Grand Central Madison, 15 stories underground, saves LIRR riders little time compared to Penn Station commute


The journey to the subway from the new Grand Central Madison train terminal, located 150 feet deep in the bedrock of Midtown, takes so long that many Long Island Rail Road riders will not save much time on their daily commutes.

Riders who get off at the new terminal’s tracks 15 stories below ground must ride up three escalators — including an enormous one that spans 182 feet diagonally between the station’s mezzanine and concourse. From there, it’s a winding walk to the lower-level dining area of Grand Central Terminal, then up to the subway platforms.

The journey to the subways in Grand Central, which was timed by a Gothamist reporter on Wednesday, is hardly faster than a subway ride from Penn Station.

MTA leaders and Gov. Kathy Hochul hailed the opening of the long-delayed station as a life-changing option for LIRR commuters bound for Manhattan’s East Side. Previously, those commuters had to travel to Penn Station before making the journey back east.

Peter Divine, who rides the LIRR from Oceanside five days a week for his job near Grand Central, was among the straphangers analyzing how much time the new station shaved off his commute.

“I’m trying to see if it’s worth it and I don’t know,” Divine said. “Those stairs are really steep. Imagine having a couple drinks in you and losing your balance? Forget it, you’re going to end up in the hospital.”

Gothamist had a similar idea. The walk from the lower-level train platforms at Grand Central Madison to the 4/5/6 subway platform at Grand Central took 11 minutes and 20 seconds.

The journey could have been shorter if one of the escalators on the LIRR platform had not broken down the same day the station opened. But a lack of foot traffic also sped up the walk.

Compare that to the subway trip from the 4/5/6 subway platforms at Grand Central to the LIRR platforms at Penn Station, which requires a ride on the Times Square shuttle and a transfer to the 1, 2 or 3 train.

That trip took 13 minutes.

That amounts to a difference of 100 seconds during regular, midday service — or roughly 14 hours of saved time per year for daily riders.

In the end, it takes roughly the same amount of time to get to the 4/5/6 platforms at Grand Central – whether getting off an LIRR train at Grand Central Madison or Penn Station.

LIRR riders who walked to the East Side from Penn Station will benefit the most from the new terminal. The stroll through Midtown between the LIRR platforms at Penn Station and the 4/5/6 subway platforms at Grand Central took Gothamist 20 minutes and 13 seconds.

The subterranean walk from Grand Central Madison to the 4/5/6 in Grand Central Terminal is nine minutes shorter. Over an entire year, that adds up to 78 hours of saved time for East Side commuters who ride five days a week.

The project cost $11.6 billion, a price that includes future plans to purchase more train cars for the new service, according to federal records.

When asked whether commuters will save any time at the opening of Grand Central Madison on Wednesday, Hochul touted the benefits of walking underground.

“We are a cold climate state, people might want to walk from Penn Station during a snowstorm or heavy rain or winds. Or they can come up through this beautiful escalator,” she said. “I would use that time as meditation time. Just use that two-minute experience, let your mind wander.”

The new terminal was designed to ease congestion at Penn Station once full service is up and running, as well as boost service on the LIRR. But construction began long before the COVID-19 pandemic decimated transit ridership in New York. LIRR ridership remains down roughly 40% compared to 2019.

“We can change the minds, the psychology of New Yorkers by giving them something magnificent they deserve,” Hochul said.


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