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Now arriving: New $1.6B Penn Station hub opens to LIRR commuters

The $1.6 billion Moynihan Train Hall opened its doors to Amtrak and Long Island Rail Road passengers on Friday. Newsday's Faith Jessie has the story. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Rail buff Koby Schechter of Woodmere rode into Manhattan on his day off to check out Moynihan Train Hall, the brand-new, $1.6 billion, 255,000-square-foot addition to long-reviled Penn Station.

He was impressed.

A 92-foot-high skylight pouring sunlight onto passengers. An Art Deco-inspired clock harkening back to the golden age of train travel. The architectural homages to the old Penn Station, the Beaux-Arts classic demolished in 1963 and replaced with a subterranean labyrinth.

"Long Islanders can finally have something to call a great terminal," Schechter, 18, who works for Stop & Shop, said as he waited for the 12:21 p.m. Babylon branch train back to his station, Hewlett.

New Year’s Day was the official opening of Moynihan Train Hall, located across Eighth Avenue from Penn Station. Moynihan provides a new way to directly access half of the Long Island Rail Road's tracks — 12 through 16, and the rest, tracks 17 through 21, via an escalator, stairs or elevator, and a walk through a passageway. The addition is expected to ease passenger crowding.

Roughly one-third of LIRR passengers are expected to use the new train hall, with the rest using the existing Penn Station, Doug Carr, executive director of the project's development corporation, said earlier this week during a tour of the hall following a ribbon-cutting ceremony led by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.

One of those two-thirds was Alexandra Reiher of the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood of Manhattan, who said the project, which does not increase train or track capacity, "is a huge waste of money."

Waiting in the windowless Penn Station across Eighth Avenue for the 12:34 p.m. Oyster Bay branch to Glen Cove to go see her family, Reiher said she hadn’t yet seen the new train hall, and anyway, she’d rather the money have been spent on nuts-and-bolts improvement to train service itself, to make the Long Island Rail Road more like world-renowned mass-transit systems like Tokyo’s.

"I understand, politicians cutting ribbons and all that, but I think it would have been better for the people of New York to have something more usable," Reiher said.

Judith Fixler, 74, who lives near Manhattan's Union Square, was waiting nearby for the 12:55 p.m. Babylon train to visit family in Baldwin. She was in Penn Station and hadn't yet been to Moynihan.

"One word: Finally," said Fixler, a retired custom house broker for a freight forwarding company, lamenting how she's spent a lot of time in Penn Station.

"I mean, this place is kind of shabby," she said. "You'd expect more. Have you been to a lot of cities? They have fantastic train stations."

Kevin Walsh, 62, of Little Neck, took the Port Washington branch in Friday and was impressed by Moynihan’s architectural features — the skylight, the exposed girders, being able to check out the innards of the Farley Post Office, whose old sorting room was converted into the train hall.

Still, he said, the project's $1.6 billion cost should have been used to improve infrastructure — new tracks, new tunnels — for New York’s ailing transit system.

"I’d rather take the money and spend it where they really need it," said Walsh, author of the book "Forgotten New York: Views of a Lost Metropolis."

Moseying around the train hall Friday were a mix of rail buffs, Amtrak passengers and curious onlookers.

Schechter, the rail buff from Woodmere, predicted that Moynihan Train Hall would become a destination in and of itself, particularly in contrast with Penn Station, about which he winced, "Ugh, it's terrible."

And with that, Schechter's self-guided tour of Moynihan Friday was over. He adjusted his Islanders hat and began to amble toward the platform. He had a train to catch.

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