The Hempstead Line

This is a writeup I prepared for modernization of the Hempstead Branch of the LIRR in the same style as our ongoing Regional Rail line by line appendices for Boston at TransitMatters, see e.g. here for the Worcester Line. This will be followed up in a few days by a discussion of the writing process and what it means for the advocacy sphere.

Regional rail for New York: the Hempstead Line

New York has one of the most expansive commuter rail networks in the world. Unfortunately, its ridership underperforms such peer megacities as London, Paris, Tokyo, Osaka, and Seoul. Even Berlin has almost twice as much ridership on its suburban rail network, called S-Bahn, as the combined total of the Long Island Railroad, Metro-North, and New Jersey Transit. This is a draft proposal of one component of how to modernize New York’s commuter rail network.

The core of modernization is to expand the market for commuter rail beyond its present-day core of 9-to-5 suburban commuters who live in the suburbs and work in Manhattan. This group already commutes by public transportation at high rates, but drives everywhere except to Manhattan. To go beyond this group requires expanding off-peak service to the point of making the commuter railroads like longer-range, higher-speed Queens Boulevard express trains, with supportive fares and local transit connections.

The LIRR Hempstead Line is a good test case for beginning with such a program. It is fortunate that on this line the capital and operating costs of modernization are low, and service would be immediately useful within the city as well as dense inner suburbs. With better service, the line would still remain useful to 9-to-5 commuters – in fact it would become more useful through higher speed and more flexibility for office workers who sometimes stay at the office until late. But in addition, people could take it for ordinary transit trips, including work trips to job centers in Queens or on Long Island, school trips, or social gatherings with friends in the region.

The Hempstead Line

The Hempstead Line consists of the present-day LIRR Hempstead Branch and a branch to be constructed to East Garden City. The Hempstead Branch today is 34 km between Penn Station and Hempstead, of which 24 km lie within New York City and 10 lie within Long Island.

Most trains on the branch today do not serve Penn Station because of the line’s low ridership, but instead divert to the Atlantic Branch to Downtown Brooklyn, and Manhattan-bound passengers change at Jamaica to any of the branches that run through to Midtown. Current frequency is an hourly train off-peak, and a train every 15-20 minutes for a one-hour peak. Peak trains do not all run local, but rather one morning peak train runs express from Bellerose to Penn Station.

Ridership is weak, in fact weaker than on any other line except West Hempstead and the diesel tails of Oyster Bay, Greenport, and Montauk. In the 2014 station counts, the sum of boardings at all stations was 7,000 a weekday, and the busiest stations were Floral Park with 1,500 and Hempstead with 1,200. But commute volumes from the suburbs served by the Hempstead Branch to the city are healthy, about 7,500 to Manhattan and another 10,500 to the rest of the city, many near LIRR stations in Brooklyn and Queens. Moreover, 13,500 city residents work in those suburbs, and they disproportionately live near the LIRR, but very few ride the train. Finally, the majority of the line’s length is within the city, but premium fares and low frequency make it uncompetitive with the subway, and therefore ridership is weak.

Despite the weak ridership, the line is a good early test case for commuter rail modernization in New York. Most of it lies in the city, paralleling the overcrowded Queens Boulevard Line of the subway. As explained below, there is also a healthy suburban job market, which not only attracts many city reverse-commuters today, but is likely to attract more if public transportation options are better.

Destinations

The stations of the Hempstead Line already have destinations that people can walk to, so that if service is improved as in the following outline, people can ride the LIRR there. These include the following:

  • JFK, accessible via Jamaica Station.
  • Adelphi University, midway between Garden City and Nassau Boulevard, walkable to both.
  • York University, fairly close to Jamaica and very close to a proposed Merrick Boulevard infill station.
  • Primary and secondary schools near stations within the city, where students often have long commutes.
  • Penn Station as an intercity station – passengers from Queens and Long Island traveling to Boston, Philadelphia, and Washington would benefit from faster and more frequent trains.
  • Many jobs near stations in Queens and on Long Island as described below.

Jobs

Within a kilometer of all stations except Penn Station, there is a total of 182,000 jobs in Queens and 50,000 on Long Island. The spine of the Main Line through Queens closely parallels the overcrowded Queens Boulevard express tracks, and in the postwar era was proposed for a Queens Super-Express subway line. But on Long Island, too, it serves the edge city cluster of Garden City and the city center of Hempstead. All of those jobs should generate healthy amounts of reverse-peak ridership and ridership terminating short of Manhattan.

StationJobs within 1 km
Penn Station522904
Queensboro Plaza (@ QB)62266
Sunnyside Jct (@ 43th)23655 (with QBP: 78219)
Woodside14409 (with Sunnyside: 36469)
Triboro Jct (@ 51st Ave)14339 (Elmhurst Hospital)
Forest Hills21926
Kew Gardens17855
Jamaica19794
Merrick Blvd17020 (with Jamaica: 29260)
Hollis2918
Queens Village4758
Bellerose3014 (with QV: 7735)
Floral Park5389 (with Bellerose: 6776)
Stewart Manor3203
Nassau Blvd859
Garden City9643
Country Life Press5404 (with GC: 10865)
Hempstead10896 (with CLP: 15823)
East Garden City (@Oak)12461
Nassau Center (@Endo)6352 (with EGC: 17904)

Required infrastructure investment

The LIRR has fairly high quality of infrastructure. Every single station has high platforms, permitting level boarding to trains with doors optimized for high-throughput stations. Most of the system is electrified with third rail, including the entirety of the Hempstead Branch. High-frequency regional rail can run on this system without any investment. However, to maximize utility and reliability, some small capital projects are required.

Queens Interlocking separation

Queens Interlocking separates the Hempstead Line from the Main Line. Today, the junction is flat: two two-track lines join together to form a four-track line, but trains have to cross opposing traffic at-grade. The LIRR schedules trains around this bottleneck, but it makes the timetable more fragile, especially at rush hour, when trains run so frequently that there are not enough slots for recovering from delays.

The solution is to grade-separate the junction. The project should also be bundled with converting Floral Park to an express station with four tracks and two island platforms; local trains should divert to the shorter Hempstead Line and all express trains should continue on the longer Main Line to Hicksville and points east. Finding cost figures for comparable projects is difficult, but Harold Interlocking was more complex and cost $250 million to grade-separate, even with a large premium for New York City projects.

Turnout modification

Trains switch from one track to another at a junction using a device called a switch or turnout. There are two standards for turnouts: the American standard, dating to the 1890s, in which the switch is simpler to construct but involves an abrupt change in azimuth, called a secant switch; and the German standard from 1925, adopted nearly globally, in which the switch tapers to a thin blade to form what is called a tangential switch.

Passengers on a train that goes on a secant turnout are thrown sideways. To maintain adequate safety, trains are required to traverse such switches very slowly, at a speed comparable to 50 mm of cant deficiency on the curve of the switch. In contrast, German and French turnout standards permit 100 mm on their tangential switches; the double cant deficiency allows a nominal 40% increase in speed on a switch of given number (such as an American #10 vs. a German 1:10 or a French 0.1, all measuring the same frog angle). The real speed increase is usually larger because the train sways less, which creates more space in constrained train station throats.

With modern turnouts, Penn Station’s throat, currently limited to 10 15 mph (16 24 km/h), could be sped up to around 50 km/h, saving every train around 2 minutes just in the last few hundred meters into the station. Installation typically can be done in a few weekends, at a cost of around $200,000 per physical switch, which corresponds to high single-digit millions for a station as large as Penn. Amtrak has even taken to installing tangential switches on some portions of the Northeast Corridor, though not at the stations; unfortunately, instead of building these switches locally at local costs, it pays about $1.5 million per unit, even though in Germany and elsewhere in Europe installation costs are similar to those of American secant switches.

Speed

In addition to modifying the physical switches as outlined above, the LIRR should pursue speedups through better use of the rolling stock and better timetabling. In fact, the trains currently running are capable of 0.9 m/s^2 acceleration, but are derated to 0.45 without justification, which increases the time cost of every stop by about 30 seconds. In addition, LIRR timetables are padded about 20% over the technical running time, even taking into account the slow Penn Station throat and the derating. A more appropriate padding factor is 7%, practiced throughout Europe even on very busy mainlines, such as the Zurich station throat, where traffic is comparable to that of the rush hour LIRR.

To get to 7%, it is necessary to design the infrastructure so that delays do not propagate. Grade-separating Queens Interlocking is one key component, but another is better timetabling. Complex timetables require more schedule padding, because each train has a unique identity, and so if it is late, other trains on the line cannot easily substitute for it. In contrast, subway-style service with little branching is the easiest to schedule, because passengers do not distinguish different trains; not for nothing, the 7 and L trains, which run without sharing tracks with other lines, tend to be the most punctual and were the first two to implement CBTC signaling.

In the case of the LIRR, achieving this schedule requires setting things up so that all Hempstead Line trains run local on the Main Line to Penn Station, and all trains from Hicksville and points east run express to Grand Central. Atlantic and Babylon Branch trains can run to Atlantic Terminal, or to the local tracks to Penn, depending on capacity; Babylon can presumably run to Penn while the Far Rockaway and Long Beach Lines, already separated from the rest of the system, can run to Downtown Brooklyn.

Infill stations

Within the city, commuter rail station spacing is sparse. The reason is that the frequency and fares are uncompetitive. Historically, the LIRR had tight spacing in the city, with nine more stations on the Main Line within city limits, but it closed most of them in the 1920s and 30s as the subway opened to Queens. The subway offered very high frequency for a 5-cent fare compared with the LIRR’s 20-to-30-cent fares. Today, the fares remain unequal, but this can be changed, as can the off-peak frequency. In that case, it becomes useful to open some additional infill stops.

The cost of an infill station is unclear. There is a wide range; Boston and Philadelphia both open infill stations with high platforms for about $15-25 million each, and the European range is lower. Urban infill stations in constrained locations like Sunnyside can be more expensive, but not by more than a factor of 2. In the past, LIRR and Metro-North infill stops, such as those for Penn Station Access, have gone up to the three figures, and it is critical to prevent such costs from recurring.

Queensboro Plaza

This station is already part of the Sunnyside Yards master plan, by the name Sunnyside, and is supposed to begin construction immediately after the completion of the East Side Access project. This proposal gives it a different name only because there is another station called Sunnyside (see below).

Located at the intersection of the Main Line with Queens Boulevard, this would be a local station for trains heading toward Penn Station. It is close to the Queensboro Plaza development, which has the tallest building in the city outside Manhattan and more jobs than anywhere in the Outer Boroughs save perhaps Downtown Brooklyn. Within a kilometer of the station there are more than 60,000 jobs already, and this is before planned redevelopment of Sunnyside Yards.

Sunnyside Junction

The opening of East Side Access and Penn Station Access will create a zone through Sunnyside Yards where trains will run in parallel. LIRR trains will run toward either Penn Station or Grand Central, and Metro-North trains will run toward Penn Station.

It is valuable to build an express station to permit passengers to transfer. This way, passengers from the Penn Station Access stations in the Bronx could connect to Grand Central, and passengers from farther out on the New Haven Line who wish to go to Penn Station Grand Central could board a train to either destination, improving the effective frequency. Likewise, LIRR passengers could change to a different destination across the platform at Sunnyside, improving their effective frequency.

The area is good for a train station by itself as well. It has 24,000 jobs within a kilometer, more than any other on the line except Penn Station and Queensboro Plaza. There is extensive overlap with the 1 km radius of Queensboro Plaza, but even without the overlap, there are 16,000 jobs, almost as many as within 1 km of Jamaica, and this number will rise with planned redevelopment of the Yards.

Triboro Junction

This station is at 51st Avenue, for future transfers to the planned Triboro RX orbital. Population and job density here are not high by city standards: the 14,000 jobs include 5,000 at Elmhurst Hospital on Broadway, which is at the periphery of the 1 km radius and is poorly connected to the railroads on the street network. The value of the station is largely as a transfer for passengers from Astoria and Brooklyn.

Merrick Blvd

About 1.5 km east of Jamaica, Merrick Boulevard catches the eastern end of the Jamaica business district. It also connects to one of Eastern Queens’ primary bus corridors, and passengers connecting from the buses to Manhattan would benefit from being able to transfer outside the road traffic congestion around Jamaica Station.

The East Garden City extension

The Hempstead Branch was historically part of the Central Railroad of Long Island. To the west, it continued to Flushing, which segment was abandoned in 1879 as the LIRR consolidated its lines. To the east, it continued through Garden City and what is now Levittown and ran to Babylon on a segment the LIRR still uses sporadically as the Central Branch. The right-of-way between Garden City and Bethpage remains intact, and it is recommended that it be reactivated at least as far as East Garden City, with an East Garden City station at Oak Street and a Nassau Center station at Endo Boulevard. This is for two reasons.

Jobs

Long Island is unusually job-poor for a mature American suburb. This comes partly from the lack of historic town centers like Stamford or Bridgeport on the New Haven Line or White Plains and Sleepy Hollow in Westchester. More recently, it is also a legacy of Robert Moses, who believed in strict separation of urban jobs from suburban residences and constructed the parkway system to feed city jobs. As a result of both trends, Long Island has limited job sprawl.

However, East Garden City specifically is one of two exceptions, together with Mineola: it has a cluster with 18,000 jobs within 1 km of either of the two recommended stations. Reopening the branch to East Garden City would encourage reverse-commuting by train.

Demand balance

Opening a second branch on the Hempstead Line helps balance demand in two separate ways. First, the population and job densities in Queens are a multiple of those of Long Island and always will be, and therefore the frequency of trains that Queens would need, perhaps a local train every 5 minutes all day, would grossly overserve Hempstead. At the distance of Hempstead or East Garden City, only a train every 10-15 minutes (in a pinch, even every 20) is needed, and so having two branches merging for city service is desirable.

And second, having frequent Hempstead Line local service forces all of the trains on the outer tracks of the Main Line in Queens to run local, just as the subway has consistent local and express tracks. The LIRR gets away with mixing different patterns on the same track because local frequency is very low; at high frequency, it would need to run like the subway. Because passengers from outer suburbs should get express trains, it is valuable to build as much infrastructure as possible to help feed the local tracks, which would be the less busy line at rush hour.

Train access and integration

Today, the LIRR primarily interfaces with cars. LIRR capital spending goes to park-and-rides, and it is expected that riders should drive to the most convenient park-and-ride, even on a different branch from the one nearest to their home. This paradigm only fills trains at rush hour to Manhattan, and is not compatible with integrated public transportation. In working-class suburbs like Hempstead, many take cheaper, slower buses. Instead, the system should aim for total integration at all levels, to extend the city and its relative convenience of travel without the car into suburbia.

Fare integration

Fares must be mode-neutral. This means that, just as within the city the fares on the buses and subways are the same, everywhere else in the region a ticket should be valid on all modes within a specified zone. Within the city, all trains and buses should charge the same fares, with free intermodal transfers.

Such a change would entice city residents to switch from the overcrowded E and F trains to the LIRR, which is by subway standards empty: the average Manhattan-bound morning rush hour LIRR train has only 85% of its seats occupied. In fact, if every E or F rider switches to the LIRR, which of course will not happen as they don’t serve exactly the same areas, then the LIRR’s crowding level, measured in standees per m^2 of train area, will be lower than that of the E and F today.

In the suburbs, the fares can be higher than in the city, in line with the higher operating costs over longer distances. But the fares must likewise be mode-neutral, with free transfers. For example, within western Nassau County, fares could be set at 1.5 times subway fare, which means that all public transit access between the city and Hempstead would cost $190 monthly or $4.00 one-way, by any mode: NICE bus, the LIRR, or a bus-train combo.

This would be a change from today’s situation, where premium-price trains only attract middle-class riders, while the working class rides buses. In fact, the class segregation today is such that in the morning rush hour, trains run full to Manhattan and empty outbound and NICE buses, which carry working-class reverse-commuters, are the opposite. Thus, half of each class’s capacity is wasted.

Bus redesign and bus access

Instead of competing with the trains, buses should complement them, just as they do within the city with the subway. This means that the NICE system should be designed along the following lines:

  • More service perpendicular to the LIRR, less parallel to it.
  • Bus nodes at LIRR stations, enabling passengers to connect.
  • Timed transfers: at each node the buses should arrive and depart on the same schedule, for example on the hour every 20 minutes, to allow passengers to change with minimal hassle. This includes timed transfers with the trains if they run every 15 minutes or worse, but if they run more frequently, passengers can make untimed connections as they do in the city.

Bike access

Urban and suburban rail stations should include bike parking. Bikes take far less space than cars, and thus bike park-and-ride stations in the Netherlands can go up to thousands of stalls while still maintaining a walkable urban characteristic.

In many countries, including the United States on the West Coast, systems encourage riders to bring their bikes with them on the train. However, in New York it’s preferably to adopt the Dutch system, in which bikes are not allowed on trains, and instead stations offer ample bike parking. This is for two reasons. First, New York is so large and has such a rush hour capacity crunch that conserving capacity on board each train is important. And second, cultures that bring bikes on trains, such as Northern California, arise where people take trains to destinations that are not walkable from the station; but in New York, passengers already connect to the subway for the last mile from Penn Station to their workplaces, and thus bikes are not necessary.

Train scheduling

Trains should run intensively, with as little distinction between the peak and off-peak as is practical. At most, the ratio between peak and off-peak service should be 2:1. Already, the LIRR’s high ratio, 4:1 on the Hempstead Branch, means that trains accumulate at West Side Yard at the end of the morning peak. The costs of raising off-peak service to match peak service are fairly low to begin with, but they are especially low when the alternative is to expand a yard in Midtown Manhattan, paying Midtown Manhattan real estate prices.

For an early timetable in which the Babylon Branch provides extra frequency in the city, the following frequencies are possible:

SegmentPeakOff-peak
Penn Station-Garden City5 minutes10 minutes
Garden City-Hempstead10 minutes20 minutes
Garden City-Nassau Center10 minutes20 minutes

A more extensive service, with all LIRR South Side diverting to a separate line from the Main Line, perhaps the Atlantic Branch to Downtown Brooklyn, requires an increase in off-peak urban service:

SegmentPeakOff-peak
Penn Station-Garden City5 minutes5 minutes
Garden City-Hempstead10 minutes10 minutes
Garden City-Nassau Center10 minutes10 minutes

Further increases in peak service may be warranted for capacity reasons if there is more redevelopment than currently planned or legal by city and suburban zoning codes.

Travel times

With rerating the LIRR equipment to its full acceleration rate, a fix to the Penn Station throat, and standard European schedule padding, the following timetable is feasible:

StationTime (current)Time (future, M7)Time (Euro-EMU)
Penn Station00:0000:0000:00
Queensboro Plaza00:0400:04
Sunnyside Jct00:0600:06
Woodside00:1000:0900:09
Triboro Jct00:1200:11
Forest Hills00:1500:1500:13
Kew Gardens00:1700:1700:15
Jamaica00:2200:1900:17
Merrick Blvd00:2100:19
Hollis00:2900:2400:21
Queens Village00:3100:2600:23
Bellerose00:3500:2800:25
Floral Park00:3800:3000:27
Stewart Manor00:4100:3200:29
Nassau Blvd00:4400:3400:31
Garden City00:4600:3600:33
Country Life Press00:4900:3800:35
Hempstead00:5200:4000:37
East Garden City00:3800:35
Nassau Center00:4000:37

Providing peak service every 10 minutes to each of Hempstead and Nassau Center requires 20 trainsets, regardless of whether they are existing LIRR equipment or faster, lighter European trainsets.

51 comments

  1. Telso

    The Dutch actually only ban full bikes on trains during peak (0630-0900 and 1600-1830, M-F, Sept-June, excl. holidays). Otherwise, you can buy a day ticket for € 7,50. They also allow folded folding bikes for free at all times. This seems like the right system for NYC, assuming you can assure safe bike parking, as you don’t expect complete crowding off-peak, and, like the Dutch, individual trains can refuse service if full.

    As well, many Dutch people use a bike for last mile at both ends, as it’s often much faster than walking or transit (with high water tables, most transit is at the surface, and slow in old cities). Bike share (OV Fiets) works for last mile for occasional trips, while storing a €50 beat up bike at the station near your work is much cheaper than €7,50 a day. And while Manhattan’s offers good walking and transit connections, if the region ever gets good RER-like service people are going to be wanting to take off-peak trips between suburbs, which will need either safe bike parking and bike share at both ends, something I don’t expect for a while. Maybe $9 a day is a little high for now, and $5 lifetime is absurd, but may as well let people take bikes on evenings and weekends, and probably midday, rather than ban them entirely.

  2. adirondacker12800

    but are derated to 0.45 without justification
    It has something to do with the pesky electricity they use, circuit breakers and not making the lights dim all over the Island. Lights dimming all over the Island is an exaggeration. Those vile electrical engineers size the circuit breakers to break the circuit before too much power is drawn. Silly them.

    • Jacob

      Circuit breakers are sized not for power consumption but to avoid overheating the wires — heat loss is proportional to the square of current. It seems implausible to me that the rails themselves would overheat given high current draw — so are you saying this is a substation modernization question? Do you have a cite?

      • adirondacker12800

        Makes me wonder why conductors would overheat…………….
        The can overheat allllllllllllll the way back to the generators and even inside it.

    • Alon Levy

      But the derating is of initial acceleration, not maximum power drawn. Above 100 km/h, the LIRR draws full 800 kW/car when accelerating; the derating only cuts this figure at lower speed.

        • Alon Levy

          As in when it’s accelerating from 100 km/h, whereas without the derating it’d be drawing full power starting around 50 km/h.

          • adirondacker12800

            Hmm, they’ve done all sorts of magical things with electronics these days. They’ve managed to wrestle the starting current the motors on the local sucks up when starting, down to close to 1 times the running current? Hmm. I’m assuming some of these trains are going to be coming to a full stop to let passengers on and off, now and then. And that having the expresses accelerate for longer periods at maximum isn’t going to make the circuit breakers object when the local starts. And more of them to achieve four times an hour kind of service levels.

      • Tom M

        Trying to remember my electrical engineering 101 – if I recall correctly, electric motor torque is proportional to current, with power the product of torque and motor shaft speed. So perhaps at low speeds (high torque, low shaft speed) the EMU acceleration is reduced to keep the current draw within system bounds? Again spit balling here with many basic assumptions and LIRR should be able to provide a logical justification why.

        • adirondacker12800

          What’s the current when the rotor isn’t moving?
          Modern trains use VVFDs. Who knows what the drive electronics are doing. Or how that appears at the third rail when the rotors aren’t moving. There are compromises so the train don’t pop the circuit breakers. Put a lot more demand on it it’s unlikely to work out well.

          • Tom M

            Yeah maybe, maybe not. But back to Alon’s original point…why? LIRR should have a defensible reason that isn’t based on outdated assumptions, analysis etc.

            Assuming they are able to articulate their reasoning, then it follows, so what does it take to change it.

  3. Onux

    “ The Hempstead Branch today is 34 km between Penn Station and Hempstead, of which 24 km lie within New York City and 10 lie within Long Island.”

    I bring this up because if you are writing a policy document it pays to be accurate: 24 km lie in NYC and 10 km in Nassau County. All but the first 2 km are on Long Island.

    • Chas S

      It is much more common for “long island” to refer to the counties Nassau and Suffolk and not the geographical designation which includes Brooklyn and Queens. it’s a lot more meaningful.

  4. Tom M

    I’m curious Alon how much traction you ever get from LIRR or similar authorities on your proposals like this? Do they ever engage at all, or just go full ostrich?

  5. Onux

    “ passengers from farther out on the New Haven Line who wish to go to Penn Station could board a train to either destination, improving the effective frequency.”

    Shouldn’t this be that passengers on the NH line who want to go to *Grand Central* can get on a train to either destination? Someone who boards a NH line train to GC will not pass through Sunnyside, but on a PSA train they would and could transfer to an LIRR train to reach GC through ESA, correct?

    • adirondacker12800

      trains can run to Atlantic Terminal
      Only under extraordinary circumstances after East Side Access is opened. Everybody to and from Brooklyn is going to be changing trains in Jamaica. On the new platform they built for that service.

    • Tunnelvision

      That could happen as PSA trains will run through Harold meaning you could get MNR trains into LIRR GCT but that I don’t believe has planned for. It all depends on whether the final Harold interlocking once the West Bound by pass and East Bound reroute to grade separate Amtrak and LIRR even permit a link to ESA. From memory they don’t but I’m happy to be proven wrong.

      • adirondacker12800

        Supposedly the 63rd Street Tunnel is too small for pantographs, trains from the New Haven line wouldn’t fit in the tunnel. Why they would do something that bizarre is a different question. Or why someone on the New Haven line would go to Queens to change trains to get to Grand Central when they could just take a train that goes to Grand Central directly.

        • Tunnelvision

          Good point. It is too small, even the M7’s barely fit. Misroute protection was a rather tricky issue to deal with to ensure nothing too large gets in there, like a LIRR bi level!! The invert is being shaved to accommodate the track system anyway and we looked at dropping it more to increase clearances but the immersed tube sections under the river did not allow that, or rather they could have for an extra $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$ that no one was prepared to spend plus its rather risky taking the invert out of an ITT. And yes I know the project is over budget but the scope has not actually changed that much, but the schedule sure has and time = money especially in NY.

          • Alon Levy

            For what it’s worth, Robert Hale poked around and it turns out that British EMUs with pans do fit into the tunnels, even with floors raised to match the American standard. American-designed trains are just not used to dealing with loading gauge restrictions.

          • adirondacker12800

            The gap would be too large. Which doesn’t answer why they would send trains from the New Haven line through Queens to get to Grand Central when New Haven Line trains already have a way to get to Grand Central.
            Which LIRR trains get canceled to do that, even if they could?
            Attempt to keep two or three things in mind at a time. From a Long Islander’s viewpoint East Side Access gets them to destinations on the East Side faster. From the viewpoint of someone who wants to get to the West Side, they aren’t in Penn Station. Or on the E train or changing subway trains in Times Square. Which also means they can then do things like send New Haven line trains to Penn Station. Which keeps New Haven Line passengers out of Grand Central. And keeps them from using Times Square.

  6. Matthew A da Silva

    I like the overall format, and I especially like the comparison to the QBL – since its going to be a point of reference for many current/potential riders.

    My thoughts for improvement:

    I think you need to itemize what the various investments you propose would cost (using semi-contained American prices, not Nordic prices) and propose how you’d prioritize those investments. Policymakers will want to know, given a limited budget, what investments they should prioritize to get the greatest return on their investment.

    I think it’s important to break outside of terminology such as “Euro EMU” that is opaque to someone not up-to-date on the discourse regarding alt-compliance and heavyweight American rolling stock. Using the real-world specs of Caltrain’s KISSes or another “off the shelf” option might be a good way to show what modern rolling stock can do.

    While the extension to East Garden City is definitely a good idea, it feels a little bit outside of the scope of modernizing the Hempstead Line – you don’t want your non-expert readers to become mesmerized by the expansion and neglect the less sexy stuff that’s actually integral to running a modern service.

  7. ericson2314

    Plan looks great!

    > This will be followed up in a few days by a discussion of the writing process and what it means for the advocacy sphere.

    I look forward to this. While it’s tempting just crayon more subways I assume you’re focusing on regional rail to try to tame the mismanagement with some cheaper investment geared around operational efficiency in line with your favorite Swiss maxim? It also occurs to me that something like this would pave the way to aligning the entire constituency of the MTA on non-car-oriented development with these suburb reforms, which is good and probably necessary as the city control of subway plans do seem like pipe dreams. Finally with increasing segregation NYC with a rich white inner city and poorer non-white outer boroughs, a plan like this is probably more equitable than something that that would e.g. make the greenpoints and bed-stuys easier to commute from.

  8. Tunnelvision

    Regarding the switches you mentioned. I have a vague memory that the reason for sourcing such switches from Germany is that there is no one making cast frogs in the US. I know there was a problem as well with Buy America and you cant always get waivers from FTA as they consider a frog a finished item (or at least they used to) whereas FRA considers the frog a component and the switch the finished product meaning under FRA rules you can import them but not FTA, so depends on your funding source. Otherwise you have to use built up frog which are not as durable or high performance as a cast frog. Mind you its been a few years since I dealt with this but there was definitely an issue along these lines a few years ago.

    • Richard Mlynarik

      The crazy thing is that Voestalpine Railway Systems GmbH is clearly capable of building and delivering tens of thousands of post-19th-century turnouts.

      But then when an order is placed with the special needs child voestalpine Railway Systems Nortrak everything goes to hell.

      Sure, they’re happy to deliver shit designs to stupid ignorant insular know-nothing customers, but it sure would be nice if they could even to offer normal post-1970 standard UIC turnouts.

  9. Henry Miller

    Apparently not the project management required to get someone to make it. There are a ton of custom manufactures scattered around the country, and more than one company that can pour iron of the sizes needed. Given the cost of transport it might even be cheaper to cast the large parts local and attach the foreign electronics (or whatever you can buy foreign while meeting the letter of the law). The companies that cast large iron generally plan on doing custom orders of things in between their own needs, economics tend to support buying for the highest production you can imagine needing and selling spare capacity to someone else who doesn’t have enough demand on their own to have a foundry.

    The above requires someone in project management to manage the project. I’m not sure if there is a lack of people; if the people are there and allowed to be lazy; they know but aren’t allowed to do anything; or something else.

  10. Paul

    It’s worth mentioning land use and pedestrian connectivity too. East Garden City may have enough jobs to justify a couple stations, but looking at the station areas in Streetview the pedestrian environment is awful. You could improve the area with a few ped/bike connections to shorten the most circuitous routes, but it’s obviously an auto-oriented neighborhood. It would take a long-term plan and a couple decades to change the auto-oriented character.

    Pedestrian access is definitely a limiting factor for suburban transit. Pre-Covid, I had looked into riding the bus to my office just to see what it was like. The most convenient route would drop me on the other side of a freeway, and I’d be concerned about getting run over trying to cross the frontage roads. There are painted crosswalks, but it’s obviously an environment where no one walks, so driver expectation is an issue.

  11. Pingback: Followup on New York Regional Rail and the Hempstead Line | Pedestrian Observations
  12. Henry

    No infill at Rego Park? You’d miss all the jobs at Queens Center Mall and a connection to buses at Woodhaven Blvd.

    Floral Park could be an express stop, but I feel like an express stop at Queens Village in addition or instead of Floral Park would be good as well, because QV is much denser and has a decent bus hub with a very frequent circumferential bus running out of it; whereas the bus on Little Neck Parkway that is most logically the connection that to offer is so poorly utilized it didn’t even get revived as a full bus route after it was cut, and was going to be eliminated under the proposed redesign of the Queens bus network.

      • Henry

        None of the proposed infill stations are, either.

        Woodhaven Blvd has IND-era provisions for conversion to express. This would be pretty handy, since pre-COVID the Roosevelt platforms get quite crowded due to both transfer load from the 7 and express-local exchanges from one of the longest express interstations in the network.

  13. adirondacker12800

    Mmmm yes! Commute all the way in from Nassau or Suffolk County for the exciting opportunities in minimum wage retail sales !! Instead of taking a minimum wage job in retail sales closer to home.

    • Henry

      The minimum wage is higher in NYC than in the suburbs, as are wages in general. And judging by the crowds of NICE bus riders who get off at Jamaica for the subway, this is a travel pattern that already exists.

      If you don’t like poor people, you can just say that.

      • adirondacker12800

        I realize that poor people are smart enough to take jobs closer to home. Most of the NICE passengers are going other places besides the mall. Likely most of them to Manhattan for higher paying jobs. The tiny fraction of them that are going to Rego Park use the subway. When there are eight tracks of railroad within a few blocks of each other there can be local trains and express trains. They all don’t have to stop everywhere. And the bus that goes to the F train doesn’t get them to the LIRR, does it?

        • Henry

          NICE runs most of its high ridership bus routes parallel to LIRR lines to draw people who can’t afford the LIRR fares; if you lowered fares, increased frequency, and added a stop a lot of people would just be able to eliminate a bus ride entirely, or substitute the slower portion of their bus ride into Jamaica with a bus to a train earlier. The point of the regional rail is to connect the region, and Rego Park has a fair amount of jobs.

          This entire post is about regional rail improvements to make it more useful by increasing the frequency, lowering the fares, and adding infill stops so that the Hempstead Branch is going to be a useful express subway like purpose. The entire point is that subway + bus is slower than it needs to be, but we force people onto it for stupid reasons, and we could easily accommodate all those people on the railroad. Adding one additional stop at Rego Park is not going to kill anybody. Particularly when a stop already existed here.

      • Henry

        Queens Center Mall is also one of, if not the most, profitable malls per sq ft in the country.

        I would hesitate to make that statement. Roosevelt Field Mall is the largest mall in Nassau and is a stone’s throw from the old Central Branch ROW in Garden City. It’s a big enough destination that pretty much every bus in that area loops between Mineola, RFM and Nassau Community College.

      • adirondacker12800

        Putting an LIRR stop next to the mall, any mall is unlikely to result in many.

  14. bruce hain

    They should(‘ve) expand(ed) the Hempstead Branch past E. Garden City to it’s juncture with the the Main and Montauk branches. (about 7mi.) It’s shorter, and they’d ‘ve gotten four tracks, instead of just 3 with this recent upgrade. (Of course the grade crossings had to go, though I’m not so sure that was the simplest way to get rid of them. Adding but one track ((probably with their 15’ OC spacing)) gives the impression they don’t intend to add any more, ever.) In any case the east end of the Hempstead Line should be reclaimed as soon as possible.

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