The LIRR’s Grand Central Madison schedule overhaul, which reduced the number of night trains at Penn Station, has inconvenienced many Long Islanders who rely on trains to get them home after events at Madison Square Garden and Broadway shows, riders said— even forcing some to leave performances early.
Although railroad officials maintain the boost in overall Manhattan service is a benefit to event-goers, they say they are looking at schedule changes to address complaints about nighttimeservice levels at Penn Station, which sits just below MSG.
Before February's opening of Grand Central Madison,the LIRR ran 15 trains out of Penn between 10 p.m. and midnight on weeknights, with many riders being able to catch a train to their destination about every 30 minutes. That’s now down to 11 trains, causing some riders to wait an hour or more for their next direct train.
LIRR officials noted that they typically also operate an extra “relief train” to Ronkonkoma about 30 minutes after the conclusion of an MSG event.
WHAT TO KNOW
- Some LIRR customers have complained about the railroad's new schedules,includingfewer direct trains out of Penn Station following evening events in Manhattan, especially at Madison Square Garden.
- LIRR officials said the overall increase in service to and from Manhattan benefits all riders, including those who can transfer at Jamaica to a train headed to their destination. Grand Central is also a good option for fans of Broadway and the Yankees, the LIRR said.
- The railroad is considering future schedule changes to address demand at Penn Station after MSG events, including, potentially, rerouting some Grand Central trains back to Penn and adding cars to crowded trains.
Meanwhile, the LIRR is operating 12 trains out of Grand Central during the same period, with many of those running mostly empty.
Sign up for the NewsdayTV newsletter
From breaking news to special features and documentaries, the NewsdayTV team is covering the issues that matter to you.
The disparity was evident on May 10, when nearly 20,000 basketball fans packed Madison Square Garden for Game 6 of theKnicks' playoff series.
Shortly after the game ended around 10 p.m., a Ronkonkoma train and a Huntington train left Penn Station, eachcarrying nearly 600 passengers, according to LIRR’s real-time data provided on its TrainTime app.
Around the same time, a train pulled out of Grand Central on the LIRR’s Ronkonkoma line — typically the railroad’s busiest branch — with fewer than 200 passengers. A subsequent train to Hempstead carried 82 people.
Madison Square Garden officials declined to comment on the reduced service.
With fewer trains to catch at Penn Station, some riders have said in recent months that they’ve felt compelled to leave events early, so as not to wait an inordinately long time for the next train.
That was the case with Centereach couple Pietro and Susan Piraino, who left an April 15 Reba McEntire concert at MSG before it finished because missing the next direct train to Ronkonkoma would have meant waiting two hours.
“We definitely missed the encore and, at least, 20 minutes of the … set,” said Pietro Piraino, 62, who believes the reduced Penn Station night schedule “doesn’t make sense at all,” especially on weekends.
“For people who are at Broadway shows, or just out to dinner or some kind of entertainment, you have to end your evening early. Otherwise, you’re talking about getting home at a very unrealistic hour," he said.
Vittorio and Traci Scafidi similarly walked out on Blink-182's sold out MSG concert Friday night "three songs too early due to the really bad train schedule now." Missing the 11:17 p.m. to Port Washington would have meant waiting until 12:17 a.m. for the next direct train.
"We have little kids at home. We can’t wait an hour,” Vittorio Scafidi, 32, said. "It’s a disservice to those that live on Long Island."
Chorus singer Janet Allen, who regularly travels to and from Manhattan to perform and attend nighttime concerts, including at Carnegie Hall, said Grand Central might sometimes be a fine option, but prefers traveling out of the West Side. Recently, that’s meant waiting for a train longer than usual late at night.
“They’re just not thinking of New York as a city that’s awake all night,” Allen, 81, of Huntington said.
LIRR: Consider transfer at Jamaica, GCM
LIRR officials said long waits are typically avoidable, once riders better understand the railroad’s new service plan, which launched with the opening of its second Manhattan terminal Grand Central Madison.
Although service at Penn has been reduced, the overall number of trains headed from Manhattan to Long Island have increased — with trains running on the busiest branches every 30 minutes, alternating between Penn and Grand Central, even up to midnight.
And so, even if the next direct train to their destination doesn’t leave Penn for a while, passengers can usually connect at Jamaica to one that originated in Grand Central, LIRR officials said.
“One way to look at it is that there are more options to your destination on the Island in the evening, if you include the opportunities to transfer,” said John McCarthy, chief of external relations for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the LIRR’s parent organization. “That’s something people who are going to the Garden, or anything in that area, should consider.”
McCarthy also said the LIRR’s increased capacity to run “reverse peak” trains in the rush hours — made possible by the recently completed Third Track in Nassau County — also makes it easier for Long Islanders to get into Manhattan for an evening event.
LIRR officials have noted that, although fewer people are currently taking trains from Grand Central during night hours, the new terminal has helped relieve congestion at Penn, giving riders there more space on trains after MSG events.
And, although Grand Central may not work for Long Islanders headed to or from events at the Garden, it has become an increasingly popular option for Broadway theaters — many of which are about the same distance from each ofthe LIRR’s two Manhattan terminals.
“I do think people have it in their head: ‘The theaters are on the West Side. Penn’s on the West Side. My only options is to go to Penn,'which … is really just not true,” LIRR interim president and Metro-North president Catherine Rinaldi said."It’s pretty easy to get to GCM ifyou’re coming from a Broadway show. In some cases, it might be quicker."
McCarthy said the new service plan is also benefiting LIRR riders going to Yankee Stadium via a transfer to Metro-North, the UBS Arena in Elmont, which has a new full-time LIRR station, and the Barclays Center in downtown Brooklyn, which has increased train frequencies to and from Jamaica.
LIRR 'looking at' changes
Still, Rinaldi acknowledged she’s “absolutely heard” complaints from the public about Penn Station service levels after MSG events, and will look to address the issue in a schedule revision later this year.
“It’s one of the things that we’re looking at, in conjunction with a lot of other feedback we’ve gotten on the service plan, to see how we can continually step up our game,” Rinaldi said.
McCarthy said that among the options to address the issue would be adding cars to Penn Station night trains, and potentially rerouting some trains currently serving Grand Central to Penn.
But Robert Mann Jr., a Port Washington-based transportation consultant, said modest adjustments to the service plan won’t address the reality that the railroad overestimated the demand for service to Manhattan’s East Side. The railroad has acknowledged that it expected that nearly half of Manhattan riders would travel to and from Grand Central, but the actual number has been closer to 30%.
The failure to adequately address demand, Mann said, is not only costing the railroad good will with customers, but also costing it money, as many Grand Central trains operate mostly empty at night, while trains leaving Penn Station after MSG events can be so crowded that collectors can’t check tickets.
The MTA, which has sought state and federal aid to address budget deficits, revealed last week that the LIRR is losing $24 million a year in unpaid fares, including tickets that aren’t checked.
“How do you make money? You make money running trains to where the demand is. How do you lose money? You lose money scheduling trains where there’s no demand. And how do you leave money on the table? You fail to flex up to provide capacity where events occur,” said Mann, who has a background in the airline industry. “All these things seem to be an afterthought for these people. The only excuse is, ‘Well, we just ran out of trains.’ ”
By Alfonso A. Castillo
Alfonso Castillo has been reporting for Newsday since 1999 and covering the transportation beat since 2008. He grew up in the Bronx and Queens and now lives in Valley Stream with his wife and two sons.
LIRR service runs 24/7, with different schedules depending on destination and time of day. Our system includes over 700 miles of track on 11 different branches, stretching from Montauk on the eastern tip of Long Island to Penn Station in Manhattan, approximately 120 miles away.Where in Penn Station is LIRR? ›
The LIRR's connecting concourse runs below West 33rd Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenues, as it has since the original station opened in 1910.Where does LIRR stop in Manhattan? ›
Penn Station located at 34th Street between 7th & 8th Avenues.What is Long Island Rail Road? ›
The Long Island Rail Road (reporting mark LI), often abbreviated as the LIRR, is a commuter rail system in the southeastern part of the U.S. state of New York, stretching from Manhattan to the eastern tip of Suffolk County on Long Island.