Home Moynihan Station Once more unto the Moynihan Station morass

Once more unto the Moynihan Station morass

by Benjamin Kabak

Moynihan Station supporters are slowly moving the project forward as Elmo looks on from MSG.

Every now and then, New York City collectively remembers that Moynihan Station remains an idea slowly inching toward reality, and every now and then, Moynihan Station makes its way back into 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, it seemed that forces were slowly aligning behind the long-aborning effort. Now, it’s back, with funding and a vengeance, and could be closer to reality than we think.

The latest comes to us from Charles V. Bagli of The New York Times. According to Bagli’s report, the station plans are nearly fully funded, and Senator Chuck Schumer is asking the feds and Amtrak to close the gap. We’ll get to that shortly, as, in the meantime, I find Bagli’s article telling for what it doesn’t say than for what it does.

In reintroducing The Times’ readership to Moynihan Station, Bagli runs through the litany of folks lining up to support the project. Calling it a “$1 billion proposal to create a grand annex to Pennsylvania Station,” Bagli notes that Moynihan is “a favorite project of civic organizations, developers and politicians.” Notice who’s missing: planners and transit advocates. That’s because it’s not really a favorite project for that group. The Farley Post Office is west of 8th Ave., a full avenue block away from the IRT lines and two avenues from the BMT and IND at Herald Square. Unlike Penn Station, which straddles two subway lines, it’s not particularly well located to serve as a centralized train station, and the building design, with sweeping staircases, isn’t luggage-friendly. Still the project marches on.

Bagli writes:

One small step nearing completion is the enlargement of the existing concourses serving the train platforms below the blocklong post office and the expansion of a passageway beneath Eighth Avenue to Penn Station. And on Tuesday, Senator Charles E. Schumer, long a proponent of what is known as Moynihan Station, called on Amtrak and the Federal Transit Administration to provide the remaining money necessary for the next phase: building a skylit, intercity train hall in the post office for Amtrak. “After years of dreaming and work, Moynihan Station is on the precipice of success,” Mr. Schumer said. “Let’s access available federal money — from the F.T.A., Amtrak and elsewhere — to get it done now.”

…The state’s Moynihan Station Development Corporation is overseeing the $300 million first phase of the project, which is expected to be completed next year…But state officials have a $700 million construction budget for building the train hall, where postal workers once sorted mail, and retail spaces. The hall would be roughly the same size as the great hall in Grand Central Terminal.

…Mr. Schumer said that the development corporation had pledges for $500 million, from the city and two developers chosen in 2005 to create the Moynihan transit hub. That leaves a $200 million shortfall, which Mr. Schumer said should be filled by federal funds.

Bagli rehashes how various plans to move Madison Square Garden have fallen through, and he even drags a perfunctory quote out of Amtrak Chairman Anthony Coscia. “Although our resources are limited, we think this is an important project. We’ll do everything in our power to make it a reality,” he said. “Right now, the most important thing is to serve the rapidly growing demand for train service along the Northeast corridor.”

But the largest problem with the project remains firmly in place: For $1 billion, the Moynihan Station Development Corporation is creating a nicer waiting room for Amtrak without contemplated or expanded train capacity through the station. There’s no denying that Penn Station needs fixing. It’s not a pleasant place to be, and that inevitably will lead some people to eschew train service. But as dollars for transit are scarce, the priority should be expanding trans-Hudson capacity.

The Times reserves this inconvenient truth for the kicker of the article. By paraphrasing Bob Yaro, outgoing head of the Regional Plan Association, Bagli notes that without another Hudson River tunnel or an expansion of Penn Station to the south, Moynihan Station is simply a nicer shell for an older problem. Gateway, anybody?

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JJJJJ August 28, 2014 - 12:19 am

So the construction that started in 2012, whats the progress on that? Is whatever that is opening any time soon?

Does it include a new bathroom? And if not, fire everyone.

Brandon August 28, 2014 - 9:04 am

The LIRR waiting area at Penn actually has a pretty nice bathroom now (at least Men’s, cant vouch for the other side).

solgoldberg August 29, 2014 - 6:27 pm

I do not know what construction started in 2012, but the currently underway Phase I Moynihan was on schedule to complete in 2016 (not the “next year” mentioned in the NYT article).

AFAIK Phase I does not include any additional bathrooms. Phase I creates a significantly enlarged & lengthened West End Concourse (WEC) under the east side of Farley, two entrances from 8th through the Farley “basement” to the West End Concourse, an enlarged connection between the LIRR 33rd st concourse and the WEC and augmented fan/ventilation/etc under Farley/Moynihan.

Phase I should benefit commuters who work in the far West Side (“Hudson Yards” area) which is an area that will have SIGNIFACNT increases in office space & workers in the next few years.

Amtrak’s June publication “Ink” has probably the most accurate status for Phase I:

Joey K August 28, 2014 - 12:22 am

Assuming Phase II gets built and neither Amtrak’s Gateway Program nor a new Penn Station are on the horizon, is there any talk of what would happen to Amtrak’s current concourse space in Penn Station. Would they continue occupying both stations? The fact that Moynihan Station is west of eighth avenue would be troubling for commuters trying to get from point A to point B as fast as possible, but it wouldn’t make as much of a difference to an Acela rider waiting to board her train. If it meant freeing up the main waiting room in Penn for NJ Transit and LIRR, that could be some welcomed extra space for commuters. This should probably have been a part of the FEIS to begin with.

And pretty sure the entrances wouldn’t require going up those stairs, the project will be ADA accessible meaning there will be stairless means of getting around.

Phantom August 28, 2014 - 8:18 am

” Moynihan Station ” will be the bottomless pit of time and money, leading to something way late and totally unsatisfying.

New York no longer has the competence to do any great things properly. The unions and politicians and legal system see to that.

There is enough money in this region, and enough money available from the feds, that this thing could have been built, along with one seat rail access from JFK, Newark, and LaGuardia, Cross Harbor Tunnel, things like a replacement for the grossly unacceptable Outerbridge Crossing, etc etc etc. All these things should be built, and most of them should have been built years ago.

But everything is studied to death and nothing gets done.

David August 28, 2014 - 9:10 am

We need the the next incarnation of Robert Moses. And soon.

Alon Levy August 28, 2014 - 9:38 am

Moses was very efficient at continuing digging when in a hole.

Phantom August 28, 2014 - 12:29 pm

Moses did a lot of bad as well as good, of course, but he got s*** done.

I want NY / Metro Area / US to get things done.

We are great at producing lawsuits, union work rules, workers comp / disability scams, environmental studies, neighborhood hearings, diversity quotas, and endless paperwork.

Who in public life is addressing this?

Yes, we need a Moses like figure, who can knock heads, including the heads of the empty suits Cuomo II and Christie I. I’d think that a big majority of the voters would very much support someone with the stature to actually get important things built, again. The problem has little to do with money IMO – its that almost none of the money that we do spend is used wisely, and that no timelines ever seem to be met.

Josh August 28, 2014 - 4:25 pm

“Yes, we need a Moses like figure, who can knock heads, including the heads of the empty suits Cuomo II and Christie I.”

I’d wager that both Cuomo and Christie see themselves as that type of figure, particularly Cuomo with his “success” at getting the Tappan Zee boondoggle moving.

Alon Levy August 29, 2014 - 1:08 pm

Yes, exactly. Absolute monarchy is a terrible kind of government. The sort of monarch who can bash bureaucrats’ heads can also bash yours.

Eric August 31, 2014 - 4:00 am

Which countries/areas do you see as having the best forms of government, and how much of this do you attribute to the form of government rather than the cultural traits of the inhabitants?

Boris August 29, 2014 - 4:55 pm

Three of the best areas in the country for transit construction – Portland, OR; Minneapolis-St. Paul; and Washington, D.C. – come to mind. None of them have a Moses, but all of them do have effective local government and a populace willing to understand the issues and work to improve their standard of living. New York has neither of those.

AG August 29, 2014 - 5:27 pm

None of those are in any way shape or form comparable to the NYC area. DC would be the closest – but it’s still much much smaller. Not to mention their original system was paid for by the federal government. Plus – none of them have a project as complicated as East Side Access… There’s just no comparisons. Maybe Hong Kong or London or Tokyo would be a better comparison.

Bolwerk August 30, 2014 - 5:15 pm

Heavy rail is heavy rail. Portland and Minneapolis don’t do that, but DC has in recent history under pretty similar circumstances to NYC. The best (technical) comparison to anything NYC is doing right now is LA. Maybe Alon has a cost comparison somewhere.

ESA, of course, is just overbuilt.

AG August 31, 2014 - 10:02 am

Well no – my comment was in response to the assertion that in those places – such as Minneapolis and Portland – the the local government is more effective and the people are more understanding of their own needs. My point was that the more densely populated an area is – the more difficult is to to govern. The more expensive a place is (sometimes that goes hand in hand) the more difficult it is to get projects done. The more built up the infrastructure it is – the more difficult it is to add on to it. They are not even remotely close.

So even by those measures – LA is only expensive. Their building a new network – and are not anywhere as densely populated a city. Again – you’d have to look to places like Hong Kong – London – Tokyo for better comparisons.

Bolwerk August 31, 2014 - 12:23 pm

Hmm, I dunno, they all are more effective whenever there are relevant comparisons to be made. They are expanding light rail networks. NYC is doing SBS, and not even getting that done effectively. Nothing about density or land acquisition prevents NYC from doing what they do with surface transit.

With regard to projects involving extensive land takings, I agree about land expense. NYC is always going get reamed with expensive land taking costs, but, all things being equal, density can also make things easier. More passenger-miles in a confined area, over short distances, actually means higher revenue. More mileage on a network (be it road, rail, electric) means more exposed area to maintain.

Boris August 28, 2014 - 10:11 am

The problem is that each pot of money is allotted for an individual project. Instead, we should tell the engineers – here’s the overall pool of money and here are the overall needs; what is the best and cheapest solution you can come up with? Make them get creative.

LLQBTT August 28, 2014 - 10:42 am

That’s because you don’t have entrepreneurs leading these projects such as the original Penn or GCT. This is all government sponsored now, and we are seeing the results, cost overruns, poor planning, decades and eons to get projects moving and done.

And in addition, in this day and age of regulation, projects just take longer anyway. So here we are, nearer the start of a century long process to build SAS for example.

Webster S August 28, 2014 - 8:39 am

“If it meant freeing up the main waiting room in Penn for NJ Transit and LIRR, that could be some welcomed extra space for commuters.”

I think that’s the play, here. It would certainly mean Amtrak giving up that space which would finally allow them to begin reconfiguring LIRR and NJT; hopefully consolidating ticketing into one space and opening up areas for waiting, better access down to the platforms, and commercial space.

Moreover, spending on either a new trans-Hudson crossing or improving Penn isn’t mutually exclusive. I don’t know just why Kabak frames these things as always being so (same with the WTC Transit Hub). Look, the $1 billion cost for Moynihan is drop in the bucket for the over $8 billion price tag for ARC…Doing one (or deciding not to; NJ, looking at you) shouldn’t preclude doing the other.

Eric F August 28, 2014 - 8:58 am

Ideally NJT alone. At some point east side access will be done (maybe?) and LIRR won’t need as much space at Penn. What they have now might actually be adequate.

Brandon August 28, 2014 - 9:05 am

No, not ideally NJT alone. There is no reason for a separate concourse no matter what agency’s trains are going into Penn.

Eric F August 28, 2014 - 9:40 am

I’m suggesting that NJT needs additional space in the long-term more then LIRR does. How the various spaces are configured in relation to each other is a separate point.

I know people seem to get annoyed about the various railroads having separate concourses. I don’t have a strong opinion on that. But I would note that it would strike me as very annoying as an LIRR or NJT passenger to have to listen to track announcements and the like for the other railroad or deal with a departure/arrival board larded up with irrelevant information on the other railroad’s trains. There is some sense to having a demarcation there.

Boris August 28, 2014 - 10:04 am

But what if the “other railroad’s trains” could take you where you need to go? Even without through-running, sharing tracks can allow for better connections and timed cross-platform transfers.

Eric F August 28, 2014 - 10:38 am

The systems head in literally opposite directions. They also can’t share tracks because they are powered by different power delivery systems.

It would be nice if one could take a train from garden city to Montclair or whatever, but the transfer across the concourse is reasonably easy for the few people who have to make that type of trip. Speaking as someone who has in fact transferred from LIRR to NJT a few times, it’s one of the easier transfers you can do.

Charlie August 28, 2014 - 12:08 pm

Certainly a lot easier than NJT>MNRR.

lop August 28, 2014 - 12:25 pm

Tracks 5-21 have third rail, tracks 1-17 have overhead. 1-4 stubend so the LIRR can’t access them anyway.

Charlie August 28, 2014 - 12:28 pm

So tracks 5-17 can, theoretically at least, be accessed by all three railroads? I didn’t know that.

Eric F August 28, 2014 - 12:52 pm

In fact there is at least one LIRR track at Penn that sees occasional NJT trains. Specifically track 13.

Henry August 28, 2014 - 12:52 pm

The website The LIRR Today used to have a track map of Penn Station that had all the restrictions on it. Due to the track layout at Penn, the amount of platforms that can actually through-run is quite limited.

Bolwerk August 28, 2014 - 11:09 am

It’s not that big a deal, and they probably suffer that anyway. You certainly hear NJT announcements in the Amtrak concourse as is.

It’s best to just have the trains easily available and running on time, and then worry about the other details.

lop August 28, 2014 - 12:33 pm

If you are going to Middletown is an announcement for the train to great neck more annoying than the announcement for the train to montclair? Why?

Long term LIRR might not use the station as much as today but those slots will probably get transferred to MNR New Haven or Hudson line trains, not NJTransit. And New Haven line trains can run to NJ. So why have separate concourses if you can have overlapping routes?

Eric F August 28, 2014 - 12:54 pm

Any irrelevant announcement would be annoying, but the scale of irrelevant announcements would be enormous if both railroads shared a concourse. There is also a lot of NJT or LIRR-specific contingency plan announcements made when there’s an issue affecting one line or another that is simply inapplicable to the other railroad.

Bolwerk August 28, 2014 - 1:30 pm

How long do NJT and LIRR riders typically wait? I doubt many need to mill around the concourse or platform more than 15m. They can survive a few unwanted contingency announcements in that timeframe, assuming any are even necessary.

Eric F August 28, 2014 - 2:02 pm

It’s not a few. It’s incessant. Wait for a train at Penn Newark sometime and you’ll see what I mean. Now multiply that by adding announcements for the busiest commuter line in the country.

Boris August 29, 2014 - 4:59 pm

Maybe we should do away with announcements altogether then. Large TV monitors and smartphones are a dime a dozen today anyway. Every announcement that’s not about your particular train is a waste.

Henry August 29, 2014 - 5:10 pm

@Boris: Not everyone has smartphones, and we also have blind people who have even more need to use public facilities. Announcements are one of an arsenal of passenger information systems, they’re not expensive, and to be honest a good portion of them get tuned out by people not looking to hear them, so there’s no harm done in keeping them.

Eric August 31, 2014 - 4:04 am

If you can wait on the platform, you don’t need announcements. If not, you do need announcements.

Nathanael August 28, 2014 - 11:46 am

The plan is, indeed, to move all the long-distance passengers, baggage handling, etc., over to Moynihan, to get them out of the way of commuter traffic. There’s actually a lot of these passengers, and they spend a large amount of time sitting and waiting, occupying space in the station.

Each day, Penn Station hosts departures of 4 overnight trains, and 13 day trains which run for more than 8 hours; people arrive very early for these trains and frequently have a lot of baggage to handle. People may tend to arrive quite early for the trains to Rutland, Lynchburg, and Newport News as well, due to their low frequencies. *These probably account for the majority of people camped out in the station for hours at a time*.

Then the existing Penn Station space would be converted entirely into “commuter” area, the idea being that commuters arrive shortly before their train, rather than an hour or two before.

This is a perfectly reasonable plan, in a unified-government world: one concourse for the “hop on the train in 5 minutes” commuters (close to the subway lines) — and one (further from the subway lines) for the people who need a waiting room to catch the infrequent train to their destination. This is how Philadelphia’s stations were designed (both 30th St. and the demolished Broad St.), and this is how NY Penn was originally designed too (though they didn’t account for commuters to New Jersey).

Divided ownership rears its head again: Amtrak doesn’t like the plan because Amtrak *owns* Penn Station but would have to *lease* Moynihan. So Amtrak has to be compensated for the move.

Eric F August 28, 2014 - 12:56 pm

Absolutely. The incremental inconvenience of being across 8th avenue is much less relevant to an intercity passenger. They picked the right railroad to move across the street.

Joey K August 28, 2014 - 1:42 pm

This is right. I think the marketing behind the Moynihan Station plan needs to focus on the benefits to commuters through the renovation and reorganization of the existing Penn Station space into a “metropolitan station” whereas Moynihan will be an intercity station. There may not be as much of an uproar if the benefits to the existing Penn Station were described with greater clarity.

lop August 28, 2014 - 4:52 pm

Does the concourse for the hop on the train in 5 minute commuters serve Amtrak commuters? To accommodate them would you need more than listing tracks for Amtrak trains, a TVM or maybe a ticket window in the existing Penn?

Alon Levy August 29, 2014 - 1:13 pm

In a unified government world, 23,000 daily Amtrak riders don’t get so much more attention than 350,000 commuter rail riders, and 350,000 commuter rail riders don’t get so much more attention than 350,000 subway riders.

solgoldberg August 29, 2014 - 8:42 pm

“Unified government world” – sounds like socialism or worse! ** I am kidding **

I have actually been in the bowels of Penn Station & the West End Concourse recently on a construction-porn day trip via the LIRR. And I have memories of Penn back to at least 1975.

Phase I makes sense and “they” claim it’s on track for completion in August? 2016. I suspect that part of the ventilation work in Phase I is related to the covering over of Penn Station’s last remaining open cut. This is the source of the sunlight you can see from the west end of the platforms.

The open cut is being covered as part of the real estate development west of Penn which is being driven by Hudson Yards rezoning, High Line park success, etc.

Eric August 31, 2014 - 4:08 am

What attention do you want? The $1 billion for Moynihan wouldn’t buy you very much subway construction.

Bolwerk August 31, 2014 - 12:25 pm

It could probably buy the Rockaway Branch four times, not to mention Cap’n Transit’s partial Triborough RX scheme. Hell, with sane first world costs, it can probably buy 2-4 miles of underground construction, at least in the outer boroughs.

AG August 28, 2014 - 3:47 pm

In this case – some of the money (a good portion) is private. They are selling air rights – and they will get rent from the retail slated to go there.

Eric F August 28, 2014 - 9:08 am

Ideally the current waiting area would be demolished and tarped over and everyone who has had to wait for a train there would go through that brain procedure in the movie “The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” so that they’d have no memory of it.

That would be the ideal scenario. Not sure if that’s in the environmental impact statement.

Nathanael August 28, 2014 - 12:05 pm

“Assuming Phase II gets built and neither Amtrak’s Gateway Program nor a new Penn Station are on the horizon, is there any talk of what would happen to Amtrak’s current concourse space in Penn Station. Would they continue occupying both stations?”
The entire plan is to move most of Amtrak’s operations to Moynihan and clear out what’s left of Penn for NJT.

Amtrak commuters who already printed out their tickets in advance could presumably keep using the existing concourse. But this would get the ticket window, the baggage check, the baggage claim, the Club Acela, and the main waiting room out of the rabbit warren. And according to the original plan it would also move most of Amtrak’s back-office functions.

“The fact that Moynihan Station is west of eighth avenue would be troubling for commuters trying to get from point A to point B as fast as possible, but it wouldn’t make as much of a difference to an Acela rider waiting to board her train.”
… or the people waiting for trains to Chicago and Florida! Since these trains are once a day, people waiting for them tend to leave *really early* (in case they get delayed on the way to the station), so they often end up sitting in the station for many hours.

“If it meant freeing up the main waiting room in Penn for NJ Transit and LIRR, that could be some welcomed extra space for commuters. This should probably have been a part of the FEIS to begin with.”

This is the entire idea of the plan, as Daniel Patrick Moynihan described it. The Moynihan Station plan is intended to allow vistors from other cities to “enter the city like a god” rather than “scuttling in like a rat”.

As for commuters? You can keep scuttling in like rats, and we’ll give you some more space in the rat burrow. 🙂

“And pretty sure the entrances wouldn’t require going up those stairs, the project will be ADA accessible meaning there will be stairless means of getting around.”
This is the funded and under-construction part of the project, actually: there will be a ground-level entrance on the left side of the stairwell and another on the right side. In the funded part of the plan, these lead directly to elevators going down to the West Concourse and the tracks. In the unfunded part, there would also be a ground-level waiting room with ticketing, baggage, etc. attached to it.

Nathanael August 28, 2014 - 12:08 pm

I just want to emphasize this again, because Ben doesn’t seem to get it.

There are a lot more commuters than there are long-distance passengers, but *they aren’t in the station for as long*. The 300 passengers waiting for the Lake Shore Limited are likely to be waiting for an hour or more.

This eats up *far* more station space than several thousand commuters who arrive 5 minutes before their train is scheduled to depart.

It is entirely appropriate to move the waiting room for these long-distance travelers further away from the main traffic flows.

Alon Levy August 29, 2014 - 1:17 pm

Sorry, but no. First, the commuter to intercity ratio is 15:1, and most intercity riders are taking the NEC and showing up maybe 20 minutes before time (or 2 minutes, if they’re me), not hours before time.

And second, the commuter traffic is peakier, which means that at the time of day the station is the most crowded, total commuter volume is a lot more than 15 times total Amtrak volume. Between 8 and 9 am, the station gets 37 LIRR trains, 21 NJ Transit trains, and about 6 Amtrak trains, but the LIRR and NJ Transit trains have like a thousand passengers each and the Amtrak trains three hundred. On the weekend, there may be more Amtrak riders than commuters at certain times of day, but that’s not when the station is the most crowded.

Eric August 31, 2014 - 4:11 am

When the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic get real HSR, the number of intercity travelers is like to expand more dramatically than the number of NJT/LIRR commuters.

Bolwerk August 31, 2014 - 12:26 pm

If Amtrak can keep costs…well, sane.

Alon Levy August 31, 2014 - 10:24 pm

Indeed, but wait times per person are going to shrink (if trains come every 15 minutes, average wait times are bounded by 7.5), the peak factor is still going to be very low, and the number of passengers is still going to be much lower than the number of commuter rail riders.

threestationsquare / Anon256 September 5, 2014 - 2:31 pm

Most HSR systems in the world sell tickets for a specific train at a specific time, with high change fees if you miss it, so cautious passengers will often arrive early enough to wait significantly than the actual headway.

Bolwerk September 7, 2014 - 11:03 am

That hasn’t been my experience in Europe, where they often push tickets on you based on the assumption that you can make a transfer within a few minutes (which can be confusing).

For that matter, they seem to price more on distance than speed.

AG August 28, 2014 - 3:55 pm

What makes you think most of the ppl using Moynihan will be visitors from other cities? Just like with airports – or the current Penn – a high percentage will be traveling locals.

Nathanael August 31, 2014 - 2:14 am

Well, sure, but basically I think Moynihan will be largely devoted to people taking longer trips (so, same profile, checked baggage, ticket counter, taxis); the routine no-luggage short-trip folks will keep using the existing rabbit warren, though relocation of Amtrak stuff should give it a lot more room.

AG August 31, 2014 - 8:26 am

I don’t disagree with you… I was replying to someone else saying that this was a waste of money because it was mainly benefiting visitors.

Yeah Amtrak detailed their plans for it’s use:


AG August 28, 2014 - 3:41 pm

It is my understanding that all baggage and waiting areas (along with back office functions) would move to Farley.

lop August 28, 2014 - 12:36 am

The east river tunnels have plenty of room. Is the bottleneck people getting off the train and onto the platform, or off the platform? If the latter, do the extra stairs and escalators allow for the platform to be cleared for the next train faster? If the former, do you then have the option of getting new rolling stock with more doors and wider aisles on the shorter branches to allow for more trains into penn?

tacony August 28, 2014 - 10:52 am

Huh? It was not my understanding that the East River tunnels have plenty of room. NJTransit and Amtrak have trouble scheduling around each other, thus the dumb practice of having 2 NJT trains leave within right 12 minutes of each other followed by a 50 minute gap etc, right? I thought it was the bottleneck.

Larry Littlefield August 28, 2014 - 11:34 am

They need one more Hudson River tunnel to maximize capacity, a tunnel that linked into the existing station and platforms.

You’d have through running, or trains in and back out, for two Hudson River tubes and two East River tubes.

You’d have two-trip trains (rush hours) from Long Island use one inbound East River tube to the West Side yards, from where they would head outbound through that same tube in the afternoon.

And two-trip trains from New Jersey use one inbound Hudson River tube and out outbound East River tube to the West Side Yards, from where they would reverse in the afternoon.

The two existing Hudson River tubes would be rebuilt nights and weekends, with two-way service under the Hudson resumed.

lop August 28, 2014 - 11:37 am

Hudson river tracks are full, that’s why they want gateway. East river has twice as many tracks, they aren’t full.

Nathanael August 28, 2014 - 11:47 am

There is, in fact, an actual bottleneck moving people along the platform. Unfortunately this plan doesn’t fix that, because the key requirement for that is wider platforms.

Henry August 28, 2014 - 12:57 pm

To be fairly honest, if the escalators were replaced by new or wider stairways, the platforms would have significantly improved passenger flow. Escalators are convenient, but aren’t particularly space efficient or time efficient like stairs are, and the platform-mezzanine distance is quite manageable to walk up.

Nathanael August 31, 2014 - 2:11 am

Can’t widen the stairs, you can barely get around the sides of them as it is…

Boris August 28, 2014 - 12:53 am

Have they learned nothing from PATH and Fulton Center? We can’t afford a third vanity station project. It’s time for the city to take the initiative and develop a master plan for Penn Station, the way CDOT has a plan for Chicago’s Union Station. For only a few million dollars we can have a vastly better and more pleasant Penn Station. NYC DOT should fight for the removal of back offices and shops that restrict passenger flow, opening up the floors to allow more air and better lighting, and installing a unified signage system.

Nathanael August 28, 2014 - 12:12 pm

Where do you want to put those back offices?

Offer Amtrak another location where those offices can be located *rent-free*, and I’m sure Amtrak will take you up on it.

Right. That proposal would be called “Moynihan Station”. THINK, man, think.

Bolwerk August 28, 2014 - 1:31 pm


Boris August 29, 2014 - 5:07 pm

Surely moving some offices won’t take a billion dollars (or decades). With a nudge from the city, Amtrak could’ve already moved the offices to Farley. My point is, why doesn’t the city care that so many of its own residents, and many employees and visitors, are so inconvenienced for reasons that wouldn’t exist anywhere else in the civilized world?

AG August 29, 2014 - 5:28 pm

Most of the ppl who use Penn proper are suburban commuters. Many are not even from NYS even – but NJ.

AG August 28, 2014 - 3:59 pm

This is not the same since a lot of this money is private. Plus Fulton is a very useful project – not vanity.

Boris August 29, 2014 - 5:09 pm

Constructing a four-story building in skyscraper central doesn’t strike me as being useful. It’s planned obsolescence.

AG August 29, 2014 - 5:32 pm

The purposes of Fulton were for subway (and PATH) connections to be streamlined (not vanity whatsoever) and for retail to pay rents to the MTA. What exactly should the MTA have been allowed to be built? Office space? There are millions of square feet at the WTC and Brookfield Place. Residential? Only for multi millionaires – which in this political climate didn’t make sense to try. Not to mention – not every single lot needs to be a skyscraper.

lop August 29, 2014 - 6:20 pm

Especially when a skyscraper there would block the view of another building nearby owned by the MTA chairman.

Henry August 29, 2014 - 5:53 pm

“Skyscraper central” has actually seen office rates fall since September 11, mostly because everyone decided that Midtown was more useful (and if you’re not a financial firm that needs access to undersea cables, it is). WTC is having a hard enough time finding tenants as it is, and another skyscraper would just saturate the market even further.

Eric F August 28, 2014 - 8:55 am

4 years and $300 million to build a hallway.

First: why the big rush?
Second: why so cheap?

Also, the article states that the preliminary phase is almost complete. Can we get a roster of projects in NYC and environs that languished at almost complete for 5 years or more? Hasn’t the 7 extension been almost complete for over a year now? If almost complete = complete, we’d have no non-working escalators in the system. Let us know when it’s “actually” complete.

Eric F August 28, 2014 - 9:05 am

“But the largest problem with the project remains firmly in place: For $1 billion, the Moynihan Station Development Corporation is creating a nicer waiting room for Amtrak without contemplated or expanded train capacity through the station.”

And moving the locus of the station further west away from the central business district.

Webster S. August 28, 2014 - 9:48 am

Midtown is growing West, though…so it’s kind of moot.

Benjamin Kabak August 28, 2014 - 9:55 am

Even if Midtown is growing west, the subway lines aren’t, and that’s where most people who get off Amtrak trains want to go.

Nathanael August 28, 2014 - 11:51 am

Ben, you’re confused here. Your assessment here is simply wrong.

The point of Moynihan is to give the passengers heading for Montreal, Burlington, Buffalo, Pittsburgh, West Virginia, Charlotte, Raleigh, Norfolk, Florida, Louisiana, Illinois, etc. a new waiting room.

Most people who get off those trains are GETTING TAXICABS. For their piles of luggage. Taxi rank on 8th St does very nicely for them.

The extreme commuters riding the Northeast Regional can keep using the stairways to the existing Penn Station. They probably bought their tickets at home anyway, and will be showing up minutes before the train. This isn’t for them.

Nathanael August 28, 2014 - 11:52 am

Um, 8th avenue, of course *embarassed*

Benjamin Kabak August 28, 2014 - 12:06 pm

I assume you have numbers and proof, rather than platitudes, to back this up? I’ll wait.

Nathanael August 28, 2014 - 12:14 pm

I assume you have numbers and proof, rather than platitudes, to back up your ludicrous claim that passengers from Florida are mostly in a rush to get on the subway? It’s your view which requires evidence, because it’s an extraordinary claim.

I’ll wait.

I do have proof of the intended purpose of Moynihan Station. It was *never* intended for commuters, and every single publication related to it, from the initial statements of Daniel Patrick Moynihan onward, makes that clear.

Nathanael August 28, 2014 - 12:17 pm

I will say this.
(1) If you don’t think it’s worth building a decent *intercity* train station, then Moynihan is pointless. It really isn’t intended for commuters at all. I think it is worth it, because, dammit, I live in Central New York!

(2) Moynihan is for the benefit of people who live a LONG way from New York. Therefore the funding should NOT come from the MTA. Federal funding, state funding, yes — MTA funding, no way. It benefits primarily people NOT in the MTA district.

Nathanael August 28, 2014 - 12:30 pm

And if Moynihan gets City funding, it should be entirely from the tourism budget.

My main experience of Penn Station is as someone coming in or going out on a train which runs for five or more hours. Doing this, one ends up camping out in the station for a long time — and it is frankly not fit for the purpose. The Amtrak ticket and information queues are being criss-crossed by NJT commuters rushing from train to subway.

It’s certainly the most unpleasant intercity train station in the United States. Indeed, Chicago (suffering from a similar demolition of the old station) is far better — and Chicago is planning to spend millions of local dollars to fix their problems!

Despite living closer to NYC than Chicago, when I want to go to a big city, I preferentially go to Chicago or Boston — or even LA. Penn Station’s derelict status is one example of why; the other is the recurring intransigent and hostile attitude towards wheelchair access in NYC. (They’re quite accomodating in Chicago and Boston.)

Eric August 31, 2014 - 4:18 am

Last time I was in Chicago Union Station, I was driven absolutely crazy by the blind-friendly announcements. At platform 12, there was an announcement continually saying “Platform 12. Platform 12. Platform 12.” without stop. At platforms 11 and 13, there was a continual announcement in the same style. These announcements formed such an unbearable overlapping cacophony that I couldn’t stand to be there for longer than about a minute. Talk about being hostile to 99% of commuters in the interests of a small handful of disabled people.

AG August 31, 2014 - 8:40 am

The last time I was in Chicago Union Station (admittedly more than 10 years ago) I was more concerned with the persons lingering in the station looking for someone to rob.

Bolwerk August 28, 2014 - 12:55 pm

Hmm, wasn’t there a mild scandal involving NJT withdrawing from the Moynihan project? (Or being kicked out?)

VLM August 28, 2014 - 12:18 pm

Not only are you being unnecessarily rude to Ben, but you’re grossly overestimating how many people are coming to New York from Florida via Amtrak.

Nathanael August 28, 2014 - 12:30 pm

No, I’m not.

As I say, they’re not that many people (~300 people per train), but they occupy the waiting room for literally hours.

Eric August 31, 2014 - 4:23 am

It’s not very many people. So perhaps it would be better to cancel these long-distance Amtrak routes, or else raise the fares to pay for the Moynihan project.

AG August 31, 2014 - 8:42 am

A good portion of the money is from private developers.

Joey K August 28, 2014 - 1:53 pm

If being rude is saying “I assume you have numbers and proof, rather than platitudes, to back this up? I’ll wait.” then they both were rude. But it doesn’t mean that “Nathaneal” wasn’t right. Amtrak intercity riders require space for bags and waiting for trains, and they wait longer than commuters because they arrive earlier. You don’t need numbers to back this up, it’s common sense. At the same time, Amtrak riders amount to <5% of riders during peak hours. So there is a disconnect between ridership, the way they need to use space, and the actual proportion of space within Penn Station. The move to Moynihan Station helps to reconcile this disconnect. If, and this is the if I was trying to originally see if anyone knew, but if Amtrak then moves its concourse space out of Penn Station, this would open up the station for LIRR, NJ Transit, and one day Metro North to allow for a unified commuter station.

Bolwerk August 28, 2014 - 2:35 pm

Then give them the LIRR concourse. It should be plenty of room for the 300-600 people who might be waiting, on top of facilities Amtrak already has.

AG August 28, 2014 - 4:13 pm

Anytime I’ve ever seen the trains to and from Florida – they are packed. Those ppl have loads of bags and most will certainly not attempt a subway ride. People who use the NEC will – but they usually don’t have much baggage – so the extra walk to the subway shouldn’t be a problem. Less walking than you would at an airport still.

Joey K August 28, 2014 - 1:49 pm

Oh come on, Ben, most of this blog is musings based on reports from others, not data-based analysis.

If you are a commuter, you are using the subway. If you are a long-distance businesswoman, you are probably expensing a cab. If you are a tourist from Pittsburgh, you have bags and are taking a cab as well. Moynihan Station will solve Amtrak’s concourse woes (if these exist) and, more importantly, allow for the reconfiguration of Amtrak’s disproportionately large space within Penn Station.

Webster S August 29, 2014 - 8:37 am

…but they’ll still be able to do so. They’re not exiting the train in the middle of the Hudson. The West Concourse abuts the ACE platforms.

In any case, it certainly wouldn’t be any worse than the transfer from NJT to the subway, which is a headache as it stands.

Alon Levy August 29, 2014 - 1:20 pm

Is Midtown actually growing west? The part of Midtown where developers build office towers without tax breaks is Midtown East, next to Grand Central, and not the Far West Side, where the city needs to forgive billions in property taxes to ensure anything gets built.

Quirk August 29, 2014 - 2:21 pm

I’m assuming most corporate tenants will stay in the country’s premier office district (East Midtown) and use HY as back offices. I mean really, who wants $$clients/customers to transfer uptown then take a train that descends 110 ft below the surface??

AG August 29, 2014 - 5:24 pm

Coach – Time Warner – L’Oreal – SAP are most certainly A-list businesses. All have signed on to space (in some cases own) in Hudson Yards before any of the buildings are even done. Those are not back offices – those are their headquarters going there.

Quirk August 30, 2014 - 2:05 pm

True but those office building are being built at cost and some with tax breaks — like the WTC Towers in a way. Also Coach was already in there area but in several small office buildings.

AG August 30, 2014 - 3:44 pm

“True but those office building are being built at cost”

Yes -and Time Warner is leaving Columbus Circle (in a complex that had their name even) to save money. If they didn’t they said point blank they would be moving more jobs out of NY altogether.

Only the Google’s of the world have the cash to just throw around. Google bout a $2billion office building in Chelsea. They have no desire to be in Midtown East. Samsung is opening their largest office they ever had in NYC. They are opening in a brand new building in the Meatpacking district. Finance and Law firms are all downsizing their office spaces.

Alon Levy August 31, 2014 - 10:27 pm

The Meatpacking District is indeed one of those desirable districts, alongside Midtown East. There, developers manage to build without subsidies, as long as the local NIMBYs allow it (and they don’t). Around Hudson Yards, they don’t.

AG September 1, 2014 - 12:32 am

The Meatpacking District is the complete antithesis of Midtown East. Also – there is subsidy in every corner of the city. I don’t know where you get the idea there is not. Fact is – there is very very little office space being built in Midtown East – while Hudson Yards is a brand new neighborhood built mainly over a rail yard. I’m not sure what the comparison is.

Alon Levy September 1, 2014 - 12:24 pm

Midtown East is just now being rezoned to allow more office buildings. You can’t bring up new construction rates without bringing up whether construction is legal. In Manhasset, Tenafly, and Scarsdale, there’s basically no new housing construction, either, it doesn’t make these suburbs undesirable.

AG September 1, 2014 - 5:15 pm

Residential and office construction are completely different things.

Yeah you are right though – Midtown East is only now allowing for more office construction. Why? Firms are leaving for lower costs AND for new buildings. Two different things.
I also never said that Midtown East is “undesirable” – for everyone (it wouldn’t be expensive if it wasn’t). For white shoe firms it still is. The Tech – Media – Innovation economy that is driving office leasing…? No it’s not.

Also – in terms of current stock – Midtown South is leading the way in terms of absorption.




Justin Samuels August 29, 2014 - 5:27 pm

New buildings and projects in the city, even downtown often get huge taxbreaks. The rapidly growing creative sector in NYC is because of taxbreaks as well.

The Hudson Yards complex already have anchor tenants, and you’ve a number of new buildings and stores on the Far West Side. Along the high line there’s crazy construction on new buildings.

Eric F August 28, 2014 - 9:57 am

That’s a point raised a lot. I suppose if they wait long enough they might luck out in whatever direction away from the center they pick. Even with Hudson Yards, the business locus is going to be predominately east and north of Penn.

BoerumBum August 28, 2014 - 9:50 am

Boy, I hope they can get Santiago Calatrava involved in the Moynihan Station project…

Maggie August 28, 2014 - 10:07 am

You guys have probably already debated this to death, please just point me to an old thread if it’s there. There are underground tracks from river to river along this 34th Street corridor. Is it theoretically feasible to run an underground crosstown subway shuttle back and forth, 12th Ave to 1st Ave or over to LIC, along 34th?

If not, is the constraint track space? Lack of platforms? Neverending turf wars?

Bolwerk August 28, 2014 - 10:43 am

Probably theoretically possible, not very practical though. It’d be expensive given the infrastructure already there (every uptown/downtown trunk has a station at 34th), even ignoring the mainline railroad infrastructure probably interferes sometimes.

It’s a short distance anyway. Why not just use an LRT or even BRT?

lawhawk August 28, 2014 - 11:48 am

MTA already has SBS on the 34th Street corridor, so it’s not a huge step to move that into a more fully realized BRT.

Nathanael August 28, 2014 - 11:55 am

One of the (many) problems is that you can’t add stations east of roughly 3rd Ave; the tracks are curving and diving to get into the East River tunnels.

That kind of eliminates the utility of such a plan.

You see similar stuff in downtown Manhattan, where the original (terminating) subway lines couldn’t be reused for the Brooklyn extensions; the Brooklyn routes had to start many blocks back from the shoreline in order to dive to get into the river tunnels.

Maggie August 28, 2014 - 1:30 pm

Ah, got it – thanks! I didn’t mean to knock the SBS. I was thinking this east-west subway would be good to have instead of (or in addition to) the surface M34, because the track’s in place to cross every avenue and link to the uptown/downtown subways without needing any at-grade crossings. And as Ben said, moving Amtrak platforms west of Eighth Ave is going to mean a longer schlep to all the subway lines. But I’m not at all familiar with the ownership and underground infrastructure details.

I like the Moynihan project though. Philly’s 30th Street station is such an inspiring, wonderful place to wait for an intercity train or board or alight. Boston South Station doesn’t through-run but it’s also a nice train station. New York Penn Station, I think we all agree it’s a dank hole. I feel like we deserve better. Also, big plus to me that the Moynihan Station design is not all Calatrava’ed up.

tacony August 28, 2014 - 11:53 am

This is such a bad project. How is it going to be fully funded to the tune of a billion dollars while actual transit improvements that would improve the quality of millions of commutes are seen as pie-in-the-sky dreams that will never be fulfilled? Can someone organize an interest group to oppose it?

I accept schlepping to Siberia to get on Megabus because I’m only paying a couple bucks for the trip. If I’m paying more than $100 to take Amtrak I at least want it to deposit me on 7th Avenue.

Nathanael August 28, 2014 - 11:57 am

Again someone who doesn’t understand the purpose of the project.

This isn’t for commuters, not directly.

This is intended to get the intercity passengers, who sit in the station for hours waiting for their once-or-twice-a-day trains, out of the path of the commuters.

tacony August 28, 2014 - 3:08 pm

What percentage of Amtrak riders in Penn are sitting in the station for hours waiting for once-or-twice-day-trains?

You seem to be drawing a hard distinction between people going on long distance Amtrak trains to Chicago and people taking LIRR to Mineola. Aren’t the vast majority of Amtrak Penn Station users traveling in the Northeast Corridor? Maybe I’m just biased ’cause 99% of my Amtrak travel is not long distance and I arrive 10 minutes before departure and jump on a train from the mezz level monitors.

Justin Samuels August 29, 2014 - 5:29 pm

With schedules posted online most Amtrak passengers probably arrive no more than 30 minutes to an hour before departure. Who hangs out in a train station for hours per day?

Ryan August 29, 2014 - 7:25 pm

Railfans, the obsessive-compulsive paranoid traveler who blocks out several hours of their life on either side just in case something goes wrong at any point on the trip, and bored retirees who just have too much time on their hands in general.

Hey, look at that! Three groups of people who we shouldn’t ever be basing decisions around!

Nathanael August 31, 2014 - 2:08 am

Minimum 30 minutes (Amtrak’s baggage check minimum), 60 minutes typical (you have to allow for traffic if coming by cab, so if there are no traffic delays, you’re early), longer for delayed trains, etc….

Bolwerk August 31, 2014 - 12:30 pm

Man, I didn’t get the memo. I often clinch it by less than 5 minutes.

Alon Levy August 31, 2014 - 10:29 pm

But that’s for people checking bags on trains that, collectively, come a few times per day. Compared with the thousand commuter rail riders who disembark at the peak every minute, this is not very impressive.

g August 28, 2014 - 12:34 pm

Getting Amtrak out of Penn should only make whatever needs to be done to Penn in the future a lot easier if they’ve already moved all their ops. Does it cost a lot? Yeah…but given the complexity of the issue having them out of the way is frankly worth it even at this cost since it removes one more (substantial) roadblock to redevelopment. If the major impact on Amtrak commuters is that they MIGHT have to walk an extra block (inside even if they so choose) to access subway lines I’m not all that worried. People taking longer intercity trains will surely benefit from the new facilities along with relieving some pressure on the existing Penn waiting areas and concourses.

All the development on the west side will envelop both stations so it
won’t feel like Moynihan is way out in the middle of nowhere by they time it’s actually completed.

Peter August 28, 2014 - 1:23 pm

A year ago the City Council renewed the Garden’s operating permit for a decade, rather than in perpetuity as the Dolans had requested. This was portrayed as a sign that the arena would be relocated a decade hence, paving the way for a Penn Station redevelopment. If that’s the case why is Moynihan happening at all?

Joey K August 28, 2014 - 1:58 pm

Just because the Garden’s permit may be up by 2023 doesn’t mean that a) they will move by 2023, b) they will tear down the Garden by 2023, c) they will finalize plans for a new Penn Station by 2023, d) they will start construction on a new Penn Station by 2023, or e) a new Penn Station will be open by 2023. For all of those things to happen, I think we’re talking closer to 2043.

Honestly though, there needs to be a serious quid pro quo to even interest the Dolans in abandoning MSG after sinking $1 billion into its renovation. Even if their permit expired in 2023, there would be court battles, funding issues, etc. It would drag on just like every other large-scale transit project in the city. I suppose Moynihan Station is a small fix in the interim. What we really need is a feasible larger-scale interim fix before the New Penn Station opens.

Peter August 28, 2014 - 5:40 pm

The Dolans have plenty of motivation to abandon the current MSG. It’s already one of the oldest arenas in both the NHL and the NBA. In 2023 the facility will be 55 and well past due for replacement, notwithstanding its recent renovation. So in fact the Dolan’s interests (a new, modern arena) and the city’s interests (an improved Penn) will be aligned.

The idea that collapsed in 2008 due to market and political forces — to build a new MSG on the Farley site — still has merit. But building the second phase of Moynihan seems like it would preclude that option, or at least make it a lot trickier.

The state should scrap phase two of the project and reconstitute the Moynihan Station Development Corporation as the Penn Station Redevelopment Corporation. Negotiate a deal with the Dolans to build a new arena between 8th and 9th Avenues, and start drawing up plans to demolish the old one and construct a new Penn Station with plenty of room for all three railroads. The cost of the transit improvements can be subsidized by selling development rights above the station for a couple new office towers. This is already prime Midtown real estate, and it will only grow more valuable in 10 years as the blocks west of 8th Avenue are transformed into a vibrant office and residential neighborhood.

There’s no need for a “large-scale” interim fix. As Ben points out, the current Penn may not be a joy to use, but it works. It can easily last another decade. Dollars for transpo improvements are always scarce; I’d rather see them committed to a big, long-term fix rather than squandered on incremental repairs — particularly if those incremental steps might actually impede the long-range vision.

Joey K August 28, 2014 - 11:03 pm

The Dolan’s interests were to have a new, modern arena, and that’s precisely why they were in on the 2008 deal. But after that fell through, they put the money they would have spent into building their new, modern arena within the existing MSG site. That’s it, they have no motivation to move anytime soon. Even if the permit expires in 2023 and isn’t renewed, you know those Dolans are going to court, and they may win. Or they may lose. It doesn’t matter because the public will lose either way. More uncertainty, less action.

That being said, what you are suggesting in terms of relocating the Garden to the Farley complex is the solution here because there is no comparable site that will hasten the move. And it may be able to work even with Phase II developments. The western half of the Farley Site is intended to be used for retail, hotel, maybe a future tower. The problem is that an arena like MSG would probably need slightly more space than they would have available under the current design. With some tweaks, though, there is no reason why the key elements of Moynihan Phase II cannot be preserved and MSG be built on the western half of the site.

That being said, there are alternative proposals that can help in the interim. It shouldn’t be a one size solution to the diverse transit challenges facing the region. There should definitely be more talk of using existing space within Penn Station and working towards a NJ Transit / LIRR fix once Amtrak moves to Moynihan Station.

Peter August 29, 2014 - 11:12 am

The Dolans have a renovated 50-year-old arena, not a modern one. They claim to have spent $1 billion but that’s surely inflated, and it’s far less than they would have spent on a new facility. So let’s not shed any crocodile tears for them; they will recoup their investment and then some. Their posturing about not wanting to move is a calculated tactic to wring maximum concessions out of the government when a relocation is negotiated.

I’ll assume you’re correct that a new arena and Moynihan Phase 2 can both be accommodated on the Farley site — I don’t understand the details of the plans well enough to judge. But if MSG moves, doesn’t the entire justification for Moynihan II collapse?

The argument for moving Amtrak facilities across 8th Ave rests on the fact that there isn’t space at Penn, but if the arena is removed and Penn has room to expand, why not keep all three railroads in one facility? Why ghettoize Amtrak farther from the center of Midtown (and the 7th Avenue subway) if there’s space to be had in the current block?

Joey K August 29, 2014 - 6:33 pm

You’re describing precisely what is the problem with a segmented approach to city planning. There is certainly no need for Moynihan Station, “Penn Station South,” and a new Penn Station. It’s completely unnecessary. Take half the money you would have spent on those three stations and build a new commuter/regional rail station downtown to better support those workers. Or put one somewhere else in the city. Both LIRR and Metro-North will, in five to ten years, have two options for termination in Manhattan. Amtrak and NJ Transit only have plans to go into the Penn Station area. Perhaps a second location for a station would better serve those passengers?

AG August 29, 2014 - 8:27 pm

After 9/11 the push was to get LIRR (and AirTrain) into Lower Manhattan through Atlantic Terminal. The money was used elsewhere instead. That would have connected to the PATH (and Fulton TC). Could have been great. Who knows what will happen in 25 years. Metro North though has no real viable way to be downtown…

Henry August 29, 2014 - 9:35 pm

To be honest, Pataki was trying very hard to sell it as “WTC rebuilding”, which it very clearly was not. It was also not pushed as just “LIRR to downtown”, but part of the technologically daft LIRR-AirTrain project (which no one has ever actually proved to be possible).

AG August 30, 2014 - 12:43 pm

WTC rebuilding is under the purveyance of the PA. The state of NY (along with the city) was responsible for “Lower Manhattan” rebuilding (hence the formation of the Lower Manhattan Development Corp.)- which this clearly would have been part of.
Also – why would it not have been possible tor run trains there? What do you mean no on “proved” it?

lop August 30, 2014 - 1:01 pm

Some versions of the plan included LIRR and aitrain running on the same tracks. Getting that to work could have been messy.

AG August 30, 2014 - 3:15 pm

Sure it would have been difficult – but that’s not why it wasn’t done. It was simply money.

Henry August 30, 2014 - 1:09 pm

All current projects being built with the 9/11 money are improvements to existing facilities. Even if Pataki was not a very powerful governor, it would’ve been very hard for him to sell a Lower Manhattan-JFK link as “rebuilding” to the feds.

The project was pushed as a through-train link from the WTC hub to JFK via the Atlantic Branch and the AirTrain tracks. However, it was never proven that this could be done; the AirTrain was built to significantly tighter standards and had smaller interstation distances than the LIRR or the subway. In addition, the AirTrain uses a proprietary propulsion system using linear induction motors; basically imagine a maglev on wheels. On top of that technological hurdle, AirTrain uses a different electrical supply system that included a third and fourth rail, so somehow any through trains would have to run on completely different propulsion and supply systems, which has never been done with AirTrain-type systems before.

The other issue is that they wanted it to be a through train via Jamaica, but both the Atlantic Branch and AirTrain approach Jamaica from the west, so that added another layer of complexity onto the project.

AG August 30, 2014 - 3:29 pm

Senator Schumer had already gotten money allocated for the project.


After Pataki left – the money was diverted to other uses. While it wasn’t as advanced as ARC – it’s similar to what happened with Christie when he came in.

As to the technicalities…. Of course there would have been changes. One being Air Train would most likely not have been involved. You would still have had to transfer in Jamaica. Point being – no projects in this area ever end up as proposed. That doesn’t mean that LIRR would not have ended up going to Lower Manhattan. A 2 seat ride to the airport it most likely would have been.

Sending LIRR downtown was a decades old idea. It wasn’t anything new or dreamed up by Pataki’s people.


But hey – if East Side Access was on time and on budget – there would be enough money to go around. As usual that’s not the case… Sadly it wouldn’t be the case if this project had happened either.

Bolwerk August 29, 2014 - 8:41 pm

Eh, Midtown needs intercity and commuter rail capacity more than downtown needs those things at all. All that’s needed is a new 2-track tunnel to Penn.

Henry August 29, 2014 - 9:38 pm

Downtown would do well with a LIRR extension from Atlantic and a NJT extension from, I don’t know, Hoboken? In a perfect world both would happen and provide useful redundancy, since things tend to go wrong in the North River and East River tunnels fairly frequently (and even if we did build Gateway, the North River Tunnels would have to be shut for maintenance, so we’d have to go back to two tracks again.)

In the year 2100, it would be very nice to have LIRR running through an East Side loop via Fulton and GCT, and NJT running through a West Side loop via Fulton and Penn, but the odds of that happening are slim to none.

Bolwerk August 30, 2014 - 5:09 pm

Hoboken is coastal and at sea level, so forget that.

Though, if it’s going to be commuter rail, probably the only sane-ish way to do it is to tunnel from somewhere in NJ west of Hoboken to Atlantic. Maybe 2-track station stops could be had in Hoboken and Lower Manhattan.

Eric August 31, 2014 - 5:22 am
AG August 30, 2014 - 12:27 pm

Chicken and egg… Midtown has had Penn and GC for a very long time.. That’s why it’s seen as more “convenient”.

Bolwerk August 30, 2014 - 5:04 pm

Not disputing that, but it doesn’t really matter. The current economic demand is for Midtown access. That issue is almost crisis-level.

I’m all for downtown access, and it would be relatively cheap. Just extend the underutilized PATH service to Secaucus.

lop August 30, 2014 - 8:32 pm

If you are on NJTransit to Penn would transferring to PATH at Secaucus be much faster than switching to a subway in Manhattan? And if you are on a Hoboken bound train you could switch to PATH there already.

Charlie August 30, 2014 - 9:30 pm

All current NJT Secaucus trains either stop at Newark Penn (where direct WTC PATH service already exists) or have non-midtown direct, same line alternatives that go to Hoboken. So, no, a PATH Secaucus extension doesn’t add any value for those customers.

Bolwerk August 30, 2014 - 9:49 pm

Probably a little, but I had more in mind that it re-balances the system. Why go all the way to Midtown to get downtown? There is a swampy corridor from roughly Journal Square to Secaucus Junction that I guess could be used.

Henry August 30, 2014 - 1:11 pm

Also, when LIRR-JFK was still being pushed, they projected 100,000 daily riders going to Lower Manhattan via the LIRR. It should certainly be looked at as a viable project, since the distances involved are not that great and the WTC concourse was designed to handle a large amount of people and passengers.

Bolwerk August 30, 2014 - 5:11 pm

I find that projection dubious. Is ESA even projected to attract that many?

lop August 30, 2014 - 8:39 pm

There have been a few projections for ESA ridership, all well over 100k per day. The one on wiki is 162.

AG August 29, 2014 - 11:09 am

Being 55 years kid won’t mean a thing. About the only thing not changed about MSG is the exterior. It’s basically all new inside – from the electrical system to the seats. The Dolans will be in no rush. Investing that kind of money in a building is like buying a subway car. You expect to get decades of use.
It’s not about having then west structure per say. If the Yankees were able to gut renovate the old stadium like MSG did – they would have (like Wrigley Field and Fenway Park are doing). When you have an iconic structure there is a lot of cache in the name and look. There is a reason the Uankees didn’t go with some futuristic looking stadium – but stayed to the design of the original from the 1920’s. The new Yankee Stadium is much “nicer” but does not have the same atmosphere as the old. MSG modernized while trying to keep the same atmosphere. When you are running an events venue – atmosphere means a lot – which is why Carnegie Hall is still standing. Which is different than that same subway car with the 40 year life.

eo August 28, 2014 - 2:01 pm

The good thing about phase 1 is that it will add staircases to the long platforms which have to outlets to the west causing delays for people exiting the trains that top on these platforms. I do commute on these platforms and observe that daily. Is it worth the money they are spending on it — I do not know.

The second phase of the project is more questionable, especially the waiting room. I do think that moving the operations and all offices out of the existing space and opening it up will be very helpful for traffic flow, but once again, the main impediments of traffic are the MSG columns on the platforms. The platforms are probably wide enough by themselves, but there are just too many obstacles (i.e. columns) for a smooth flow. I do not mind the Garden sitting on top of the station, but they would do good if they rebuilt the arena to new standards with many fewer columns next time they do it. Even after the recent renovation, the Garden will be rebuilt soon enough, so hopefully they do it better this time ….

AG August 28, 2014 - 4:41 pm

Depends on what you mean by “soon enough” (MSG). A $1 billion dollar renovation usually takes a long time to amortize. Unless someone is buying them out.

Benjamin Kabak August 28, 2014 - 4:45 pm Reply
Joey K August 28, 2014 - 10:44 pm

“Recouping” an investment may mean something different to the Dolans than it does to you.
The last time MSG renovated was about 30 years ago, I don’t think they are planning on rebuilding or renovating again anytime soon. Maybe after the Barclays Center finishes its first renovation in 2035… And this is the third time in the Garden’s 45-year home over Penn Station that there is talk of relocation. They didn’t move the first two times, why would they move this time around? And where would they even move to? I think some group was suggesting the area around the Penn South Coop or the Javits Center?? The whole thing is a mess, time to focus on renovating within Penn Station.

AG August 29, 2014 - 11:00 am

Very true. In any event 30 years is about the time from an accounting standpoint that you can look to completely amortize those capital costs. If someone is willing to pay FMV and cover the costs of new construction – that’s the only way they will move.

Peter August 29, 2014 - 1:32 pm

No, they will move if the city declines to renew their operating permit in the current location. The Dolans poured $1 billion into a renovation without securing their long-term rights to the location — that’s their problem. If you rent an apartment and renovate it a month before your lease expires, and then your landlord declines to renew, the landlord isn’t on the hook to reimburse you for the renovation costs. (I understand MSG isn’t precisely analogous to a rental tenant, but it amounts to the same thing if the government holds approval power over its operations).

AG August 29, 2014 - 5:22 pm

You fail to understand property rights. MSG is not “renting” anything – they OWN. An operating permit is just that. All businesses need some type of permit. If the powers that be even try to use eminent domain – they will be paying more than $1.5 billion off the the top (in today’s dollars) just for the building… That is already more expensive than Farley without even using one jackhammer. That’s even if MSG chooses not to sue.
The same big mouth politicians saying they have to move don’t even understand what they are talking about.

Peter August 30, 2014 - 1:27 pm

I do understand that MSG owns the property, that’s why I admitted it was not “precisely analogous to a rental tenant.” But the fact of the matter is that the city DOES have the power to prevent the operation of an arena on that location by denying the permit renewal. “Joey K” points out that MSG could tear down the arena and build an office tower in its place, but MSG isn’t in the office tower business, it’s in the sports and entertainment business. They need an arena somewhere, and possible locations in Midtown Manhattan are scarce.

The problem is that you seem bent on denying that the city has any leverage whatsoever in this situation. There is no need to use eminent domain to seize the property. Both sides here have something the other wants. MSG owns the property above Penn Station that the city wants to use to expand the station. The city has the power both to deny MSG an operating permit in its current location, while simultaneously offering a prime location for a new arena a block away. Despite the recent renovations to MSG, a modern new facility could be more lucrative and cheaper to maintain. Tax incentives could be offered to MSG to offset their capital investment. Point is, there is plenty of basis for a fruitful negotiation here. Brute force isn’t necessary.

AG August 30, 2014 - 3:36 pm

Everything you described went out the window back around 2008 or so…

The situations are very different now. Back then MSG did want to move. Things changed. MSG has no desire to move anytime soon. The city would be sued and have to pay a boatload of money for the property. An expensive project would be at LEAST $1.5 billion more expensive today alone. The LA Clippers just sold for $2 billion… Can you imagine what MSG would be worth in FMV come 2023 (all being the same)? This is not like other sports facilities where the owners don’t actually own the land and can be given “tax incentives” to move. This is a completely different beast.

Joey K August 29, 2014 - 6:29 pm

If the city declines to renew their operating permit as a sports/entertainment complex, Madison Square Garden still has the right to build out the site for other purposes because they own the land. As Joel Fisher, a MSG VP said last year in the NY Post, “Not only can we not be forced to move, but we’d still have the right, even if there was no arena, to build an office tower, with no obligation to free up space for Penn Station.” Eminent domain can (one day, maybe) force them to move. But they need to be compensated at fair market value under the law. That’s a hefty expense just to get the property, let alone rebuild Penn Station. Just saying…

AG August 29, 2014 - 8:22 pm

you are exactly correct about the scenario. in fact all sports venues have the same permit – time being the only difference.

Bolwerk August 29, 2014 - 8:48 pm

Though, in this case, the eminent domain can probably be combined with exploiting the value of improvements and air rights to make the taking profitable.

AG August 30, 2014 - 12:38 pm

“profitable”??? There is no way they could sell enough air-rights for that.
Besides it will take a long long time before not only Hudson Yards – but Manhattan West are built out. By 2023 would there be close enough demand for more air rights in that area near the current Penn? Unless there is unprecedented and non-stop growth – we are looking closer to 2040. Which is when MSG would be more likely to want to or could be enticed to move again. The 10 year limit is a political joke.

Bolwerk August 30, 2014 - 1:38 pm

Why not? A sufficiently high building in close-to-prime location paid for at rock-bottom financing rates. At worst, even if it’s not profitable, the loss would be minimal.

Anyway, just an observation, it’s not an endorsement of going that route.

Henry August 30, 2014 - 1:13 pm

Didn’t we have to build an entire business district for Hudson Yards to break even? I don’t think Penn and MSG have any air rights left to sell (I mean, the air rights were developed when Penn Central developed Penn Plaza, so I assume there’s not much left there.)

Joey K September 1, 2014 - 6:51 pm

You’re absolutely right. The 7-Line Extension is not even being funded by the MTA, it’s being paid for by the Hudson Yards Infrastructure Corporation through bonds that are secured for and being repaid by the various real estate developments within the Hudson Yards district. Presumably, Amtrak would be able to work with the city to further upzone the Penn Station site, or there could be some methods of collecting incremental taxes for new developments adjacent to a new Penn Station. Even the Hudson Yards could have been looped into the mix. But it’s too late now. This is what makes this project so difficult in terms of financing. Not only would Amtrak have to pay off MSG (and who knows how much that will cost), but they are going to need to essentially pay for the cost of a new station without any new sources of revenue besides the opportunities on top of the existing site. But Amtrak will be pretty set with Moynihan Station. The Penn Station problem is really a NY/NJ problem. I wouldn’t be surprised if, after Moynihan Station is built and Penn Station South plans via the Gateway Program are finalized, they dump Penn Station and NY/NJ pick it up. It’ll be their problem then. But financing will be really difficult.

AG September 1, 2014 - 11:24 pm

Well that’s just it… Amtrak cares nothing for moving MSG. Their focus – as you said – is first on Moynihan and then Gateway and Penn South.
The only people still talking about moving MSG are politicians who have an ego to have their name in something – and people like the Municipal Art Society – who can’t sleep unless of their favorite architects gets a big civic project to work on.

Rob August 28, 2014 - 3:16 pm

Ben has it exactly right about the inconvenience it would add, as well the poor use of funds. As was LIRR, which wisely disavowed any part in it. And as did former Amtrak Pres David Gunn, but unfortunately now we have a political hack as Amtrak’s chairman, Coscia, who is all too willing to waste your $ on it.

Also missing from the advocates are passengers!

Tim September 5, 2014 - 8:01 am

Possibly a stupid idea, but looking at this diagram (http://jasongibbs.com/pennstation/) it seems like once you move Amtrak west to Moynihan, you can basically just tear out the entire upper level, save for the needed staircases and elevators to exit to the streets, and create one large open floorplan, giving NJT and LIRR one half each of a one level PSNY. It seems like it would do wonders for passenger flow. Just spitballing, but it would also make the eventual rebuild a bit easier, I would think.

What really needs to happen is NARP’s projected connection to GCT, but that’ll need to wait till after Water Tunnel #3 gets done. Also, couple it with better through running, and cut out some tracks to widen platforms.


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