Metro North President Talks Station Improvements, Capital Projects
John Jordan | June 2018
RYE BROOK—Metro North President Catherine Rinaldi briefed members of the Commercial Investment Division of the Hudson Gateway Association of Realtors and the Business Council of Westchester on June 7 on the latest railroad initiatives, including the long-awaited improvements to the White Plains station.
Rinaldi, who recently spoke before the Orange County Citizens Foundation on the needs of the West of Hudson rail network, focused her early morning presentation at the joint HGAR-BCW program at 800 Westchester Ave. on East of Hudson line programs.
She noted that Metro North is currently engaged in a $136-million station improvement program to five of its stations. She related that 80% of the SI program is being spent on three Westchester stations—Crestwood, Port Chester and White Plains.
The most ambitious and costly of the Metro North SI projects is the $94-million, White Plains station improvement project. Construction began on the multi-faceted improvement initiative in April that when completed will make it “a destination station.” Rinaldi said that the first phase of the project involving the completion of improvements and the opening of the Main Street and Hamilton Avenue entrances will take place in September of this year. The completion of the first phase will coincide with the introduction of the first Hudson Link system buses across the new Mario M. Cuomo Bridge making regular stops at the White Plains Metro North station.
She said the vision of the White Plains station improvement project is to open it up and foster more connectivity and flow.
“When you walk in, you don’t necessarily feel like you are in a transportation facility,” Rinaldi said. “It’s kind of closed in, sort of a like a late 1970s bus terminal.”
The White Plains station has the third highest ridership in the Metro-North system, second only to Stamford, CT and Grand Central Terminal.
She said the plan calls for opening up the ceilings, creating better visuals and incorporating better technology at the White Plains station. Metro North previously announced that the project would be undertaken in three phases to minimize disruptions to commuters. The project will take about three years to complete.
Metro North announced when the project began in April that the top to bottom station transformation will include refurbishment and functional upgrades to its main entrance, the Main Street entrance, the Hamilton Avenue entrance, and the Mott Street entrance. Security cameras and speakers will be positioned throughout the station, enhancing customer safety. Crews will install new platform canopies with wood ceilings, LED lighting, and a heated stairway leading from the side platform. Other amenities like USB chargers, Wi-Fi and cellular connectivity, digital screens that provide convenient access to train information, ticket vending
machines and new benches will also be added.
Notable upgrades will include an expanded, glass-enclosed waiting area, new interior station wall panels, ceiling tiles and fixtures, a remodeled ticket office, an improved food vendor space and refurbished bathrooms.
In addition to working with the City of White Plains, Rinaldi related that the MTA Board recently approved plans to expand parking at its Croton Falls station and is also progressing with a Transit-Oriented Development initiative adjacent to the Harrison station with the Town and Village of Harrison and multifamily developer AvalonBay Communities. Metro North Railroad also released a request for expressions of interest in conjunction with the City of Poughkeepsie last December for interested developers to build a mixed-use TOD adjacent at its Poughkeepsie station.
“We support TOD when communities come to us with TODs,” Rinaldi said. “I think that is the balance for us. We don’t want to come treading into communities with our heavy footprints dictating how they should develop their property.”
The Metro North President detailed a host of ticketing technology upgrades in the works and also noted that it plans to replace the iconic “Big Board” and gate curtains in Grand Central as part of its customer service improvement program at 20 stations, including 10 in Westchester: Port Chester, Rye, Harrison, Mamaroneck, Larchmont, New Rochelle, Pelham, Mount Vernon East, Tarrytown and Ossining. Those improvements will include upgrades to security and the station’s public address systems, she noted.
She described the Big Board notification system in Grand Central as a “dinosaur in terms of how it is able to respond to schedule changes and re-loading schedules. So the system that we put into place will be significantly more nimble and able to respond to changes.”
While there are a number of major capital projects underway or in the pipeline, Rinaldi noted that most of Metro North’s capital projects go toward either state-of-good repair (34%) or normal replacement projects (51%).
“A lot of the stuff that you ride over and really don’t think about requires a fair amount of investment to keep it safe and reliable,” she said.
Rinaldi also identified a number of major capital programs in Metro North’s next capital program (2020-2024), including further repair work on the Park Avenue Viaduct in Manhattan that was damaged by fire in May 2016, and the ambitious Penn Station Access project that would create a new Metro-North Railroad link directly into Penn Station. The project will build four new Metro-North stations in the Bronx. Metro North states that the additional service will substantially reduce travel times to and from Manhattan’s West Side; introduce convenient, direct rail service to communities underserved by mass transit; support economic development in the East Bronx and improve mobility and regional connectivity.
While Rinaldi did not have an estimated project cost for Penn Station Access, she believes there is considerable political support for the project, particularly from elected officials in the Bronx. She said the project is tied into the East Side Access project currently under construction and added that work could not begin until East Side Access construction is completed, which currently is projected for sometime in 2022.
She also said the highly controversial Gateway Program is critical tor Metro North to implement needed service improvements to its West of Hudson Port Jervis line.