven Independent reported yesterday of the plans to remove the Solari board from New Haven’s Union station, and replace it with an LCD at some point next year. The article is full of comments, and people that want to save the board. A commenter going by the name of Erin brings up a good point:

My two cents: if the Solari sign is hard to maintain, use the $5 million it was going to cost for LED signs as a reserve fund to fix the Solari sign if ever needed.

I really do love these boards, and I would hate to see it get one more of them taken down. It ought to be kept for its historic nature, it is the last of its kind on Metro-North, and one of the few left in the United States. If the sign is going to get removed, I would love to see someone, like the Transit Museum, acquire it and put it on display. Considering the board is in Connecticut, however, I am unsure if it would even be considered for it to go to the New York Transit Museum, even though Metro-North is represented by the museum.

Though the fight is on to save the board. A group has been made on facebook called Save Solari, and there is also a page on SeeClickFix. As for me, I do believe a photography trip is in order, especially if the unfortunate happens, and the board is taken down.

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Cool Folding Bikes: Metro Bike

Honestly I don’t think I ever really thought about folding bikes before. I mean, I knew they existed, but I had never seen them before. That was until this guy started riding on my train. He always is wearing his bike helmet (though of course he could take that off on the train) and has with him a red folding bike. I always thought it was really cool. A folding bike actually comes quite in handy if you want to bike and ride the train. You are not required to have a bike permit on Metro North or the Long Island Rail Road if your bike folds up.

A few weeks ago when I had gone into the city I stopped at the annex of the Transit Museum in Grand Central, and I noticed that in the window they had two folding bikes as well, the Metro Bike. I snapped some photos, and only happened to come across them today as I was going through my old photos. So even though I know this may be old news for some people, I decided I’d post some of the pictures I took, and some from the web.

The bike isn’t too bad looking, though for me, a non-bike rider, the pricetag is a bit high at $299. But of course, folding bikes cost a bit more to begin with. Anyways, if you are interested in the Metro Bike, you can order it here.

For amusement, here is another Metro Bike. Or should I say, Metro Card Bike. Pretty cool, but I don’t think that folds up. :P
metrobike

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