Skip to main content

What's supposed to happen at the Vanderbilt Yard? And why did the MTA initially resist Ratner's money-saving changes?

What was approved in December 2006 by the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) is surely to be changed in new plans likely to be released at the June 24 board meeting, but the below graphic, Figure 1-13, from the Atlantic Yards Final Environmental Impact Statement, shows what was supposed to happen.

The ten-track railyard for servicing the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR), located in the western third (Block 1119) of the Vanderbilt Yard, would be given up, replaced by a nine-track yard in the eastern third (Block 1121) capable of storing, cleaning, and toilet servicing longer trains, given that the LIRR now has longer cars.

The new yard would be reduced to just seven tracks, and that change, I'm told, was initially resisted by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA). (Click to enlarge)


Changes in the plan

Rather, as acting Metropolitan Transportation Authority Acting Executive Director Helena Williams testified May 29 at a state Senate oversight hearing, in early 2008--well before the real economic downturn, I'd note--Forest City Ratner “came to me and said we need to go through a value engineering exercise” to reduce the cost of construction of the permanent railyard.

“I am pleased to announce we have reached a tentative agreement on that new design,” she announced, explaining that “the new yard will have seven tracks plus an eight-car drill track, and will be sufficient to support future ridership growth.” A drill track is used for switching cars.

Why did the MTA agree?

I've since been told, by sources with secondhand knowledge of the negotiations, that the MTA long resisted Forest City Ratner's plan. What made them change their mind? I've filed a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request to find out. No, I don't expect results.

Also, there's supposed to be a temporary yard built in Block 1121. One concern I've heard is that this temporary yard would be all that gets built, but we'll have to see the documentation that emerges at the MTA Finance Committee meeting June 22 and the MTA board meeting June 24.

From the FEIS: Project Description

Text below is from the FEIS. Chapter 1, Project Description, contains a section titled LIRR RAIL YARD IMPROVEMENTS:
While less apparent than the above-grade elements of the proposed project, the renovated rail yard is an important component of the significant package of public improvements provided by the proposed project. In order to allow at-grade development on the entire project site, the proposed project would include a relocated, improved, and covered rail yard. The new design would streamline train movement between the rail yard and the LIRR Atlantic Terminal and would also add to the rail yard’s capacity. The new rail yard would facilitate the use of LIRR’s new, longer MU electric train fleet.

A reconfigured and upgraded rail yard would be built below street grade on the eastern end of the existing rail yard footprint to allow for both the continuance of LIRR rail yard operations and the operation of the arena. In order to provide for the continuance of LIRR Atlantic Branch operations during construction of the arena, construction would be staged to provide a temporary storage yard in Block 1121 prior to the completion of the improved rail yard.

Because of ADA requirements, new rail cars accommodate fewer passengers than older cars, and thus longer trains are needed to accommodate the same number of passengers. The new rail yard would consist of longer 8- and 10-car tracks, facilitating the use of these longer trains (see Figure 1-13). Additionally, the new rail yard would provide a drill track; provide wider areas between tracks for servicing; relocate and replace the existing electrical substation; and provide more modern switching, signal, and toilet servicing equipment. These improvements would modernize the rail yard equipment and improve train circulation within the rail yard and between the rail yards and Atlantic Terminal. Additionally, parking for 30 cars and five trucks would be provided and located within Block 1120 post-construction or another location satisfactory to LIRR, and usable storage space would be provided in Blocks 1120 and 1121 consistent with the needs of LIRR.

The west end of the improved rail yard would include a new portal (West Portal) which would provide a direct route to and from the LIRR Atlantic Terminal to the storage yard. The West Portal would also provide an emergency detour route for passenger train egress from the LIRR Atlantic Terminal, adding flexibility in the event of an emergency on the main line. The project sponsors would be responsible for the entire cost of the upgraded rail yard, although a portion of the state and City contributions to the project may be utilized for this purpose.


From the FEIS: Construction Impacts

Text below is from the FEIS, Chapter 17, Construction Impacts, under the heading RECONSTRUCTION OF THE LIRR VANDERBILT YARD. Note that the timetable is already way out of whack.

It states:
The Vanderbilt Yard is usually filled with trains during the day, where they are cleaned, serviced, and marshaled for the evening rush hour out of the Flatbush Avenue Terminal. Therefore, some track work within the Vanderbilt Yard would have to be done during evening and weekends when the yard is empty. Reconstruction of the Vanderbilt Yard is expected to start in late 2006 and to be completed in 2010.

The first step in the reconstruction of the Vanderbilt Yard would be to build a temporary yard in Blocks 1120 and 1121. Existing tracks and other structures in the area of the temporary yard would be removed. Then a temporary trestle from the main line would be built to allow train access. The Carlton Avenue Bridge and its foundations would be demolished and rebuilt. Some temporary electrical switchgear and other operating equipment would be installed. A temporary ramp along the north edge of Pacific Street would be constructed to allow access. Finally, the new temporary tracks would be installed, and the existing yard closed. This phase of the work is expected to take about two years.

Once the temporary yard is operational in the southern half of Blocks 1120 and 1121, the tracks in the old yard would be removed. The 6th Avenue Bridge would be demolished, and its reconstruction started. Within the same area, a new drill track (track used for switching cars) would be built under Block 1119. In addition, construction of the West Portal would begin at the western end of Block 1120. The West Portal would connect the new Vanderbilt Yard to the Atlantic Terminal, located on the south side of Atlantic Avenue at Block 1120. Four new permanent tracks for maintaining and servicing the trains would be built on the north side of Block 1121. When the new, permanent tracks are operational, the temporary trestle to the temporary tracks on the south side of Block 1121 would be removed. This phase of the work is expected to take about 18 months.

At this point, the temporary tracks would be removed and replaced with permanent tracks on the south side of Block 1121. The West Portal into Atlantic Terminal and the drill track would be complete. All of the temporary switchgear and other operating equipment would be removed.

The permanent signals and power would be installed, along with the new train maintenance and servicing equipment. This work is expected to take about 12 to 14 months, and the reconfigured Vanderbilt Yard would be fully operational in 2010. The new rail yard would have nine tracks for storing, cleaning, and toilet servicing of trains, a new drill track for switching trains, and a direct connection into Atlantic Terminal, all with modern operating equipment.

Almost all of the construction work on the rail yard would take place below the street grade, and would be less noticeable than that of the arena or project buildings. Reconstruction of the two bridges, excavation of an open trench for the West Portal, support of the excavated areas, and construction of the access ramp from the rail yard to the street level would be the main surface construction tasks. However, cranes would likely be at street level to lower materials and equipment into the below-grade areas. In addition, trucks would enter and exit the construction site from the streets.

Large pieces of construction equipment would be used for reconstruction of the Vanderbilt Yard. These would include cranes, bulldozers, backhoes, compactors, concrete pumps, and pavers. In addition, special railroad equipment would be used for laying ballast and track, and installing operating equipment. The reconstruction of the Vanderbilt Yard would take place over the course of 42 months, and the number of workers and truck trips would vary greatly over that period of time. At its peak, about 200 workers would be on-site, and about 40 to 60 trucks would enter and exit the site. For the majority of the reconstruction, the activity would be less than these peaks.

THE WEST PORTAL

The West Portal would connect the new Vanderbilt Yard to the Atlantic Terminal, located on the south side of Atlantic Avenue at Block 1120. Construction of the West Portal would be a “cut and cover” operation, which involves opening a large trench across several of the traffic lanes and the sidewalk on the south side of Atlantic Avenue. The trench would be too wide to be covered by steel plates and would be open for about a 10-month period in late 2008 and into 2009. At all times, at least two eastbound and three westbound lanes of traffic on Atlantic Avenue would be open. The method of maintaining traffic during this time and the potential impacts are discussed below in the “Traffic” section of this chapter. After the subterranean utilities are relocated and the structural steel installed for the West Portal, the trench would be closed, and traffic lanes reopened.

After the cut and cover trench is closed, all work would be underground inside the tunnel and not noticeable to area workers, residents, or visitors. During construction of the West Portal, several measures would be taken to prevent damage and disruption to the LIRR tracks in and out of Atlantic Terminal. Walls would be erected to separate the main line tracks from the work within the West Portal area. The wiring for power and signals would be moved out of or away from the West Portal work area. During the opening of the existing tunnel wall, the work would be undertaken at night, when the tracks are not in use. In addition, a false wall to separate the existing tunnel from the active tracks would be installed to prevent any materials or debris from spilling onto the tracks.

The number of construction workers would vary depending on the actual construction operation, but would generally number between 20 and 30. The equipment would consist of backhoes, excavators, mobile cranes, cherry pickers, dump trucks, concrete trucks and many small hand tools. The West Portal would be opened with excavators, which would place the excavated materials onto dump trucks for disposal. Then the foundations and walls would be built with reinforced concrete. About 15 trucks per day would be needed for this work on the West Portal. Steel girders would then be placed to form the roof of the West Portal and the base of the reconstructed Atlantic Avenue. The steel girders would be placed with mobile cranes and bolted into place. Atlantic Avenue would then be repaved to New York City Department of Transportation (DOT) specifications and standards.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Forest City acknowledges unspecified delays in Pacific Park, cites $300 million "impairment" in project value; what about affordable housing pledge?

Updated Monday Nov. 7 am: Note follow-up coverage of stock price drop and investor conference call and pending questions.

Pacific Park Brooklyn is seriously delayed, Forest City Realty Trust said yesterday in a news release, which further acknowledged that the project has caused a $300 million impairment, or write-down of the asset, as the expected revenues no longer exceed the carrying cost.

The Cleveland-based developer, parent of Brooklyn-based Forest City Ratner, which is a 30% investor in Pacific Park along with 70% partner/overseer Greenland USA, blamed the "significant impairment" on an oversupply of market-rate apartments, the uncertain fate of the 421-a tax break, and a continued increase in construction costs.

While the delay essentially confirms the obvious, given that two major buildings have not launched despite plans to do so, it raises significant questions about the future of the project, including:
if market-rate construction is delayed, will the affordable h…

Revising official figures, new report reveals Nets averaged just 11,622 home fans last season, Islanders drew 11,200 (and have option to leave in 2018)

The Brooklyn Nets drew an average of only 11,622 fans per home game in their most recent (and lousy) season, more than 23% below the announced official attendance figure, and little more than 65% of the Barclays Center's capacity.

The New York Islanders also drew some 19.4% below announced attendance, or 11,200 fans per home game.

The surprising numbers were disclosed in a consultant's report attached to the Preliminary Official Statement for the refinancing of some $462 million in tax-exempt bonds for the Barclays Center (plus another $20 million in taxable bonds). The refinancing should lower costs to Mikhail Prokhorov, owner of the arena operating company, by and average of $3.4 million a year through 2044 in paying off arena construction.

According to official figures, the Brooklyn Nets attendance averaged 17,187 in the debut season, 2012-13, 17,251 in 2013-14, 17,037 in 2014-15, and 15,125 in the most recent season, 2015-16. For hoops, the arena holds 17,732.

But official…

At 550 Vanderbilt, big chunk of apartments pitched to Chinese buyers as "international units"

One key to sales at the 550 Vanderbilt condo is the connection to China, thanks to Shanghai-based developer Greenland Holdings.

It's the parent of Greenland USA, which as part of Greenland Forest City Partners owns 70% of Pacific Park (except 461 Dean and the arena).

And sales in China may help explain how the developer was able to claim early momentum.
"Since 550 Vanderbilt launched pre-sales in June [2015], more than 80 residences have gone into contract, representing over 30% of the building’s 278 total residences," the developer said in a 9/25/15 press release announcing the opening of a sales gallery in Brooklyn. "The strong response from the marketplace indicates the high level of demand for well-designed new luxury homes in Brooklyn..."

Maybe. Or maybe it just meant a decent initial pipeline to Chinese buyers.

As lawyer Jay Neveloff, who represents Forest City, told the Real Deal in 2015, a project involving a Chinese firm "creates a huge market for…

Is Barclays Center dumping the Islanders, or are they renegotiating? Evidence varies (bond doc, cash receipts); NHL attendance biggest variable

The Internet has been abuzz since Bloomberg's Scott Soshnick reported 1/30/17, using an overly conclusory headline, that Brooklyn’s Barclays Center Is Dumping the Islanders.

That would end an unusual arrangement in which the arena agrees to pay the team a fixed sum (minus certain expenses), in exchange for keeping tickets, suite, and sponsorship revenue.

The arena would earn more without the hockey team, according to Bloomberg, which cited “a financial projection shared with potential investors showed the Islanders won’t contribute any revenue after the 2018-19 season--a clear signal that the team won’t play there, the people said."

That "signal," however, is hardly definitive, as are the media leaks about a prospective new arena in Queens, as shown in the screenshot below from Newsday. Both sides are surely pushing for advantage, if not bluffing.

Consider: the arena and the Islanders can't even formally begin their opt-out talks until after this season. The disc…

Skanska says it "expected to assemble a properly designed modular building, not engage in an iterative R&D experiment"

On 12/10/16, I noted that FastCo.Design's Prefab's Moment of Reckoning article dialed back the gush on the 461 Dean modular tower compared to the publication's previous coverage.

Still, I noted that the article relied on developer Forest City Ratner and architect SHoP to put the best possible spin on what was clearly a failure. From the article: At the project's outset, it took the factory (managed by Skanska at the time) two to three weeks to build a module. By the end, under FCRC's management, the builders cut that down to six days. "The project took a little longer than expected and cost a little bit more than expected because we started the project with the wrong contractor," [Forest City's Adam] Greene says.Skanska jabs back
Well, Forest City's estranged partner Skanska later weighed in--not sure whether they weren't asked or just missed a deadline--and their article was updated 12/13/16. Here's Skanska's statement, which shows th…

Not just logistics: bypassing Brooklyn for DNC 2016 also saved on optics (role of Russian oligarch, Shanghai government)

Surely the logistical challenges of holding a national presidential nominating convention in Brooklyn were the main (and stated) reasons for the Democratic National Committee's choice of Philadelphia.

And, as I wrote in NY Slant, the huge security cordon in Philadelphia would have been impossible in Brooklyn.

But consider also the optics. As I wrote in my 1/21/15 op-ed in the Times arguing that the choice of Brooklyn was a bad idea:
The arena also raises ethically sticky questions for the Democrats. While the Barclays Center is owned primarily by Forest City Ratner, 45 percent of it is owned by the Russian billionaire Mikhail D. Prokhorov (who also owns 80 percent of the Brooklyn Nets). Mr. Prokhorov has a necessarily cordial relationship with Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin — though he has been critical of Mr. Putin in the past, last year, at the Russian president’s request, he tried to transfer ownership of the Nets to one of his Moscow-based companies. An oligarch-owned a…