Penn Station’s New Moynihan Train Hall Set to Open Jan. 1

For more than half a century, New Yorkers have trudged through the crammed platforms, dark hallways and oppressively low ceilings of Pennsylvania Station, the busiest and perhaps most miserable train hub in North America.

Entombed beneath Madison Square Garden, the station served 650,000 riders each weekday before the pandemic, or three times the number it was built to handle.

But as more commuters return to Penn Station next year, they will be welcomed by a new, $1.6 billion train hall complete with over an acre of glass skylights, art installations and 92-foot-high ceilings that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who championed the project, has likened to the majestic Grand Central Terminal.

After nearly three years of construction, the new Moynihan Train Hall, in the James A. Farley Post Office building across Eighth Avenue from Penn Station, will open to the public on Jan. 1 as a waiting room for Amtrak and Long Island Rail Road passengers.

For decades, the huge undertaking was considered an absolution of sorts for one of the city’s greatest sins: the demolition in the 1960s of the original Penn Station building, an awe-inspiring structure that was a stately gateway to the country’s economic powerhouse.

The destruction of the station was a turning point in New York’s civic life. It prompted a fierce backlash among defenders of the city’s architectural heritage, the creation of the Landmarks Preservation Commission and renewed efforts to protect Grand Central Terminal.

That the project has been completed during a period when the city was brought to a standstill is a hopeful reminder that the bustle of Midtown Manhattan will return, Mr. Cuomo said.

“This would be an amazing accomplishment at any time, but it is an extraordinary accomplishment today,” the governor said at a ribbon-cutting ceremony in the new hall on Wednesday. “As dark as 2020 was, to me this hall brings the light, literally and figuratively.”

The project has its detractors, who fault state officials as not going far enough in reimagining Penn Station. These critics note that the Moynihan Train Hall will serve only some of the passengers who use Penn Station, ignoring the needs of subway riders.

The new hall also does not solve Penn Station’s fundamental problem: a lack of capacity.

In recent years, growing ridership on the commuter rail and subway lines that serve the station has clogged platforms and passageways with bottlenecks.

While the new hall will relieve some of the strain by moving the designated waiting area for all Amtrak trains out of Penn Station and turning that concourse into a New Jersey Transit boarding area, more trains, tracks and platforms are needed to truly thin the station’s crowds, officials said.

To address the station’s limited capacity, elected officials have proposed two major infrastructure projects — known as Gateway and Penn South — that would require years of construction and many billions of dollars of investment.

The Gateway project, which would fix the deteriorating rail tunnels under the Hudson River and double the rail capacity into and out of Penn Station, needs federal financing and approval. The plans have been mired in a political standoff between President Trump and Democratic leaders for the past four years.

In January 2020, Mr. Cuomo introduced plans for the Penn South project, under which the state would acquire the city block south of Penn Station and build eight new train tracks. The expansion would allow the transit hub to accommodate 175,000 more riders.

Neither project has gotten off the ground, although elected officials are hopeful that they will move forward under President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr., an enthusiastic supporter of Amtrak and major infrastructure projects.

Even before the projects are complete, the 255,000-square-foot Moynihan hall could help reinvigorate the surrounding neighborhood, which has long been considered a poor cousin to the area near Grand Central Terminal.

Walking into the Moynihan Train Hall is like entering a new world.

Natural light pours into the main concourse from skylights supported by the building’s original steel trusses. A cube-shaped clock, complete with details that mimic those architectural bones, hangs from the center of the atrium. And tucked into three corners of the hall are installations by Kehinde Wiley and other celebrated artists.

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