For more than half a century, New Yorkers have been trudging through the overcrowded platforms, dark hallways, and oppressively low ceilings of Pennsylvania Station, the busiest and perhaps most miserable train hub in North America.
The station was buried under Madison Square Garden and served 650,000 drivers, or three times the number it was built for, each weekday before the pandemic.
But when more commuters return to Penn Station next year, they’ll be greeted by a new $ 1.6 billion train hall with over an acre of glass skylights, art installations, and 92-foot ceilings, designed by Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, the championed the project, has likened it to the majestic Grand Central Terminal.
After nearly three years of construction, the new Moynihan Train Hall in the James A. Farley Post Office building across Eighth Avenue from Penn Station will open to the public on January 1st as a waiting room for Amtrak and Long Island Rail Road passengers.
For decades, the big company was seen as a kind of absolution for one of the city’s greatest sins: the demolition of the original Penn Station building in the 1960s, an impressive structure that was a stately gateway to the country’s economic powerhouse.
The destruction of the station was a turning point in New York’s civil life. This sparked violent backlash among defenders of the city’s architectural heritage, the creation of the Monument Conservation Commission, and renewed efforts to protect the Grand Central Terminal.
That the project was completed at a time when the city was stalling is a hopeful reminder that the hustle and bustle of Midtown Manhattan will return, Cuomo said.
The train hall “sends a clear message to the world that the pandemic has not stopped us from dreaming big and building for the future, even though we have suffered badly as a result of this once-in-a-century health crisis,” he added.
The project has its critics accusing state officials for not going far enough in redesigning Penn Station. These critics note that the Moynihan Train Hall will only serve some of the passengers using Penn Station without considering the needs of the subway riders.
For nearly 30 years, elected leaders have debated converting the Farley Building from a post office to an extension of Penn Station – An idea first suggested by Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who was known for his innovative, if not always realistic, solutions to urban diseases.
The Farley Building, Moynihan said, offered an obvious solution to the overcrowding of Penn Station: Underneath the large post office, which was no longer a busy post office, but was still a size reminiscent of the original Penn Station, there were aerial tram tracks. This building was demolished starting in 1963 when the Pennsylvania Railroad Company went bankrupt.
At least five versions of Moynihan’s original plan later, Mr. Cuomo laid the foundation for the project in 2017. Two large private developers, Related Companies and Vornado, donated $ 630 million in exchange for a 99-year lease for much of the century. old Farley building; The other $ 970 million came from public sources.
The train hall is one of several major infrastructure projects that Mr. Cuomo has led to make such initiatives a hallmark of his tenure.
Only passengers using Amtrak or the Long Island Rail Road, which account for 30,000 and 230,000 of Penn Station’s 650,000 daily drivers, have access to trains directly from Moynihan concourse, which is located on both platforms.
The station’s six subway lines run along Eighth, Seventh Avenue and Avenue of the Americas – a good distance from the new train hall. That leaves subway drivers, who tend to be less wealthy than Amtrak users, into Penn Station’s gut.
“With the opening of Moynihan, it’s basically like opening the world-class lounge at the airport,” said Vishaan Chakrabarti, who founded and founded New York’s Practice for Architecture and Urbanism radical plan to relocate Madison Square Garden and open Penn Station in 2016.
“Moynihan is a really good phase one, it’s the starter,” said Chakrabarti. “But the main train station in the basement of the garden is the main course.”
The new hall also does not solve the fundamental problem of Penn Station: insufficient capacity.
In recent years, the growing number of passengers on the S-Bahn and U-Bahn lines that serve the train station has clogged platforms and passageways with bottlenecks.
While the new concourse will reduce some of the burden of moving the designated waiting area for all Amtrak trains out of Penn Station, additional trains, tracks and platforms will be needed to truly reduce the amount of space on the station.
To address the station’s limited capacity, elected officials have proposed two major infrastructure projects – Gateway and Penn South – that would require years of construction and many billions of dollars in investment.
The gateway project that would Repair the deteriorating rail tunnels under the Hudson River and double the rail capacity in and out of Penn Station. The plans have been stuck in a political stalemate between President Trump and the democratic leaders for four years.
In January 2020, Mr. Cuomo unveiled plans for the Penn South Project that would see the state acquire the city block south of Penn Station and build eight new railroad tracks. The expansion would allow the transit node to accommodate 175,000 more drivers.
Neither project got off the ground, although elected officials are confident they will move forward under President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr., an avid supporter of Amtrak and major infrastructure projects.
Even before the projects are completed, the 255,000-square-foot Moynihan Hall could help revitalize the surrounding neighborhood that has long been considered a poor cousin near Grand Central Terminal.
There are already signs of revival. Apple, Amazon and Google have all rented office space in the region and turned it into an emerging technology corridor. In August, Facebook joined their ranks and agreed to rent all of the 730,000 square feet of office space in the Farley building.
With some tech company workers and other midtown office workers commuting again next year, elected officials and transit experts hope the new train concourse can help get them back on public transport and breathe life into the heart of the city.
“The timing couldn’t be better,” said Tom Wright, president of the Regional Plan Association, a planning group. “Right now we have to bring people back to the city and show how safe transit and public spaces are. Moynihan does just that.