Mar
04

A glimpse of a future for Amtrak’s expensive waiting room

By

Will the Farley Post Office redeem Penn Station, hidden in this photo underneath Madison Square Garden?

When you stop to think about it, the Farley Post Office building doesn’t make for the most practical of train stations. The first thing you notice are the steps, and who wants to navigate those while lugging some giant suitcase around the streets of New York City? The second thing is its location. It’s an avenue block away from the 7th Ave. subway and two from Herald Square. That’s not added convenience; that’s moving westward to a more inconvenient spot.

Yet, the Farley Post Office is the subject of future plans to save Penn Station. It is the subject of a decades-long initiative to convert the majestic building into a new gateway to the city. By moving Amtrak’s waiting area to Farley — and spending over $1 billion in the process — various interests hope to redeem the shortcomings of Penn Station by simply turning the Farley Post Office into Moynihan Station. It is a project not without flaws.

Prior to the end of the Bloomberg Administration, various groups made a push to draw attention to the need for something better than Penn Station. It hardly needs saying, but the current station is a visual dump and a mess to navigate. The plans were fanciful, but the momentum behind the MSG replacement has died down in light of the arena’s 10-year occupancy permit.

Now, though, Moynihan Station, at least, has reared its head. As Laura Kusisto and Eliot Brown reported in the Wall Street Journal, there’s movement afoot to generate money for future phases of the Moynihan project. The money would come from — what else? — air rights, but no one’s saying much of anything right now. Kusisto and Brown report:

Empire State Development Corp., the state economic-development agency, is looking for a broker to sell 1.5 million square feet of unused real-estate-development rights attached to the property on Eighth Avenue between 31st and 33rd streets, according to a request for proposals posted on its website last month. It is unclear how fast the state intends to proceed with the selection of a broker and marketing of development rights, nor is it clear if developers would be willing to pay a price that satisfies state officials or that would fully fund the project. A spokeswoman for Gov. Andrew Cuomo declined to comment.

But the move toward the sale is one of the first signs that the Cuomo administration is interested in remaking the interior of the post office into a grand waiting room for Amtrak—a project about which administration officials have said little publicly…

Using the Farley building as a train station has been a dream of planners and state officials for more than two decades. Its intent is both to evoke the original Penn Station that was demolished in 1963 and to spur nearby real-estate development, although it would do little to expand train capacity.

As the local politicians noted to the Journal, no one really knows where the 1.5 million square feet of development would go, but that’s a solvable problem with old buildings dotting the midtown landscape. The biggest question surrounds the transit purposes. Kusisto and Brown do not hold back when the note that Moynihan would “do little to expand train capacity.” Amtrak says a new station is required if the Gateway Tunnel sees the light of day — but that station would be south of the current Penn, not west.

So we’re left with something that resembles a band aid and seems more like a vanity project. It may, as Alon Levy argued a few years ago, even have negative transportation value. But the Moynihan train won’t slow down. It inches forward, but it seems to draw ever nearer. While it solves the aesthetic problem as a high cost, it does nothing to solve the transit problem, and that’s more important right now.



Categories : Moynihan Station

125 Responses to “A glimpse of a future for Amtrak’s expensive waiting room”

  1. JJJJ says:

    There is value in comfort. Solving an aesthetic problem can solve a transportation problem if it means more people view transit favorably, and so, raise the importance of transit in their voting preferences.

    I fully support the project, especially if one entire level of the building is devoted to high quality bathrooms, of the type you might find in a Bloomingdales.

    “The first thing you notice are the steps, and who wants to navigate those while lugging some giant suitcase around the streets of New York City? ”

    One can mix escalators with historical preservation.

    • Alon Levy says:

      Transit projects at costs that get public officials ridiculed in Europe routinely pass ballots with supermajorities in the US. It’s time to stop thinking in terms of political loss leaders and start thinking in terms of making those billions that New Yorkers and Californians commit to transit generate high ridership.

      • JJJJ says:

        Im not talking about the projects, Im talking about the service. As you know, Cuomo raids the MTA every other week, and no one says anything.

        If people were more invested in the service, theyd push back.

        • Nathanael says:

          Cuomo bleck Cuomo bleck.

          I liked Mario. I do not like Andrew one bit.

        • Alon Levy says:

          And if Amtrak has a nicer waiting room, Cuomo will keep raiding the MTA and nobody will say anything, because Moynihan Station has negative transportation value to MTA users (it worsens the Amtrak-LIRR and Amtrak-subway transfers). Funny how the raids on the MTA are never used as a reason to build a nicer Times Square subway station for hundreds of thousands of daily MTA users, but only to build a nicer Amtrak-only Penn Station.

    • Matthew says:

      There is value in comfort, but comfort for who? The Moynihan Project is an Amtrak project, not a NJ Transit project, not a LIRR project. During peak hours, Amtrak accounts for 3% of Penn Station’s ridership. So I suppose this new waiting room will make their waiting experience more comfortable? That would be the case, if they didn’t already have their own large, dedicated, and usually empty waiting room in Penn Station.

      If Amtrak permanently moved their operations to Moynihan Station and sold Penn Station to a joint partnership between LIRR and NJ Transit, then we’d finally see a more efficient use of the existing floor plan. However, all of this belies the true problem for Penn Station, which is its lack of train capacity. Priority number one should be an increase in the number of Hudson rail crossings and Manhattan-based tracks/platforms. And not some puny increase like what Amtrak has proposed for the Gateway Project… A real increase to reflex the continued real growth in regional/commuter rail use.

      • AG says:

        Your last paragraph is true – except that the “puny” Gateway project is tens of billions short of money. So what do you propose that would cost anything less than twice the money for a project that already can’t find the funding it needs?

        • Matthew says:

          AG,

          In terms of the physical structure of Penn Station, I think a lot can be done to improve the station today without a drastic modification of the floor plan. Simple consistent styling, better directional signage, uniform track boards, and shared waiting rooms and concourse spaces would go a long way to make the best of the situation. More can be done to open up the station and move out certain maintenance, office, and retail facilities to free up additional space. The Penn Plaza taxiway, which is currently a staging area for construction workers, can be transformed into a new above-ground entranceway to help bring some more natural light into the station. But, alas, the problem will still be the lack of cross-Hudson and track/platform capacity.

          What Manhattan needs is an alternative terminus to Penn Station for NJ Transit riders. LIRR will have one in the future, and that will help to reduce some traffic within Penn Station. NJ Transit needs the same. My organization, Real Transit, proposes extending existing rail infrastructure from Hoboken to a new terminus on the banks of the Hudson River at 14th Street, which could tie into modest extensions of the L and 7 subway lines. One of the problems with funding for Gateway has been its reliance on Amtrak, which, as the owner of Penn Station, has proven to be a dubious landlord and unreliable in moving forward with needed changes. I think New Jersey needs some skin in the game, and we have proposed the Port Authority taking the lead in such a project, as they would have for the ARC project. Contributions from NJ Transit, the MTA, and federal government would help to secure funding for this much needed project. Further, unlike Gateway, which would require complicated underground construction, purchasing/demolition of scores of existing private buildings, and over ten miles of new track, our proposal would be able to accomplish a lot more with a lot less by taking advantage of existing rail infrastructure and building an above ground station on soon to be vacated land along the Hudson River (where the sanitation department is today). I urge you to check out our website, http://www.realtransit.org. Let me know what you think!

          • Alon Levy says:

            14th Street? Ew.

            1. The Meatpacking District isn’t Midtown. It’s not even Lower Manhattan.

            2. A new terminus would have to have multiple tracks to allow sufficient turnback capacity, raising the cost of the station.

            3. Shoehorning subway extensions into the project means more tunneling, and therefore higher costs, just so that passengers have the privilege of transferring to the 7 instead of PATH.

            • Matthew says:

              Can’t say much to counter the 14th street ew…

              1. The goal isn’t to place a terminus in midtown, there are already two of those. The goal is to provide better/more-diverse Manhattan access for NJ Transit customers than Penn Station affords. This means, with a connection to the 7-Line, faster access to both the Hudson Yards and Midtown East than Penn Station offers. Currently, over 40% of NJ Transit’s inbound trains already terminate at Hoboken.

              2. The advantage of not placing a new terminus in midtown is the availability of more space on which to build. The proposed location would be the area consisting of the already vacant Pier 54 and the soon-to-be vacant Ganesevoort Peninsula, which is currently housing the NYC Department of Sanitation. This would allow for a significantly larger structure with more tracks than any similarly priced midtown terminus. Yet, as stated above, with an extension of the 7-Line (which currently ends just ten blocks north of 14th street), NJ Transit commuters would have a faster trip to both the Hudson Yards and Midtown East. The goal isn’t to replace Penn Station, but to supplement it, and Penn Station will obviously be a more efficient terminus for people working/traveling to locations along 6th, 7th, and 8th avenues.

              3. The tunneling costs will be relatively small, especially in comparison to tunneling and track costs for any alternative plans. The Gateway Project would require building an entirely new train station underground, let alone calling for 10 new miles of track from Newark. Look at how expensive and time-consuming LIRR’s East Side Access project is. The L line would require approximately 2,100 feet of new tunnel from 8th Avenue to 10th Avenue, and the 7 Line would require approximately 3,200 feet of new tunnel from 25th Street to 14th Street. Any comprehensive solution to our large-scale transit problems will be expensive, there is no way around that.

              • Alon Levy says:

                Sorry, but no.

                1. I’d totally get the “more diverse Manhattan access” argument if the terminus were at a desirable location, like Lower Manhattan or the East Side. The argument for ESA is partly more diverse Manhattan access. But 14th Street is at best a secondary CBD, like Newark, Jersey City, and Brooklyn. Hudson Yards isn’t even a secondary CBD for now, and is unlikely to be more than a secondary CBD in the near future given how unwilling developers are to build there without city subsidies.

                2. Actually, there’s no space at the proposed location at all, because it’s so close to the water line the station would have to be deep underground. Deep underground stations = $$$. You can save money on deep-level stations if you have a large-diameter TBM, but that only works for intermediate stations, because terminals require additional tracks. A tunnel done with a large-diameter bore is a great idea, but it should connect onward to avoid creating a Manhattan terminal, and then the options are a variant of ARC Alt G and a Hoboken/Jersey City-Lower Manhattan-Brooklyn tunnel to tie into the LIRR.

                3. Gateway doesn’t require 10 miles of tunnel. It requires about 3; the tracks all the way to Newark are above ground. The only place where Gateway or any equivalent Hudson crossing requires tunneling and a Hoboken crossing does not is the Palisades, which are the easiest part of the tunneling project. Short stublets for the L and 7 are especially likely to have high cost relative to the amount of tunneling required, since the staging of the tunnel imposes a large fixed cost.

  2. Abbieprime says:

    And what happens to the LIRR in this scenario? The LIRR is locked into its concourse due to the track layout. This proposal basically commits the transit agencies into maintaining two stations next door to each other. In the meantime, attracting additional passengers is a futile goal: the Hudson tubes are at near-capacity. That can’t change without Gateway, but this station doesn’t serve Gateway either.

    I think “vanity project” hits the nail squarely on the head.

    • Nathanael says:

      The LIRR *wants* its own independent fiefdom. Don’t forget that — that’s been the driving force behind half the rail decisions in the NYC area lately.

      Why doesn’t LIRR go into Grand Central Lower Level? (Shared tracks! The horror! Need own fiefdom!) Why is Amtrak separating itself from the LIRR at Harold Interlocking with a very expensive set of bridges and tunnels? Fiefdom! Why is LIRR still separate from Metro-North? Fiefdom!

      • Nathanael says:

        The LIRR would looooove to get Amtrak and NJT separated from it as much as possible. I don’t know why LIRR has this fiefdom mentality, but it does.

        Maybe it’s because they’re protecting their archaic, worst-in-the-nation featherbedding work rules. But that doesn’t explain why management has the same attitude.

        • SEAN says:

          ]It’s a Long Island thing. I know of a situation that’s not related to transit, but the atitude of thieftem still applies.

      • The main reason I’ve seen given for the inability of the LIRR to share tracks with the Metro-North is the incompatibility of the electrification (obviously I’m not going to pay too much attention to claims of inadequate capacity at a station with 67 tracks). In light of the massive cost overruns and delays in digging out the cavern, I wonder how much it would have cost to re-electrify one or the other systems with compatible third rail (or even to re-electrify both with a common system).

        • afk says:

          Is the cavern the source of most, or a disproportionate share of the cost overruns? Is there a neat accounting of what everything has cost available somewhere?

        • Jon says:

          The problem with having LIRR share the lower concourse was that the 63rd st Tunnel portals were too deep underground. LIRR trains would only have approximately 15 blocks to climb a steep grade up to the lower concourse.

          Also, sharing tracks would’ve been impossible because MNR and LIRR use different types of 3rd rail (over-running vs under-running). The tracks would have to be allocated to one or the other (short of a massive equipment and infrastructure overhaul).

          • johndmuller says:

            You’ve got over one mile to change elevation – the 15 blocks you cited (3/4 mile) plus four more longer blocks going west from the East River. At a one percent grade, that’s a change of 50+ feet per mile; at 2% 100 feet. I’m pretty sure that the LIRR EMU’s can do 3% or 4%.

            The MTA’s EAS fact sheet says that the maximum tunnel depth in Manhattan is 140 feet (that being also the depth of the ‘mid level mezzanine’ – between upper and lower track levels – of the new station) below Park Avenue. The GCT lower level platform is said to be at 91 feet above the mid level mezzanine.

            Seems like they could have done what sounds like about a 1.8% grade. I’m pretty sure that the shared GCT was one of the original options and the grade was impossible, it would have been an immediate show stopper.

  3. While I think anything is nicer than the current ‘majestic paradise’ we are currently blessed with, constructing a new station without working to remedy the existing chronic capacity constraints is short sighted.

    But, hey, at least the next time something goes wrong downstairs you’ll have a nice place to stand around and wait the disruption out!

  4. John-2 says:

    Since Gateway is likely to move at the speed of frozen molasses over a bed of glue, the best scenario may be an out-year one — Wait until the current lifespan of the refurbished Madison Square Garden comes due, and then re-imagine the original two block area of it and 2 Penn Plaza with the addition block between 30th and 31st for Gateway.

    Whatever eviction attempt the city tries on the Dolans’ lease is likely to be tied up in court for as long as the refurbished building remains viable enough to match other arenas (which nowadays is only 15-20 years — see Atlanta for the latest example of sports palaces no older than the Clinton era having been deemed to be obsolete). Moving Amtrak one block south is far less of an inconvenience than shifting it one block west, but the people pushing the Moynihan Station option want to be the ones who also get to dedicate it and take the credit, never mind that it makes connections to other mass transit more of an ordeal for the people who’d actually use it.

    A new, unified station at the current site, adding Gateway and (possibly) also incorporating a new Madison Square Garden would be the best solution. But it’s one that likely couldn’t happen before 2030 at the earliest, and for the big project planners, that’s too far in the distance to pique their interest.

  5. Jesse says:

    I thought the Moynihan plan was to have the steps still lead to the post office, while street level entrances would be added at the corners for the train station.

    • Joseph Steindam says:

      You’re correct in that the retail post office will remain at the top of the stairs, while the first phase of the Moynihan Station construction will feature street level entrances to the West End Concourse, which Amtrak is currently expanding to meet most tracks (I don’t think it will meet the stub tracks 1-4).

      Future phases of Moynihan Station call for converting a courtyard area behind the retail post office into the waiting hall for Amtrak, with additional access points to the tracks. I forget how one gets to that waiting hall, if you can enter through the WEC entrances at street level on 8th Ave, or if you have to climb the stairs and go through the Post Office. There are plans online that show it all in greater detail, but its also ages away so who knows what the final plan will actually be.

      • Nathanael says:

        The “courtyard” will be accessed through the WEC entrances at street level on 8th avenue, and through the north and south sides of the building, and possibly through the west side of the building. They will not be entered directly through the Post Office staircase entrance.

  6. Boris says:

    Like Ben and others have said here before, glorious open passenger spaces should come after mobility improvements, not before (or instead of) them. Penn Station is a good enough station for the rail capacity it has. Ripping up some floors and ceilings, removing unnecessary back offices and restaurants (now, those can be moved to the Farley Post Office), and creating a unified signage system can do wonders to Penn Station – at a fraction of the cost of a new station.

    Just like East Side Access, the PATH terminal, and other vanity projects, Farley is being offered to solve a problem that doesn’t exist. Once the Gateway tunnels are funded, then we can discuss a new station.

    • I wouldn’t say that ESA is solving a problem that doesn’t exist…western terminal capacity is something that is a constraint on the LIRR, as the LIRR will be unable to add any additional trains into Penn Station, and Gateway will not necessarily allow for an increase in LIRR capacity into NYP.

    • sonicboy678 says:

      Worse are the vanity projects that do pertain to problems but “solve” them by shifting it around. They’re not that much worse, though. Actually, I would have to say ESA doesn’t quite fall under the same category as Farley and that damn PATH terminal. I find that it shifts current and future problems around more than actually addressing the problems.

      • SEAN says:

        How does it move the problem around as aposed to solving it? ESA creates duel options for LIRR passengers – Penn Station or Grand Central.

        • sonicboy678 says:

          Future problem: Lexington Avenue-like overcrowding. Speaking of which, ESA would only worsen an existing problem. This is what I mean.
          To accompany ESA is Platform F, which is really designed to screw over Brooklyn LIRR service. Rather than truly fixing the problem, stuff is just shifted around.

    • Alon Levy says:

      ESA isn’t really in the same category as the rest. It’s a useful project: it adds two effective commuter rail tracks across the East River and allows an easy LIRR-Grand Central connection. Every detail about the project is wretched, and in most developed countries there would be public inquiries about waste of public funds at one tenth the cost, but it has positive transportation value. The same is true of ARC and Gateway – bad implementation and obscene costs, but actual transportation benefits. In contrast, letting a few thousand daily Amtrak riders wait at nicer facilities a long block farther away from where most of them want to do has negative transportation value. The Calatrava PATH disaster has zero transportation value for the most part – some of the project has benefits to circulation, but for the most part it’s all about the pretty. If the city wants to spend billions on pretty, it should fund more museums and offer more grants to artists and art collectives.

      • Eric F says:

        Does it help to get the large Amtrak waiting area out of the way of the commuter rail staging areas? That’s the only key benefit I can think of: moving Amtrak’s bulk across the street and allowing more space for NJT people. Presumably, LIRR people as well, but there may be less long-term interest in that if ESA is ever actually completed.

        • Joseph Steindam says:

          I’d say that’s the only significant benefit of the Moynihan Station project. I think I read it in a report by UPenn students, that Amtrak controls more than half the square footage in Penn Station, not just for passenger waiting areas, but also for its operations, even though it moves the smallest number of passengers. Relocating their operations and the majority of their passengers who take up more space with their luggage will have benefits that can spill over to NJT and LIRR.

          Right now the Amtrak areas can also be used by NJT riders, since they announce the track boardings for NJT trains in the Amtrak areas (I suspect this has been retained from before NJT opened its tiny concourse in the 90’s and Amtrak and NJT shared waiting areas). But once Amtrak leaves and their waiting areas are redesigned to better facilitate flow between the tracks and upper levels, this could also really benefit LIRR passengers too.

          • Eric F says:

            I was in particular thinking of that ticketed passenger oasis in the Amtrak area. I’d expect that area would be redundant if Amtrak moved across 8th avenue, and its removal alone would free up a ton of space for NJT people.

            • Joseph Steindam says:

              Exactly, Amtrak’s waiting areas are much bigger than the other railroads. If the combined areas of Club Acela and the main concourse were reconfigured with more entry points to the trains, it would become a functional waiting area for both NJT and LIRR, and would help reduce overcrowding in the other railroads main waiting areas.

              • AG says:

                Yes I agree… as long as things are made more uniform that would greatly improve the aesthetics and comfort of the station. It doesn’t add capacity – but it could help. Especially if it’s paid for with private funds!

                • SEAN says:

                  What we’re looking at regarding Penn Station is two fold –

                  1. track & train capasity. Do we have the track space to handle current & future transit needs? Bearly on the first & no on the second.

                  2. passenger circulation. Can the inside of Penn station be reconfiggured to improve passenger movement while keeping such elements as retail, restaurants & ticketing areas? ABSOLUTELY! I’ll bet that there are thousands of square feet just being wasted in back of house opperations that could be put to productive use

        • Nathanael says:

          “Does it help to get the large Amtrak waiting area out of the way of the commuter rail staging areas? That’s the only key benefit I can think of: moving Amtrak’s bulk across the street and allowing more space for NJT people.”

          That’s basically the purpose of the Moynihan Station project; getting Amtrak “out of the way” of NJT.

          FWIW, moving the Amtrak back office areas into Farley is far from straightfoward. A vast amount of that is baggage handling. To move that, you have to move the ticket desk and the baggage claim… at which point you really need to move the waiting room and make new access points…. yeah, you see where this is going.

          Anyway, Amtrak doesn’t particularly want to move into Moynihan, because Amtrak *owns* Penn Station and would have to *rent* Moynihan. This is yet another one of those stupid little financial things. If Amtrak could be made financially whole, Amtrak would move. That would probably mean selling the Farley building to Amtrak for $1 or something similar.

          • AG says:

            I thought it was Amtrak’s idea to move to Farley… since as you said they own Penn – they don’t have to “make way” for anyone.

            I can’t recall the original plans – but weren’t they also looking for a co-tenant? I think this is the scaled down version.

        • Alon Levy says:

          Amtrak has 11,000 daily boardings at Penn; NJT has about 70,000 weekday boardings. NJT is much peakier than Amtrak, so in the busiest few hours of the day, the NJT/Amtrak ratio is even higher. Moving Amtrak’s passengers out of the way is entirely irrelevant to NJT users.

          Now, moving Amtrak’s back offices out is partially useful; partially, because integrating Amtrak and NJT passenger spaces is even more useful. This doesn’t require moving Amtrak’s passengers out as well. The baggage handling in particular can be solved by ending the steam-era practice of checked baggage on trains. (Would you spend $2 billion to allow a small number of daily trains to keep checking baggage?)

          The counterquestion in this discussion is, would anyone discuss Farley at all if it weren’t for the We Want Old Penn Station Back sentiment? No? Then it’s not a transportation project.

          • johndmuller says:

            What’s so wrong with checked baggage anyway. Last I heard, getting your stuff stolen on a train out of NYC was something one had to watch out for. If you want to relax on a LD train, you don’t really want to have to stare at your luggage all the time, and worry about it if you go the rest room, get some food or just walk around a bit.

            I don’t know if Amtrak charges much for checked baggage, but they could certainly get away with a lot and still compare favorably with the Airlines.

            • Alon Levy says:

              Checked baggage = longer dwell times at stations and larger station footprints with more labor.

              I’ve never heard of stuff getting stolen on the checked baggage-free NEC. And this is while having a laptop out on my seat plugged into the wall. It’s never happened to me or anyone I know, and nobody I know has heard of any danger enough to say “but you’re crazy, don’t do it,” the way people tell me I’m crazy when I say I sit with my laptop out on the street sometimes.

              • johndmuller says:

                I’m not going to say you’re crazy for being less paranoid than me; it is, probably healthier to worry less. OTOH, I do know of people who were ripped off on the NEC, although no recent occasions; it may come and go with the various ebbs and flows of crime and punishment.

                A overdose of efficiency might minimize the dwell time problem, but there is clearly no way around the labor thing short of good (and no doubt expensive) robots. Sometimes, amenities just cost more and there is no way around it.

    • AG says:

      I agree – unfortunately ppl are more concerned with beauty in the political realm. Still this deal isn’t that bad if it really does come from private money. It’s certainly better than the tens of billions it would cost for the “move MSG” ideas… which certainly would require huge public dollars. Yes though – whether or not Farley happens – some of those suggestions you made should DEFINITELY happen at Penn. As you noted those things won’t be that expensive either.

      East Side Access has been poorly executed – but it is indeed a useful project.
      I’m still upset that the tunnel from Atlantic Terminal to Lower Manhattan didn’t happen as was talked about after 9/11. They could have split that PATH terminal money in half and put some money towards that!

    • Nathanael says:

      Moynihan Station is dealing with the unacceptability of the Amtrak experience at Penn Station. It’s not the first-best solution, but gah, anything’s better than “scuttling into the city like a rat”.

      • Alon Levy says:

        If it’s okay to spend $2 billion on making 11,000 daily Amtrak arrivals get into the city like kings (and then walk an additional long block to the subway to scuttle like a rat), is it okay to spend $40 billion on 200,000 daily Times Square boardings plus additional transfers?

        • SEAN says:

          Remember all rats are equal, but some are more equal than others.

        • Jeff says:

          If its something that can make long distance rail travel more appealing then yes.

          I don’t see how you can compare the conditions of a subway station with what is the busiest long distance rail station in the country.

          • Alon Levy says:

            a) Why is long-distance travel worthier than local and regional travel?

            b) Why does it improve anything to require more walking for a transfer from long-distance to local or regional rail?

            • Jeff says:

              a) Because its customers pay much more for tickets. Why pay so much more to renovate a restaurant to 5-star rating levels instead of a hole-in-a-wall pizza joint?
              b) You’re blowing the extra walking way out of proportion. IMO there is tremendous value for passengers in being able to take a train in an environment that does not resemble a subterranean rat’s nest.

              • Alon Levy says:

                a) Ah, so the city should be spending public money on providing higher-paying travelers with a five-star experience. Got it. Over my dead body and over that of anyone else who’s tired of how the city fellates the rich at the expense of ordinary transit users.

                b) A minute spent walking inside the station is the same as a minute spent on a moving train, and the research on transfer penalties actually shows that passengers weight that extra walking minute more. Depending on which agency’s ridership model you believe, the minute spent walking from platform to platform (e.g. intercity to subway) counts as much as 1.75-2.25 minutes spent in motion. Reinhard Clever‘s dissertation contains a discussion of transfer penalties regarding intercity rail, with references for the higher figure, 2.25; the lower figure, 1.75, is from the MTA’s ridership model, as cited in Mike Frumin and Jeff Zupan’s Triboro RX planning documents.

                • Josh says:

                  I’m not sure I’d agree that Amtrak riders are “the rich” that you say the city would be fellating by spending money on the Farley/Moynihan project.

                  • AG says:

                    Yeah – the only “rich” ppl I see using Amtrak are the ones using the Acela. All the other trains are very much filled with “regular” ppl in my experience.

                  • Alon Levy says:

                    They’re not the 1%, but they’re comfortably in the top 20%, most likely. In my peer group, the only people who ride Amtrak rather than the buses are hardcore railfans (e.g. me) and people with high income, say in the $80,000+ area, which is top 20% for people without children.

                  • Alon Levy says:

                    I should probably add that the average Amtrak rider who benefits from Moynihan is richer than the average Amtrak rider, because the problem with Moynihan lengthening access time is bigger for people arriving by taxi than for people arriving by subway or walking.

        • Nathanael says:

          So, Alon, what’s your $40 billion proposal for Times Square?

          At least if the long-distance, long-waiting passengers are moved to one side, there’ll be a *lot* more space for LIRR and NJT.

          • Nathanael says:

            (In short, yes, I’d happily spend $40 billion on some sort of sensible improvement program for the subway. Got one?)

            • Alon Levy says:

              Forget Times Square. Just concentrate resources on new lines where needed: full SAS, 125th, Utica, Nostrand, Triboro, Alt G, Erie-Fulton-Flatbush, Grand Central-Fulton-Staten Island, SAS branch to Northern, eastward extensions in Queens. Work your way down the list; all of this is way better use of money than nicer waiting rooms at Penn Station.

      • Jeff says:

        Basically this. Amtrak is better compared with airlines, not commuter trains, as they serve pretty much the same customer base… So if Amtrak is even going to stand a chance in terms of competing for those customers it needs to upgrade itself to be something on par with the service that the airlines provide.

        A $2 billion terminal, while expensive, is at least in the same order of magnitude in terms of cost as a brand new airport terminal at JFK.

        • BenW says:

          If your criteria for reasonableness is comparing amounts of money spent, I will gladly take $2 billion to mop all of the floors at Penn Station, and call it a similar upgrade to the new Delta terminal at JFK. Assuming you don’t think that’s a reasonable return on your investment, though, saying “it’s not too much to spend” is not really a reasonable response to “it’s a bad use of the money.”

          • Jeff says:

            I don’t understand your point. Are you saying that a new modern train terminal in an architecturally significant space is functionally the same as mopping the floor of the old, outdated, dumpy Penn Station?

            Are you saying that airlines are wrong to upgrade their terminals for $1.5 billion (like AA did a few years ago at JFK) when they could just keep their old, outdated, dumpy Penn Stationesque terminal?

            • Jeff says:

              BTW Amtrak actually serves more passengers per year at Penn Station than American Airlines does at their terminal in JFK.

              AA, a private company where capital investments are much closely tied to ROI rather than political pressure, had to rebuild their terminal for more than $1 billion to stay competitive in the long distance travel business. If anything I’d say that’s as much of a barometer as anything else that Moynihan is actually worth the investment.

              • Alon Levy says:

                But Amtrak doesn’t have to rebuild its terminal, in fact. Its passengers don’t have to stick around the station for hours, despite its best attempts to make them arrive early (and then spend hundreds of millions on raising top speeds to save those minutes wasted at train stations). This is unlike, say, the Delta terminal, which suffers from extremely long lines.

                • Jeff says:

                  Airports don’t have mad dash pandemoniums down the escalators/stairs to the platform every time the platform number is announced either. A new station would improve passenger flow and enable a redesign of the boarding process.

                  People certainly do wait at the station. Its not for hours like at the airport, and its anything but a pleasant experience and its simply unacceptable for a city like New York to have its main train station this backward.

                  Go to any major city in Europe or Asia and look at their major train stations and there should be no question why long distance rail travel is so nonviable in this country compared to others. Culture is a big part of it, sure, but the fact that its such an unpleasant experience in this country compared to others IMO is also a big reason.

                  • Alon Levy says:

                    Actually, the boarding problem comes from the fact that American railroads don’t bother telling you what the track number is until a few minutes before the train leaves (vs. months in advance in Japan and Germany). No change in the above-track infrastructure addresses that cultural problem or the perceived track capacity problems.

                    Speaking of Europe and Asia, people don’t wait very long at train stations there. In Japan, people show up, buy a ticket on the next Shinkansen to leave, and are on their way within a few minutes. In Switzerland they connect from a bus or a tram that’s timed to meet the train with a short transfer.

                    The biggest European stations I’ve been to, Zurich Hauptbahnof and Gare de Lyon, are very much not five-star experiences, and Gare de Lyon is more crowded than Penn and has more panhandlers. They don’t look like Penn because the tracks are above ground, but they look a lot like South Station, which has every problem Penn has, including the scramble to board. No European station I know of has this scramble, but that’s because the railroad culture has advanced beyond the steam era and lets passengers board trains whenever they want, from any access point they want.

                    As for pleasantness of experience, the seating density on Amtrak is lower than on any European or Asian high-speed train. The Regional coach and Acela business seats are 2+2, with train width that’s about a foot wider than the 2+2 European HSR trains and barely narrower than the 2+3 Shinkansen; the seat pitch is about the same as on Shinkansen and ICE and substantially higher than on the TGV. Riding Amtrak is pleasant, when it’s on time. The problem is 100% that Amtrak is slow and expensive.

                    • Nathanael says:

                      “ct. Its passengers don’t have to stick around the station for hours, ”

                      Nope — it’s also infrequent.

                      It’s the infrequency which creates the need for waiting room space.

                      Unfortunately, the infrequency seems likely to continue for the foreseeable future, for every trip which is heading even a couple of stops off of the NEC.

                  • Ralfff says:

                    Acela is profitable. Northeast Regional is profitable and prices have been going up for it. And those, from a station which we can all acknowledge is subpar. How much farther would that money go to buy a dedicated right of way from New York to Chicago, or extend a dedicated ROW to Raleigh, Charlotte, and Atlanta? I used to think that rail aversion in the US was cultural, but the NEC proves that if you find the ROW it will turn a profit, so let’s keep up what’s worked.
                    Hell, if we’re going to spend billions anyway, let’s reconstruct the old Penn Station piece by piece.

                    • Alon Levy says:

                      …and why is a dedicated ROW from New York to Chicago such an important priority? At legacy rail speeds, it’s not going to be of any use. At cutting-edge HSR speeds it’d be great, but maybe Amtrak should concentrate on getting cutting-edge HSR speeds on the NEC first without spending ten times as much money as it needs to.

                      Hell, why do people take it as a given that Penn Station is such a ridership depressant?

                    • Ralfff says:

                      Alon, you’ve forgotten more about this stuff than I’ve ever learned. My point was that money’s better spent on actual functional trackage rather than station vanity projects, whatever the value of the specific route.

                      And I agree that Penn Station is not a depressant, or if it is, that the logistics of train travel far outweigh it, and are outweighing further as time goes on.

                    • Alon Levy says:

                      Blergh, sorry. Rereading your comment, I wrongly got hung up on the “and those…” sentence, reading too much implication into it.

                    • Nathanael says:

                      “Hell, why do people take it as a given that Penn Station is such a ridership depressant?”

                      Well, it’s one of the reasons I preferentially visit Chicago rather than New York City.

                      The lack of handicapped access in the subway is a much stronger reason. I would happily throw $40 billion at making the subway accessible, but it seems like NYC Transit doesn’t even *want* to make it accessible.

                • Nathanael says:

                  “Its passengers don’t have to stick around the station for hours, ”

                  Yes, they do, Alon. Even to change trains from Albany NY to Richmond VA.

                  That’s where you’re mistaken.

            • BenW says:

              No, I wasn’t saying that, but for my purposes as weekly user of that “outdated, dumpy Penn Station” it’d be much more useful. Right now I can get off of an 8th-avenue uptown train during the evening rush and be on an Amtrak Regional in something under two minutes—Delta is noticeably unable to match that, as Alon pointed out. Moynihan Station would, at best, keep that time where it is (and heaven help me if I ended up on the 2/3 or B/D/F instead).

  7. Eric F says:

    Tear down the Manhattan Mall.

    • SEAN says:

      What will demolishing the Manhattan Mall do for Penn Station?

      • Eric F says:

        I meant that the site of the mall would be a great place for the station. It’d be next to the key subway lines and closer to the center of Manhattan. That mall is terrible anyway, an 80s concept that doesn’t really fulfill any need in today’s Manhattan. In other words, move NJT/LIRR east, maybe keep Amtrak where it is across 7th Avenue.

        • Tower18 says:

          There’s productive office space above Manhattan Mall. You’d be better off losing the Hotel Pennsylvania, it’s a dump anyway.

        • AG says:

          That mall – no matter how ugly – is worth about $1billion. Just like MSG… those plans are inordinately expensive. Spending a billion a pop before a shovel is even in the ground or any plans made.

  8. bob5 says:

    As long as the Moynihan is self-financing, I’m all for it.

    It’s a beautiful building and can be developed into a great mix of public space, retail, and hotel rooms that would be of great value with a direct link to the train station. It would also make for a great gateway to the west as Hudson Yards gets developed.

    But it shouldn’t require any scare transit dollars to get the job done.

    • Alon Levy says:

      …why would it be self-financing? What private interest gets anything out of it? What sources of additional revenue does it generate that justify the cost to a private funder? The concessions are not going to generate anything near $2 billion; as I recall Amtrak mortgaged Penn Station for $400 million, with way more passenger traffic driving concession revenue.

      • Jeff says:

        Selling off air-rights was cited in the article as a source of funding.

      • bob5 says:

        Developers will pay because businesses will pay quite a bit for midtown hotel and retail space.

      • AG says:

        Paying for development rights happens all the time in NYC. They pay for the privilege to build bigger than what zoning allows – which enables to them to increase profits.
        No – it won’t raise $2 billion – but it certainly can raise at least hundreds of millions.

        • Alon Levy says:

          Not west of Penn Station, they don’t. The city needs to subsidize development at Hudson Yards, developers are so uninterested in building over the yards. So this actually involves spending even more public money on glorifying Moynihan’s name.

          • Jeff says:

            The Far West Side is experiencing a construction boom right now. Plenty of projects in the pipeworks, including some of the tallest commercial buildings in the city. There will be plenty of interest in this lot, especially once more of the Hudson Yards towers get underway.

            • Alon Levy says:

              The construction boom is subsidized by the city, because developers don’t feel that they can make a profit on the construction costs of building above an active railyard. For more details, read anything by Stephen Smith on the subject.

          • AG says:

            where do you get that from??? every single week there are developers buying up more property around Hudson Yards to build on (mainly residential). You can’t get commercial real estate loans to build unless you have signed leases – so those take longer. Time Warner – Coach – L’Oreal are all moving their global headquarters there… allowing two of the office buildings to be built. SAP is moving there regional headquarters there.

            http://nypost.com/2014/03/03/l.....son-yards/

            http://www.forbes.com/sites/er.....companies/

            Properties around Hudson Yards are spending big knowing competition is on the way:

            http://commercialobserver.com/.....velopment/

            as to the area around MSG and Penn… it’s already happening (new development and company relocations/renovations) so the state would be wise to cash in now:

            http://therealdeal.com/blog/20.....ment-site/

            http://nypost.com/2014/02/25/n.....aza-surge/

              • AG says:

                Tax breaks does not mean that there are billions of dollars in real money being spent to build new buildings and renovate old ones. In Hudson Yards and elsewhere in that area.
                Many developments aside from Hudson Yards get some form of tax break – that doesn’t mean there isn’t real money being spent all over the city.

                • Alon Levy says:

                  The real money is spent by the city, in the form of foregone tax revenues. This is while the city promised that the property taxes that it’s not collecting would pay for the 7 extension, and while defenders of Moynihan Station promise that those property taxes will pay for moving Amtrak one block farther away from the center of Midtown.

                  • AG says:

                    The city will have to pay back those bonds. The economic impact of the project overall will certainly end up paying for itself – even if indirectly. That is unless there is another calamitous disaster that prevents it from happening… which would be the least of our problems.

                    In any event – the point is that you are incorrect to state that there is not enough demand to sell development rights. That’s just plain false. This plan is about development rights… it has nothing to do with property taxes. Two completely different issues.

                    • Alon Levy says:

                      There is not enough demand to sell development rights if the developers have to pay standard property taxes. Given that the city needs to fund its basic operations, forgiving property taxes is equivalent to a subsidy; it’s euphemistically called a tax break because it sounds less like big government. Since the property taxes are being forgiven and can’t pay back the bonds, the city is likely to raise taxes on the entire city or cut other spending in order to pay for them. Enjoy your larger class sizes and slower police and fire department response times.

                    • AG says:

                      NYC’s problem is not that it lacks revenue. The problem is that the budget is terribly bloated. Look at other major cities. The amount of the budget per citizen is ridiculously high.
                      NYC is terribly expensive (because there IS high demand). In order to get many things done tax breaks are given. This city is more efficient now than it has been since I’ve been alive. As long as the incumbents don’t wreck the budget – the city can/will meet it’s goals.
                      I recall the NYC where no one wanted to invest any money – where the city literally had to give away land – on top of giving decades long tax abatement. Now everything is at a premium.
                      Btw – the response times now are much much better than they ever were in the decades I’ve lived in NY. In spite of the political rancor – and the obvious need for improvement – the school system is actually better than when I was in there as a student as well (I currently am parent of a student – so I can compare).

                      Besides – as I pointed out. The bonds for the #7 extension and this plan by the state are not the same in any way. The increase in economic activity as a result of the #7 extension will pay for itself over time (again – barring disaster).

                      Besides – I’m not really sure of your argument. If you don’t like the idea of the project – that’s fine. To make statements that there is no demand is just incorrect according to the data. Even if for some reason – the demand dries up – the state/city lose nothing. All that will happen is there will be no new station.

                    • Alon Levy says:

                      When you need to give favorable tax treatment to get any activity, it’s correct to say there’s no demand. Sorry. And if Moynihan Station doesn’t generate actual taxpaying demand, then the city and the state will have $2 billion that could’ve gone to hiring more teachers, cutting CUNY/SUNY tuition, cutting taxes, hiring more cops, or providing additional Medicaid subsidies.

                      As for the increase in economic activity due to the 7 extension, this is the bone of contention. Bloomberg promised a windfall of property tax revenue; so far the city has to forgo all this tax revenue to get buildings up and running. The market has to be extremely hot for developers to voluntarily build on top of an active railyard, at perhaps twice the cost of building elsewhere in the city. East Midtown, around Grand Central, is that hot. The Far West Side is not.

                    • AG says:

                      “When you need to give favorable tax treatment to get any activity, it’s correct to say there’s no demand.” Well then you can’t make the argument when politicians in Congress say that transit has artificial demand since it has to be subsidized. The fact is there are real dollars – in the billions being spent on the Far West Side.
                      The fact of the matter is there are top A grade companies moving there headquarters to Hudson Yards. The hottest market right now is Midtown South anyway – not Midtown East or anywhere near Grand Central.

                      Also – you can’t hire a teacher or anyone else with something that doesn’t exist. That $2 billion doesn’t exist in the state coffers right now. The ESD owns the development rights. It’s selling the development rights. So you want them to sell them and just put it in the general fund for the state? That’s not the purpose of the NYS ESD.

  9. John T says:

    I agree with you, I think they should wait for MSG to move and get it right.

    The Moynihan will end up like Chicago’s Union Station – a cramped central area under a building next to a a grand ediface that is mostly empty.

    The Moynihan would make a great base for a hotel however.

    • Ralfff says:

      Was wondering why no one had mentioned Chicago before this. A kind of sad, zombie station death. If this is the alternative and it costs so much, let Penn Station rest in peace.

      • Nathanael says:

        Chicago is, in fact, discussing demolishing the building on top of the concourse, just as NY is discussing demolishing MSG.

        In the meantime, in order to make some space, the plans are to start moving various things out of the cramped concourse west into the existing historic building around the waiting room.

        Chicago is a fairly apt comparison. And the way things are going in New York, Chicago will probably have a completely rebuilt concourse before New York finishes dithering. Of course, Chicago is willing to rebuild tracks and platforms too.

  10. Larry Littlefield says:

    There should be a special tax on Municipal Art Society members to pay for projects like this.

  11. lawhawk says:

    Air rights sound like a way for revenues to be generated. Problem is that I fear that the revenues will be squandered with givebacks in the same way that the city took the Hudson Yards rights and gave them right back to developers as “incentives”.

  12. Larry Greenfield says:

    Any (station design) project should start with requirements and get buy-in from the stakeholders. I don’t see any attempt at this process in the case of Penn Station. I realize it would be difficult since there are so many stakeholders (intercity and local commuters, four rail carriers, politicians at all levels and others) and there seems to be very little transparency as well.

    It needs a champion and an experienced CEO. Does it have one?

    • Nathanael says:

      This was done. Moynihan Station just about meets the requirements. It got buy-in from everyone back when Senator Moynihan was pushing it — unfortunately, the reason it got buy-in so easily is that LIRR and NJT like to have separate fiefs.

  13. John Doe says:

    Four ugliest structures/areas in NYC:

    Manhattan Mall
    PABT
    Penn Station
    MSG

    Tear them down now!!!

    • SEAN says:

      And do what with them exactly?

    • lawhawk says:

      PABT needs to be torn down, but not solely because it’s ugly. It’s simply incapable of handling the daily crowds of buses and commuters and an improved terminal is necessary, plus a staging area so that buses don’t have to clog local roads or head back into New Jersey to stage for the PM commute.

      In fact, this might be an area where NJT and MTA could get their collective acts together and establish some kind of through-running system to improve bus service in much the same way that through-running would vastly expand rail service without building new track, by tackling the inefficiencies of running separate agencies with their own fiefdoms.

      • SEAN says:

        OK, I’ll bite – where do you propose such a transit facility could or should be built? Where will the connections to the Lincoln Tunnel go – not to mention access to the rest of the transit network.

        • lawhawk says:

          Should have said torn down and rebuilt to much more efficiently handle the traffic flow, provide staging for buses during rush hour periods, and maintain access to the tunnel/subways in the same general vicinity.

          The PANYNJ plan was to built a new tower atop the existing PABT, but that was shelved. Might be time to reconsider – either to sell the air rights to fund an expansion improvement of the PABT (if you’ve ever had to travel during rush, it’s not for the faint of heart as lines snake out and back to “gates” and multiple gate lines intertwine). When things go bad, as they often do, you’ve got hundreds of people in cramped quarters with no easy access/egress) or build the tower and use the revenues to build the separate staging garage near the tunnel.

      • Nathanael says:

        I’m not sure how you can improve the handling of the buses to PABT; it’s actually one of the most efficiently-designed bus terminals in the country in terms of bus flow.

        The true solution to PABT congestion is to get people out of the buses and onto trains, thus relieving the congestion. Of course, you still have to figure out how to get rid of the *pigeons* who live in PABT.

        And of course adding more people to trains… gets us back to Gateway Tunnels and Penn Station.

        • BoerumBum says:

          Move the PABT to Secaucus at the terminal of an interstate 7 train extension.

          • SEAN says:

            And add an aditional transfer into & out of Manhattan? I like the 7 extention to Secaucus, but I don’t think it would fly if a transfer were required between bus & train to go the last mile. With that said, I understand the sentiment.

            • BoerumBum says:

              My thought was move the terminal from a congested space to a less congested space, and reduce the risk of Lincoln Tunnel traffic destroying your commute (broken down bus in the Lincoln Tunnel bus lane spoils everyone’s day). Swapping that out for two extra stops on the train would be likely to save time, even if you’re potentially adding an extra transfer.

              • Nathanael says:

                It sounds OK. Some details to think about, though.

                (1) The bus traffic congests FAR west of the Lincoln Tunnel. I’ve been on an intercity bus wishing that they’d dropped us off at Ramsey Route 17.

                (2) Can the trains handle the volume of passengers and luggage which the buses would drop off? A #7 extension would likely be very poor at handling intercity passengers and luggage (unless the trains are redesigned like the Picadilly Line in London).

                The NJT trains have gotten more and more commuter-focused, and of course have a bottleneck at the Hudson River.

                So we’re back at the Gateway Tunnels.

                • Eric says:

                  Aren’t most PABT passengers commuters (presumably without luggage) rather than intercity travelers? Get the commuters onto commuter rail, and the PABT and Lincoln Tunnel will have plenty of space for the intercity travelers.

  14. Rob says:

    Right. Another one of those bad ideas that won’t go away. LIRR already wisely backed out, as did Amtrak when David Gunn was Pres. But his successors/the big spending egomaniacal pols insist that you pay for it, taxpayers and travelers be damned.

    I remain amused by the Penn “mess to navigate” “problem” — people managed to do it since 1910, but now after 100 years of government schools, apparently it’s too hard for them.

    • Nathanael says:

      Penn was much easier to navigate before 1963 when they tore it down. You can’t compare the navigation problem before they tore it down (no problem) to after (serious problem).

  15. I don’t have any problem with developers getting zoning concessions to rebuild an attractive and more functional Penn Station on the existing site on their own dime as part of some bigger development. The Moynihan Station project, though, doesn’t make much sense to me. It moves Amtrak further away from the subways and it seems largely driven by moving into a building that sort of looks like the old Penn Station from the outside. The problem is that most travelers likely won’t see the outside anyway and it would basically be just a shell for a modern interior. I understand the sentimental appeal but I don’t think this is going to bring back the old station in any real way. If anything, it seems like a project that has institutional momentum from a time when MSG seemed immovable. Now that that’s no longer the case, the station in the post office project should fade away.

    • Nathanael says:

      I guess it really depends on how immovable MSG is. If you can actually get rid of MSG — and the neighboring office building — and build a nice first-floor station in its place, by all means forget the Farley/Moynihan plan.

      But is that really going to happen?

  16. Michael K says:

    It seems that the issue that keeps coming up is Terminal Stations and their associated capacity limitations and tremendous cost.

    Perhaps a suburban rail trunk line with multiple stops from ESA’s tail tracks at 38th Street down to the financial district would be the best way of dealing with the station problems, by removing the single station terminal from the equation.

    The LIRR could theoretically run in a loop if the tunnel from Atlantic to Lower Manhattan is ever built.

    • Jon says:

      Not gonna be possible. The TBMs used to bore the ESA Tunnels are at the end of the tunnels, covered in poured concrete. The powers to be thought it was a better idea than to backtrack the TBM or cut and cover the TBM out.

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