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ARC Fallout: Remodeling Penn Station

by Benjamin Kabak

On the west side of the Hudson River, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and the Feds are still fighting over the $271 million New Jersey owes for canceling the ARC Tunnel, but here on the east side, the MTA is eying grander plans for Penn Station. As Andrew Grossman in the Wall Street Journal reported yesterday, now that the LIRR isn’t required to make accommodations for ARC construction, the rail road wants to invest in improving Penn Station. “It’s a facility that’s showing its age,” LIRR President Helena Williams said. “It’s cluttered visually, functionally.”

According to Grossman, the LIRR has a list of improvements it wants to make. Some are easier to implement than others while some would require long-term disruptions. They include “better signage, improved passenger flow, higher ceilings and natural light.” Signage has, as I wrote in March, long been a challenge for the MTA.

For now, because improvements to Penn Station require New Jersey Transit and LIRR to be, as Grossman put it, “on the same page as Amtrak, the station’s owner,” change might be slow in coming. Amtrak is focusing on getting the Moynihan Station project off the ground, and Republicans in Congress are eying the national rail network’s funding with a raised eye brow or two. Still, a redesigned and re-signed Penn Station would go a long way toward improving passenger flow at this busy commuter hub.

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Eric F. December 23, 2010 - 12:20 pm

“It’s a facility that’s showing its age”

She means that it actually looked good at some point in the past? The LIRR concourse is much nicer now than it was before the last round ofrennovations, but still not much to write home about.

Any idea on how they’d get natural light down there?

Any plans to allow pedestrians to access the place without having to cross 7th avenue on foot? A tunnel bypass would do wonders for access.

samsam December 23, 2010 - 12:37 pm

i remember about 15 years ago, being able to go underground on the east side of 7th ave & 32nd street, and getting over to the LIRR concourse. Very annoying to have to cross 7th above ground.

Andrew December 23, 2010 - 5:18 pm

Unless there’s been a substantial reconfiguration within the past week, there is access to the LIRR concourse from the east side of 33rd and 7th by way of the IRT mezzanine. It’s a very straightforward walk with a high-capacity staircase. I didn’t realize it was such a secret!

The same option 32nd is only available by going through the turnstiles and back out, so I don’t recommend it if you don’t have an unlimited. I don’t remember the turnstiles ever having been configured differently there, but I could be wrong.

Adirondacker12800 December 24, 2010 - 9:55 pm

I haven’t used them in years… the IRT entrances on either side of the Hotel Pennsylvania or the Statler or whatever they are calling it this week had access to the rest of Penn Station. Used to be able to get to Penn Station from the concourses between the IND, BMT and PATH too. ( Less stairs for the porters to negotiate while they were taking your bags from the Penn Station to the Erie of DL&W Station in New Jersey )

tacony palmyra December 23, 2010 - 12:26 pm

The fact that going from Amtrak or NJTransit to the 1/2/3 requires that you jostle your way through throngs of waiting LIRR passengers is a problem that I’m not sure anybody wants to solve (because why would LIRR care about Amtrak or NJTransit passengers?)

Benjamin Kabak December 23, 2010 - 12:27 pm

Take the semi-secret passageway at the south end of the 1/2/3 stop. You can bypass the LIRR waiting room and go right upstairs to Amtrak. It’s generally empty and fast.

Scott E December 23, 2010 - 12:59 pm

This is just a bit of PR, little more. LIRR doesn’t have the jurisdiction or the money to do anything, and if they could, it would’ve been done before ARC. I suppose they could put a ceiling on the “semi-secret” Hilton Passageway, but that’s it. MTA, NJT, and Amtrak each have unique signage guidelines and I don’t see any hope in unifying them.

If anything, the LIRR concourse is easiest to navigate. Amtrak/NJT have an awkward way to get to tracks 1-4, and their occasional use of tracks 13 and 14 in the LIRR section makes passengers feel like they’re heading the wrong way.

Andrew December 23, 2010 - 5:25 pm

The LIRR just remodeled its section of Penn Station, aside from the Hilton Passageway (who’s responsible for that section anyway?), in the 90’s. How does it make sense to remodel it again? Doesn’t the LIRR, or the MTA as a whole, have more pressing needs?

The signage is a complete mess; it would do a lot of good if the three agencies could compromise on a uniform signage standard for Penn Station, even if it violates all three of their usual standards.

JD64 December 25, 2010 - 6:51 am

Re the need for Amtrak, NJ Transit and LIRR to be on “the same page” within Penn Station. A recent Amtrak trip to Boston required a pre-boarding wait in Penn. Upon noticing that the Men’s room was closed/boarded up for reconstruction, I followed paper signs to “Alternate Men’s Room”. This resulted in my being directed physically out of Penn Station, to construction site-type Port-A-Johns.

My subsequent inquiry to the on duty Amtrak Station Manager as to why the signs wouldn’t direct patrons to either LIRR or NYTransit restrooms resulted in the Amtrak Manager telling me that they wouldn’t dare direct customers to NYTransit or LIRR restroom facilities, for fear of angry response/refusal by same. Amazed by his response, my response was “This is Amtrak, in the heart of the only route that makes money — Are you kidding me ??”

This being said — best of luck anticipating Amtrak, LIRR and NJTransit to get “on the same page” re shared improvements to Penn.


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