29.10.16

MAKE THE PENNSYLVANIA STATION GREAT AGAIN.

This summer, City Journal arts maven Catesby Leigh suggested that the best way to improve the rabbit warren under Madison Square Garden that calls itself Penn Station would be to ... restore The Pennsylvania Station.  The article starts with some necessary background.
In 1961, a mere half-century after Charles Follen McKim’s Pennsylvania Station opened, the once-mighty but now financially moribund Pennsylvania Railroad cut a deal with a private developer that led to its demolition, completed five years later.

The result was the worst trade-off in American architectural history, one that would make historic preservation a popular cause. The grandeur of the old station’s interior—never entirely effaced by the postwar invasion of advertising signage and displays of the latest-model automobiles, not to mention the crazy space-age ticket counter that somehow landed in the waiting room—was supplanted by a glassy office-tower slab, 2 Penn Plaza, and the cylindrical pile of Madison Square Garden. Each weekday, 650,000 people make their way through the entrails of this dystopian complex—“mashed,” just as Progressive Architecture magazine forewarned after the destruction of McKim’s station got under way, “into subterranean passageways like ancient Christians.”
Focus on that 650,000 people. With the commuter traffic, that may be upwards of 300,000 distinct individuals each day, most of them dashing from or to their trains.  By contrast, during the second World War, the records for passenger loadings were around 400,000 tickets lifted by conductors on departing trains.  To provide additional space for servicemen to wait, The Pennsylvania Railroad built floors at the arrival concourse level in the open parts of the train hall.  The east end of the train hall looked like this on a busy day.


New York Pennsylvania Station, July 1944
Life Google Images via The Bowery Boys.

Before the War, there was a clear space above the tracks beyond the west gates.



Yes, we've been following these plans to expand the station, or adaptively reuse the post office to the west, or dial PEnnsylvania 6-5000 to book a room, or something, for some time.

But moving the Garden to the Post Office site, or perhaps locating it above the coach yard, and building a railroad station that looks like a railroad station intrigues.
The Garden really does need to move—and building the new one within Farley’s capacious masonry envelope is an attractive option—because Penn Station needs to expand vertically to be a station worthy of New York City. Reconstruction of McKim’s station is the best way for that to happen. It is far from certain that a new annex across 31st Street from the existing station will be needed to handle additional rail traffic from a new Hudson railway tunnel, as Amtrak contends. To be constructed over the next two decades, the new tunnel is the centerpiece of Amtrak’s big-ticket Gateway Program, which includes construction of this Penn South annex to accommodate seven new underground tracks.
More intriguing, however (as well as technically more challenging) is a possibility to widen the platforms while providing fewer tracks by through-routing Long Island and New Jersey Transit commuter trains. That's one way to conserve on coach yards, as the rush-hour trains might tie up during the day at yards that are generally full only at night. But the Long Island is 600 volt third-rail direct current, the former Pennsylvania and Lackawanna electrified lines in New Jersey use overhead wire energized with kilovolts of alternating current. Will the good people of Long Island accede to overhead wires?

But the idea is gaining some traction, fittingly, in conservative circles, with American Conservative executive editor Lewis McCrary offering a qualified endorsement.  The article links to other manifestations of the same proposal.

Now, if we can talk about an improved Pennsylvania Station, can we talk about multiple train frequencies to Pittsburgh with overnight services for and from Chicago and St. Louis?

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