Yesterday, a project that has been 24 years in the making was revealed; construction barricades were parted, and the public was treated to an early view of the work being done to transform the empty mail handling area of the Farley Post Office into a new train hall. In the midst of what was purported to be the “summer of hell” for the adjacent Penn Station, this glimpse of a grand new gare de l’ouest is a welcome promise that soon, the West Side rail station experience will be more safe, more comfortable and more majestic for rail riders of Amtrak and LIRR.
RPA has been an enthusiastic supporter of the Moynihan Station concept since it was first proposed by the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan in 1993. This morning, former RPA Senior Fellow and the Senator’s daughter, Maura Moynihan, invoked the Senator’s passion for the train hall as she shared the stage with Howard Zemsky, President of Empire State Development and Governor Andrew Cuomo. Together, they spoke of the plan for the conversion, and revealed the construction progress that has been made on the $1.6 billion project. Just two months ago, the new “West End Concourse”—a small portion of the project—opened in the Farley Building to connect with Penn Station underground and expand access to Amtrak and LIRR ticketing and platforms.
The program was held within the core of the old building at sub-grade; the old main floor of the building has been removed to create a vast open interior space from sub-grade to the roof. After creating new grand stairways to the rail platforms below sub-grade and retail spaces in the mezzanine above, the interior will be clad in marble, and the roof replaced with a sculpted glass ceiling that will open the building to the Midtown skyline.
Back in 2007, RPA founded the Friends of Moynihan Station to advocate for the project; we see it as an important component to solving the trans-Hudson capacity problem and improving the neighborhood. It will also restore some of the grandeur that was entry to Manhattan via the old original Penn Station, which, like the Farley, was designed by Charles McKim in classic Greek style, but senselessly torn down in 1963.
The work on the new train hall has hewn closely to the intended goals of the Friends:
- Make the Train Hall in the Farley Building a space of great architectural distinction, one that serves the needs of rail travelers.
- Ensure that arena and retail activities do not detract from the sense that the train hall is a separate, independent public space with a great sense of place and history.
- Enhance the pedestrian environment throughout the Moynihan Station District, at street level and below grade.
- Make the Moynihan Station District a global model for climate-friendly development. Ensure that all new buildings in the area are designed to reduce carbon production and incorporate state-of-the-art technology in green design.
- Protect the integrity of the historic Farley Building, one of New York City’s most significant landmark structures.
The conversion is on schedule for completion in 2020—less than three years from now.
Of course, Penn Station is not the only weak link in the chain of trans-Hudson crossing options. The century-old rail tunnels leading to Penn need replacement, the PATH train needs to support greater demand, and the Port Authority’s Bus Terminal is inadequate to today’s level of commuters, let alone tomorrow’s. RPA has released our own proposal this week to solve these larger transit capacity issues: Crossing the Hudson: How to Increase Train Capacity and Improve Commutes. This report is also a first-glimpse RPA is offering to the public of the recommendations that we will make in our upcoming fourth regional plan in fall of this year.