The AirTrain will provide a corridor between the airport and the Mets-Willets Point station in Flushing, Queens, which serves the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) and the 7 train. State legislation, which was passed earlier this month, allows the New York State Department of Transportation to acquire city or MTA-owned land in order to build this project.
Cuomo, who first proposed the project three years ago, promises that the new train will connect passengers from Manhattan to LaGuardia in under 30 minutes. Engineering firm Parsons Brinckerhoff was selected in 2017 to oversee and analyze preliminary engineering and design process for up to two new AirTrain stations. Estimated costs for this project have risen to $1.5 billion from the original $450 million projected cost in 2015, according to The New York Times.
But Cuomo’s proposal has been met with criticism, mainly for the circuitous route that the AirTrain would take. It would take passengers past LaGuardia in order to reach Mets-Willets, and only then would they transfer to the AirTrain and reverse course back to the airport.
Critics have also been skeptical of Cuomo’s promise of an under-30-minute commute. It takes 16 minutes of train time by LIRR from Manhattan to Willets Point, but Cuomo did not take into account the time it would take waiting for trains or for passengers to get to and from the LIRR, which operates out of Pennsylvania Station. Currently, the LIRR also only operates to Mets-Willets Point during the Mets season and during off-peak hours, only runs once every 30 minutes. The actual AirTrain time is estimated to take six minutes with trains running every four minutes. Altogether, total commute time may end up being much more than the 30 minutes and may even take longer than using existing infrastructure like the express buses, according to Yonah Freemark of MIT.
The AirTrain project is a part of Cuomo’s $8 billion push to update the deteriorating airport. A new Terminal B is scheduled to be completed in 2020 and the new Delta Terminal C in 2021. Although the AirTrain project is not finalized, the next step will be an environmental review that will begin later this year.