The Long Island Rail Road by 2020 plans to expand its Penn Station operations to a new Farley Post Office complex across Eighth Avenue, where it will share space with Amtrak.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced Tuesday that the $1.6 billion effort will include a renovation of the LIRR’s existing Penn Station concourse featuring wider walkways, taller ceilings and a digital pseudo-skylight. The project is expected to be completed by December 2020, Cuomo said.
Speaking at a Manhattan meeting of the Association for a Better New York, a planning and trade group, the governor said the overhaul of the Moynihan Station project, which has made little progress since being first proposed two decades ago, seeks to correct a major “conceptual flaw.” Under the original plan, only Amtrak, which carries about 30,000 passengers a day at Penn, would move to a new, state-of-the-art train hall at the Farley Post Office building, while the LIRR, which carries about 230,000 riders at Penn, would be left behind in a “dirty,” “dingy” and “decrepit” station.
“I love Amtrak, but that makes no sense for anyone. Why would we build a new facility and invest all that money and the LIRR stays exactly where it was at Penn?” Cuomo said. “The new train hall that we’re building will be magnificent and will be world-class. And New York will not have seen anything like it in decades and decades.”
Cuomo said he was convinced Amtrak agreed to share its new digs with the LIRR because the agency “loves New York” and ultimately realized “the obvious inequity” of the Moynihan plan. In a statement, Amtrak chairman Anthony Coscia said the organization is “committed to working with New York State and other key stakeholders to advance the investments befitting America’s busiest train station.”
The LIRR and Amtrak have had an uneasy relationship in recent years. Amtrak owns Penn and is responsible for its maintenance. The LIRR runs more trains into and out of Penn than any other railroad, and has frequently complained about Amtrak’s lack of cooperation and consideration for LIRR customers.
“In the original plan, we got a lot of the inconvenience and very little of the benefit,” said Metropolitan Transportation Authority Board member and frequent Amtrak critic Mitchell Pally of Stony Brook.
Under the new plan, the LIRR will gain a second customer concourse at Farley that will connect to Penn’s existing tracks. It will be part of a “massive” train hall that will be 10 stories high with an arched skylight made of 1 acre of glass, a 70,000-square-foot balcony, “world-class dining and shopping,” and space for office and retail. New security features will include video surveillance with facial recognition capabilities and radiation detectors.
At 250,000 square feet, the Moynihan Train Hall will be 50 percent larger than Penn, and even larger than Grand Central Terminal.
Concurrently, the LIRR will completely redesign its existing Penn Station concourse, including rebuilding its ticketing area, nearly tripling the width of the walkway from 25 feet to 70 feet, and raising the ceiling by 2 feet. It will be transformed into a giant LED screen displaying blue skies and clouds, bringing “a sense of openness” to the cramped, subterranean station.
“Anything that improves the look and feel of Penn Station is badly needed,” LIRR president Patrick Nowakowski said. “The design is still to be finalized, but something has to be done at Penn.”
The LIRR was expected to put the contract for the work out to bid Tuesday. The MTA also will separately renovate the two subway stations at either end of Penn as part of the plan.
The cost of the $1.6 billion effort will be split among the state through its Empire State Development Corp., the MTA, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the federal government and Moynihan’s newly hired developers, RVS — a joint venture of Related Cos., Vornado Realty LP and Skanska AB.
At Penn, commuters were excited over the prospect of a snazzy new West Side transit hub.
“I think it’s a good idea. Penn Station is not very pleasant,” said Nicole Spense, 33, a Queens attorney who travels through Penn Station several times a week for work. “Look at Grand Central, which is a tourist attraction in itself, and compare it to here. It’s too dark. I’d like to see more open space and more lighting.”’