Grand Central Madison, one year later: Embraced by some, reluctantly accepted by others

February 25, 2024

In October 2022, Jesse Pardo told Newsday that he hoped Grand Central Madison would be “life-changing” for the tens of thousands of Long Islanders, like him, working on Manhattan’s East Side.

But reviews from some of the Long Island Rail Road’s other 230,000 daily commuters remain mixed a year after the station opened. Many of the nearly 80,000 daily Grand Central Madison users praise the station for providing a modern alternative to Penn Station, while others still lament the loss of the commute they had known for decades.

“We’re still not overly happy about the fact that moving around a lot of the trains … left a few holes in the schedule,” said Alan Kleinberger, of East Meadow, upon arriving at Grand Central Madison during a recent trip with his wife. “We understand why it was necessary, but we have mixed feelings about that.”

Mixed feelings would still be an improvement over where rider sentiment was in the weeks after Grand Central Madison launched. The service that came with the opening was widely panned by riders for crowding, delays and complicated transfers. In the first rider survey after the opening, overall LIRR customer satisfaction — among all riders — plummeted 13 percentage points, from 81% to 68%. As the LIRR has made revisions to its service plan, it since has rebounded slightly to 70%.

But even those who acknowledge the benefits of Grand Central Madison question whether the MTA, and its customers, are getting their money’s worth, given the project’s price tag, which more than doubled from its original $4.3 billion budget.

“Eleven billion dollars is a tremendous amount of money for a project that is not transformative in the way other projects we could have spent $11 billion on might have been,” said Michael Smart, associate professor at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University.

Smart said subway extension projects, including on the Second Avenue line, would have given transit riders “more bang for the buck.”

“I think it’s a good project,” Smart said about East Side Access. “The fact that it exists today makes New York City a better place than if we didn’t have it. The benefits, however, really accrue to a relatively small number of people. For each person, the benefit is moderate.”

Newsday, 2/25/24

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