LIRR drivers, experts warned MTA of service issues ahead of chaotic Grand Central Madison rollout

Months before a chaotic rollout that enraged tens of thousands of riders, commuters, attorneys, transportation experts and elected officials at the Long Island Rail Road warned the MTA that planned service changes would be a disaster for riders.

The MTA went ahead with its plan anyway, largely unchanged.

Port Washington commuter Michael Gilbert pointed out that trains that normally depart from Penn Station instead depart from Grand Central after an event at Madison Square Garden “just really don’t make sense.”

Transportation consultant David Vieser questioned the LIRR’s forecast that nearly half of its drivers would use Grand Central instead of Penn. He predicted it would be closer to 30%. “I think you might be overwhelmed by the amount of people going there,” he said.


  • Commuters, traffic advocates and experts warned the Long Island Rail Road on the problems that would arise from their new service schedule for Grand Central Madison, which involved rerouting many Penn Station trains to the new terminal, changing departure times, and requiring more transfers.
  • Although some critics said they were ignoredthe LIRR said it has made some changes to its plan based on feedback, particularly regarding the Port Washington office.
  • The LIRR has already made some changes on its plan to handle complaints about overcrowding and delays, and said it will continue to monitor passenger and travel patterns with a view to making further adjustments if needed.

And Mayer Horn, a longtime transportation planner, warned that timed services in Jamaica are “an essential feature” of the LIRR and should not be eliminated as proposed.

“Send it back for further investigation,” Horn said of the draft LIRR schedules. “Now please get to work and make this work.”

These were just a few of the hundreds of comments made at a series of public hearings held by the Long Island Rail Road over the summer to gather input for a proposed revision of their service schedule to mark the opening of their new terminal in Manhattan, Grand Central Madison to allow .

Despite the warnings, the railroad made few changes to its draft timetables. And when the railroad pulled the trigger on the troubled plan on February 27, chaos ensued as tens of thousands of riders complained about longer commutes, dangerous crowding and inconvenient interchanges.

Responding to claims that the railroad failed to consider public input — including from several hundred speakers at three hearings in July and August — LIRR interim president Catherine Rinaldi noted that “the bulk” of the comments came from Port Washington drivers who were upset by the elimination of the Express, trains to and from Penn Station, and that the railroad responded by restoring some of them.

Janno Lieber, chairman and CEO of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, conceded Thursday that “further adjustments and improvements definitely need to be made” to schedules for Grand Central Madison — the spin-off of the $11.1 billion mega-Project East Side Access of the MTA, which took more than two decades to plan and build.

“As I said, we knew from day one that there would be a learning curve and we know there is still a long way to go to ensure our customers are really comfortable with the new schedules and operations” said dear called.

Although officials from the MTA and LIRR have suggested the problems that have arisen could not have been foreseen, many drivers, advocates, pundits and elected officials have predicted them but said they have been ignored.

“We all saw this coming”

“You should have seen this coming. I feel like we all saw this coming,” Assemble said. Gina Sillitti (D-Port Washington), who for months urged the LIRR to reconsider the roster. “There are definitely growing pains, but I think they really underestimated the number of people who would continue to use Penn and not use Grand Central.”

LIRR passengers board a train at Penn Station earlier this week. Passengers said they had warned the LIRR that the new timetables would cause overcrowding on some trains. Credit: Craig Ruttle

Rinaldi has conceded the new service schedule got off to a “bumpy” start and said planners are closely monitoring passenger and travel patterns train by train and making adjustments as necessary. Since Grand Central’s opening day, the LIRR has already added cars to 30 of the busiest trains, increased the frequency of Brooklyn shuttle trains, and rerouted some Grand Central trains back to Penn Station. Rinaldi said she expects the railroad to make further adjustments in the coming weeks.

“We react to what we see. We can’t do everything at once,” said Rinaldi.

But instead of having to fix problems, Ronkonkoma commuter Allen Wone said the railroad could have avoided them if it had listened to drivers like him. Wone said he had submitted several comments that the changed departure times of eastbound evening trains from Penn Station would cause commuters to miss trains and later trains to be overcrowded.

“I said, ‘This isn’t going to work. I can tell you that this will be a problem.’ And every one of those things that I see is a problem,” Wone said, adding that he received general replies from railroad officials who told him they were “looking into it.”

“The hardest thing is that in this case, it really looks like they didn’t listen to us,” Wone said. “If you had listened to us and actually followed through on what we said and made some adjustments, it would have been better.”

Horn, who has 60 years of transportation planning and engineering experience, also said he had not received a response to a detailed, three-page analysis of the “fatally flawed” plan he sent to LIRR and MTA executives in August. Noting that the changes in train stop patterns would increase commuting distances, it predicted that converting the Brooklyn branch to a shuttle service would be “much more inconvenient and even more onerous” for passengers.

“I saw what they were doing and I was absolutely blown away,” said Dix Hills’ Mayer. “What I said was, if that’s the only timetable the railroad can produce … they probably shouldn’t open Grand Central.”

Several critics of the plan have questioned how LIRR arrived at the assumptions it made, including the fact that 45% of Penn Station drivers would commute to Grand Central instead. LIRR officials said they used ridership surveys and geocoding to study commuter travel patterns, but Rinaldi acknowledged on Thursday that the last comprehensive study of rider origin and destination was conducted in 2014. She said: “An update was done post COVID 2021 to see if these results held up and they did.”

Rinaldi and Lieber also cautioned against drawing conclusions about the success or failure of the new service plan just two weeks after its launch. They found that although only about 30% of Manhattan commuters used Grand Central Madison in the first few days, increasing numbers of passengers have been migrating to the new station, with that number rising to almost 40% during some peak hours.

“We remain confident that we are on the right track for Long Island,” Lieber said. “We’re gradually moving towards an era where the system will achieve its goals and perform much better.”

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