Larchmont Station Renovation: Mostly On-Time

by Judy Silberstein

(December 8, 2004) Some Larchmonters already have a good idea of what’s going on with the Larchmont Train Station renovation, which began this March and is expected to cost close to $9 million. Those in the know include the 2,666 commuters that show up during an average morning rush hour each day, making it the busiest stop on Metro-North’s New Haven line. For the rest of us, Metro-North provided the following update this week.

“This second, they’re pouring cement on the outbound platform,” Metro-North spokesman Dan Brucker reported.

Workers were pouring cement on Wednesday, December 7; the overpass tower on the inbound side is under wraps and nearing completion.

Is the project on schedule?

Yes, and a bit of no, according to Mr. Brucker who was briefed by Geoffrey Dopsch, the assistant director of facilities who is overseeing the project. It’s taking a bit longer to finish the three-part process required to paint the new canopy to go up on the outbound side. Because the canopy is made of old-fashioned galvanized steel – the kind that holds up particularly well over time and will provide extra protection from the elements – regular paint won’t do. However, Mr. Brucker assured that the project overall is still on schedule. “It’s like chicken soup – even if the turnips take longer to slice, once the ingredients go into the pot, the soup comes out on-time.” (The colorful Mr. Brucker went on to offer his own version of “On-Time Chicken Soup” for commuters and other Gazette readers, See: Wine & Dine.)

The canopy is expected to be delivered and installed within the week, and the entire project is still on track to finish in spring of 2006.

What’s happening now?

Going from one side to the other: The old overpass has been out of service since July of this year, and commuters have been using the renovated stairs and tunnels under the tracks to get from the Larchmont-side parking lot to the Town of Mamaroneck side. A number of Gazette readers have asked about the continuation of the tunnel that goes from the station to the Town parking lot (See: Pedestrian Tunnel A Disgrace.) This tunnel is not maintained by Metro-North and is the responsibility of the Village of Larchmont, which has plans to make improvements using funds raised from the most recent increase in fees charged for permits to park in the station lot. No definite action has been approved at this date.

Getting from here to there

Because of the renovations, trains have not had access to the track closest to the inbound platform, requiring commuters to cross bridge plates to enter the trains. Until recently there were twelve bridges and significant congestion entering morning trains. As discussed by the Village of Larchmont board at various public meetings in recent months, commuters were complaining. Recently two new bridge plates were added; that is still not enough to reach each door of the train, but does relieve the crush to some extent.

ADA accessibility: Now, in the 1950’s, and in the near future

Until the new overpass is complete and elevators are operational, the Larchmont station will not be fully compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). (The closest station that is completely ADA accessible is New Rochelle.) There is a ramp leading from the outbound platform down to the Larchmont parking lot, however, at the end of the ramp there is a steep step that must be overcome before reaching street level. There are steep stairs and no ramp on the inbound side; these must be negotiated to reach the ticket office.

Under current conditions, Village resident Suri Nisker, who uses a motorized scooter, is not able to travel by train from Larchmont. “I can now ride my scooter all the way from Palmer to Post on my side of Larchmont Avenue, but the train station shocks me,” she said. “Larchmont is a nice place to live if you’re disabled, but I wouldn’t want to leave by train.”

The Larchmont station has not always been so difficult to access. Back in the 1950’s, when the route of the New England Thruway was being proposed, the president of the New Haven Railroad was critical of plans that would elevate the parking area and the station above the roadway. At the time, the station house and tracks were at ground level, although riders climbed into the trains themselves.

“Why should the people of Larchmont agree to anything that makes them climb steps?” he asked. Of course, Larchmonters did end up having to climb steps –lots of them to get to the new facility built directly on the platform. (Read more from 1954: McGinnis Raps Elevated Depot ).

Before construction of the elevated platform in the mid-1950's, the train station was on the same level as the tracks. Photo courtesy of Larchmont Library's Roth Collection.

The alternative to all those stairs is currently being constructed. As we speak, said Mr. Brucker, the overpass is being fabricated by the Franbuilt Company of Buffalo, in the classic American railway style, which is a “high-tech industrial look with added detail and artistry.” All the foundation work for the overpass is underway, including the masonry for the elevator towers, which is nearly complete on the inbound side.

Architectural drawings of the overpass show elevators at street level. Click for more.

In mid-February of 2005, commuters will be treated to the sight of a giant crane lifting the entire new overpass structure into place. From then it will take 8 months to outfit the overpass with its glass elements, elevators and other details.

Ticket office/waiting room?

Because the new facility overlaps the site of the current one, building is proceeding in stages. Part of the existing facility is closed so work can start on the new one. When the new space is ready, another section of the old will be closed. Eventually the new space will be clad in a “split-face block” a rough surfaced building material which will emulate a more “classic railroad look,” according to Mr. Brucker. Metro-North is trying to get away from a “store front” look. “We don’t want it to look like a shed placed under a canopy,” said Mr. Brucker.

A small detail has been added.

An elderly customer called Metro-North asking for help with congestion on the stairs. Commuters had been sitting on the bottom steps, making it difficult to use the rail to complete a descent of the stairs. There’s a new bench nearby designed to lure the step-sitters to a more appropriate resting place.

Challenges for Metro-North

According to Mr. Dopsch, the Larchmont Train Station renovation has presented two major challenges, above and beyond those of similar projects. Unlike most other stations, the ticket office sits directly on the platform. Renovating the platform and the office at the same time in the same site presents additional difficulties.

The other challenge comes from the station’s popularity. “This is a very busy station, and that makes logistics more complex,” said Mr. Brucker. The renovators have to work around an average of 3,736 individual customers per day (more than any other New Haven line station except for New Rochelle, which serves 3,831 per day). In the morning rush, Larchmont is the busiest station of all - which is probably obvious to the 2,666 commuters who flood the platforms on an average day.

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