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Cuomo's bold plan for Penn Station

New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo announces a

New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo announces a new entrance plaza to the Long Island Rail Road concourse at Penn Station to be built on West 33rd Street near 7th Avenue, Manhattan on May 16, 2019.  Cuomo unveiled plans to add eight tracks at Penn Station by acquiring the block just south of the Manhattan transit hub during a meeting of the Association for A Better New York in Manhattan on Monday. Credit: Charles Eckert

A Penn Station with more tracks, platforms, entrances and exits, modern waiting areas and expansive concourses. A Penn Station that's not dreary and overcrowded with a roller derby race to the train. One that's, dare we say, a welcoming, economically vibrant transportation hub.

We don't blame you if you think it seems hard to imagine, or nearly impossible to achieve.

But Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is putting grandiose thinking into New York's transit center.  If such big ideas  lead to real change, it'd be a monumental feat benefiting the region.

Monday's announcement that the state is negotiating to acquire the block immediately south of Penn Station, and build new entrances and eight new tracks below ground, is visionary and welcome. But it comes with questions, complications and unknowns. Let's start with three big ones: There's no real timetable, no price tag and no details on how all the transit pieces in Cuomo's plan will fit together seamlessly.

Cuomo is rightly fixated on Penn, a disgraceful entrance portal to NYC.  Some efforts are underway, as the Moynihan train hall and a new Long Island Rail Road Road entrance on 33rd Street are slated for late 2020 completion.

But as the governor indicated Monday, those changes don't address the need for additional track capacity to handle Amtrak, New Jersey Transit and the LIRR, along with the eventual addition of Metro-North in 2024. While it's been the holy grail for years, particularly with the Gateway Project to rebuild the train tunnel under the Hudson River, there's never been a clear plan to add tracks, until now.

Consider this: the tracks under Penn were added in 1910.

Adding eight tracks to Penn's 21 tracks could increase capacity by nearly 40%. It remains unclear which railroads will get the new tracks, but they should help everyone. More space for the LIRR is particularly helpful since the assumption was it would lose slots to accommodate Metro-North. The new tracks could even alleviate congestion in the East River tunnel, if fewer Amtrak and New Jersey Transit trains would need to use Sunnyside Yard for storage or turnarounds.

The block between West 30th and West 31st streets  must be acquired and, possibly, the Eighth Avenue-facing theater at Madison Square Garden, too. Then there's the question of the tunnels the tracks feed into. It's likely they'll connect to the Hudson River tubes. Increasing capacity under Penn might work best if the Gateway tunnel is built, as a new tunnel under the Hudson could better accommodate new tracks than the existing, decrepit ones.

Cuomo's plan also highlights the need for an expedited effort to rehab the East River tubes used by the LIRR. The involvement of Amtrak, which owns the tunnel, will be vital. And it'll be important for Cuomo to put the LIRR's needs at the top of the to-do list. LIRR commuters have suffered the brunt of Penn's problems long enough.

The funding mechanisms remain concerningly vague. And Cuomo needs to deliver on the execution. But with the right partnerships and planning, this train could reach its destination.

— The editorial board