To the casual observer, it was just any other day at Jamaica’s Long Island Rail Road station.
But just after 10 a.m., commuters rushed aboard a shuttle train destined for Manhattan, the familiar busy choreography of squeezing through, wedging past, running in to nab a seat.
Families holding their kids in tow. Couples and solo riders clutching their baggage. All of them packed into train cars, filling the aisle seats within minutes. Other late arrivals stood standing. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary.
But the air — even for a late-morning train ride — was unusually abuzz with chatter. Some kept conversation below a whisper. Others, not so much. But everyone was alive with a quiet knowing that this was no ordinary train ride. Instead, taking place, was a moment in history.
A history that was finally connecting Long island with Manhattan’s East Side.
For the better part of a century, for as long as anyone can remember, LIRR commuters relied on Penn Station to get them into the heart of New York City. So long in fact, it seemed the day for an alternative would never come.
But within the span of 22 minutes, that would all become history.
As the train came to its final stop 150 feet below ground in the bedrock of Midtown Manhattan, the low rattling of the train cars stopped, followed by silence. No one dared to move. Breaking the stillness was the sound of the cheery conductor’s voice coming over the loudspeaker whose five words said it all:
“Welcome to Grand Central Madison”
Applause erupted from the train cars. It was a watershed moment for the MTA as passengers set foot for the very first time on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Manhattan East Side station. A moment that encapsulated six decades of planning, nearly 20 years of construction, and roughly $11.6 billion.
The opening came after a month of delays caused by a faulty ventilation fan. Yet, despite the acknowledged roadblocks, delays and missteps along the way, Grand Central Madison is finally here.
“Grand Central will dramatically change the transportation of the region,” said Janno Lieber, the MTA’s chair and chief executive. “It’s going to benefit Long Islanders with shorter commutes, 40 percent more service, and help Long Island business recruit people from the city with reverse commuting.”
And for Niurka Maldonado of Queens —riding with daughters Nora and Paulina — the prospect of having faster access to Manhattan’s East Side is nothing short of exciting.
“We have several friends that work in that area, and I love some of the restaurants in there,” she said. “So, we’re going to definitely be doing more trips to Grand Central and everything around there.”
Phyllis Levine, pounced on the chance to hop on the shuttle train to Grand Central if it meant saving time getting to her pharmacology appointment.
“I’m not a subway person, and I generally like to drive everywhere,” the Queens resident said. “But the easiest way to get to Manhattan from Queens is the express bus or the Long Island Rail Road. So, I figured I should try the ride to Grand Central. See how it goes.”
It will likely be a month before full service comes online, replacing the simple commuter trains. For now, riders looking for a fast way between Jamaica and Manhattan’s East Side can find trains every 30 minutes during off-peak hours, and every 60 during peak times.
“I just want to see if it saves me time going to my office on the East Side,” said Francesco Giovannetti of Glen Head. “I’m hoping to save about 20 to 30 minutes being two blocks away from Grand Central. I want to get acclimated to the station.”
Then there was Ruthanne Terrero of Malverne, sitting placidly with her tote bag in hand, taking in the significance of the moment of new train service to Manhattan.
“It’s just really glorious to see that we have something really beautiful,” Terrero said. “I think a lot of people work on the East Side, and I think it’s also really important that people see that New York is progressing.”
And more progress is still to come. Whether this project was worth its price tag, worth the commuting disruption, and worth the extended wait will be up to the riders themselves. Some have already taken to social media to point out certain mishaps like escalators shutting down midway, and some finding trouble making their way into the LIRR concourse at Grand Central.
It is no doubt looking to be a work in progress.
But Mitchell Schwartz and brother Steven — two young MTA train enthusiasts from Roslyn — wouldn’t have wanted this once-in-a-lifetime moment any other way.
“Just try wrapping your head around the fact that we are the first of millions to ride a train toward something that has been proposed for over half a century,” Mitchell said. “It’s just an amazing occasion.”
Additional reporting by Andre Silva.
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