Deep underground, new NYC train hub slowly takes shape

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The super-pricey railroad hub is taking shape, dogged by billion-dollar cost overruns and a decade of delays, but still impressive as an engineering marvel. (AP)
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For years, critics have pounced on unforeseen construction they say has been mired in politics, bureaucracy and disorganization. (AP)
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The new commuter rail hub will accommodate more than 150,000 passengers a day. (AP)
Updated 28 December 2018

Deep underground, new NYC train hub slowly takes shape

  • The aim is to create a new, direct route for riders of the Long Island Rail Road to and from Manhattan’s East Side, alleviating traffic
  • East Side Access has been dogged by massive cost overruns and delays since construction began nearly a dozen years ago

NEW YORK: Deep in the bedrock 15 stories below the famous Grand Central Terminal, a cavernous construction site is slowly, and expensively, taking shape as a commuter rail hub that will accommodate more than 150,000 passengers a day.
East Side Access has been dogged by massive cost overruns and delays since construction began nearly a dozen years ago. But Gov. Andrew Cuomo has brought in a manager who is focused on bringing the $11 billion project to completion by a new deadline in four years.
“We can all see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel,” said Janno Lieber, who came to the state-run Metropolitan Transit Authority a year ago, drawing upon his private-sector experience planning the rebuilding of skyscrapers around the World Trade Center.
Massive boring machines that excavated the space have been replaced by workers clanging, sawing and hammering against concrete and steel to create a concourse and two levels of platforms with 16 tracks in all.
The aim is to create a new, direct route for riders of the Long Island Rail Road to and from Manhattan’s East Side, alleviating traffic that currently flows through the chaotically congested Penn Station, on the island’s West Side.
On a recent morning, MTA officials led a walking and stair-climbing tour to showcase progress on the unfinished, cavern-like terminal with ceilings as high as six stories. Dozens of high-speed escalators are being built to lead down to a 350,000-square-foot LIRR concourse with marble already laid on its walls and space reserved for retail shops and dining areas.
Below the concourse are two levels, each with eight tracks and two platforms. It will be the hub for 8 miles of new tunnels blasted and drilled out from 400 million-year-old bedrock, winding their way under Park Avenue and the East River and on to Queens and Long Island.
It is all focused on alleviating some of the pain for about 150,000 LIRR commuters who must somehow get to and from Grand Central every day. Currently, they have to joust, push and elbow their way to platforms at crowded Penn Station, which also accommodates Amtrak and New Jersey Transit trains, adding up to 40 minutes to their daily commutes.
For years, critics have pounced on unforeseen construction they say has been mired in politics, bureaucracy and disorganization.
MTA officials have blamed such factors as the difficulty of carving through the bedrock, the need to work around an active transportation system, and the challenge of carting away 75,000 truckloads of rock, mud and other refuse. Much of it was used as fill in parks and other projects.
But there are other reasons for work moving at a snail’s pace, says Kathryn Wylde, chief executive officer and president of the Partnership for New York City, a business community group.
The MTA has 75,000 employees, including managers, she said, and the result is a massive bureaucracy with multiple agencies that all want to be involved in decisions, no matter how small. In an effort to speed things up, the governor has become the de facto “project manager” of East Side Access, Wylde said.
Cuomo brought in Lieber and other private-sector and government professionals who are allowing contractors more flexibility in dealing with details or unexpected circumstances, Wylde said.
“The challenge is, can they move the bureaucracy to get things done?” she asked.
Lieber says he is focused on hitting the Dec. 31, 2022, deadline.
“We now, at the MTA, are determined,” he said. “We’re changing the culture of construction management and development at the MTA.”


Kabul expects US to share peace deal details

Updated 25 August 2019

Kabul expects US to share peace deal details

  • Afghan government excluded from all rounds of talks
  • Washington is keen for the deal to be signed before Sept. 1

KABUL: Afghanistan said on Saturday it expects the US to share details of a peace deal with the Taliban before it is signed, having been excluded from all rounds of talks.

US Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad has led diplomats through at least nine rounds of talks with members of the armed group in Qatar since last summer.

A deal could pave the way for a complete withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan and end almost two decades of fighting in the country.

But President Ashraf Ghani’s government has been left out of the talks because of objections from the Taliban, which views his regime as a puppet of the West.

The current round of discussions has been described as crucial because, according to present and former Taliban officials, both parties are expected to soon sign a deal.

“The Afghan government expects that it (agreement) will be shared before it is finalized for signing,” Ghani’s chief spokesman, Sediq Seddiqi, told Arab News.

He said Kabul could not say when the deal would be signed, and that troops’ departure would be condition-based and not based on a timeline set by the Taliban.

“Well, force reduction will be based on conditions, the terrorist threat is potential and we must fight it together for our common safety and in order to prevent any major terrorist attacks on the world’s capitals. 

“We must deny terrorists from holding free ground in Afghanistan and turning it into a safe haven. The presence of some forces, and continued and meaningful support to the Afghan security and defense forces, will be key to our success.”

The Taliban wants all foreign troops to leave Afghanistan within a set timetable and, in return, the group says it will not allow Afghan soil to be used against any foreign country or US interests.

Afghan and US officials have warned against a total pullout of troops because, they argue, the Taliban will try to regain power by force and the country will slide back into chaos after troops leave.

But some say a continued presence will prolong the conflict, as neighboring powers oppose the presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan and see it as a trigger for extremism.

The Taliban could not be reached immediately for comment about media reports, which cited the group’s former and current officials as saying that a deal with Washington was imminent.

“We have an agreement on a timeframe for the withdrawal,” Suhail Shaheen, the Taliban’s spokesman for the Qatar talks, told Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper. “Discussions are now focused on its implementation mechanism. We have had general discussions today,” he added, referring to current discussions in Doha. “Tomorrow, we shall have discussions on the implementation part.”

Another Taliban spokesman said the top US military commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Scott Miller, had taken part in the current talks which, according to some observers, showed the importance of the discussions and the possibility of a final deal.

Washington is keen for the deal to be signed before Sept. 1, weeks ahead of a crucial and controversial presidential poll in Afghanistan. 

Ghani, who is standing for re-election, says the polls are his priority. Some politicians believe that peace will have to come first and that the vote will have to be delayed.

Abdul Satar Saadat, who served as an adviser to Ghani, said the Taliban and US were racing against time as any delay would damage trust between the two and prompt the Taliban to fight for another five years.

“Because of this both sides are doing their utmost to sign the deal, delay the polls and begin an intra-Afghan dialogue like Oslo,” he told Arab News.