The M.T.A. considers a new line to connect Manhattan to Westchester via the Bronx

The proposed Metro-North lines. (M.T.A.)
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Councilman Jimmy Vacca hopes that one day the M.T.A. will run commuter rail through the East Bronx, where his district is, to Westchester.

"Commuters traveling from the East Bronx to work in Westchester have no viable choice but to take their cars and sit in traffic on the Hutchinson River Parkway, which is backed up every day," said Vacca, the chair of the Council's transportation committee, during a Tuesday morning hearing about mass transit in the outer boroughs.

After the completion of the East Side Access project, now due sometime in 2019, Long Island Railroad passengers will be able to disembark in Grand Central Terminal, rather than just Penn Station, which means there should be more space available on the west side for other railroad purposes.

One proposal that's being considered is to run two new Metro-North trains out of Penn Station.

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One line would run north from Penn Station along the Amtrak line to Albany, connecting with the Hudson line in Spuyten Duyvil. The other line, which addresses that East Bronx issue, would run east from Penn Station along the Amtrak route to Boston, looping south of Grand Central, into western Queens and then north through the East Side of the Bronx, connecting with the New Haven line somewhere south of New Rochelle.

At the present, three Metro-North corridors, the Hudson, Harlem and New Haven lines, stop at 13 stations in the west Bronx.

Those stations are well trafficked.

Of all Metro-North service east of the Hudson River, Bronx ridership accounts for 10 percent, about two-thirds of which involves travel between the Bronx and northern suburbs.

William Wheeler, director of planning at the M.T.A., described it in his written testimony on Tuesday as the "largest rail reverse commute market" in the country.

"Between 1990 and 2008, there was a 56 percent increase in the number of Bronx residents commuting to Westchester for work," agrees Jonathan Bowles, executive director of Center for an Urban Future. "During the same period, there was only a 4 percent increase in the number of Manhattan residents commuting to Westchester for work."

In recent years, Metro-North has begun exploring its options, and is presently conducting a "Federal Environmental Assessment" of the proposed new lines up the west side of Manhattan, and the east side of the Bronx.

The proposal would not involve laying new track or building new rights-of-way, since the M.T.A. would presumably be able to use Amtrak's. But it would involve the construction of six new stations, four in the east Bronx—near Co-op City, Morris Park-Bronx Medical Center, Parkchester and Hunts Point—and two on Manhattan's west side, one at 125th Street, and the other possibly somewhere between West 54th and 57th streets and 10th and 11th avenues.

"The tracks are there," said Vacca.

It's an idea that's been around a while.

"Metro-North has been actively studying it for the last several years at least," said Chris Jones, the Regional Plan Association's vice president for research says.

According to Jones, the project has likely been held up, in part, by the still pending completion of East Side access.

Vacca puts the cost of the project at $400 million, which his office says is based on a previous iteration of the M.T.A.'s capital plan.

M.T.A. spokesman Adam Lisberg said, via email, that, "We don’t have a cost estimate, because the analysis is in progress."

According to Jones, the cost wouldn't rival that of big-ticket projects like East Side Access and Second Avenue Subway, thanks to the fact that the infrastructure basically exists.

"I will say that it's not a big capital investment item for the type of service that you're talking about," said Jones. "You're not talking about billions of dollars for this."