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Penn Station's upgrade continues with entrance transformation

People walk on May 16 at Seventh Avenue

People walk on May 16 at Seventh Avenue near West 33rd Street in Manhattan, where a new entrance to the LIRR Concourse at Penn Station will be built. Credit: Charles Eckert

The transformation of Penn Station advances Monday when, officials said, work starts on widening and brightening the 33rd Street and Seventh Avenue entrance.

Improvements, though, can have downsides, as Benjamin Franklin recognized in 1758, writing "There are no gains without pains ..."

This $600 million project, expected to finish December 2020, subtracts at least two well-known fixtures: the oversize alphabetical board that has listed departures since 1994 and Tracks Raw Bar & Grill, famed for its seafood towers and fine brews.

"Eighty percent of my customers come from Long Island," said Bruce Caulfield, one of the bar's three owners. "It's become an oasis to escape from being out in the middle of the construction going on."

While recognizing upgrades are badly needed, he hopes Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo will intercede, as he did with the L subway line repairs, noting Tracks lies about 60 feet from the planned new stairwell.

Also closing are six ticket windows; four ticket machines will be moved, the Long Island Rail Road said, urging customers to buy tickets on the eTix app.

“No one is satisfied with the conditions of Penn Station and this is part of our transformative work to widen the main LIRR corridor, raise ceilings, build a new entrance that will bring sunlight to the main LIRR concourse and improve lighting and signage,” railroad spokesman Aaron Donovan said by email.

While LIRR employees will help riders find their way, the railroad also recommends relying on the MYmta or LIRR TrainTime apps, or logging onto to find the information.  

Reflecting today’s switch to decentralizing information, the LIRR, part of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, also is adding screens around the station to display departures.

Riders still will be able to reach the LIRR concourse from the 34th Street and Seventh Avenue entrance; the modernized West End Concourse at 33rd Street and Eighth Avenue, also is open.

The new and main entrance for the LIRR, will have three escalators, a stairway and an elevator. The 33rd Street concourse will be widened from 27 feet to 57 feet; the ceiling will be lifted to 18 feet — more than double the current height.

“The result will be a spacious and less congested station that is safer and easier to navigate, along with better amenities for travelers,” the spokesman said.

The work’s early phases will not affect customer waiting rooms or bathrooms; no further information on whether or when that might change was provided.

The shops and restaurants that must move out by Aug. 31 have been on month-to-month leases, the MTA said. Vornado holds the leases; its contractors will decide if any return. In addition to Tracks, they are: Auntie Anne's Pretzels, Au Bon Pain, Bank of America, Carlton Cards, Dunkin', McDonald's, Jamba Juice, and Penn Wine & Spirits.

Donovan added: “This once-in-a-generation project has been talked about for many years, and when it’s completed, New York will finally have the type of modern transit hub that residents and visitors deserve.”

Tracks, Caulfield estimates, pays $1.2 million a year in rent and taxes, and supports 25 long-term employees, who, he says, are like family.

Tracks also is one of those increasingly rare places where white- and blue-collar workers mix.

"We're not a fancy cocktail bar. We're a regular place where everyone feels comfortable. Yesterday, there were four Wall Street guys, and they were hanging out right here, next to electricians, working in the Garden." Caulfield continued:

"No one feels like 'I'm being stared at because I look different,' and I'm very proud of that."

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