It took nearly three decades for the Moynihan Train Hall transformation to reach its destination.
The successful conversion of the massive Farley Post Office building on Eighth Avenue into a modern train station was overshadowed by the pandemic, which has decimated train ridership. But the newly opened 255,000-square-foot hall just west of Penn Station has already brought mask-wearing Instagrammers and others, all eager to wander through the skylit space and art-filled interior.
The original Pennsylvania Station — revered for its high-vaulted ceiling and pink granite — was demolished in 1963 to make way for Madison Square Garden. Since then, Penn Station has been an objectively terrible experience for the 600,000 daily travelers (pre-pandemic) trying to find their way through the dizzying transit corridor, crammed beneath an arena.
That, unfortunately, will continue for subway and NJ Transit riders. The new train hall will only serve Amtrak and Long Island Rail Road passengers.
The $1.6 billion Moynihan Train Hall could not be more different from its counterpart across the street. The project was the result of a public-private partnership between the state and an initial joint venture with Vornado Realty Trust, Related Companies and Skanska. SOM Architects took the lead on the train hall design. Plans for the new hall were first championed nearly 30 years ago by the late U.S. Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York.
“There is no recreating the original Penn Station. That was a masterwork and of a different time and era,” SOM senior design architect Jon Cicconi said during a tour of the new train hall last week. “Really, we just wanted to restore a sense of grandeur and dignity to the train travel experience in the city.”
The design team sought to mirror some defining features of the original Penn Station, most notably the glass skylights and vaulted ceilings, Cicconi said.
The skylights create a sense of space and were originally installed in the building in the early 1900s, but were covered up during World War II. The new train hall also uses original steel beams and the existing tracks that sat at the bottom of the building.
In another tribute to classic train stations, Moynihan uses Tennessee Quaker marble like the stone at Grand Central Station and in the original post office, Cicconi said.
Proponents of the station believe it’s a step in the right direction, one that could lead to the redevelopment of Penn Station as it creates some breathing room there.
Five years ago, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration put out a request to reinvent Penn Station. One of the options includes removing Madison Square Garden’s theater. Last year, the governor unveiled a plan to acquire a full city block south of Penn Station and to build another terminal.
But Cuomo has not proposed moving the sports arena, which advocates say would allow for a full and proper renovation of Penn Station. The City Council extended the Garden’s permit only 10 years, until 2023, to allow for that possibility.
Cuomo now says the High Line, which runs along the Far West Side and through Hudson Yards, will get a new spur to connect to Moynihan Train Hall.