Long Island Rail Road commuters sick of the crowded, windowless hallways of Manhattan's Penn Station have a brighter alternative to look forward to in the new year.
After more than three years of construction, the new Moynihan Train Hall — directly across 8th Avenue from Penn Station — will open to passengers Jan. 1, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s office announced Sunday.
The 255,000-square-foot facility, located inside what was once the city's main post office, will offer a new access point to 12 of Penn's 21 tracks, enabling LIRR and Amtrak riders to avoid the station’s maze of dingy underground passageways when buying tickets and waiting for trains.
In a statement, Cuomo hailed the completion of the $1.6-billion project — on-time and within its budget — as a "monumental accomplishment."
"New Yorkers have known for decades that Penn Station needed to be re-imagined," Cuomo said. "The pandemic did not stop us from dreaming big and building for the future."
Officials for decades mulled over converting the post office, called the James A. Farley Building, into an annex for Penn Station. The monumental stone structure was constructed in 1912 by the same architects who built the original Penn Station, which — to the horror of historic preservationists — was torn down in the 1960s to make way for Madison Square Garden.
The conversion of the Farley Building, the thinking went, could help mitigate the crush of commuters who typically pack Penn’s waiting areas and platforms. Some 650,000 people passed through the station on an average day before the pandemic, according to the Cuomo administration, making the station the busiest in the Western Hemisphere. Yet its underlying infrastructure has not been significantly expanded in more than a century.
The Moynihan Train Hall — named after the late U.S. Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.) — will cut a clear contrast to its neighbor across the street. Architects preserved much of the original Beaux Arts-style Farley Building, which is landmarked, but added new, modern features, including a large central atrium topped by a 92-foot-high skylight roof.
The project is one of many efforts currently in the works to address Penn Station’s design problems and dismal reputation. The MTA last year approved a $600-million modernization project that will include wider walkways and connect the LIRR's main customer concourse directly to Seventh Avenue via a new entrance and exit pavilion. MTA spokesman Aaron Donovan said Sunday the project is under construction.
Cuomo, in his State of the State address last January, unveiled a proposal to acquire the block south of Penn Station and build eight new train tracks underneath, expanding track capacity by 40%. Cuomo spokesman Jack Sterne said Sunday the project is under environmental review.
Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach), a member of the state Senate’s Transportation Committee, said Sunday the completed Moynihan project should make for a more pleasant commute for LIRR riders traveling to and from Manhattan. But more work is needed, he said, to solve the other capacity, safety and access issues that plague Penn.
"There's a lot we need to do at Penn Station," he said. "This is a good part of it, but there's a long way to go."