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Massive boring machines that excavated the space have been replaced by workers clanging, sawing and hammering against concrete and steel to create a concourse and two levels of platforms with 16 tracks in all.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


Climate change, corruption blamed for Venice flood devastation

Updated 27 min 12 sec ago

Climate change, corruption blamed for Venice flood devastation

  • The government in Rome was expected to declare a state of emergency at a cabinet meeting on Thursday
  • Dirty water was swirling around the marble tombs inside the 12th-century crypt of St. Mark’s Basilica, which suffered untold damage

VENICE: Much of Venice was left under water after the highest tide in 50 years ripped through the historic Italian city, beaching gondolas, trashing hotels and sending tourists fleeing through rapidly rising waters.

The government in Rome was expected to declare a state of emergency at a cabinet meeting on Thursday after Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte described the flooding as “a blow to the heart of our country.”

Officials blamed climate change while shopkeepers on the Grand Canal raged against those who have failed to protect the UNESCO city from the high tide.

They said corruption had repeatedly delayed a barrier protection system that could have prevented the disaster.

“The city is on its knees,” Venice mayor Luigi Brugnaro said in an interview with national broadcaster RAI.

“There’s widespread devastation,” he said in the famed St. Mark’s Square, which bore the brunt of the flooding. “In all likelihood the damage from last night runs into hundreds of millions of euros.”

The state of emergency for a natural disaster will allow the government to use “exceptional powers and means” to intervene more quickly, and Conte said his government was ready to allocate funds.

“The disaster that has struck Venice is a blow to the heart of our country,” Conte said at the scene. “It hurts to see the city so damaged, its artistic heritage threatened.”

St. Mark’s Square was calm on Wednesday evening, with just a smattering of tourists walking through the relatively dry square marked with occasional puddles.

Four Venetian friends who had gathered in the square, all wearing boots, said the relative quiet and lack of tourists was upside of an otherwise harrowing few days.

“We’ve never seen anything like it,” said Alvise, 19.

Earlier, tourists lugging heavy suitcases waded in thigh-high boots or barefoot through the submerged alleys, as gondola and water taxi drivers baled sewage-tainted water out of their trashed vessels.
Schools would stay closed on Thursday, authorities said.

Dirty water was swirling around the marble tombs inside the 12th-century crypt of St. Mark’s Basilica, which suffered untold damage when an unprecedented high tide swept through the city.

It was closed to tourists as were many other Venice highlights including the Fenice Theatre and the Ducal Palace.

“We said last year that the basilica had aged 20 years in a high tide. It risks having aged much more than that in this one,” said the building’s procurator Carlo Alberto Tesserin.

A 78-year old was killed by an electric shock as the waters poured into his home.

“We ask the government to help us, the costs will be high,” mayor Brugnaro tweeted. “These are the effects of climate change.”

“The future of Venice is at stake,” he warned. “We cannot live like this anymore.”

Environment Minister Sergio Costa blamed climate change and the “tropicalization” of violent rainfall and strong winds.

“This is what is happening more and more often in the Mediterranean,” Costa said on Facebook.

“Global warming will destroy our planet if we do not immediately reverse the direction.”

The exceptionally intense “acqua alta,” or high waters, peaked at 1.87 meters (six feet). Only once since records began in 1923 has the water crept even higher, reaching 1.94 meters in 1966.

“It was unbelievable. The water rose so quickly,” said resident Tiziano Collarin, 59, as he surveyed the damage.

“Windows were blown out, there are those who have lost everything,” he said as the flood alarm rang out to warn those in the canal city that the tide, which had receded somewhat overnight, was rising once again.

The fire brigade said it had carried out over 400 operations as well as laying on extra boats as water ambulances.

Around 160 firefighters were deployed to rescue people stranded on jetties and to recover boats broken free from their moorings.

President of the Veneto region Luca Zaia said 80 percent of the city had been submerged, causing “unimaginable damage” to the city, which has 50,000 residents but receives 36 million visitors each year.

A massive infrastructure project called MOSE has been under way since 2003 to protect the city, but it has been plagued by cost overruns, corruption scandals and delays.

The plan involves 78 gates that can be raised to protect Venice’s lagoon during high tides — but a recent attempt to test part of the barrier caused worrying vibrations and engineers discovered parts had rusted.

Outside historic Venice, the Lido and Pellestrina islands were also hard hit by flooding.