But riders accustomed to heading to Brooklyn with a one-seat ride may not be thrilled with the draft schedule because trains to and from Brooklyn will mostly now work as shuttle trains between Atlantic Terminal and Jamaica, arriving and leaving at a designated platform on the southernmost side of the Jamaica hub.
The new timetables and service to Grand Central mean much more service overall, including 44 additional morning rush hour trains to Manhattan (bringing the total morning rush hour trains to 159) and 60 additional afternoon peak trains. But the Brooklyn shuttle may rub commuters the wrong way because of its reliance on Platform F, the newest platform at Jamaica built near the AirTrain entrance. A transfer to or from the platform requires travelers to walk up and across the station, which some riders are already dreading.
"I can already see the train I need to transfer to carelessly departing seconds before I can climb up and over from the stupid new Brooklyn shuttle platform," tweeted an annoyed Jason Rabinowitz when he reviewed the plan for the shuttle service.
Commuter rail blogger LIRR Today also blasted the decision to move to mostly shuttle service between Brooklyn and Jamaica, claiming that because of the need to go "up and over" at Jamaica, "Travel times between Long Island and Brooklyn will increase by an average of 12.7 minutes."
When Platform F was first built, the LIRR pitched it as something that would improve service to and from Brooklyn, speeding up trains by reducing congestion, even at the expense of one-seat rides. Platform F was completed before the pandemic and was used in some service patterns, before commuter rail service patterns were changed during the virus' reign over New York.
With East Side Access finally set to open later this year, MTA planners are pitching the platform, and Brooklyn shuttle service, as something necessary to straighten out previously criss-crossed service and open up space for the overall increase in trains passing through the Jamaica hub.
"Here at Jamaica, when you make a left going to Brooklyn and go straight going to Manhattan, it creates conflicts," said Charlie McKiernan, the general manager of service planning at the LIRR. "So in order for us to ramp up service, and run more trains, the best way to do that is to what we call 'straight ramp.' It's just like being on a highway. If everybody's going straight, you can move at a nice steady pace and you can get a lot of cars through. The minute somebody from the right lane or the middle lane wants to make a left turn, all of a sudden, everything comes to stop. So that that was the engineering side of why we decided what to do."
The addition of more trains through Jamaica meant that one of the western terminals to which trains are headed was going to wind up with a shuttle service, which McKiernan said was ultimately a decision based on ridership that's heavily tilted towards Manhattan.
"The impetus behind that decision, of who is going to get straight rail and who is going to be separated, was based on ridership. Over 80 percent of our customers utilize Penn Station, and less than less than 7 percent of our customers utilize Brooklyn," he said.
The new draft schedules do offer a raw increase in Brooklyn service to and from Jamaica as advertised. Today, 51 trains per day run out of Jamaica to all three Brooklyn stops (East New York, Nostrand Avenue and Atlantic Terminal) on weekdays, and 52 trains run to every Brooklyn stop on the way to Jamaica from Atlantic Terminal. The proposed schedules offer 77 trains from Jamaica to Brooklyn and 79 trains from Brooklyn to Jamaica on weekdays. The proposed schedule also offers 61 trains to Brooklyn and 63 trains out of Brooklyn on weekends, all with the caveat that the shuttle service means a hike once you arrive at Jamaica.
"It's pretty, it's pristine, but it is over there," Lisa Daglian, the executive director of the Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee to the MTA said about the platform. "If you're on Track 1 and you need to get to Platform F, that 'F' stands for something. So I think they could have picked a better letter."
McKiernan recognized Daglian's point, but argued that the choice to turn Brooklyn service into a shuttle service allowed the LIRR to treat its service operation like a subway at peak hours, by running trains every 12 minutes. That choice comes with a tradeoff, too, since it means that trains to and from Brooklyn will no longer have a specific timed connection waiting at Jamaica, instead forcing travelers to just rely on pulling into Jamaica and heading to Platform F to wait for the next train whenever it might come.
"That helps with the throughput, not holding connections. Once you start holding connections, you create a ripple effect. We felt that 12 minutes was, was a reasonable amount of time. We recognize, and that went into the thinking, there is a difference if you get off at Track 1 track versus Track 5, and that was the other part that went into the 12 minute headways," he said.
Per the draft schedules the MTA put out, there are still 18 eastbound and westbound one-seat rides to Brooklyn on weekdays on a combination of the Hempstead, West Hempstead and Freeport lines. But Daglian said that in the upcoming public information sessions on the new timetables, her organization and their members are going to push for what they consider a fair amount of trips that won't require a climb over to Dimension F.
"We're going to keep our eye on making sure that there is indeed sufficient and easy enough service to and from Atlantic and from Southeast Queens, by which I mean, not having to do the up and over, but the one-seat ride as often as possible," she said.