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
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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Massive boring machines that excavated the space have been replaced by workers clanging, sawing and hammering against concrete and steel to create a concourse and two levels of platforms with 16 tracks in all.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.”


New Quebec law stresses migrants’ skills, thousands must reapply

Updated 16 min 4 sec ago
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New Quebec law stresses migrants’ skills, thousands must reapply

  • The law is similar to a proposed plan from US President Donald Trump that would shift his country’s visa system from family-based immigration toward bringing in more skilled workers
  • The law will attempt to more closely match the skills offered by would-be immigrants with the needs of the labor market in Quebec

MONTREAL: The Quebec provincial legislature on Sunday approved a controversial immigration bill that will replace a first-come, first-served standard for accepting migrants with one tied to an applicants’ skills.
The law is similar to a proposed plan from US President Donald Trump that would shift his country’s visa system from family-based immigration toward bringing in more skilled workers.
The law will attempt to more closely match the skills offered by would-be immigrants with the needs of the labor market in Quebec, Canada’s second most-populous province.
Under the new law, some 18,000 applications now on file will be shredded, affecting as many as 50,000 people, many of whom already live in the province.
The 18,000 existing applicants will have to restart the immigration process.
The provincial government promised to expedite processing of their new applications, saying qualified workers would have answers within six months rather than the current 36 months.
The 62-to-42 vote on the bill took place around 4 am (0800 GMT) at the end of a marathon session convened by the governing center-right Coalition Avenir Quebec, immigration minister Simon Jolin-Barrette announced on Twitter.
“We are modifying the immigration system in the public interest because we have to ensure we have a system which meets the needs of the labor market,” Jolin-Barrette told the National Assembly.
All three opposition parties opposed the measure, calling it “inhuman” and saying the government did not justify dropping the 18,000 pending applications.
“Honestly, I don’t think this bill will be seen positively in history,” Liberal Party MP Dominique Anglade said, according to the Montreal Gazette. “It’s the image of Quebec which gets tarnished.”
Premier Francois Legault’s government resorted to a special parliamentary procedure to limit debate over the proposal.
His party won power in October with a promise to slash by more than 20 percent the number of immigrants and refugees arriving each year in Quebec.
The assembly reconvened on Sunday and after sometimes-acrimonious debate passed a bill banning the wearing of religious symbols by public servants including police officers, judges, lawyers, prison guards and teachers.
However the new law will only apply to new recruits, with existing employees unaffected.
The proposal, also backed by Legault, puts the premier at odds with the multiculturalism advocated by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.