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Readers & Listeners Share Tips On Surviving The Present Penn Station, Identify Remnants Of The Old

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

The muses in this public artwork seem to be beckoning passengers into the void. (Photo by Jim O'Grady)

(New York, NY - WNYC) Relish the wisdom of the crowd. Many of you have weighed in with your knowledge of New York Penn Station at the bottom of our previous post with additional strategies for navigating the nation's busiest train terminal.

We invited you to contribute to the list of minor amenities that New Jersey Public Radio managing editor Nancy Solomon and I came up with as we walked the overburdened transit hub and searched for coping strategies for the 600,000 travelers who squeeze through it every weekday.

A few readers said there are more water fountains than the one we found behind a pillar in the Amtrak Acela waiting room. George Gauthier wrote, "There are three other water fountains in the station, two in the waiting room for New Jersey Transit, next to the rest rooms. Another at the east end of the Long Island Rail Road station behind the police booth."

And after I described a filigreed entryway near the Long Island Rail Road waiting area as "the one thing commuters can see from the lost age of Penn Station," several of you brought up a wide staircase with thick brass handrails that riders still use to reach tracks 1-6. Eric Marcus said the staircase is another survivor from the original Beaux Arts beauty that opened in 1910. He added: "In some places you’ll see the old glass block floors in their cast iron frames above you. They’ve been covered over by terrazzo, so light no longer penetrates."

Marcus goes on to claim, intriguingly, that Amtrak has been collecting fragments of the original Penn Station from people who've saved them, with the aim of bringing these vestigial elements to a new station Amtrak is building across Eighth Avenue in the Farley Post Office. (See renderings of Moynihan Station here.) We've asked Amtrak whether that's true, and await their reply.

Which raises the question: how did regular people save bits of old Penn Station?

Technology consultant and native New Yorker David Hochman has an answer. He was seven years old in 1964, the year after the original station was dismantled and resettled as rubble to a wetland in New Jersey. Hochman's parents spotted an ad in The New York Times taken out by The Pennsylvania Railroad Company, which then owned the station, offering to send a memento of the monumental building to those who asked for one. The enterprising David sent in his request, and the railroad replied:

Some time later, a chunk of stone weighing "a few pounds" arrived in the mail. Surely young Hochman cherished it as a talisman from a more graceful age, and he will now be donating it to Amtrak. "Sadly," he writes, "I've lost track of the piece itself." He then rhetorically smacks his forehead while quoting Bugs Bunny, "What a maroon I am!"

(This excellent article describes even more slivers of the old Penn Station embedded in the new.)

Of course there were plenty of laments. To delve into the history of Penn Station is to realize its demolition remains an open wound in the psyche of New York. Commenter "Jorge" quoted Yale professor of architecture Vincent Scully's great line about the effect of removing passengers from the station's once-palatial precincts to an underground warren devoid of natural light:

“One entered the city like a god. One scuttles in now like a rat.”

Reader Paul de Silva, an architect, added this critique: "The worst part of Penn is the track platforms. Much of the power of a well designed train station anywhere in the world is an open view of the platforms, as per original Penn."

Others added detail to a shortcut described by Nancy Solomon in the radio version of the story, which you can hear by clicking the audio player at the top of the post.

And several people wondered why the railroads that use Penn Station wait so long before posting the track number of a departing train. That's because the station handles close to the same number of trains as Grand Central Terminal on half as many tracks. Result: dispatchers don't know a train's track number until 10 to 12 minutes before it leaves, as opposed to the 25 minutes' notice that passengers enjoy at Grand Central Terminal. The shorter notice at Penn Station means people pile up under the information boards, blocking the flow of the hordes through the too-small halls.

Despite all, reader "Andrea" complimented Amtrak for playing classical music in its waiting area. She says her dream job is "to be the DJ for Penn Station!"

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Transportation Nation

Crowds Flock to NY's Penn Station for Memorial Day Weekend Travel

Friday, May 25, 2012

Our Alex Goldmark has been out and about this morning, and reports big crowds are at New York's Penn Station, trying to beat the road traffic.

Photo: Alex Goldmark

Melanie Miller of New York is heading to Washington D-C to visit her mother. She chose Amtrak because 10 years ago she made a promise to herself never to drive on Memorial Day Weekend again.  "I've sat in traffic and I also don't think it's good for the environment. So I'll take the train. I'll do something else. Or I'll stay home, but I won't drive."

Amtrak says it's had heavy bookings this weekend, and that some trains on the NY-Boston route are sold out.

Photo: Alex Goldmark/Transportation Nation

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Transportation Nation

Tunnel Linking Long Island Railroad to Grand Central Terminal Could Be Delayed (Again) - UPDATED

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

(New York, NY - WNYC) Long Island Railroad riders might not see service to Grand Central Terminal on the East Side of Manhattan until 2019, a year later than expected.

Joe Lhota, chairman of the NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority, told business leaders on Long Island that the tunnel project has bogged down beneath a railyard in Sunnyside, Queens, where contaminated soil and an unexpected abundance of underground brooks and springs have slowed digging. He said the authority has brought in tunneling experts from Europe to help solve the problems.

The project, called East Side Access, will bring Long Island Railroad trains beneath the East River to Grand Central Terminal. Now, all LIRR trains go to Penn Station, on Manhattan's West Side.

Lhota called East Side Access the first major expansion of the LIRR in 100 years. He said that, on completion, it would shave about 40 minutes off commuting time for Long Islanders who work on the East Side of Manhattan and would increase capacity of the railroad by 41 percent.

“There are 800,000 people per day that go through Penn Station,” Lhota said, according to Long Island Business News. “And 60 percent of those are Long Island Rail Road riders. East Side Access should relieve a lot of that burden.”

The project, which was originally scheduled for completion in 2015, has been delayed several times. (The NY MTA's website still lists an obsolete end date of 2016.)

NY MTA spokesman Adam Lisberg later walked back Lhota's remarks. He said, "Chairman Joe Lhota did say this morning that a very preliminary study that he saw has a risk of the deadline going into 2019. We’re in the process of re-evaluating the deadline on East Side Access and will report to the board on it at the end of May."

Lisberg said NY MTA engineers are looking at "several different types of studies" to determine whether to stick with or push back the current 2018 deadline. "It’s complex tech stuff and the experts don’t always agree," he said.

The NY MTA has said previous delays were caused in part by conflicts with Amtrak, which is also working on construction projects at the Sunnyside Railyards in Queens, slowing digging for East Side Access. Lisberg said those problems have been solved. "In January, at one of our meetings, there was discussion of problems with scheduling work in coordination with Amtrak," he said." Now we’re very well coordinated."

And now comes this statement from the MTA press office:

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority is reevaluating the risks in the construction schedule for the East Side Access project, and plans to present its findings to the Capital Program Oversight Committee later this month. One preliminary analysis of risk factors has indicated the completion date may move to 2019, as East Side Access construction intensifies in the busiest passenger rail yard and the largest passenger rail interchange in the nation.

 The analysis is not complete, and the MTA is identifying ways to mitigate those risk factors to allow the project to be completed as early as possible. The MTA continues to work with its partners at the Federal Transit Administration to update the East Side Access funding agreement to reflect the new schedule.

Amtrak and the MTA are working closely together on East Side Access and improvements to the East River tunnels and the Harold Interlocking to accommodate the roughly 500,000 passengers who rely on 1,200 train movements through the region each day. Senior executives at Amtrak, the MTA and NJ Transit regularly meet to coordinate construction activities and do everything possible to keep work moving forward.

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Transportation Nation

A Tree Snarls in Princeton

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Commuters Jam NY's Penn Station Photo: Collin Campbell

(New York -- Collin Campbell, Transportation Nation)  The "massive" tree, as an Amtrak spokesman described it, couldn't have fallen at worse time or in a worse place.

At around 5 a.m. this morning near Princeton Junction, NJ, a storm of branches and leaves came down on overhead wires and an Amtrak signal box. The result fried fuses and shut down signals on a 20 mile stretch of the Northeast Corridor.

Great, just in time for rush hour on one of the busiest stretches of train track in America.

It's the latest insult and injury to New York and New Jersey commuters, who endured delays and humid, 90+ degree temperatures on the ride home.

In May, NJ Transit raised fares 25 percent and cut way back on service. Then, as the NY Times exposed, trains don't run on time anyway. I n New York, dozens of bus lines were cut and two train lines were scrubbed from the alphabet entirely at the end of June.  Trains are twice as dirty as they used to be. There are delays caused by the punishing heat ... and then came the tree.

NJ Transit spokesman Dan Stessel said he didn't even have time for breakfast. "The phone rang and I went to work," he said.  Amtrak spokesman Cliff Cole called it "weird."  "We don’t have any storms or wind,” he said.

Garden State commuters were the hardest hit.  For much of the morning, NJ Transit trains couldn't leave a train yard near Trenton, as switches and signals wouldn't budge, or were limited to helping Amtrak function as it could.

Later, Amtrak workers "walked" trains through miles of track, functioning as traffic cops for miles of signal-less track. Commuters endured delays the reached two hours.  On the way home, express trains were canceled.  The 67-mile ride to Trenton was on crowded, local service.  Amtrak canceled some trains, but had delays under an hour by the end of the day.

Transportation officials saw days like this coming.   Currently, Amtrak workers are using $30 million in federal funds to remove trees close to the track in the Northeast Corridor.  But today, for the boughs of the mighty Princeton Junction tree, it was too late.

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