[Governor Andrew] Cuomo has a plan for Penn, but it falls short of the radical intervention that the blighted hub so badly needs. Most of it takes place across the street, on the other side of Eighth Avenue, where Mr. Cuomo has been turning the grand but obsolete Farley Post Office into a new arrival hall for Amtrak. That will move an estimated 20 percent of 650,000 daily riders out of Penn — a good step, but not a transformative one. A vast majority of the riders who stay put will see some modest improvements to the dungeon: a wider concourse and better signage and LED lighting on the ceiling meant to evoke blue sky and clouds. This may make the station slightly less unpleasant, but it will still be dangerously crowded, poorly designed and inadequate: a mass-transit disgrace.Redirecting the Acela crowd into a different concourse, using the space once dedicated to getting mail to trackside, will mean less interference with the dashing commuters (I really want someone with more artistic skills than I to render Dashing Dan, the legendary symbol of The Long Island Rail Road, thumbing his device and crashing into another dashing commuter.)
But the footprint of the station has remained the same, from the grand opening in the Samuel Rea era until today, and the tracks have to be forty feet below street level in order to get under the North River at a sufficient depth so as not to be punctured by a hurriedly dropped anchor. As New Haven Superintendent, Passenger Traffic John Droege noted, "The average traveler will be dumfounded [c.q.] when he views the magnificent waiting room and concourse for the first time, but in more cases than a few the immensity of things and the magnificence will lose their luster when he has traversed the 'magnificent distance' from the sidewalk to the train or vice versa." (Passenger Terminals and Trains, page 157.) And lead architect Charles McKim envisioned Pennsylvania Station as a place for the well-do to make grand entrances, with armies of redcaps to schlep the luggage. Commuters were supposed to go to Exchange Place and ride the Hudson Tubes. The Long Island Rail Road did not become a serious commuter carrier until the Levittowns showed up. Now, though, commuter trains off, horribile dictu, the Lackawanna, mingle with the Jersey Coast and Long Island, on the seventeen through and four stub track in place since 1910.
But the editors at the Times want to work on the station's structure first.
Penn Station is the busiest train station in America and by far the most miserable. It is the product of a cascade of governmental failures — of design and basic maintenance, but also of political will and imagination. Instead of defending his plan, Mr. Cuomo would be better off fixing it. He should concentrate his efforts on where the problem is — on removing Madison Square Garden and building a new Penn Station instead of touching up a dungeon. Mr. Chakrabarti has given him the blueprint.The plan: remove all the inner structure from the Garden and keep the shell as an enormous cylindrical skylight. (If you're going to do that, why not rediscover all the support columns from the original concourse and put back the Great Room and train hall?)
First, though, wouldn't it make sense to think about how the replacements for the North River tunnels, and the two new tubes that both New York and New Jersey see as essential to keep the Exchange Place and Hoboken trains coming to Midtown, and the platforms, and the connections to the Long Island coach yard and the Amtrak route for Albany and beyond go together, and then think about the station building?