The plan to revamp and expand Penn Station is finally starting to come into fruition.
Last week, a brand new concourse and entrance opened at the James A. Farley Post Office Building, which is located on the west side of Eighth Avenue across from the transit hub. The new space, named the West End Concourse, provides a new line of access to 17 of the 21 tracks at Penn and is amply more pleasant than navigating the dark, crowded terminal beneath Madison Square Garden.
But the concourse is just the tip of the iceberg. The project is the first phase in a larger initiative to transform the Farley Building into a sprawling, modern space that will house a brand-new train hall. On Friday, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that Amtrak, the MTA, the Port Authority and other parties of interest finalized a $1.6 billion deal that will create a new 255,000-square-foot train hall (named the Moynihan Train Hall) and bring 700,000 square feet of new commercial space to the building.
Moynihan Train Hall will house ticketing and waiting areas for Amtrak and Long Island Rail Road trains—those who rely on NJ Transit will still have to slum it through Penn Station. Once completed, commuters will be able to access the station directly from Ninth Avenue.
The design of the new train hall is a massive departure from the current layout at Penn Station. Moynihan will boast a arched glass ceiling that will provide natural light for commuters passing through, and the grand, column-ridden entrance to the Farley Building will remain intact following the construction.
"Fifty years after the loss of the original Penn Station structure, passengers will once again experience a world-class rail hub worthy of New York," Cuomo said in a statement. "The Farley Building’s Moynihan Train Hall is two decades in the making, and we are proud that this project is finally a reality."
While the plan is a major step toward fixing many of the planning and design issues that have riddled Penn Station since it was redeveloped in the 1960s, critics point out that it doesn't go far enough.
Jim Venturi, the principal architect for the ReThink NYC plan, says that there is much to be desired in the Penn-Farley complex, particularly the fact that the new train hall will only occupy a fraction of the Farley Building. ReThink has a surprisingly simple solution for fixing Penn Station—and much of New York's transit system as a whole—that revolves around the idea of unifying the city's regional commuter lines and converting the nation's busiest rail hub from a terminal into a through station. Expanding Penn Station into the Farley Building is a major part of that plan.
"[ReThink] is very supportive of the MTA expanding into the Farley Building, but our plan would use the entire building," Venturi said over the phone. "Our plan would use the entire building—we think it's a mistake to waste that space."
A major part of Venturi's concern here surrounds a plan pitched by Amtrak to construct a Penn Station South, which would build an entirely new terminal just south of the existing one, requiring the demolition of an entire city block. That plan is far from being finalized, but it is one of several solutions to accommodate a pair of new tracks between Penn Station and New Jersey that would be installed if and when the Gateway Tunnel Project is completed.
Instead of spending the money associated with gutting an entire block for a new train terminal, Venturi posits that those funds could be used to build new rail hubs and expand on existing ones across the city.
The renovation of the Farley Building is expected to be completed in 2020, a year during which many expect Cuomo to run for president. The project doesn't solve all of the problems associated with Penn Station, but it is a major step in the right direction.
Only time will tell if the powers that be invest in long-term solutions for New York City's transit systems. If the subway is any indication, New Yorkers shouldn't hold their breath.