LaGuardia Airport Access Improve-ment Project
with two alternate proposals for service to the airport
By Bruce Hain October 20, 2020
To Whom it May Concern:
The two proposals found below are designed to address the Purpose and Needs set out in the documents - as well as the one crucial quality concerning any civil work intended for public transportation: that people will actually want to ride it - in a way that your commenter believes the Proposed Action fails to do.
The sheer preposterousness of building an airborne two-track railroad that goes in the wrong direction is contrary to every tenet of duty, care and feasancy ever invented or aspired to. The FAA being new to these shenanigans symptomatic of the American railroad industry in particular, with their dominance of public transit boards now worldwide, has shown at least some healthy skepticism in questioning the ridership projections.
The other rail alternatives shown in the DEIS all appear to pass through a single place where it would not be feasible to build them (an efficient way of ruling out some options) because of the obstructing buildings - commercial, industrial and dwellings - lying in the way which would have to be removed and compensated for, and in some cases built back. The planning approach of making proposals like those found in the project documents - particularly in an area where East Side Access has claimed all the spatial capacity available for trackage - is a pattern seen before quite recently, and is insulting to the reading public.
In the case of the NEC Future proposal, Amtrak's chosen engineers have gone well beyond the small plot of built up property (about seven acres along a linear alignment of 0.33-miles) located between Harold Interlocking and the BQE and seen in the LaGuardia Access Project's "Rail Alternatives" as needing demolition, to propose conquering a huge swath of land 2.5-miles long and running from a new, purpose-built East River tunnel to somewhere north of the now-bypassed Harold Interlocking: as found in their Northeast Corridor upgrade scenario, NEC Future, and criticized extensively here, by me. The underground route would be longer than the present one by some 3350 feet. (about a kilometer)
These "proposals" are extremely unlikely of realization, although their studies continue unabated for decades, with the second (infeasable) round of Hudson Tunnel machinations now in planning and a billion and a half dollars already spent (on planning and actual physical works - not including the Hackensack River bridge in New Jersey) which will likely be going completely to waste.
We will need to build an East Side Access Mitigation Project if there is ever to be another East River tunnel from Penn Station (The 1910 drawings and easements make clear that a 31st Street tunnel was foreseen.) and by that time East Side Access will have been causing woefully reduced speeds and pass-through capacity at-and-around Harold for decades: on our preeminent passenger line. (And speaking of three percent grades, the project incorporates a number of them.)
Incomplete as they are, I have spent a good deal of time devising the two projects described below, to offer them as examples of uncompromised guideway transportation planning, having locally integrated facility, and usefulness to the public of practical permanence. (The great train stations and passenger railroads of the 20th Century were thought of that way.) The criterion for achieving it is inherent in the alignments themselves, given a chosen mode, and so should be discernible as useful and desirable before any significant action is taken to determine the exact particulars of physical form and cost: given an educated expectation that the design is physically possible. It is this order of undertaking which seems to have gotten out-of-whack.
Given the current state with the Airport Access Project lacking any desirable or significantly useful alternative to justify its ongoing costs, or those of construction and operation, I feel I am owed some degree of deference and attention to my consultation concerning the direction to be taken in continued planning for the project. (Not that I would insist on being paid for it.) And while I lack standing for a private right of action, there are issues of feasance that rise above the level of private rights and thus may be addressed in the federal courts.
I hope to avoid that, and that this comment will be seen by the FAA et al as offering an encouraging option for bringing the project to a truly successful state of fulfillment (if only because the resulting sour grapes may conveniently be blamed on an outsider) and I would consider twenty days from my submission of this document, on October 20, to be a fair term of waiting for the FAA et al to come up with a favorable response.
Let There be no Doubt your commenter believes in the enormous potential of passenger rail transportation for America in the 21st Century, but there are some impediments holding it back. It is attempted here to show by contrasting them against more appropriate proposals, what the nature of some of those impediments might be.
FIRST ALTERNATE PROPOSAL
THE CUOMO BRIEF
RE-ENVISIONED WITH LIGHTWEIGHT TECHNOLOGY AND DIRECT ACCESS TO MIDTOWN MANHATTAN
The LaGuardia Direct Route proposal has been around on the internet since 2015. (although the Internet Archive seems barely to go back to 2016 now, though my bills go back to July of that year that I know of. The 2015 version was found with "brucehain0" in the free web address provided by Wix no more than two years ago at the Internet Archive, but is now unavailable.) Efforts were made to promote the proposal to the Port Authority in person, documented in two videos from 2017 and 2018 found at the bruce hain YouTube channel. Several cards with the URL of the proposal were passed to the board at the first of those meetings, and similar attempts were made at the second. A copy of the proposal was also submitted to the Port Authority, among several proposals found in a comment about their Ten Year Capital Plan, in February of 2017, in the form found here.
I flatter myself to think that planners took the Passerelle Viaduct alignment after that of my LaGuardia Direct Route proposal. The new alignment does appear to help with some of the displacements - and while there's nothing wrong with getting the correct alignment, a single-track roller coaster is something quite different from a two-track elevated railroad. Most remaining elevated subway lines in the city were seen as temporary stop-gaps until subway construction could be undertaken. Given the comparative ease of such undertakings now one wishes that further elevated subway lines would be avoided, though they're better than building railroads in the middle of the street.
No elevations are shown, but the extreme height of the gigantic multi-level bridge now expected to replace the Passerelle Viaduct seems designed, or jacked up, to allow the Proposed Alternative to pass above the 7-Line and spaghetti of highways to the west while yet avoiding any excessively steep grade. With conventional trains and their wheel assemblies on the upper level - running above pedestrians on the viaduct directly below - and without any additional bracing, the earthbound supports appear inadequate laterally to bear the several stories of the proposed bridge with the LaGuardia Railroad Juggernaut running on top. In terms of heavy infrastructure and relocations in this area alone, roller coaster based transit is a far more reasonable proposition.
Swiss roller coaster builder Intamin has the solution that's needed. With a moving light show under the train we'll be ready for another World's Fair!
Addendum to the Addendum 3/25/21 B.H.
It occurs to your commenter that a "zig-zag roof" (as described in the Architecture Report) with the same configuration as the one over the LIRR stairway, but higher - placed over the 110-meter LaGuardia Direct Route LIRR Station platform and track, and glassed-in with platform barriers - would be ungainly; so it is suggested to turn the zig-zags 90° in imitation of the former World's Fair Main Gate. While not precisely accurate, the zig-zags being located higher up and arranged perpendicular to those of the Main Gate seems still to capture the lively spirit of the historical intentions.
In any case the station zig-zags would necessarily pass over those of the Main Gate and beyond it by some 60 feet. The outline of the existing roof over the platform stairs might then be preserved in elements of the enclosed pedestrian access area as a sort of marquee, to be built on site, below the platform, where fare gates and provisions for vertical access would be located.
Just to confirm my assertions on outsize extremity of height and girth are true: The new Passerelle Viaduct having the same width as before: is dwarfed. (So! AirTrain Passengers get to use the dedicated connector while the drones take the boardwalk?)
But the train by no means represents the ultimate extremity of height!
ADDENDUM CONCERNING PLANS FOUND IN HISTORIC ARCHITECTURE SURVEY OF 2019
The drawings found in the Grubb & Associates Architecture Report on pages 2-13 through 2-15 show the eastern terminus of the Proposed Alternative in much greater detail than those found in the DEIS. This affects the roller coaster transit proposal LaGuardia Direct Route, and on viewing the Architecture Report for the first time October 14, it has become evident the proposal should be revised as follows:
THIS PARAGRAPH IS SUPERCEDED BY THE ONE BELOW: LaGuardia Direct Route would take a cue from the planners' arrangement having separate alignments for the Passerelle Viaduct and the proposed transit line (The separate alignments were not evident to your commenter heretofore.) with relocation of the Passerelle Viaduct to the east, but not necessarily so far. The single-track roller-coaster-airtrain would run west of the Passerelle Viaduct and parallel to it - rather than over the viaduct's walkway - with its LIRR Station located, as previously shown, above an area of pedestrian circulation, following approximately the line of the existing zig-zag roof of the stairway to the LIRR platforms. Relocation of the viaduct is only necessary insofar as it would allow room for roller coaster supports east of the two-track turn-around loop of the 7-Train storage yard.
CORRECTION: The viaduct would not have to be moved at all. Insofar as the posts of the roller coaster would not come in conflict with its structure, and it is structurally sound, the single-track roller coaster could run right over the viaduct's centerline, with no negative effects on the people below, or they on it. This is the way it was envisioned for several years before a change-of-mind about October 20, the date this document was submitted. Having convinced myself it could be done safely - or seen the picture below as proof - I then forgot about it.
The Proposed Alternative is a huge investment for something that goes in the wrong direction, with potential ridership hampered by the lack of any station at Citi Field. Such a station would, of necessity, be located high off the ground, requiring passengers to get down from it in order to reach the stadium - where they would be required to ascend again. The station is an inconvenient option given the conventional rail mode. The skewed crossing of the two elevated rail lines would make for quite a sight (something from an earlier age really, see Broadway Junction) thence to plod across the parking lot on stilts at a skewed angle.
Given the amount spent so far concerning every fussy detail - and in instances, effective partial realization by physically excluding, or at least discouraging, the possibility of building other options - of a proposal that fails to meet a basic standard for usefulness and desirability, one would hope that project sponsors would be having second thoughts. Notably, contracts have been awarded to both HAKS and Hardesty & Hanover for the bridge design (The design is beautiful but the concept as transit is dumb.) before any implementing decision being considered; and the very limited space at the airport has been husbanded and limited the more, with one particular mode of transit having one particular alignment in mind. Passenger amenities at the new airport terminals have also been arranged in line with this foregone conclusion.
It should go without saying, but devising of some feasible and desirable plans, and a conditional decision to pursue a number of them investigatively, would precede detailed particulars of bridge design and exclusionary actions at the airport, in any process having the public interest as its objective. In this case the parties, under advisement of their engineers, have chosen to pretend that the Proposed Alternative is an acceptable option, and thus decided, are marching us toward a point of no return, etched in stone and steel of practical permanence.
I have been in contact with a preeminent roller coaster engineering firm for over ten years now. Given the similarity of the routes, the geological surveys undertaken early in the LGA Access Project's history (too early in fact) would afford my roller coaster version a good start in documentation.
It appears the time is over-ripe for roller coaster preliminary engineering.
Speculative Vehicle Design has not been assessed by engineers. There is no Section Drawing currently; outside diameter of circular section would be approximately 9.2'
PREFATORY ADDENDUM CONCERNING THE RUNWAY 4 PROTECTION ZONE
(See below for a description of the LaGuardia Direct Route alternative.)
Your commenter has often considered the idea of locating the LaGuardia Direct Route's Chamber of Commerce Station underground (because of its bulkiness) and dispensing with the showmanship of aerial bridges over Grand Central Parkway (because it would probably be cheaper, especially given the narrow, single-bore option compatible with the single-track roller coaster as envisioned in much of that stretch - though the requirements of the Protection Zone don't necessarily mean the station must be underground.) It was also believed that the "Showplace of 21st Century America Finally Getting It Together" idea was compatible in keeping with Governor Cuomo's ambitions for the airport. From a standpoint of constructability either option has its strong points and drawbacks. With notice in the DEIS of the Protection Zone restrictions, the issue of vertical alignment within the zone is decided.
Though we hasten to add roller coasters are not subject to the Three Percent Rule. Certainly a grade more dignified than 3% is preferable for any public conveyance. Perhaps the roller coaster could call at an underground station at the airport first, making a circuit from lower to higher, to develop the grade. Some insight on exact location of sub-surface structures would be helpful at this point, though the part of the roller coaster running west of the airport has always been considered as a second, future stage: to be undertaken after the section running from Willets Point - with its two-sided station giving access to both Astoria Boulevard and the World's Fair Marina in its current location - was up and running.
That a subway could not emerge from a below-grade configuration in the area of the Runway 4 Protection Zone, to elevated configuration at the airport campus, without a 3% grade, is not precisely accurate (and the discussion of moving the runway is silly.) From the standpoint of blocking conventional rail, the large amount of roadway construction taking place at the airport seems like it might have been undertaken more economically if the elevated roadway had dipped under the area where the 94th Street bridge crosses onto the airport campus, as most connections to the part being built - a broad, steel-box-frame bridge running over the at-grade intersection of 94th Street and other roads at the airport, and parallel to the highway - exit and enter it at-or-near a lower level: that of the highway. This could be achieved with a minor swerve, to avoid the foundations of the existing 94th Street bridge.
It might be appropriate for the roller coaster to visit terminals other than the instinctive first station as shown above, in making its approach to the airport - from whatever direction. Also, a wye configuration might be considered, to serve the new terminal on the east. Given the long distances involved and the grade restrictions inherent in using conventional rail - absent train elevators and sideways moving tracks - some highly flexible means of mechanized passenger circulation serving several of the terminals would seem to be in order: and the project documents seem to ignore that. (Train elevators and sideways-moving tracks are well-explored features of roller coaster technology, and to an extent, that of conventional rail.)
1. WILLETS POINT - LAGUARDIA
With access to three major spectator venues, plus the 7-Train and Long Island Railroad, the Willets Point end of the proposed Willets Point-LaGuardia Airport rail line has a lot to recommend it. But for any forward thinking observer there is a lot more, not least of which is the way the planned LaGuardia terminus could be made to allow the line's extension to Northern Boulevard in Astoria, approximately doubling its 2.75-mile length, to provide a direct connection from Midtown to the airport. But the extension is only possible using a compact transit mode capable of handling narrow curves and grades, unlike the conventional double-track rail line now planned.
2. HELL GATE LINE - LAGUARDIA AIRPORT
There is however, the matter of not having any station on the Hell Gate Line at Northern Boulevard - although it seems clear a station there was originally planned, for a time when the local population got to the point where it would justify construction, which has now long passed. The low-slung, curving track and bridge work alone (purple) would probably cost a hundred million today - but, properly planned, a Northern Boulevard Station at this location would be stunning - and with multi-level parking and broad-based accommodations for shopping, would attract more passengers than the three preferred alternatives of the Penn Station Access Study combined.
Strangely, the Access Study does not mention a Northern Boulevard Station - or any station in Queens for that matter - but a station at this point is essential if a direct route to LaGuardia is to be had. While a trip on the Hell Gate Line is one of the most excitement-inducing that American railroading has to offer, the place where it crosses Northern Boulevard has remained an eyesore for most of the line’s hundred-year existence (not a very nice reflection on American railroading) with relief coming only comparatively recently in the form of some big box stores and other commerce.
Unfortunately, a LaGuardia-to-Northern Boulevard extension - even one using the lightweight technology and mostly-single-track configuration envisioned here - would cost somewhat more to build than the Willets Point-LaGuardia section having approximately the same length (less the shared maintenance facility located at the airport) requiring - in addition to the station at Northern Boulevard - one or two cable staid bridges to negotiate places where minimal intrusion at ground level is necessary. So the Willets Point-to-LaGuardia plan may be seen as a desirable precedent for achieving a direct route to LaGuardia.
3. RAIL TO LAGUARDIA
THE ONLY DIRECT ROUTE: BY WAY OF A NEW NORTHERN BOULEVARD STATION ON THE HELL GATE LINE
Proceeding east, the extended line would include stations at Northern Boulevard, 64th Street and Chamber of Commerce. Cable staid technology would provide for a gradual, elongated crossing of Grand Central Parkway, allowing the single-track alignment to pass over multiple traffic lanes without obstructing the existing right-of-way. An elevated storage and maintenance facility (green) would enable passing of trains proceeding in opposite directions, as would other multiple-track stations along the route. Owing to its lightweight, flexible design, the track infrastructure contemplated here would allow a large number of stations and alignments at the airport to be configured relatively cheaply and more-or-less at will, depending on current needs and the terminals served.
Continuing east from LaGuardia, a station at World's Fair Marina-Astoria Boulevard would provide quick access to bus connections on Astoria Boulevard, given slight modification of bus routes and improvements allowing access to the proposed line. The station's two-platform layout would allow control of access to facilities at the Marina. The station at Citi Field would be able to accommodate four trains, with three 25' platforms serving two tracks. With controlled access to the station at point of entry, passenger volume could be kept within manageable limits, and trains having the capacity of three city busses (about 180 passengers) could be scheduled to make departures at 1.5-minute intervals for a sufficient time to reduce passenger volume to near-normal levels. The LIRR terminus station serving Louis Armstrong and Arthur Ashe Stadiums would be capable of accommodating two trains on its long, single, platform track.
Only a roller coaster - of all the possible guideway options - is capable of providing seamless walk-across service to a maximal number of terminals, with maximum convenience, speed and efficiency.
FINAL ADDENDUM TO THE
ROLLER COASTER PROPOSAL 5/10/2021
A.) RUNWAY PROTECTION ZONE AVOIDANCE
It's easy to see the temptation of running to an extraneous number of alternatives while yet only one is acceptable, assuming you're able to divine it. Concerning the matter of avoiding the Runway Protection Zone, two of the three alternatives presented here are inferior, for reasons that will be discussed below.
i. LONG PROTECTION ZONE TUNNEL
The instinctive solution, given the difference in elevations involved, and probably the most expensive of the three options shown here, would be a lengthy roller coaster tunnel, starting about 750' west of the Chamber of Commerce Station and emerging just past the Runway 4 Protection Zone to the east, making for a tunnel (a good portion of which would be double-tracked, and of divergent track elevations in and around the Chamber of Commerce Station) of about 3,130 feet in length.
Construction of the tunnel would undermine the foundations of at least two highway bridges, probably requiring their replacement, though not their relocation. First, a four-lane, one-way bridge along Astoria Boulevard South, which is located south of the Grand Central Parkway highway alignment, right next to the proposed Chamber of Commerce Station; and second, the bridge running across Grand Central Parkway at the center of the picture, that carries Astoria Boulevard North across the parkway, thence to run east along the parkway's north side. It's believed the Ditmars Boulevard Bridge visible in the picture and running partially within the Protection Zone, would remain unaffected by this first protection zone avoidance scenario.
ii. TRANS-PARKWAY ROAD TUNNEL
The Chamber of Commerce Station is shown with it's stairs inverted as against the long tunnel version above, and with twice as many steps. The adjacent bridge that the tunnel would have undermined in the last version will now force the lower of two roller coaster tracks above it to a height of 62.5 feet above sea level, estimated pessimistically, in order to allow the tallest trucks legally permissible to pass safely on the road beneath it.
In order to allow an uninterrupted descent from this point by roller coaster, along about 2,130 linear feet, to a point under the westbound exit ramp past Ditmars Boulevard (not shown) and about 68 feet below the elevation encountered at top-of-rail 2,130 feet back by the station, the obstructing trans-parkway bridge mentioned in the scenario above would be removed and replaced with a tunnel, carrying the northbound lanes of Astoria Boulevard under Grand Central Parkway - and then further in a westerly direction as shown, to a merging with traffic on the surface road there under which the tunnel passes. Such grades (68 / 2130) as encountered on this section of roller coaster in this scenario, are frequently encountered by bus passengers clinging to "straps" and hand-holds in order to move around within the vehicles, and also in a few places now visible and being part of the East Side Access Project. (which shouldn't have been allowed)
Concerning this road tunnel, you might want to talk to a traffic engineer before writing any contracts. The descending grade of the tunnel starts on the east (right) at a point just even with the beginning of the turn-off lane to 82nd Street, a residential area that might benefit from possibly three big lots for houses or multi-unit dwellings, resulting from the permanent closure of the adjacent 2-lane signalized intersection with the existing four-lane bridge approach - which would be removed - and which currently allow non-local cars to pass through the said residential area. The descending grade on the west (left) could stand to start further west, and have a stop sign at it's merging with the descending lanes from the east. Tunnel access involves restrictions, such as rendering it impossible to make a left turn onto 82nd Street from the westbound lanes of Astoria Boulevard. The lanes of the tunnel also, are reduced from two to one quite close to their merging with the westbound surface road on the other side of the highway. (Pardon the absence of diagonal lane-squeezing sets of lines in this area but it didn't occur to me at the time.)
iii. ASTORIA HEIGHTS STATION AND COASTER ELEVATOR (Preferred)
Fruition of a long-contemplated desire for cross-parkway pedestrian access might be achieved nicely through this scenario. Of all the possible locations for a cross-parkway pedestrian bridge, this one would be very well situated, but most troublesome to traverse, requiring the pedestrian route to cross over or under the transit line somewhere (a practical near-impossibility) and being excessively long and high for the purpose - as are such bridges to some degree generally. The roller coaster gradient problems presented in avoiding the Protection Zone, and the need for pedestrian accessibility with cross-Parkway enablement, are here addressed in one comparatively inexpensive solution.
And in any scenario of route comparisons where polls are taken along the respective proposed alignments, this scenario - and in fact the entire five-mile LaGuardia Direct Route Proposal - would win hands down. So the NEPA Process can by no means be considered fulfilled, or any ROD considered valid, without its full inclusion and documentation, as I've been saying publicly for at least the past five years.
The Astoria Heights Station takes a corner of the Barclay Gardens Apartments property consisting of a glassed-in enclosure 17.5' square (with extended flat-roof overhang) situated on the intersection of two sidewalks located at the corner of 78th Street and Astoria Boulevard North. The station stop and transit by elevator of the 50-meter train might add a maximum two and a half minutes to any overall trip under normal circumstances, a negligible delay given the context. Local access to the station might best be put in control of local users in this case, to control access in keeping with the best possible policy subject to transit company oversight. This way local users might have the option of a reduced short-distance fare: for those residents who want to get across the road and back without getting in their car.
B.) AIRPORT STATIONS
As planned, the AirTrain passenger interface at the airport couldn't be much more inconvenient if it tried. Only one station is actually planned - called Terminal B - with another one called AirTrain East reserved for future development. Neither is really within walking distance of the terminals proper, and the one called Terminal B is a long ways from the giant parking garage built in context with the new Terminal B. It appears that inter-terminal transit - a concept of considerable importance in a multi-terminal airport such as LaGuardia - has not been contemplated at all.
i. TERMINAL ACCESS WITH INTER-TERMINAL SERVICE, USING THE TERMINAL B STATION AS PLANNED
From storage and maintenance (left) to the three terminal stations, track has been doubled throughout to allow extra service between the three terminal stations at reasonable intervals. To this end, two crossovers (with four roller coaster switches) are shown, to allow maximum versatility in serving passengers from both Inter-Terminal and Off-Airport trains. While Terminal B as shown may already be built, connecting it with the rest of the roller coaster line as envisioned involves several extra short-radius curves that would be awkwardly space-and-time consuming. The configuration shown in the next picture below would be preferable, if it's possible.
At lower right it's possible to see in this photo the western end of the Flushing Bay Promenade, which is expected to be largely overbuilt and blocked by an elevated two-track rail line close to forty feet wide, it being impossible to locate it in the highway's center median because of its necessary height, weight and girth. (There is no reliable visual rendering of the planned intrusive section of trackage intended for the Promenade that has been made available for viewing by the general public, that your commenter knows of.) Note how the roller coaster reflects and complements the circular park layout at the end of the Promenade. The curve there has a width that is half that permitted for standard railroad trains in the US.
But if you find in planning such projects, that what you planned is too big to fit in the space you envisioned it for, or if - like East Side Access - you find that the space between the point where the tunnel hits daylight and the end of the maximum trackage available to accomplish getting the line to grade, is too short to do it at less the 3% - even with the existing tracks modified to reduce the grade, by increasing the grade thereon running back towards the old Penn Station Tunnel - then whaddayado? The answer is: YOU DON'T BUILD IT.
ii. TERMINAL B CENTERED (Preferred)
The Platform width has been expanded for this version of the Terminal B Station to 40' (as against 30' at the other two airport stations) allowing plenty of space for vertical access, assuming some means of ingress to the terminal itself can be achieved. While the picture does show the latest update of Google Earth's imagery for the airport, given your commeter's limited knowledge of dimensional particulars at the airport there is very little about the trackage and passenger interfaces shown here that isn't blind speculation. This despite my public requests in person and in writing that the surveys and dimensions be shared - and competent engineering hired - in order advance the roller coaster alternative to a stage comparable with that of the planned conventional rail one.
It isn't too late to do that, and will save me the trouble of seeking to compel it.
Final Addendum to the Roller Coaster Proposal Ends Here
Bruce Hain. 5/10/2021
P.S. On closer examination, and given the two red markers in my Preferred Alternative showing the intended airport stations of the FAA's Proposed Alternative, it is possible to discern pretty well the intended path of the Proposed Alternative: over the Promenade, by the road. and through the airport property. The three Protection Zone alternatives and two Airport Alternatives described above can be viewed directly in Google Earth by downloading the three respective KML files hosted at the link above, and given again here.
SECOND ALTERNATE PROPOSAL
ONE-SEAT RIDE TO THE AIRPORT
ALL CIRCLES DRAWN: 3:10 PM SEPTEMBER 30
(in fact they weren't)
This option was an afterthought, taken up at four o'clock Sunday morning September 27th. The drawing, with its elevations and measurements, was essentially finished by Sunday the 4th, but none of this part of the comment was written and no explanatory video had been produced. So I am grateful for the reprieve in the form of fifteen extra days to get the comment down.
In 2015 when my extensive exploration and plotting of rail lines in Google Earth commenced in earnest I had examined a similar routing as an option for service to LaGuardia - while endeavoring to plot my conception of what the 8-track stretch of the New York Connecting Railroad in Sunnyside would look like absent East Side Access: with a relatively-high-speed four-track connection to the Hell Gate Line, and the station at Northern Boulevard necessitated by the LaGuardia Direct Route proposal. (with the roller coaster, described above) At that time I dismissed it as being too complicated and intrusive to build - but my skills in determining the shape of things in Google Earth were not so developed then, and I was not as practiced in designing rail lines.
Truly the option is complicated by lateral restrictions and the need for tunneling: not least along Grand Central Parkway which I hope your planners have gained some conversance in, so that the options considered for the Airport Access Project may have some practical definition, as against what has obtained heretofore.
DETAIL FROM EXHIBIT 2-15: "RAIL ALTERNATIVES"
The aerial photograph shows Harold Interlocking (lower center) where the East River Tunnel Line from Penn Station splits in two: with six tracks turning right onto the Long Island Railroad (down in the picture) and two tracks turning left onto the Hell Gate Line: the main line of the Northeast Corridor. (up in the picture) Planners of the LaGuardia Access Project have chosen a middle route for purposes of accessing the airport, which is problematic. At the point where the proposed assumedly-two-tracks would diverge just past Harold at the start of the Hell Gate Line, the existing tracks are elevated off the ground and curved in a 1750-foot-radius turn to the north. Having a single-grade junction at that point is unconventional in American practice though not particularly objectionable. It does present directional conflicts though, and if the Hell Gate Bridge Line was ever upgraded to four tracks (what the bridge is designed for) there would be further such conflicts of a somewhat dicey nature given the high-speed main line pretensions of this section of track.
The real problem arises as the new line branches off at an elevation of about 55 feet, and must immediately bend down in a vertical curve to start a grade into a tunnel, which sub-grade configuration is not obtainable in the approximately 1500 feet of would-be trackage between a possible vertical curve at the Hell Gate Line and an agglomeration of major roads stacked three high and located to the east. The lowest of these roads has a surface at about 25 feet, so the tunnel would have to be considerably lower. It's not an acceptable grade for main line track. The other option is to go above the highest road having an elevation at its surface of about 45 feet. Being unable to enter a tunnel anywhere nearby, this would put the elevated two-track rail line running above the property of both St. Michael's Playground and the adjoining cemetery - if the centerline in the illustration is to be believed. In order to pass under the northern-branching part of the BQE fronting along the cemetery (thence under Grand Central Parkway and on to the airport) the "proposed line" would have to do it in the cemetery.
The proposed transition from the elevated tracks at the beginning of the Hell Gate Line, to a tunnel somewhere east of there, would take up a lot of space, and the space needed to build it would be even larger. The space requirements needed to build a bridge, getting higher and higher as it approaches the road 45 feet above sea level and necessitating a top-of-rail elevation of about 65, would likely be equally intrusive, because of the large buildings in the way that would have to be demolished and their occupants relocated.
Negotiations for taking the space would never get off the ground since there are constraints of reasonableness restricting use of eminent domain. The takings and acquisitions would involve several years of delay - and enormous expense - with local upheaval likely to be litigious, in addition to the usual modus operandi with rail projects. (See ARC Tunnel/Hudson Tunnel - now in its 25th year of planning expenditure.)
These three rail proposals are not bona fide proposals or efforts to design a feasible rail alternative: they are Quatsch.
LAGUARDIA BRANCH OF THE HELL GATE LINE
HAROLD INTERLOCKING TO GRAND CENTRAL PARKWAY (R. - L.)
The 2.3-mile branch to LaGuardia would diverge from the Hell Gate Line about three quarters of a mile north of Harold Interlocking. Four tracks would be required on the heretofore two-track line at this point, for a smooth connection to the new branch, allowing Northeast Corridor express trains to pass through the interchange independently of it. Four tracks would also be needed to accommodate side platforms at a proposed Northern Boulevard Station. This would be accomplished by having the side tracks branch from the existing ones shortly distant east of the bridges at Harold Interlocking, rather than having four continuous tracks running from farther west, owning to changes imposed to enable the East Side Access Project. There has also been an easement just east of Harold, now possibly sold off, which might involve relocation to obtain right-of-way for one of the new side tracks. Or, the centerline of the Hell Gate Bridge Line could be moved, but that would complicate staged construction/replacement of the existing bridges and trackage, by requiring their relocation as well.
It is my theory that location of the curve at Northern Boulevard was arranged the way it was in order to allow the 1750-foot radius for a closer fit of anticipated raised platforms, by introducing a broader curve than would have been used to connect the two tangents otherwise, with a relatively tight compound extension of the curve to the north, past the northern ends of the then-unbuilt platforms. An eighty-five-foot M7 or similar car against a 1750-foot-radius curve would have a variance of distance from it of 5.83" at the center versus the car ends, though cars for the LaGuardia Branch would do better having shorter lengths, for reasons discussed below. It is assumed the results of the Penn Station Access Study will employ 85-foot cars. It bears repeating that the Northern Boulevard station would attract large fare-paying ridership - the more so with the LaGuardia Roller Coaster terminus located on top of it - and feed passengers to the stations of the Penn Station Access Study and visa-versa.
From a 500' vertical curve located north of the turnouts (see the preceding picture for the turnouts) the eastbound leg would descend along a surmised 1.72% grade to the Points of Vertical Intersection (P.V.I.) seen at the center of the picture, which define the center point of a linear scheme along which the grades of the two legs would become united, proceeding around the bend and into the 25th Street Station. The starting grade near the turnouts was surmised by selecting an arbitrary elevation of 70' for the NEC bridge directly south of the turnouts, with an ascending .55% grade on the main line also assumed, and the center of the LaGuardia Line's first vertical curves being located 480' from the center of the bridge measured along the main line. The westbound leg would be somewhat shorter than the eastbound one, with a surmised grade of 1.78%. The unified grade, descending to a point just under Grand Central Parkway, is shown as being 1.16%. (25 / 2152) The red lines represent retaining walls and tunnels only loosely.
We want to avoid demolishing everything and shunting Northeast Corridor trains onto a splay-legged single-track temporary wooden trestle running above the rooftops of the nearby houses for several years. (with scads of special trackwork running to millions ((which must be rearranged frequently for millions more, preferably with propaganda kinks* (((while apparently nothing gets done. ((((NOT A REFERENCE TO EAST SIDE ACCESS)))) In any case, the 49th Street NEC bridge would have to go ...while the 50th Street bridge to its right - which is more prepossessing, and used to park cars under - could hopefully be securely protected to avoid any severe disturbances related to the extreme amount of disruptive excavation and construction required in this general area.
Forty-ninth Street is the street under which the line would run, and has its building lines spaced 60' apart. With (believed IND standard) fourteen-and-a-half-foot track spacing as shown, the 12.5' platforms of the 600-foot-long 25th Street Station would bring the width of the line to about 50'.
The station is nice for a bribe because their property values would rise, and the only excuse for having a curve like that is if it's right next to a station where all the trains have to stop. That's where the shorter cars come in, buy way of their nimbleness in negotiating such curves. The curve has a 375' radius, with no spiral offsets on either side as shown, but should have at least one, on the farther side from the station, though that of course would move the tracks closer to Global Elevator whereas the centerline of the eastbound track is already (>)14.5 feet away (coincidentally) as it is - which is fairly meaningless given my method of drawing: Spirals take too long to draw, at least for this rush job, and the errors of parallax and other distortions found in Google Earth renderings - which are available in a huge variety of dated imagery, with each version having its own quirks - make it impossible to be completely accurate. But Google Earth is like a free survey available to the masses - an incredible thing - with vastly more detail of elevations than the USGS Topographical Maps (which may be superimposed for corroboration) and found by your commenter in one rare instance over five years to be more accurate as well!
Top-of-rail in this case (as surmised) would be located some thirty-five feet below the corner of the mid-century Global Elevator brick building(s). The place where the westbound line appears to pass beneath someone's driveway/parking lot is (was) probably an easement. If property for multi-level parking was to become available project sponsors would do well to snatch it, because this mixed-use area appears to have considerable difficulties with issues of parking, and if a generally-convenient-for-walking location for parking could be developed it would help to address that, and quell a lot of adamant objections.
Conditions for construction in Queens are notorious for being muddy and the substrate is made of glacial deposits. That's all I know as information is not readily available. If investigations proved encouraging, there is currently a lot of talk about jacking big concrete box bridges under things like highways and four-track rail lines with the process recently gaining currency in the US - just to give an idea of the ever-rapidly-improving innovations in the field. There are literally thousands of proprietary - often computerized - and comparatively-quick-and-easy methods available now for stabilizing and underpinning things - and building foundations - each more or less suited to the exact conditions encountered and the job(s) that have to be done. If it's possible to get a firm grip on something subterranean without too much time and expense - in a number of particularly crucial locations - the work in this area could be brought off without excessive expense, trouble and delay: given exact, time-oriented planning for its staging and the exact physical operations to be performed.
The options as seen by your inexpert commenter might run to launching a wide-bore TBM (They are huge. A diameter of 32' would suit the low-profile, standard-width rolling stock envisioned, with room for an escape route and possible mechanized conveyance therefor underneath.) south of the existing NEC bridge at 49th Street, and running it down to a place under or near Grand Central Parkway, with a separate, probably open mining operation to drill out from the sides to form an area for the side platforms of the station. This would create severe disturbances on the surface, notably at the point of launch - and probably the BQE if a uniform grade is to be had - and for any further open excavation needed to dismantle the machine after it's run its course - though the parts might be backed out to the point-of-launch, victimizing the homes and Muslim learning enclave there to fullest effect over time. (It could be temporarily covered over during the bore's progress.) More likely the 49th Street line would have to be mined by more conventional methods, involving open excavation.
The 49th Street NEC bridge would have to be replaced, preferably in two-track stages, with the trains diverted to the new bridge(s) and back, preferably in two swift and compact operations. Foundations for the first stage would have to be drilled near traffic on the other two tracks without disturbing them, and visa-versa in the case of the second stage. The northern foundations of the bridge (left in the picture) would probably have to be rebuilt in the process to sustain a longer span. The southern abutment and foundations of the bridge must be moved to the south if the proposed underground rail line is to pass under the bridge. The new southern abutment could then be covered, and an apparent southern abutment of the new bridge(s) built in the original location.
The other place, where the eastbound leg crosses under the Hell Gate Line - right-of-center in the picture - affects quite a large area of the NEC embankment because of the shape of the crossing, which is both curved and skewed. I doubt a box bridge could be jacked into position there though it would have to be rectangular rather than curved in order to be jacked, and wide enough to accommodate the curved alignment of the subtending track with a train on it. Another option, assuming a sturdy backstop for launching can be achieved, is to launch a low-car-section, single-track TBM from the high side, after the embankment has been both laterally and vertically stabilized (How?) then drill down through the embankment, and on to a junction with the excavated 49th Street line. Then break down the machine and move it to the westbound line, on the near side of the embankment, and repeat the operation. The advantage of this option is that the actual excavation of the hole through the embankment would be over in a few days or so.
*Propaganda Kinks: The first use of propaganda kinks known to your commenter occurred on the Pennsylvania Railroad's Northeast Corridor between New York and Washington in the early '60s, before advent of the Metroliner quasi-fiasco, during which it continued. There were several changes occurring that affected passenger service negatively at this time with the propaganda kinks being the most outrageous and frightening, all of which were designed to discourage ridership on the no-longer-mighty "standard railroad of the world". A wide variety of "bad service ploys" was more-or-less general in US passenger railroading and other railroad operations during this time - sandwiched between the periods of sloughing off the postal service by any means possible - which resulted in abject abandonment of myriad recently-built and heroic examples of postal rail infrastructure, with a migration to use of airplanes instead - and the new and-now-current mode of ever-increasing axle loads with deferred track maintenance, and five-mile trains having square wheels and bad brakes resulting in frequent mile-long pileups where HAZMATs are involved, all symptoms of something referred to as "Precision Scheduled Railroading."
It has spread to the state agencies, and a few years ago there existed for more than a year a big kink in the middle of the inbound East River tunnel of the A-train. At-first-uninitiated motormen would hit it with a force that was truly frightening both to them no doubt, and everyone on the train. It was an annoyance that trains always slowed way down there in the aftermath of the weeks of fright, when you were in a hurry. It is a singular puzzlement how engineers get their track crews to go along with it, and something that should be investigated. Maybe they are propaganda experts.
In light of this the Max Scandal may not seem so surprising, but your commenter is assuredly convinced that post-war US white collar corruption got its start in the railroading industry.
GRAND CENTRAL PARKWAY and LGA TERMINUS
The single-track terminus station seen here was chosen as an expedient, and it doesn't look like there are any other options initially, on looking the airport over, without benefit of some detailed drawings. The platform track with single 25' side platform is plenty long at over 700' as shown. With the platform probably not precisely below-grade, the tracks could probably pass under the new "road/bridge-looping-to-grade" and manage to rise a bit towards the station, placing the platform more-or-less at ground/first floor level. Not knowing whether passage from the new airport terminal building to the parking garage at or near ground level is possible in current plans it would seem evident that for purposes of train terminals it should be, and that reasonably commodious provisions should be provided for, adjacent to the platform and within the garage structure to make it serviceable.
The distance from the R=500' curve at 49th Street to the pictured rail terminal at the airport is about 7500 feet and it's a hell of a place to try and build a two-track rail line. A scenario with a thirty-two-foot TBM would be fraught with sub-surface and on-surface conflicts, and require a probably-undignified grade configuration as being steep and deep, but the alternative of boring two tubes under Grand Central Parkway is nightmarish. The BQE underpass and landscaped-park design near the Chamber of Commerce notably, is particularly well done. It would be a shame to wreck any of that.
At a carded top speed of 100mph or so (a feasible rate given the curve involved) the airport train might make up for time lost at the two stations, making the whole trip from Penn in something like 23 minutes. It would be nice if Innovia cars of the linear variety would be made capable of more speed, because the propulsion system eliminates a lot of wheel maintenance. There should be general activity by now to move towards linear for this reason, with the advent of super-capacitors and LSMs, but it seems like the technology is reserved strictly for roller coasters.
The best solution would seem to be a single-track low-train-section bored tube (with side exists as appropriate) where trains could transit the high-speed part in a minute or so. Double tracks could be extended west from the airport rail terminal about 800 feet then, to allow stacking a few trains.
FINAL ADDENDUM CONCERNING LAUNCH POINTS AND THE SINGLE-TUBE APPROACH
In writing the description under the last picture it occurred to me a one-track single tube would be best for tunneling under Grand Central Parkway. Now, how to do it may have occurred to me as well. This scenario would involve a single, center platform at 25th Street with tracks maybe 30' apart. But before building the station the machines would be launched, with the eastbound one completing the run of 49th Street and curving under Grand Central Parkway to meet with the westbound tube - which would be bored all the way to the airport, or near the low point in the vertical alignment. The stretch under 49th Street would be about 1800' long. There is a great deal of precedent for building subways in situations like that. It's important to have double track under 49th Street, because without it the single-track section would be tied up for four or five minutes at a time, rather than just one, with double track all the way to Grand Central Parkway. B. Hain 10/15/2020
Bruce W. Hain
B.A. Music, Marlboro College '79 Queens, New York
Sole Academic Qualifications October 20, 2020
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