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New Train Hall Opens at Penn Station, Echoing Building’s Former Glory
The New York Times
New York, New York, USA
Christina Goldbaum
Date Published: 
Transportation, Train Station, New York, Penn Station, Project Opening, Renovation, Adaptive Re-Use
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2020-12-31 17:27:32
2020-12-31 17:35:31
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Desiree Rios for The New York Times
The Moynihan Train Hall, with glass skylights and 92-foot-high ceilings, will open Jan. 1 as an area for Amtrak and Long Island Rail Road riders.

For more than half a century, New Yorkers have trudged through the crammed platforms, dark hallways and oppressively low ceilings of Pennsylvania Station, the busiest and perhaps most miserable train hub in North America.

Entombed beneath Madison Square Garden, the station served 650,000 riders each weekday before the pandemic, or three times the number it was built to handle.

But as more commuters return to Penn Station next year, they will be welcomed by a new, $1.6 billion train hall complete with over an acre of glass skylights, art installations and 92-foot-high ceilings that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who championed the project, has likened 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 Jan. 1 as a waiting room for Amtrak and Long Island Rail Road passengers.

For decades, the huge undertaking was considered an absolution of sorts for one of the city’s greatest sins: the demolition in the 1960s of the original Penn Station building, an awe-inspiring 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 civic life. It prompted a fierce backlash among defenders of the city’s architectural heritage, the creation of the Landmarks Preservation Commission and renewed efforts to protect Grand Central Terminal.

That the project has been completed during a period when the city was brought to a standstill is a hopeful reminder that the bustle of Midtown Manhattan will return, Mr. Cuomo said.

“This would be an amazing accomplishment at any time, but it is an extraordinary accomplishment today,” the governor said at a ribbon-cutting ceremony in the new hall on Wednesday. “As dark as 2020 was, to me this hall brings the light, literally and figuratively.”

The project has its detractors, who fault state officials as not going far enough in reimagining Penn Station. These critics note that the Moynihan Train Hall will serve only some of the passengers who use Penn Station, ignoring the needs of subway riders.

For nearly 30 years, elected leaders have debated transforming the Farley building from a post office to an extension of Penn Station — an idea first proposed by Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who was known for his innovative, if not always realistic, solutions to urban ills.

The Farley building, Mr. Moynihan argued, offered an obvious solution to Penn Station’s overcrowding: Commuter train tracks ran beneath the large post office, which was no longer a busy mail hub but still had a grandeur that echoed the original Penn Station’s. That building was demolished starting in 1963 as the Pennsylvania Railroad Company went bankrupt.

At least five versions of Mr. Moynihan’s original plan later, Mr. Cuomo broke ground for the project in 2017. Two major private developers, Related Companies and Vornado, contributed $630 million in exchange for a 99-year lease on 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 spearheaded as he seeks to make such initiatives a hallmark of his tenure.

Still, the Moynihan hall caters primarily to Amtrak passengers, who account for just 5 percent of Penn Station’s 650,000 weekday riders and will board and exit trains through the new waiting area. Long Island Rail Road commuters will be able to get to trains from the new hall, but officials expect most of them to continue to use the older Penn Station.

The station’s six subway lines run along Eighth and Seventh Avenues and Avenue of the Americas — a good distance from the new train hall. That leaves subway riders, who tend to be less affluent than Amtrak users, and New Jersey Transit commuters to the bowels of Penn Station.

“By opening Moynihan, it’s basically like opening the first-class lounge at the airport,” said Vishaan Chakrabarti, who founded Practice for Architecture and Urbanism, a New York architecture firm, and proposed a radical plan to move Madison Square Garden and open up Penn Station in 2016.

“Moynihan is a really good Phase One, it’s the appetizer,” Mr. Chakrabarti said. “But