Home Penn Station Link: The easier way to fix Penn Station ops

Link: The easier way to fix Penn Station ops

by Benjamin Kabak
The science fiction future for Penn Station.

The science fiction future for Penn Station.

Over the last few years, I’ve written a bit about the disconnect between the need to spend wisely and the need to build great public works. I don’t believe all transit infrastructure should be purely utilitarian, but in an age when cities have to fight for every last transit dollar, does it make sense to spend billions on fancy headhouses instead of rail expansion projects? I don’t think.

In addition to this disconnect, a few Second Ave. Sagas readers have picked up on the theme of vanity projects. In the public works space, it can be hard to pinpoint and define a vanity project. Mayor Bloomberg is funding the 7 line extension with city money because, first, it was to be a part of the Olympics bid and second, because it is undeveloped land in Manhattan. The subway extension is useful, but is it a vanity project? Or what about the QueensWay park plans? Or my favorite whipping boy, Santiago Calatrava’s gold-plated subway station above the PATH terminal at the World Trade Center?

The latest vanity project that’s come to view is this plan to replace Madison Square Garden with a grand new Penn Station. Few New Yorkers would dispute the charge that Penn is a dump. It is clearly in need of some work, and MSG’s place atop the station will forever interfere with improvements. Relocating the arena and rebuilding the train station makes sense if the money makes sense. How much should we spend on a majestic building when rail needs — such as a new trans-Hudson train tunnel — are so glaringly obviously more important?

Last week, in a piece a long time coming, Stephen Smith at The Observer tackled this question and came up with a much better solution to Penn Station’s service woes. We don’t need a new building; we just need streamlined operations. Here’s his take:

During peak periods, each track at Penn is used, on average, just three times an hour. While Penn Station struggles to move around 300,000 passengers each weekday with more than a dozen commuter tracks, Paris’s main commuter hub, Châtelet-Les Halles, handles half a million with just seven tracks.

The key to making the most out of the existing station is what’s known as through-running. The gold standard in commuter rail integration, through-running would have trains from New Jersey come into Penn Station, but instead of making a capacity-taxing reverse maneuver, they’d run straight out to Queens and Long Island, much like a subway…

This is not to say that large capital projects won’t eventually be necessary, even after the existing service patterns are streamlined. But rather than focus on new station complexes, the railroads should look to a solution considered for the first Hudson River crossing that Governor Chris Christie ultimately killed: a tunnel between Penn Station and Grand Central. New Jersey Transit and Amtrak need a new tunnel beneath the Hudson, but they also need somewhere to put the trains once they reach Penn. A tunnel from Penn Station to Grand Central would achieve this while also allowing for through-running not only between New Jersey Transit and the Long Island Rail Road, but also between Metro-North and job-rich suburbs like White Plains and Stamford, Conn. Not to mention giving Metro-North riders a one-seat ride to Penn Station, and New Jersey Transit riders a similar trip to Grand Central.

There’s a lot more to Smith’s article, and it’s definitely worth a read if only for the fact that someone, somewhere is discussing an obvious topic that the transit agencies are hesitant to admit to considering. Smith recognizes that we’ll have to spend capital dollars somewhere, and I think Penn Station’s aesthetic problems can’t be overcome without a new station. But the priority should be first on streamlining current operations to make better use of the station while adding trans-Hudson rail capacity.

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vanshnookenraggen August 23, 2013 - 1:48 am

It would probably be more politically feasible to build a $10 billion train station than it would be to combine the Metro North, LIRR, and NJT. Although the city did consolidate the subways in the 1940s and the state did the same when it created the MTA in 1968. But those were within the jurisdiction of one state. Who would then be in charge of this interstate commuter rail system, the Port Authority? Something new no doubt.

Stephen Smith August 23, 2013 - 2:44 pm

Ten years ago, I would’ve agreed with you. But ten years ago we hadn’t yet seen the ridiculous station cavern cost overruns, ten years ago there was no sequester and ten years ago Washington was still willing to shower NYC with money because of 9/11.

And no way will it only cost $10 billion. Amtrak’s Gateway is $15 billion right now (and they told me it’ll likely rise), and SHoP’s very rough sketch for Penn Station proper and environs is $10 billion.

Bolwerk August 23, 2013 - 3:43 pm

And Gateway should lose the station component. Penn should be shrunk, not expanded.

SEAN August 23, 2013 - 6:49 pm

Why should Penn Station shrink? I don’t get it. I understand the throughput arguement of trains, but shrinking penn Station does what exactly?

Bolwerk August 23, 2013 - 9:26 pm

I meant shrink the number of tracks in the station, maybe combining platforms to make more room for passengers.

Henry August 23, 2013 - 2:27 am

RER-ing the commuter rail system is a lot harder to do when the rail systems extend at least 110 miles out into the sticks. Montauk already has crap reliability – are we going to torpedo the OTP numbers for that branch into the ground?

There’s also the catenary, over-running/under-running third rail. LIRR also runs to the West Side Yard, so the issue would be NJT trains turning within Penn Station.

Also, since the Penn and GCT lower levels are fairly close to street level, wouldn’t a tunnel linking the two be extremely disruptive to the biggest CBD in North America?

Bolwerk August 23, 2013 - 9:20 am

No it’s not. RER-style service doesn’t even need to extend to the furthest reaches of the commuter system. It belongs in the densest parts of Brooklyn, Queens, Nassau, Westchester, and North Jersey.

And stringing catenary and building third rails is still significantly cheaper than building a massive new station. Not a particularly big deal.

SEAN August 23, 2013 - 1:00 pm

If it’s no big deal, then why is the upper Hudson Line still not electrified? The Upper Harlem up to Southeast was electrified in 1984 in the first capital plan & upper Hudson were rebuilt with high level platforms in the second CP in 1991.

SEAN August 23, 2013 - 1:02 pm

Upper Hudson Line stations…

Bolwerk August 23, 2013 - 3:48 pm

I don’t know why it wasn’t done. I will say there is already an electrical infrastructure in place in the inner parts of the system – and maybe it’s not so cost-effective to electrify lightly used outer reaches of the system?

Stephen Smith August 23, 2013 - 5:18 pm

Unifying the power systems is a big deal. Building new stations in midtown is a very, very, very big deal. One is less of a big deal than the other.

SEAN August 23, 2013 - 6:55 pm

Actually with the “Train to the Game,”the power issue problem is solvable.

Alon Levy August 24, 2013 - 6:39 am

The RER has two different voltages. Some of the rolling stock is bi-voltage.

Very long lines run through in Tokyo occasionally. Through-running trains regularly go to Utsunomiya and Takasaki, both a bit more than a hundred kilometers north of Tokyo. With the under-construction Tohoku Jukan Line, they might through-run everything on the Utsunomiya Line, going 150 km north of Tokyo. All of the electrified parts of the New York commuter rail system are within 100 km of New York except for New Haven, at 116.

The LIRR has approximately zero business using West Side Yard. The city should consider closing the yard and filling it in, to reduce construction costs for buildings on top of it. The benefits of a CBD yard are small compared to the cost of CBD real estate. At present cross-Hudson infrastructure it’s a good place to turn extra trains, but if there’s a new tunnel, nothing should turn at Penn unless absolutely necessary. Send LIRR trains to turn somewhere in Newark and NJT trains at Jamaica.

Josh August 24, 2013 - 6:50 am

“if there’s a new tunnel” is a pretty big “if”, though.

Joey August 24, 2013 - 4:02 pm

Can you get around the fact that peak demand is always going to vs higher than reverse-peak demand though? Is effectively deadheading trains out of Manhattan worth the price of the real estate it creates?

Alon Levy August 24, 2013 - 5:56 pm

Yes, why not? People from east of Manhattan sometimes work in Newark and people from west of Manhattan sometimes work in Brooklyn and Queens. It’s not actually a deadhead until past Newark and Jamaica, and in the inner suburbs beyond them it’s not different from how parts of the subway deadhead reverse-peak.

paulb August 23, 2013 - 6:23 am

I’m for any new transportation that really will help business happen more efficiently here. If a Penn-GCT link would do that (it sounds to me like it would, but what do I know?), let’s go. But I hope it wouldn’t happen at the expense of subway expansion, which the city is also hugely in need of.

Erik August 23, 2013 - 8:19 am

Unfortunately, the problems with Penn aren’t only aesthetic. During rush hour it is incomparably packed with human bodies. The capacity issues are not just with trains.

I also agree with the commenter above, that while making an RER out of the LIRR/NJT/MN would be a great idea, the political barriers are high and the equipment interoperability problems are probably higher (maybe not!). Truth be told, what NYC needs more than anything else is something that will never happen: a political re-organization that aligns the tri-state area into a single metropolitan municipality. The issues go way beyond transit. Every outlying suburb does its best to free-ride, and it doesn’t matter whether it’s out of state (NJ) or in-state (Long Island). First would be additional home rule independent from Albany, because, quite frankly, state senators from Rochester have no business in shutting down internal NYC issues!

Finally the Penn-GCT tunnel is probably never going to happen. East Side Access was a big enough project, but at least it started from nowheresville in Queens and involved a lot of under-river tunnel boring. I can’t see it ever getting off the ground in the thick of midtown. Add to that the hardware interoperability issues and even if they felt inspired by the Second Ave Subway to start boring away, it would probably wind up as a subway shuttle and not a commuter rail link.

But you’re point is still well received. People need to start reading and thinking about these things and getting them on the public radar (Mayoral Debates). Infrastructure issues should no longer be “pie in the sky one day but probably never” issues. Sandy should have proved that.

Bolwerk August 23, 2013 - 9:26 am

Transit advocates need to start focusing on taking down political barriers more. It’s hard, but the way things work now it’s set up so we ALWAYS lose.

Josh August 23, 2013 - 3:47 pm

Truth be told, what NYC needs more than anything else is something that will never happen: a political re-organization that aligns the tri-state area into a single metropolitan municipality.

I agree with you that this will never happen, but let’s speculate idly for the sake of argument. What if there was, by some sort of magic, absolute unanimity among all voters in Westchester, Rockland, Nassau, New York, Queens, Kings, Richmond, Fairfeld, Bergen, Hudson, Essex and Union counties that they wanted to secede from New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey, and form a new state called New York City State. Is that even possible? Is there a mechanism in place for it to happen? Would it require action on the part of the existing state legislatures (which would, in turn, doom the process because there’s no way someone in Binghamton or Hartford or New Brunswick would go for it)?

Josh August 23, 2013 - 3:48 pm

Oops, this should’ve been a response to Erik, not Bolwerk.

Steven H August 27, 2013 - 12:55 pm

Per Article 4, Section 3 of the Constitution:

“New States may be admitted by the Congress into this Union; but no new States shall be formed or erected within the Jurisdiction of any other State; nor any State be formed by the Junction of two or more States, or parts of States, without the Consent of the Legislatures of the States concerned [which would never happen] as well as of the Congress [which would never happen].”

So Albany, Trenton, Hartford and Washington would all have to agree to the creation of a new state of New York City.

Despite the stated intentions of local politicians proposing the creation of new states (i.e. legalized pot in the State of Jackson, free guns and fracking in North Colorado, consolidating metropolitan interests in New York City, disenfranchizing voters in California, enfranchizing voters in DC), any new state would upend the balance of power in Washington at least a little; but a new state created by tearing apart an old one…well, that would kickstart the End Times on Capitol Hill. States would be created and destroyed for entirely political reasons; whichever party is more successful early in the game would win the opportunity to gerrymander the Senate on a grand scale.

Besides, metropolitan New York currently exercises real and sizable influence on three state capitals and six senators; why trade that in for two senators and a more powerful City Hall?

Alon Levy August 24, 2013 - 6:44 am

East Side Access was a big enough project, but at least it started from nowheresville in Queens and involved a lot of under-river tunnel boring.

If Penn-GCT is bundled into a new Hudson tunnel, it could do something similar. Assemble the TBM in Jersey west of the Palisades, drill south of the existing tunnels, and break out at the southern ends of the station. Then close tracks 1-4 and remove the platforms, so that you can get a new TBM inside to drill Penn-GCT, either lowering it directly to the hole between 9th and 10th Avenues or transporting it through the cross-Hudson tunnel. (It probably has to be a different TBM from the one that bores the river tunnel because of different geology under the river versus in Manhattan.)

Michael K August 25, 2013 - 2:29 am

Time to get the ball rolling…the next Andrew Green.

Mike K August 26, 2013 - 10:22 am

Time for the next Andrew Green!

Larry Littlefield August 23, 2013 - 8:38 am

The one problem with through running is commuter trains have different destinations.

So imagine you have one train every two minutes pulling into a single platform. To ensure they won’t miss their train, given natural variability, you would have to have five trains worth of passengers standing on the platform, plus those squeezing out to get off the train.

Basically what has to be done is to supplement direct service from New Jersey to Penn with the equivalent of a subway, which would shuttle passengers out to Secaucus where they would catch their own trains. A new tunnel could connect to an existing Penn Station platform, which would be used for the shuttle. And perhaps it could run through to Grand Central, although I have no idea how people think that station can be accessed from the south (through the lower concourse?).

This assumes that tunnels are cheap and stations are expensive, which seems to be the case.

Bolwerk August 23, 2013 - 9:40 am

Nobody said you can’t have multiple platforms to organize passengers a little. Logical groupings could be Port Washington/Jamaica-bound, MNRR-bound (either Hudson or Connecticut), or NJ-bound.

Alon Levy August 24, 2013 - 6:50 am

So imagine you have one train every two minutes pulling into a single platform.

You mean like the RER A does during rush hour each weekday, with three destinations? (Also not at rush hour, but then it’s every 3 minutes 20 seconds rather than every 2 minutes.) Or like the N/Q/R does southbound at Times Square? In both cases, people who ride the trunk don’t care and will get on the next train.

People who need just one branch can use the published train schedules and electronic signs on the RER – but not on the N/Q/R of course – and know to stay out of the way. Off-peak they can even memorize the schedule, know that their branch train serves the station at :01 every 10 minutes, and not show up timed to the wrong train.

g August 23, 2013 - 8:58 am

Through running would be ideal however the need to make extreme changes to the circulation and waiting rooms at Penn is clearly apparent to anyone who has been there. In the end this means the need to redo both the track layout and platform widths is as strong as the need for new far larger passenger concourses/waiting rooms and vertical circulation. A new head house is a necessity not a luxury.

Chris C August 23, 2013 - 9:30 am

If a platform was only being used for 3 trains per hour here in London at say Victoria or Waterloo stations there would be an outcry at such a ridiculous waste of resources.

A train arrives at its designated platform and a few minutes later it departs back on its route out to the suburbs.

We even announce the platform in advance to outgoing commuters can be waiting on the actual platform ready to board once the train arrives and inbound passengers get off.

If a train is due to be taken out of service then it is quickly sent back to the depot and not blocking a platform that can be used for an active service.

Of course there are more tracks available over here into those stations – your limitation is that there are only 2 tracks in and 2 out (if I understand correctly) of Penn and that is the restricting factor.

But tunnels are not all that ‘sexy’ politically are they even if they are the most practical solution to a problem

DF August 23, 2013 - 9:38 am

Does anybody have any hard data, or at least, testimony based on actual knowledge, as to

(1) how long NJT or LIRR trains stay on the tracks at Penn Station after unloading passengers at peak hours (as opposed to moving through to the West Side Yards or Sunnyside)
(2) how common it is to have trains delayed entering Penn Station because the tracks are full (rather than to leave enough space in the tunnels or for some other reason)

It may be that the tracks are really the most important bottleneck at the station – I certainly have no idea – but do people know this, or are they just assuming it.

Alon Levy August 24, 2013 - 6:54 am

Re 1, one morning I went to Penn Station and timed how long LIRR trains stay there. It turned out they clear of passengers in about 1:30, stay with their doors open maybe 30 more seconds, and then clear out, moving to West Side Yards.

Patrick @ The LRR Today August 23, 2013 - 9:42 am

It’s an idea…and an idea that has come up all too often, but it will never work in New York. Never. There are too many agencies at play and too many different egos and states to iron out. It will never work.

It’s one of those “if it wasn’t invented in New York we can’t have it” type of things.

Alon Levy August 24, 2013 - 6:53 am

In Paris the SNCF/RATP turf wars are at “trains must change drivers at Gare du Nord” levels. They still make do. SNCF nagged RATP about changing the proposed RER A route in the 1960s so that it would serve the Gares de Lyon and Saint-Lazare, and everyone was happy eventually.

alen August 23, 2013 - 9:46 am

not a fair comparisson since penn also serves amtrak service, while the paris stationed mentioned doesn’t seem to service eurostar trains

Chris C August 23, 2013 - 10:17 am

I’m guessing that even if you take out the Amtrak trains/platforms from the calculations that it won’t make much of a difference to the figures.

Oh and there are other trains in Europe other than the Eurostar you know !

alen August 23, 2013 - 11:06 am

the commuter trains serve a lot more people than amtrak. i bet the if you combine the Penn and GCT passenger totals you will get close to what the paris station serves which seems to be a combination commuter/subway station

paris has a separate inter city train station

Chris C August 23, 2013 - 12:55 pm

It is not people but the average platform usage / hour that we are talking about.

Whether an Amtrak train is carrying one person or three hundred or a thousand it is not going to affect the platform usage average is it? Excluding Amtrak trains / tracks from the calculation is really not going to make that much of a difference to the figure for the whole station.

And what purpose is served by adding up the numbers for Penn and GCT? This is not a who serves the most passengers argument comparing NYC against Paris or London but a platform usage problem and how to solve that. But yes you could add the numbers together for passengers and tracks / trains / platforms from both and then get another figure but it would be totally meaningless.

And yes I *guess* you could add in the number of subway passengers as well as the number of tracks / platforms / subway trains into the mix as well – that would really improve the average trains per platform per hour average FOR THE WHOLE PENN COMPLEX but still does not solve the issues with the rail aspect of the station.

Paris has 7 (SEVEN) inter city train terminals but what has that got to do with Penn Station?

Stephen Smith August 23, 2013 - 2:41 pm

I counted only commuter traffic (300,000, by my calculations) and platforms in the comparison, leaving out Amtrak. This might have been clearer pre-editing…sorry.

David Brown August 23, 2013 - 10:00 am

I do not think this project will get built (at least to the degree that the Municipal Art Society and Christie Quinn want). If you think back to 9/11, there was a lot of sympathy for New York, and Downtown Manhattan was given an open checkbook by Washington (hence Fulton Street and the PATH Station). That is not the case in 2013. For example: You do not see anyone even suggesting bailing out Detroit, and even Gov. Cuomo expedited the process of getting a new Tappan Zee & Kosciuszko Bridge approved, because he knows, going forward, the money for new projects will not be there, and of course, it is usually easier getting funding IF a process is already underway, instead of going through all of the various steps (Environmental Review Uniformed Land Process and the rest). I suspect that when you see the new MTA Budget, you will see a plan for the Second Avenue Subway (SAS), and since East Side Access will be finished in around 2019, and (SAS) will be needed for that (plus it is already under construction), there is a decent chance funding will be there in the new Transportation Bill. A new BILLION Dollar stand alone Penn Station? I do not see it.

John-2 August 23, 2013 - 7:38 pm

Welcome to the follow-up to 1960. The old Penn died precisely because the building had no way of boost the Pennsylvania Railroad’s revenue stream. Selling half the air rights to Irving Mitchell Felt for Madison Square Garden and developing part of the remainder as office space was the PRR’s way of trying to leverage the site to raise operating cash. And the New York Central was only better because they had available land to peddle between 44th and 45th Streets for the Pan Am Building which didn’t require the complete destruction of Grand Central. If it had, they would have done it in the 1960s as well.

If government decides it wants to replace the current Penn with an $11 billion orifice whose biggest revenue stream is a food court, someone or some group of higher-ups is going to have to explain the advantages in purely aesthetic terms to the voters (or to other states’ representatives, if huge influxes of federal dollars are involved). That’s not going to be easy, coming off not just the Calatrava cost overruns, but the pending really bad publicity about the rebuilding expenses for new South Ferry, after it cost half a billion in 9/11 funds. And all of that is without even considering what should be done at platform level, where the current track and platform set-up cries out for simplification and modification (as as noted before, even if you factor in Amtrak’s two new tunnels south of 31st Street, there would barely be any ability to through-run the trains, because the southernmost tracks at Penn dead-end and can’t access the East River tunnels).

JJJJ August 23, 2013 - 10:04 am

3 trains per hour? Thats criminal incompetence.

g August 23, 2013 - 10:50 am

Penn has 20 tracks and old narrow shared platforms. Anyone who thinks this can be improved upon without a major infrastructure overhaul should visit Penn during both rush periods.

alen August 23, 2013 - 11:07 am

i don’t think you understand the concept of commuter railroad. some lines have trains running only once an hour in off-peak hours

g August 23, 2013 - 2:03 pm

The “each track used three times an hour during peak” line roughly equates to 60 trains per hour plus or minus a few for Amtrak. It gives the impression the station is merely under underutilized when it’s really under designed (concourses/stairs/waiting areas) and outdated (track level layout/platforms).

alen August 23, 2013 - 2:14 pm

penn is a terminal station. the trains sit there for 10 minutes or more while people board since its the first stop in the entire LIRR system and part of the NJ Transit system. unlike the paris one in the example where trains arrive and leave

g August 23, 2013 - 2:41 pm

Peak TPH there is roughly double that of Penn. It is not inconceivable that Penn could approach the same capacity (I’ve seen rough estimates of 90-100) with additional Hudson tunnels and cutting back the number of tracks while increasing platform width. Albeit more tracks and platforms would still be required than it’s European counterparts since it operates as a terminal for both NJT and LIRR however some of that can be alleviated by platforming more than one train on a track.

Anonymous August 23, 2013 - 11:11 am

The best chance at through running is to have NJT trains continue towards New Heaven. Here is why: (1) Metro-Norht and NJT actually have some cooperation already going on West of Hudson and (2) it is my understanding that the existing NJT electrical locomotives can actually handle the various voltages and frequencies north of Penn Station. They already do this with the football train.

I would hope that the MTA will attempt something like this when the ESA is ready and the West-bound and East-bound bypasses of Harold are ready. It should be much easier/cheaper than trying to get the M-8s into Penn Station. Also it could be a great way to see what the demand for Penn Station Service from the New Heaven line is. NJT probably has enough coaches and locomotives to spare two-three sets and allow them to run say Dover-NY Penn-New Heaven. By enough here I mean help NJT pay to fix their Sandy damaged equipment for two-three sets. NJT does have spare equipment that is awaiting repair that they do not seem to be in extreme rush to fix because they are receiving new multi-levels. It will be much cheaper to do this and be able to see the actual demand for maybe $10-15 million in equipment fixing costs and operating expenses than to mess with the M-8s, the various power voltages/frequencies and the under-running and over-running third rail. Once you have better idea of the demand and you have given people the taste of flexibility offered by running into Penn Station then figure out whether to go with M-8s successors, ALP46s and coaches or whatever. Once there are people using it there will be a lot more support for spending money on new equipment or track/power infrastructure. If there is no demand for service into Penn then you are out of a few millions only and that’s it.

Andrew August 23, 2013 - 11:17 am

Here’s something I don’t understand that maybe someone can provide an answer to:

Why, if each Penn Station track only sees 3 trains per hour, does the station post the track # for each outgoing train only 5-10 minutes in advance? At GC, the track numbers are posted much earlier than this, and it makes the commuting process much less stressful/hectic.

More importantly, though, wouldn’t posting the track numbers for each outgoing train earlier help relieve the crowding problem? Hundreds of people crowd in front of those big boards waiting for their train # to be posted, causing crowding in the waiting areas, the concourses, and everywhere else. If the station would post the track #s earlier, people wouldn’t be standing around but instead would be sitting on their trains waiting for departure. Seems like it would fix a bunch of problems.

alen August 23, 2013 - 11:22 am

sometimes the track numbers change. my train is usually on 15, but i’ve had to take it from 13 some days.

Bolwerk August 23, 2013 - 11:48 am

Alen is probably right. Maybe their discipline is bad.

With Amtrak, I often find my track on the arrival board and then find the right stairway before the crowd so I can claim my favorite seat next too the cafe. They want everyone getting off to alight before letting new passengers on.

SEAN August 23, 2013 - 12:49 pm

I’ve been wondering about this as well. The NJT trains don’t get posted until 10-minutes prior to departure & customer service is usually no help because most of the time they don’t know them selves until the last minute unless a call goes over the walky talky to opperations. Those things happen in the case of a passenger with special needs getting escorted to the stairs or to the correct platform.

Chris C August 23, 2013 - 1:02 pm

Might be something to do with needing room to allow passengers off the trains safely and clearing the narrow platforms before letting passengers down to the platform for them to board.

Wider platforms might solve that problem

Here in London most trains do go from the same platform but if there is a broken down or delayed train then they change the platform. Easier to handle the crowds when this happens if passengers are on the main concourse rather than having gone past the ticket gates and down the platform. But then again here the platforms and concourse are on the same level which is not the same as Penn.

g August 23, 2013 - 2:22 pm

That’s exactly the problem. Penn needs half the tracks/platforms it has now and double the platform widths (without so many obstructions) plus much better vertical circulation. Even if through running could be accomplished the net benefit would be minimal since it isn’t possible to move people any better inside the current station.

Alon Levy August 24, 2013 - 6:57 am

I’d believe that if they posted track numbers elsewhere. But even at Boston, New Haven, and Providence, track numbers are only announced at the last minute. I think it’s a cultural thing – the American concept of a train station goes back to the steam era, when there was separation between the concourse and the track area, and passengers had no need to be on the coal soot-ridden platform until the very last moment.

Rob August 23, 2013 - 1:01 pm

You don’t need a tunnel to GCT for thru trains: LIRR could handle all NJT traffic [to wit: 2 tracks into NY from NJ; 4 from NY to LI].

Further, pls tell the Unobserver that you also don’t need a tunnel to GCT to get to Stamford from NJ. Amtrak does that today, and the commuter ops could do that too if they wanted to.

SEAN August 23, 2013 - 1:08 pm

Except for Pelham & Mt. Vernon East of course.

Alon Levy August 24, 2013 - 5:59 pm

You’d think, but there’s a lot more traffic that wants (or should want) to use Hell Gate than there is capacity for it: a couple of Amtrak tph, Triboro, the occasional freight train, Metro-North Penn Station access, and even more Metro-North-to-Penn trains if that’s the main route to Jersey.

Jerrold August 23, 2013 - 1:13 pm

Has everybody read THIS article on the Times site?


Note the two Comments that I posted there.

andy August 23, 2013 - 1:31 pm

Not sure where to post this question, as it’s not relevant to the current blog post.

As the subway cell/wifi rollout continues, I’m wondering if there’s any chance this could be put to use by app developers to provide real-time subway arrival information, the same way that they do for buses. Actual countdown clocks for the lines that don’t have them now appear to be on a schedule similar to the 2nd Ave subway.

David August 23, 2013 - 3:56 pm

The word “disconnect” is tied with the equally misused word “impact” as the most over-used words of the 21st century.

Andrew August 25, 2013 - 11:36 pm

Through-running is definitely helpful. But it’s most helpful when multiple stations serve the CBD. The Paris RER, the Berlin S-Bahn, and closer to home the SEPTA Regional Rail system all spread their CBD riders among a series of stations. (Châtelet-Les Halles is particularly busy because it’s the only transfer point serving three RER lines, not because it’s the single CBD station on any of them.) If nearly everyone on a crowded train from Long Island is getting off at Penn Station, it’s going to sit at the station for several minutes simply to allow everyone to get off – does it really matter much whether the next stop is to the west or to the east, or if the train is going out of service entirely?

At the same time, through-running inevitably overserves the reverse-peak direction. If doing so yields great operational benefits, perhaps it’s worth the significant operating and capital costs. But if the operational benefits aren’t so great, then it probably isn’t.

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