After Nearly 30 Years, New York City’s Penn Station Has a Beautiful New Train Hall
Trudging below the low ceiling and fluorescent lights of New York City’s outdated Penn Station is now a thing of the past. After nearly three decades, the new $1.6 billion Moynihan Train Hall opened to the public on New Year’s Day, complete with a 92-foot-tall ceiling and sprawling glass skylight atrium. “As dark as 2020 has been, this new hall will bring the light, literally and figuratively, for everyone who visits this great city,” New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo said at a preopening event on Dec. 30, adding that “Amtrak really made things happen and made things happen quickly.”
Located across the street from the original Penn Station on Eighth Avenue between 31st and 33rd Streets, the new hall is connected to the old facility and utilizes the same Tracks 5 through 16 as before. (Tracks 1 through 4 remain accessible only through the original station.) Passengers on Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor routes and Long Island Railroad will be able to access the trains through the new hall.
Built inside the Farley Post Office building, the spacious hall — about the same size as Grand Central Terminal’s main hall — was previously the United States Postal Service’s sorting room, which had fallen out of use. “The great skylight was not just a beautiful piece of architecture,” Cuomo explained. “It brought the light into the building, so they could see the mail and read the envelopes and do the sorting.”
In addition to the open concourse, Moynihan Train Hall has a new retro-style waiting area for ticketed passengers as well as an attached bathroom. The upper floor also features the Metropolitan Lounge, which premium travelers can access, much like an exclusive airport lounge.
Three new site-specific art pieces, commissioned by Empire State Development in partnership with the Public Art Fund, are also on display. Elmgreen & Dragset’s “The Hive” features 91 inverted skyscrapers on the ceiling of the 31st Street mid-block entrance; Kehinde Wiley’s “Go,” located at the 33rd Street entrance, is hand-painted with Black New Yorkers breakdancing in the sky; and Stan Douglas’ “Penn Station’s Half Century” has nine panels depicting iconic moments at the train station and is located in the ticketed waiting room.
A food hall is also scheduled to open in the fall of 2021, with outlets of New York City mainstays like Magnolia Bakery, H&H Bagels, and Jacob’s Pickles.
The new train hall is named after Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a former senator who originally envisioned the idea for the facility. In 1991, Amtrak came up with the Penn Station Facility and Needs Assessment, which deemed the space could be used for passengers. "The details had to catch up to his vision," Cuomo said, noting that it's "almost too beautiful."
Despite the impressive nature of the new hall, which opened in advance of Amtrak’s 50th anniversary this May, Amtrak President Stephen Gardner tells Travel + Leisure, this is only the beginning. “This is the first prime piece of a larger expansion of the whole Penn complex,” he said. “This gives us the new headhouse space, which allows us to relieve some of the congestion and improve the passenger experience.”
Gardner says the next step is to increase train capacity by building a new set of tunnels to the west, but that this station needed to be open first. “Now that we’ve created additional tracks and platforms to divert some trains, we can start to rebuild…in a way that ultimately will deliver a world-class, high-quality station experience between Ninth and Seventh Avenues — we're just not there yet. This is the first big jump to get there,” he said. “This is obviously the most important intercity passenger station in America...and we think it deserves work.”