Can and should Amtrak run some of its trains from Grand Central this summer?

With Amtrak’s summer repair program at Penn Station looming, many are suggesting that Amtrak divert some of its train routes to Grand Central Terminal. However, there are many limitations that stand in front of this proposal.

First, it would only be helpful if certain routes terminate and originate in Grand Central. Specifically, the routes that are destined for New York, and do not continue further south towards Washington, DC and other cities. If the train needed to continue south, it would have to travel through Penn Station and the Hudson River Tunnels to get to New Jersey, and would defeat the purpose of having the train stop at Grand Central. Thus, only five train routes would be eligible: Empire Service, Ethan Allen Express, Maple Leaf, Lake Shore Limited, and Adirondack. In total, this encompasses roughly 40 daily departures and arrivals from New York, and is approximately 15% of Amtrak’s 267 daily train movements.

Secondly, the switch would require a great deal of coordination with the MTA’s Metro-North Railroad, which is the owner and sole operator in and out of Grand Central. It is unclear if Metro-North has the extra capacity for Amtrak’s operations — its track flow and schedule was not built for this scenario. Also, it is unclear if Amtrak’s equipment can even be used in Grand Central. Currently, Amtrak uses P32AC-DM dual mode locomotives for trains into Penn Station, with the capacity for drawing power from both diesel and over-running third rail sources. The use of the electric third rail is required in both Penn Station and Grand Central, to avoid the release of diesel fumes. However, it is unclear if this existing Amtrak equipment will work with Metro-North’s electrification system. Metro-North uses the less common under-running third rail electrification system for its trains, which is not compatible with the Long Island Rail Road’s over-running third rail. This means that Amtrak might have to retrofit its trains to be able to operate at Grand Central — a cost that might not be equal to the savings of moving these trains out of Penn Station.

In conclusion, it seems as though Amtrak train running to Grand Central will definitely require effort on behalf of the federal railroad and its commuting partners, and is unclear if this will investment will pay off.

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