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The surprisingly simple way to fix Penn Station right now

Written by
Clayton Guse

For the love of God, let this be the last summer of hell. 

It might be tough to believe now, but when it debuted in 1910, Pennsylvania Station was considered a friggin’ architectural masterpiece. But ever since the original above-ground portion of the structure was demolished in the 1960s, the busiest station of its kind in the western hemisphere, which offers service by Amtrak, Long Island Tail Road and New Jersey Transit, has been more or less a bane for New Yorkers. It lacks natural light. It’s difficult to navigate. It cramped. Its limited amount of tunnels means trains are often bottlenecking. It’s, frankly, one of the most depressing places in the entire city. And this year, things got worse, when travelers’ frustrations hit a tipping point after a series of derailments led the MTA to launch a set of emergency repairs, prompting Governor Andrew Cuomo to declare that the service changes will lead to a “summer of hell.” While quick construction solved a few of the immediate problems, there’s a long way to go, baby. Here’s what’s on the table. 

One current plan (that probably won’t work): 

Cuomo and the MTA have already set in motion a strategy to convert the old James A. Farley Post Office Building, across Eighth Avenue from Madison Square Garden, into a new sister station for Penn. Dubbed the Moynihan Station, it would provide slightly larger waiting areas for Long Island Rail Road commuters and a new entrance on Ninth Avenue. The prospect of having a bit more elbow room all sounds well and good, but its a cosmetic fix that doesn’t get to the heart of the problem: Without adding tunnels and platform space, the bottlenecking will only continue.  

Two proposed plans (that, mixed together, might just work, dammit):  

It’s a big “if” (and would cost a hell of a lot of money), but a pair of organizations are aiming to tackle that problem. First is Amtrak’s proposed $20 billion Gateway Program, which would bring a set of new tunnels (and make much-needed repairs to existing ones) below the Hudson River in an attempt to quell track congestion. And the second, more ballsy proposition comes from local think tank ReThinkNYC, whose RUN (“Regional Unified Network”) project calls for Penn to be transformed from an end-of-the-line hub to a through station, in which NJ Transit, LIRR and Metro-North all go onto different final destinations, making life much less of a crowded mess for passengers and dispatchers alike. 

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