John Delach

On The Outside Looking In

Month: March, 2023

The Long Island Railroad’s Version of the Big Dig

The Long Island Railroad’s (LIRR) “Big Dig” finally commenced operations this past January with a soft opening. The initial service was limited to shuttles running between Jamacia and the new station to discover hidden bugs and gremlins lurking in the new physical plant before subjecting it to the chaos of twice-a-day rush hours. Next, a modified schedule followed until it was finally time for  full-service to be introduced in March.

This seemingly endless project to bring LIRR service to the East Side of Manhattan was first proposed in 1963, but didn’t get legs until the creation of the new super commuter operating agency, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) in 1967. This super authority  subsumed most existing transportation agencies including the NYC Transit Authority, the LIRR,  Metro North and those operations of the New Haven Railroad into Grand Central with the cooperation with the State of Connecticut. Other agencies were also included particularly the Triboro Bridge and Tunnel Authority that built and operated all of the tunnels and toll bridges that cross the East River.

In 1968, New Yorkers approved a $2.5 billion MTA bond issue to fund its Program for Action that provided few details how the MTA would spend this money or the additional money they would also need.  Their top-priority project was a new four-track tunnel to cross from Queens to Manhattan along 63rd Street to carry a new subway line and give the LIRR access to the East side of Manhattan.

The planners decided to use a big chunk of the available funds to build the tubes under the East River. Rather than use traditional machines to dig out a path beneath the river, they contracted with Bethlehem Shipbuilding of Baltimore to construct four tubes in a dry dock like they were submarines. When each tube was completed, both ends were sealed, so that they could be floated out and towed to New York. The first tunnel segments were delivered in May of 1971, and by March of 1972, all four had been lowered into place. By that October, the two completed tubes and the middle land section on Roosevelt Island that included a subway station had been linked together.

Unfortunately, by the mid-1970’s New York City was essentially broke and when President Ford refused to bail-out the city: “Ford to NYC: ‘Drop Dead,” its ability to borrow money collapsed  All capitol construction came to a halt. NYC suffered through massive lay-offs. And massive default was staved off by a last-minute injection of cash from the Teachers Retirement Fund. Other forces finally convinced the Feds to intervene.

Still a period of hard times would freeze projects for the foreseeable future. Despite Mayor Abraham Beam’s public announcement that all work had ceased, Richard Ravitch, the MTA Chairman said the work on fitting out the tubes had to continue or they would deteriorate to the point of being unusable. Fortunately, he preserved the core of the project.

Finally, in 1989, construction on connecting the subway line resumed with a new target date for its completion to a dead-end station in Long Island City set for October. (This new subway “to nowhere” would remain unfinished until 2011 when new tunnels connected it to the main subway lines under Queens Boulevard.)

By 1999, conditions at Penn Station had grown chaotic thanks in part to the initiation by NJ Transit of their Mid-town Direct connection that allowed trains from their northern routes direct access into Penn Station rather than terminating in Hoboken.

In 2002, Congress passed a bill that allocated $132 million for infrastructure projects in New York State that included enough seed money to resurrect the East Side Access project.

Construction began when two tunnel boring machines began the one mile journey from the East River ends of the tubes west to Park Avenue and then south digging out two new tunnels to two new terminal caverns each 100 feet beneath the original Grand Central Terminal. Each cavern would accommodate two platforms servicing four tracks stacked on top of each other and separated by mezzanines. Theses mezzanines 0would house elevators and four stacks of escalators to take passengers 70 feet to a new LIRR Passageway 30 feet under the existing station. Those banks of escalators provided new exits at 45th , 47th and 48th Street. Additional exits connected to GCT, the subway at 42nd Street and the brand new skyscraper, One Vanderbilt Avenue.

Finally, East Side Access became a reality. All it took was 60 years and $12 billion to build this dream. Frankly, the only reason it was actually finished was it became too big and too expensive  to fail.

But be careful about your dreams. It seems we became so used to not having a choice where to get on and off the train in Manhattan. We now have to choose where to go and when. Schedules had to be split between Penn and GCT. The same train no longer went to the same place. Commuters are confused and annoyed.

The railroad also had to decide on how to divide service between these two terminals with their analysis fogged by the new work-from-home movement developed during the COVID 19 quarantine. Good grief, does this mean we didn’t need this new terminal after all?

And don’t even let me get started about what the LIRR did to their service to Brooklyn, the LIRR’s bastard son.

At least the railroad is reacting to the debacle they created and is working on changes to routes, stations, length of trains and timing. But this remains a moving target and they have a long way to go before Grand Central Madison can be declared a success.

On “The Outside Looking In” will not publish on March 22 and will return on March 29th

Thankfully, Life Can Be Absurd

John Delach

March 2023

The following message was forwarded to me by a British friend. He received it from his adult daughter:

Getting undressed last night, being all slinky for my new husband…

Seductively take off my bra…to reveal an unused dog poop bag stuck to my boob.

Always keep humor alive.

A New Hampshire Christmas

First Published December 2014, Edited February 2023

Christmas, 2010; Mother Nature was not a in a nurturing way for those of us living in the Northeast. Small as our family is, we seldom spend it together but 2010 was the exception. Besides Mary Ann and me, both the Briggs and Delach tribes trekked to Marlow, New Hampshire.

Tom, Beth, Marlowe & Cace Briggs, Michael, Jodie, Drew, Matthew & Samantha Delach, plus the granddame, Bare Delach, the elder Golden Retriever and Max & Ruby Delach, two, eleven-week-old Golden puppies, the male belonging to us and the female, a birthday gift to Jodie.

Six adults, five kids and three dogs, all made it in three separate vehicles having to brave through various intensities of a major snow storm old Ma Nature threw at travelers like us navigating the I-91 Corridor. Mike and his family caught the worst of it but, fortunately, the peak of the storm didn’t hit until after we’d all made it safely to that place we call Little House.

Loss of power is issue number one in rural NH. Issue number two is freezing pipes that closely follows issue number one. We do have two wood burning stoves for our primary heat and our wood supply was superb. But, if we lost power, we’d lose water and life gets difficult quickly when that happens.

Cut to the good news: the power didn’t fail: “Thank God Almighty; say halleluiah, say Amen!”

With power, everything is good even though we were snowed in.  We shoveled where we had to with joy. The two pups realized they were in Golden Retriever heaven being able to play with each other in the snow without adult supervision anytime they wanted. Mike and Tom laid out a challenging sledding run on the hill above us that became the major outdoor attraction until the town sanded the hill.

What could have been an ordeal, turned out to be a winter wonderland. The pups left their need for action outside in the cold, kids also exhausted themselves in the snow and the adults had a marvelous time. Each time kids came in they were relived of soaking wet snow clothes; hats and boots that were hung from every available hook, railing or most any other surface that could hold a hanger. The stoves were well-tendered and the clothing dried quickly enough to be available for the next onslaught.

Inside was non-stop action. Food was always being prepared whether it was bagels and eggs, hot chocolate, soup, or great dinners. Good cheer and entertainment of every kind abounded from simple board games to playing electronic games or watching TV or DVDs.

Of course, things still go wrong. At the time, I was driving a Chrysler Aspen that I parked at the bottom of our circular driveway. My plan was to use this SUV as the lead vehicle to open the way out of the 16 inches of snow the storm had gifted to us. Unfortunately, when I made my attempt to open the driveway, I judged the turn too sharply and put the left hand side of my rig into a depression. Mike’s van was behind me. Mike and Tom did most of the clearing around the wheels and dug it out enough to enable me to pull the Aspen out using low gear with the transmission in four-wheel-low. After I cleared out I walked my original route and told Mike, “If you put your left tire in the depression I made with my right tire and you will be okay.” He did so and got out easily.

Another time after the driveway had been plowed by a local fellow from a garage in Gilsum, one town away, I came into the top of the driveway too fast. We were returning from a small local ski slope where my passengers had gone tubing – Beth and Tom, their two and Matt Delach. As I went into the first turn by the house, I realized too late that I was on ice under the snow and I wasn’t going to stop. The house was on the right so that direction was not an alternative. Ahead of me where the driveway curves to the left was Beth and Tom’s Grand Cherokee so that wasn’t a good alternative either.  My only choice was to keep going straight between a bush and a tree; deliberately leave the driveway and drop down into a level snow-covered grass area below it. Not sure how much space this gap afforded, I aimed more toward the bush figuring that would be the path of least resistance. Hot damn, it worked. It all happened so quickly that nobody said anything. Good fortune, part two, I was able to drive through the snow and regain the driveway. Only then did we three adults begin to realize what just happened. It did occur to me what an old friend used to say, “Delach, you just cleaned out your locker!”