Is there any place in the world as intractably jammed with traffic as the Belt Parkway or the Long Island Expressway? Yes. The east-west passenger rail corridor around Penn Station deserves a top spot on anyone's misery list. But last week Amtrak announced a welcome first step toward relieving at least part of Penn's bottleneck. Amtrak will use $185 million in federal superstorm Sandy aid to build the start of a brand-new corridor into the station -- an 800-foot concrete stormproof casement that ultimately will help move trains faster under the Hudson River and through the Hudson rail yards.
At the moment, whether you're headed into Penn from Philadelphia on Amtrak, or from Farmingdale on the Long Island Rail Road, or from Newark on New Jersey Transit -- or even if you're simply waiting to board a train at the station -- chances are, you'll have to endure a mysterious slow dance as trains wait to cross under rivers or thread through some of the busiest train yards in the Western Hemisphere. Delays are endemic.
What the region's passenger rail network really needs is a total rebuild now -- with stormproof tunnels and fast, seamless access to Penn and its yards. But major public projects seldom work that way. The Second Avenue subway, first discussed in 1929, will open in 2016.
Fortunately, Penn's improvements should move faster. One reason is that the concrete casement Amtrak just greenlighted is the prelude to a platform over the Hudson rail yards, which will support a massive new cluster of commercial, residential and public spaces. This means commercial development will drive the push for better service and better infrastructure that will help long-suffering rail riders.
The work could mean temporary hardships for the LIRR. It will have to move a maintenance facility from the Hudson yards to its Hillside, Queens, facility. That's not ideal. Still, an end to Penn Station's long-standing structural bottlenecks can't come soon enough.