The Metro-North Should Go to Penn Station

Given the success of East Side Access, the MTA should do the whole thing over again


Last month, I visited the recent expansion to Grand Central that houses the newly constructed Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) tracks. As a resident of Westchester County who has been going to school in Manhattan for almost five years, I’ve taken the Metro-North Railroad to Grand Central and back more times than I can count, so I’m a fairly qualified person to speak on the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) and its commuter railroads. 

At first, I was hesitant to accept the fact that I was going to have to share my beloved terminal with Long Islanders. After the completion of East Side Access, however, I believe that the LIRR and Metro-North’s cohabitation is not only beneficial for commuters but also necessary for Penn Station.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not a huge fan of Long Island — most Long Islanders are loud, arrogant and annoying. When East Side Access was announced, the thought of sharing Grand Central with people from Long Island made me physically sick. However, after educating myself on the struggles Long Islanders had to face pre-East Side Access, I realized that this expansion was a much-needed improvement.

Who doesn’t want easy access to the beautiful lands of Long Island and New Jersey?

Before East Side Access, Long Islanders who wished to travel to Manhattan’s East Side had to trek through the frequently overcrowded Penn Station to reach the uptown 1, 2, 3, A, C or E trains, then journey through Times Square to reach the shuttle to Grand Central. This process usually only takes around 20 minutes, but it always feels like you’ve aged five years by the time you get to your destination. Some commuters had to do this every day to reach their workplaces or schools on the East Side before the MTA took the initiative to fix this problem. 

The shuttle is intensely crowded during rush hour, and the walks through both Penn Station and Times Square are torturous. It makes sense that instead of simply upgrading the existing shuttle service or renovating the Penn Station and Times Square stations to be bigger, more walkable and more efficient, the MTA instead opted to spend more than $12 billion redirecting some LIRR trains to Grand Central, making East Side Access the most expensive transit project in New York City’s history. If you ask me, though, saving Long Islanders a measly five to 20 minutes from their commute is definitely worth $12 billion.

I was truly overwhelmed with joy for Long Islanders’ new, easy commute; however, when I was taking the shuttle from the West Side to reach the Metro-North while on my way home for break, I was struck by the injustice of the entire situation. Why should Long Islanders be able to reach both the East and West Sides at will, while I’m still resigned to taking the shuttle (or, God forbid, the 7 train) every time I’d like to visit my parents?

This is how I came up with a new project I’d like to pitch to the Metro North: West Side Access.

Why should Long Islanders have all the fun? I’d like to be able to travel directly to the West Side. I don’t travel to the gloriously chaotic Penn Station nearly as often as I should — if the Metro-North’s train lines were to extend to reach Penn, I’d be able to enjoy the omnipresent construction, the crushing crowds of Long Islanders trying to reach their trains last-minute, the abhorrent New Jersey Transit area, and the delightfully unimpressive architecture of Moynihan Train Hall, a classic Manhattan spot for sitting on the floor. It would also make connections between the Metro-North, the LIRR and New Jersey Transit much easier. Who doesn’t want easy access to the beautiful lands of Long Island and New Jersey?

Some may raise concerns about the cost of this project and suggest that the limited transit budget should be spent on refurbishing subway stations that flood frequently during the summer rain season or making New York’s public transit more affordable for riders. However, West Side Access would make the best use of our transportation budget because these other issues do not affect me. My life is inconvenienced by having to transfer to the shuttle at Times Square.

If Long Island commuters’ complaints are dealt with by the most expensive transit project in the MTA’s history, why not give every neighborhood in the tristate area more rail service? Put a stop every three blocks all the way into Pennsylvania! Since the MTA has decided to prioritize massive and inexplicable projects over any reasonable changes to existing infrastructure, they might as well continue! The Metro-North serves a more geographically diverse (and generally more polite) population than the LIRR, reaching Westchester County, upstate New York and Connecticut. Are we no less deserving of an easier commute?

It’s clear that New York’s transportation system, one of the biggest and most impressive in the world, is in dire need of some modernization. It’s this writer’s opinion that the MTA should prioritize giving Metro-North commuters the same ease of access to Manhattan as the LIRR’s commuters. West Side Access should be the next project the MTA pours decades of planning and billions of dollars into — because if I miss the eastbound shuttle by mere seconds one more time, I’m seriously going to lose my mind.