Home Moynihan Station Moynihan Phase 1 work to start later this year

Moynihan Phase 1 work to start later this year

by Benjamin Kabak

New entrances into Penn Station will help alleviate dingy conditions at the rail hub.

When last we checked in on Moynihan Station, things were not looking good for the oft-delayed and rather expensive project. Phase 1 — essentially some wider concourses and more entrances — had to be scaled back amidst cost concerns when the bids on the project came in well above expectations. The Phase 2 work which includes the conversion of the post office building into the actual train station remains unfunded and a dream in the eyes of the project’s supporters.

Now, though, the Port Authority has some cause to celebrate. With a new price tag of $270 million, Phase 1 will kick off later this year, nearly two years after the ceremonial groundbreaking, Port Authority head Patrick Foye said yesterday. According to Reuters, Skanska’s $148 million bid to add street-level entrances at 31st and 33rd Sts. was the winning one. The different will go toward a new ventilation system and a mighty expensive underground walkway to Penn Station.

In comments yesterday, Foye spun this is a big step forward. Dana Rubinstein was on hand to report:

Foye, himself a Long Island Railroad commuter, said what has been a “fairly dingy” commuter experience would now “be fit for humans.”

…The project’s impact will be felt mainly by commuters. “It’s going to mean easier access to and from the tracks for Long Island Railroad commuters, New Jersey Transit and Amtrak,” said Foye. The authority was careful to present the project as Phase I of a two-part redevelopment that will culminate in the conversion of the Farley post office into an Amtrak terminal and retail center called Moynihan Station.

Though Related Companies and Vornado Realty Trust are still the designated developers for Phase II, the project is unfunded and generally considered, at the very least, dormant. Even so, Foye argued on Tuesday that the completion of this track work, which he called, “the concourse of the new railroad station, of the new Moynihan Station,” would help make the latter a reality.

“The way I’d say it would be that the commencement of construction here later this year is gonna send a message to the development community, to investors, to Related and to Vornado and frankly to the whole community that this project’s gonna happen,” said Foye, “And, we would expect that not only is it a precondition to Phase II and the redevelopment of this building, but that it’s commencement will accelerate those discussions and that investment.”

By itself, the Phase 1 project is a worthwhile one. Improving access into and out of Penn Station will go a long way toward easing the crush of commuters in this underground cavern. That the Port Authority worked to ensure bids came in at budget is a step in the right direction too.

As I’ve noted in the past though, the Moynihan Station plan — with a price tag ranging from $500 million to $1 billion — leaves much to be desired. It doesn’t increase track capacity through the city and represents a nice building for politicians and a lot of dollars spent on some cosmetic upgrades. If it’s a future key for high-speed rail, that’s an easier pill to swallow, but I still wonder about our infrastructure spending priorities at a time when funds are not freely flowing.

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George May 9, 2012 - 12:55 pm

So now there will be entrances on the west side of 8th Avenue. I guess that’s a bit of an improvement. But Grand Central basically did the same thing by providing alternate entrances through their Grand Central North project as far north as 47/Madison and 48/Park. Those have proven to be popular because there are many jobs in the northern half of Midtown that those entrances provide access to. Now, there are relatively few jobs west of 8th Avenue. Perhaps if these Hudson Yards and/or Manhattan West real estate pyramid schemes come to fruition, that might change.

But while Grand Central North is popular on weekdays, it is plagued by malfunctioning escalators, rotting ceilings, lack of air conditioning and MTA’s unwilligness to keep the entrances open on weekends. Will the same fate befall these new passageways at the post office in the likely decades-long interlude between completion of Phase 1 and Phase 2?

SEAN May 9, 2012 - 2:27 pm

Grand Central North was closed on weekends do to budgets & lack of usage.

Jerrold May 9, 2012 - 8:59 pm

They are also building a new entrance at the other end of the 47th St. cross-passage, between Park and Lex. The trouble is that it’s taking forever to finish. No wonder they are talking now about a 2019 date for revenue service on the ESA project. They can’t even get that little piece of the project done on time.

petey May 10, 2012 - 9:48 am

“So now there will be entrances on the west side of 8th Avenue. I guess that’s a bit of an improvement.”

there is a not-very-indirect entrance on the west side of 8th avenue, but it’s depressing (like everything else about the place) and a new entrance as shown in the picture would indeed be an improvement.

Nathanael May 19, 2012 - 11:25 am

One major advantage is that this adds two fully wheelchair-accessible entrances to Penn Station. Currently the main railroad station is accessible from ground level by *ONE* well-hidden elevator, and if that one’s broken, you’re out of luck.

You should expect most customers in wheelchairs to use this new pair of entrances.

John-2 May 9, 2012 - 1:05 pm

The new entrances will only pay off in a major way if Hudson Yards is developed for commercial and/or retail, and there’s a need to flow rail passengers westbound to and from Penn Station.

al May 9, 2012 - 1:31 pm

How about we reactivate the mail and package shipping through the Forley Post Office and NY Penn. The FRA might be queasy about letting passengers sit in the first and last cars of EMU HSR train sets, but packages and mail won’t raise those objections. If you combine HSR with postal delivery, the USPS might have a compelling service to offer that will bring them back into the black. It would allow it to survive against UPS and FedEx. AMTRAK will have another revenue stream too.

P.S.: The Forley Post Office is a architectural gem in its own right. Don’t gut it just to recreate something that is gone.

Ed May 9, 2012 - 4:27 pm

I believe passenger trains in the US used to carry mail, and that this was in fact their most profitable line of business. In effect the federal government subsidized intercity passenger rail through the postal service. The mail got to where it needed to go quickly using this system, too. When the USPS pulled mail off the passenger trains, the US passenger rail network collapsed, hence Amtrak.

John T May 9, 2012 - 10:55 pm

Amtrak carried mail for a few years, but ended it about 5 years ago because the time & effort weren’t worth the profit. If you rode Amtrak trains then you often made extra-long stops so that mail cars could be switched in.

It was it worth it then, and especially not now with mail volumes so much lower and still declining.

Nathanael May 19, 2012 - 11:27 am

Actually, Amtrak made money on mail; the USPS pulled the mail contract in the mid-2000s because it didn’t seem economical to the Postal Service.

John T May 9, 2012 - 10:56 pm

Correction – “It was NOT worth it then . . . “

al May 10, 2012 - 11:37 am

Switching cars won’t be necessary. In this scheme, the end cars are where they will carry the mail and packages. The USPS will use bomb resistant containers similar to the pallets the airlines and air freighters use. Swapping the units in and out will take less time than letting passengers board and alight. Higher demand routes might have another parcel car or two. Unit trains like the TGV La Poste might work for USPS for max throughput service.

Douglas John Bowen May 9, 2012 - 1:21 pm

The crush of commuters and other rail riders. Even if you buy into the dubious belief that LIRR and NJ Transit patrons are all “commuters,” it’s a stretch to call all Amtrak passengers “commuters.” And it doesn’t matter if Patrick Foye makes the same mistake — it’s still a mistake.

“Commuters”—such a retro term on a blog that is so excellent at exploring growth and possibilities.

Eric F May 9, 2012 - 1:28 pm

But that’s a reasonable term to use when you want to shore up local public support. Foye seems like a pretty sharp guy. I have been favorably impressed by his public statements and some of his preliminary actions on cost control have been long overdue. My main disappointment with the PA has been its sub silentio shelving of replacing the Goethals.

Douglas John Bowen May 9, 2012 - 3:08 pm

Respectfully disagree; it’s a term anti-rail types use all the time.** “Commuter” for many equals “those people” — a term that separates, and alienates, “us” from “them.”

And beyond any metaphysical and/or emotional overtones, it simply is not accurate, certainly not all-encompassing, even if we’re limiting the discussion to crowded times at New York Penn. It’s Old-Think, pure and simple, and not worthy of the participants (and the moderator) here who see things rail far more broadly than the average citizen.

**Charlotte Vandervalk, former New Jersey Assemblywoman representing much of the Pascack Valley, used the term “commuter” like a sharp knife … to obstruct needed expanded rail capacity on the namesake rail line. That’s just one example.

Benjamin Kabak May 9, 2012 - 3:18 pm

I use it as a shorthand to connote “people riding trains for any purpose” much as I use “Outer Boroughs” to mean “not Manhattan.” I don’t mean either as derisive terms, but I understand and will be sympathetic the objections.

Nathanael May 19, 2012 - 11:29 am

Well, “commuter” is certainly wrong when you’re referring to people taking intercity Amtrak, for instance the Lake Shore Limited from NY to Chicago.

And the fact is, the Moynihan plan is largely about separating the intercity traffic (which needs baggage handling, substantial waiting rooms, and a lot of customer service) from the commuter traffic (which needs quick access to the street, mostly).

Eric F May 9, 2012 - 3:19 pm

I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone characterize the term “commuter” as pejorative. It seems an especially odd way to characterize the term when he appears to apply it to himself.

There is a term used pejoratively on this site. The term is “driver”.

Bolwerk May 9, 2012 - 6:56 pm

How’s life in Fairyland?

BBnet3000 May 9, 2012 - 2:04 pm

The picture heading this post begins to illustrate the folly of converting a post office into a train station, in my view. Those massive vestigial staircases and tiny corner entrances (hey wait, isnt that one of the complaints about Penn????) are not going to get much better.

TP May 9, 2012 - 2:25 pm

It’s not an inherent folly of adaptive reuse of a post office. It’s by design. This project is really about opening up the Post Office to retail space. The enhancements for transit riders are secondary. Per Scocca and Scicha’s mostly excellent ode to the New Penn Station in the Times from 2010:

Regardless, for our politicians and preservationists the model for an appropriately majestic rail hub seems to be Washington’s Union Station, which is actually a shopping mall, and that is likely what we will get. The real long game here is, as with so many of the recent reinventions of New York, the eventual creation of millions of square feet of new retail and office space.

In exchange, some of us get to look at some pillars on the way underground. Because if you’ve seen the renderings of Phase One of Moynihan Station, there by the post office, there is no majestic hall. There is no grand, starry entrance waiting at the top of that bizarrely wide stairway. Instead, there will be an unimposing little doorway down in each corner of the eastern facade of the post office — leading to a sunken concourse, parallel to Eighth Avenue and not even below the building proper, but tucked under the steps. The concourse of the future will connect nicely with the Long Island Rail Road’s dingy airplane-hangar corridor that runs along 33rd Street.

So your much-hated, quite-glorious Penn Station isn’t going away after all. It’s actually taking over the neighborhood.


Woody May 11, 2012 - 9:19 am

Hugely amusing and informative piece, thanks for the link.

David Brown May 9, 2012 - 5:58 pm

As far as I am concerned, this is an absolute waste of $, that can be better used in other areas (New subway trains, reopening the Republic LIRR Station on 110 in Suffolk County, and actually repairing the escalator at Amityville Train Station (The LIRR admitted they don’t have parts to repair it), come to mind. Instead, this is designed to mollify the preservation nuts, such as Andrew Berman of The Greenwich Village Society For Historical Preservation (Of course, the WEALTHY ELITE like him, can ignore they foul smelled, rat infested, subway station in Greenwich Village (aka West 4th St), which sad to say, I can’t because I have to transfer to the F Train, coming from Penn Station). After they admit they are not finishing with East Side Access until at least 2018, can’t they at least wait 24 hours until they announce the latest expenditure that is designed to guaranteed to bleed money?

Benjamin Kabak May 9, 2012 - 6:01 pm

After they admit they are not finishing with East Side Access until at least 2018, can’t they at least wait 24 hours until they announce the latest expenditure that is designed to guaranteed to bleed money?

Two different agencies. Two different projects. This is Port Authority, not MTA.

Nathanael May 19, 2012 - 11:56 am

This adds two handicapped-accessible entrances to Penn Station. While that may not be the intent of the project, Phase I is worth it for that alone.

Phase II? Needs to be redesigned.

I’m down with establishing new Amtrak facilities in the Post Office Building, and a large waiting room in the courtyard of Farley would be entirely reasonable, but the proposals so far are unreasonably expensive and intrusive for their results. A laser-like focus on demolishing the various additions in the courtyard and building the glass roof for it would provide the waiting room (well, I guess a couple of hallways need to be added to connect to the new entrances); and then the “office relocations” for Amtrak and rehab of the rest of the building could be handled one bit at a time, as in Chicago Union Station. Instead, the proposal is a bit of a “big bang”.

Nathanael May 19, 2012 - 12:27 pm

I will note that the most recent published designs I can find (from 2010) contain no elevators and no wheelchair access!

Which is ridiculous. The announcements all say that there will be elevator access, though, so I assume they’ve been redesigned. If not, expect lawsuits aplenty.

Nathanael May 19, 2012 - 12:59 pm

Aha, I figured it out. The architects are using two different symbols for elevators (?!?!) with no consistency. That’s kind of bizarre, but there are indeed elevators in the plans.

Nathanael May 19, 2012 - 1:01 pm

…and geez, there’s only one elevator in the plans (on the northern entrance). The second elevator (on the southern entrance) has been deferred to phase 2.

Nathanael May 19, 2012 - 1:31 pm

OK, this is how I’d redesign future phases.
Phase 2a: build the missing second elevator.

Phase 2b: open up the courtyard. Build the glass roof. Reconnect / build the elevators and stairs to the courtyard. Connect passageways from the Phase I entrances to the courtyard. (This makes tracks 5-18 wheelchair accessible from both 8th St. entrances.) Put in some benches,a departure board, an information, booth, and TVMs, and call it a day. Don’t mess with the Annex at this point.

Phase 2c: Reactivate the Diagonal Platform for Empire Service, allowing all Amtrak service to connect to Farley.

The rest of the design beyond this point — the relocation of Amtrak’s front-office, baggage and back-office services, construction of bathrooms, and renting out of the rest — needs a rethink. It seems to involve a lot of internal rearrangement for questionable benefit, though to be fair I don’t know the internal arrangement of the Annex, so perhaps there’s less rearrangement than I think.

John T May 9, 2012 - 11:04 pm

Mr Brown, you sound quite bitter!

We should start a pool – I say East Side access opens March, 2020. Wet, soggy ground is very very hard to tunnel through. That is why the IND put up the Culver viaduct back in the 1930s to avoid the difficult ground there.

AG May 9, 2012 - 11:11 pm

This is money from the federal government for a federally owned building… couldn’t be used for “subways”.

Bolwerk May 10, 2012 - 12:10 am

In this case, getting half as much money for something that is infinitely more useful would be a much better deal for us.

Urban Omnibus » The Omnibus Roundup – Moynihan Station and Grand Central, Citi Bike and Civic Action, Scientific Ghost Towns and Secret City Sounds May 11, 2012 - 1:50 pm

[…] MOYNIHAN COMMENCEMENT The demolition of the original Pennsylvania Station sparked furor at the loss of a grand entrance to the city. Renovations to the current Penn Station have been on hold due to insufficient funding for years now. But hope looms on the horizon. Port Authority executive director Patrick Foye has announced that construction will soon begin on phase one of the new Moynihan Station. While phase two, turning the Farley Post Office building into a grand intercity train station, is still a long way off, phase one will widen concourses, ease access to the commuter lines and add new entrances to the concourses via the post office building. According to Foye, “the commencement of construction here later this year is gonna send a message to the development community, to investors, to Related and to Vornado and frankly to the whole community that this project’s gonna happen.” Check out the coverage at Capital New York and Second Avenue Sagas. […]

Once more unto the Moynihan Station morass :: Second Ave. Sagas August 27, 2014 - 11:47 pm

[…] the headlines of the city’s newspapers. The project officially got underway in 2012 with a very modest Phase 1 build-out involving some staircases and access points to Amtrak platforms, and earlier this year, […]


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