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  • Dylan Intwala, AIT

The Moynihan Train Hall: What Exactly Is It?

It’s been almost 60 years since the original Pennsylvania Station of New York was built. Situated on the block between Seventh and Eighth Avenues and 31st and 33rd Streets in central Manhattan, Penn Station was once a symbol of architectural skill and grandeur. Natural light filled the main concourse, flooding the massive station with beauty. Pillars ran up the sides of the interior to hold up the 86-foot high ceiling, covering all eight acres of the station, picture-perfect. But after World War II, passenger traffic reduced massively, forcing the station to shrink. New York City’s government made plans to replace Penn Station with a large entertainment arena which would be named Madison Square Garden. Demolition began, and soon, Penn Station was forced underground, limited to the land under Madison Square Garden and Penn Plaza.

The current Penn Station is a dark, dingy, underground mix of concourses, serving six MTA New York City subway lines (A, C, E, and 1, 2, 3) as well as New Jersey Transit, Long Island Railroad, and Amtrak commuter services. Its old infrastructure and limited design make it hard to accommodate the hundreds of thousands of passengers that travel through New York Penn Station every single day. The outdated, confusing signage and the large number of tracks make it hard for newcomers to understand where to go. The number of commuters continues to grow, but the station does not.

It was U.S. Senator Daniel Moynihan in the early 1990s who really pushed to create an expansion to NY Penn Station to help ease pressure on the underground concourses. Across the street from Madison Square Garden was the James Farley Post Office. The outer perimeter was office space, leased out to social media giant Facebook, but the inner areas were abandoned― and had been since 2002 when the USPS sold it to the government. The plan for Moynihan Hall was to clear out the inside of the building and create a large, open train hall covered by a magnificent glass roof. Building began, and on New Year’s Day of 2021, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo unveiled the Daniel Patrick Moynihan Train Hall to the world.

With a size of around 486,000 square feet, Moynihan Train Hall increases the current Penn Station complex by 50%. The sheer grandeur and beauty of the building has drawn the attention of people worldwide. Three large steel beams wrap around the full height of the building, supporting a 92-foot high waving glass ceiling. A designated Food Hall area as well as numerous shops will become operational in late 2021, early 2022.

The new Train Hall contains more waiting rooms for passengers, including ones exclusively for Amtrak customers. In about two years, Moynihan Station will house lots of diverse restaurants and shops where commuters can pass time while waiting for their trains. Today, as of March 2021, only Starbucks is open and operational. Amtrak and LIRR both have many automated ticketing machines, as well as ticketing desks where customer service representatives help passengers purchase tickets. Moynihan Train Hall is designed to facilitate LIRR and Amtrak passengers with access to Tracks 5-16 as well as with access to the six subway lines. Tracks 17-21 are accessible via the West End Concourse, an addition which was part of the Moynihan Train Hall project.

Unfortunately for NJ Transit customers, if your train is leaving on tracks 1-4, you’ll have to wait for it in the original Penn Station concourse. This is because the “Access to the Region’s Core” project was canceled in 2010 as a result of NJ Transit’s failure to provide funding. The project was planned to extend the size of Moynihan Hall, so that it would be able to service Tracks 1-4. The project was canceled by then-governor Chris Christie of New Jersey, citing a lack of funding in the state government, as well as concerns over price overruns for construction of the tunnel. NJ Transit passengers for trains set to leave from tracks 5-21, however, are able to use the new Moynihan Train Hall which is directly accessible from the hall.

Moynihan Train Hall was a huge step for Penn Station, Amtrak and the New York City Government. The success of the project proved that the city was still capable of returning Penn Station to its original beauty and of serving its commuters. The next step for the station is to bring NJ Transit customers into the daylight. No concrete plans have been made for this addition, however. For now, train commuters bask in the glory that New York City has provided in the form of the Daniel Patrick Moynihan Train Hall.

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