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Penn Station

WQXR Blog

Violinist Gil Shaham Takes On a New Role: Crime Fighter

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Reports of train stations and shopping malls blaring classical music to chase off vagrants, vandals and ne'er-do-wells have been making headlines for over a decade. Gil Shaham decided to act.

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The Leonard Lopate Show

The Rise and Fall of Penn Station

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Penn Station opened November 27, 1910, and was a grand, beautiful building. But in 1961, the financially strapped Pennsylvania Railroad tore down the train station to build Madison Square Garden. How'd it all go so wrong?

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Transportation Nation

PHOTOS: On This Day in Transportation History, New York's Penn Station Opened

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

On November 27, 1910, one of New York City's original architectural jewels opened its doors to train passengers -- and it was beautiful.

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Transportation Nation

Amtrak Made a Smart Call to Let Tunnels Flood During Sandy

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

WNYC

Amtrak might have been able to avoid the flooding in at least one of its Hudson River tunnels during Sandy, but it is probably best that it didn't.

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The Brian Lehrer Show

MSG Eviction Notice?

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The City Council renewed Madison Square Garden's lease for ten years, with no automatic renewal. Charles Bagli, New York Times reporter and the author of Other People's Money: Inside the Housing Crisis and the Demise of the Greatest Real Estate Deal Ever Made (Dutton Adult, 2013), talks about the likelihood that the Garden will relocate to make room for a new Penn Station.

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Transportation Nation

City Council Limits Lease on Madison Square Garden, Makes Way for a New Penn Station

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

WNYC

The New York City Council took the first step in a long process to remake Penn Station, Wednesday. It voted overwhelmingly to limit the lease on Madison Square Garden, which sits atop nation's busiest transit hub. 

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Transportation Nation

Truckloads of Bikes Not Enough to Meet Citi Bike Demand at Penn Station

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

WNYC

Following our story on the problem of popularity facing New York's bike sharing program, we get a photo essay on the Citi Bike Facebook page that shows how hard the company is working to keep up with peak demand... and how it's still not enough. 

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Transportation Nation

At Penn Station, the Early Bird Catches the Citi Bike

Monday, July 22, 2013

WNYC

As 10 a.m. approached, Renato Lopes rushed up to the last working Citi Bike at 33rd and 8th Ave oozing haste and gratitude.

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Transportation Nation

NJ Transit Better At Balancing Its Books Than Keeping Bathrooms Clean

Thursday, July 11, 2013

New Jersey Transit's 2014 budget holds fares steady and doesn't cut service.

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The Brian Lehrer Show

The Future of Penn Station

Monday, May 13, 2013

There's a movement to reimagine Penn Station.Vin Cipolla, president of the Municipal Art Society, talks about the push for a redesign of the station and what would happen to Madison Square Garden.

 

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WNYC News

Fate of MSG Debated at City Hearing

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Madison Square Garden took its argument in favor of an open-ended permit to operate indefinitely to the city’s planning commission on Wednesday.

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Conducting Business

Does Classical Music at Train Stations Really Deter Crime?

Monday, April 08, 2013

From Atlanta and Minneapolis to Toronto and London, great composers are used to turn away vagrants and troublemakers drawn to bus stations, malls and parking lots.

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Transportation Nation

Transpo Travelog: Trains, Planes, Taxis, Buses, Subways, and a Little Light Rail

Friday, October 19, 2012

Last week, my time was bookended by two weekend conferences. The first was in the Chicago suburbs, the second in Baltimore.

I live in Oakland, California, and the prospect of flying back and forth to California in between conferences seemed both ridiculous and exhausting. So instead, I decided to stay east, visiting friends in New York City and Poughkeepsie for a few days before heading on to Baltimore.

This made for a logistically complex week of getting around. All in all, door-to-door, I used 15 discrete transportation systems to shuttle between five different cities. It sounds like a giant hassle -- but as a transportation reporter, it was great. I loved every minute of it.

I started my journey on a 4:30am BART train ($2.25) to the Oakland Coliseum. It was one of the first trains of the day—BART doesn’t run overnight, much to the chagrin of many Bay Area residents. It also doesn’t yet run all the way to the Oakland Airport (that’s coming soon). So from the Coliseum station, I transferred to a BART airport shuttle bus ($3 in exact change). The process is a little murky unless you’re a local, and I ended up explaining how it worked to several bleary eyed travelers. I even gave one guy a dollar bill just so he could board the bus before it left.

Even at the crack of dawn, the security line at the airport snaked through all the pylons and into baggage claim. I made it through with just enough time to make my flight to Chicago. Got a window seat (my favorite), and watched the sun rise over the beautiful bridges of the Bay before we burst above the cloud layer.

Once in Chicago, I met up with some fellow conference attendees and we split a cab to the distant suburb where the conference was being held ($22 each + tip). On the fare sign in the back of the cab we noticed a special charge—a $50 “vomit clean-up fee.” Must be rough driving a cab in Chicago.

In Chicago, taxicab puking has a price. (Photo by Julie Caine)

Several days later, it was time to head on to NYC. This time, I caught a ride to the airport in a Town Car driven by a guy with a long ponytail named Kenny ($50 cash + tip). He called me a couple hours before he picked me up just to say hi. We had a little time before my flight, and I hadn’t really seen anything at all in Chicago, so he drove me through some of the neighborhoods where he grew up, past his high school and family church, and then cruised along Lakeshore Drive, while he told me about the water pumping stations out in the lake and gave change to every single stoplight panhandler we encountered. “There but for the grace of God,” said he.

The flight from Chicago to LaGuardia was uneventful (dimmed lights and a hushed cabin) -- as was my late-night cab ride to Brooklyn ($35 + tip).

The next day I took the F train into Manhattan ($2.25) and strolled the beautiful High Line for the first time. In the afternoon, I went to Grand Central Terminal, where I took the audio tour of the station ($7— and by the way, radio producers, we could make that tour so much better!) and got a great shoeshine ($7+tip) before boarding the 4:45 Metro-North train to Poughkeepsie ($36 RT).  Traveling alongside the Hudson, looking at fiery red maples and crumbling architecture, I noticed that many of the conductors and passengers were on a first name basis.

Listen: Metro-North conductor

After a night and day in Poughkeepsie, I headed back to the city -- this time to Penn Station, where I was due to catch an Amtrak train to Baltimore ($70). I loved Penn Station. I arrived in the morning to a cacophony of newspaper vendors calling and singing to us as we streamed into the station. “Good morning, everybody! Get your AM New York right here. Read all about it. Buenos días, mami. AM New York!” (Editor's note: Penn Station doesn't usually inspire such affection -- but some people can find the hidden pockets of grace there.)

Penn Station (photo by Julie Caine)

Listen: audio from Penn Station

Grabbed my one and only cup of Dunkin Donuts coffee (one cream, two sugars), and hopped on board the train to Charm City. Out the windows, I watched the compressed East Coast fly by—Manhattan, Newark, Philadelphia, Baltimore. Next stop Washington DC.

Took a cab from Baltimore’s Penn Station to my hotel ($14 + tip), and was immediately swept off my feet by the nicest cab driver ever, who told me about growing up in a freezing cold basement and never wanting to get out from under the covers in the morning to go to school.  Note: no vomit fees in Baltimore.

(photo by Julie Caine)

A couple days later, and it was time for more travel. Took the Baltimore Light Rail ($1.60) to the airport for my flight home to Oakland, where my kind next-door neighbor picked me up in his car and drove me home (free). As cliché as it sounds, my week really was all about the journey.

 

 

 

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Transportation Nation

Amtrak On Track for All-Time Ridership Record

Monday, September 10, 2012

(photo by Aaron Hockley via flickr)

Amtrak had its single best month ever this July, and the railroad says when it closes the books on September, it will have set ridership records for each of the last 12 months.

Joe Boardman, Amtrak's CEO, said in a statement Monday that "the demand to travel by Amtrak is strong, growing and undeniable" and that the railroad is experiencing "improved management and financial health.”

The railroad says it's on track to break last year's record of 30.2 million passengers.

Read Amtrak's press release here.

Northeast Corridor passenger? New York commuter?  Read TN's tips on how to get the most out of Penn Station here.

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The Brian Lehrer Show

Surviving Penn Station

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Jim O'Grady, WNYC transportation reporter, and Nancy Solomon, managing editor for New Jersey Public Radio, discuss their reporting on the ups and downs of trying to get around Penn Station.

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Transportation Nation

MAP/VIDEO: How To Survive, And Occasionally Thrive, In New York Penn Station, The Continent's Busiest Train Hub

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Passengers moving through the Connecting Concourse on Penn Station's lower level.

(New York, NY - WNYC) New York's Penn Station is rail hub as ant colony: tight-cornered, winding and grimly subterranean. Like ants, 600,000 passengers per weekday course through it, pausing only to stare at an overhead information board until their departure track is revealed and then, toward that specified bowel, they descend.

Even the transit executives who run the place understand that it needs a makeover: they've hired Los Angeles construction firm Aecom to draft a renovation plan, expected by the end of the year, called "Penn Station Vision." There's talk of moving back walls, upgrading signs and improving the lighting. But that won't happen until Amtrak decamps across Eighth Avenue into a new space at the Farley Post Office, which is at least four years away.

In the meantime, what can a traveler do to make her time in Penn Station more bearable? [VIDEO BELOW]

Typical fare on the lower level.

That's the question I set out to answer with Nancy Solomon, an editor at WNYC who's been commuting from New Jersey to the West Side of Manhattan through Penn Station for more than ten years. Our tour of the station on a sweltering summer afternoon revealed a bi-level, nine-acre public space that, in some places, barely functions. "The station is doing what it was never, ever designed to do, which is accommodate more than a half-million commuters," says Ben Cornelius, a former Amtrak worker and TN reader who toiled in Penn Station for six years. "It was designed to be a long-haul, long-distance train station, not a commuter barn."

Yet, Nancy and I turned up a handful of grace notes: a hidden water fountain, a sanitary restroom, decent sushi. And to our surprise, we stumbled upon a large, and largely overlooked, piece of the original Penn Station.


More than most municipal facilities, Penn Station is haunted by the ghost of its earlier incarnation--a Beaux Arts masterpiece by legendary architects McKim, Mead and White.

Postcard of the original Penn Station.

That station rose in 1910 and fell, against a howl of protest, in 1963. Its dismantled columns, windows and marble walls suffered the same fate as a talkative two-bit mobster: they were dumped in a swamp in New Jersey. On the levelled site rose Madison Square Garden and a nondescript office tower; station operations were shunted to the basement, where they remain. Here's one way to navigate it:

Penn Station users: What do you do to make it more bearable? Where do you eat, rest, go looking for shortcuts? We want to know!

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WNYC News

Piece Of Original Penn Station Hides In Plain Sight

Monday, August 06, 2012

There is a wide entryway in Penn Station that’s painted red with a stylishly carved leaf pattern. It frames the Long Island Railroad waiting room on the lower level and stands in stark contrast to the utilitarian style of the rest of the building. That’s because it’s a remnant of the old Penn Station.

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Transportation Nation

Piece Of New York's Original Penn Station Hides In Plain Sight ... Inside Today's Penn Station

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Entryway that is the only known piece of the old Penn Station to survive inside the current station. (photo by Jennifer Hsu / WNYC)

(New York, NY - WNYC) At first, MTA spokesman Sal Arena insisted that no part of the architectural glory of the old Penn Station survived in the stripped down bunker of today's Penn Station. But the carved leaf pattern in a large steel entryway on the lower level seemed so at odds with the rest of the station's no-frills style that we asked him to re-check that.

Arena obliged. Then wrote back, "I stand corrected."

TN has learned that this entryway--part of the original Penn Station--was walled off in 1963, when the above-ground part of the station was razed. The destruction was decried by many as an act of "historical vandalism." (Public ire at the leveling of the 1910 building is credited with launching the modern preservationist movement.) Madison Square Garden and a blocky office tower replaced the formerly grand public space; the train hub was shunted into the corridors beneath them.

There the entryway lay hidden for 30 years.

Postcard image of the original Penn Station.

In the early 1990s, Penn Station underwent a major renovation, its first since the original building was demolished. That's when workers took down the wall and discovered the entryway. "It was found exactly where it is now," Arena said. "The contractor cleaned it, painted it and put in windows." It is now a deep umber color.

As far as we can tell, the entryway went back into service quietly--no announcement was made about the salvaged piece of history. It's safe to assume that a large part of the station's 600,000 weekday travelers pass by without an inkling of its provenance. In places, the paint on the entryway's columns is worn away from the hordes of commuters brushing past it, wanting only to leave Penn Station.

Simeon Bankoff, executive director of the Historic Districts Council, called the discovery a "cool" but minor find. "It's the sort of thing that's a curiosity, an oddity, one of those pieces of history that you need a plaque to explain," he said.

He noted a remnant of the past that can also be found outside the present station: two stone eagles from the vanished building that flank an entrance at 33rd Street and Seventh Avenue. Bankoff said they're handsome, if hard to see, and small consolation for the "interplay of space and light" that was lost when the original station was torn down and tossed into a trash heap in New Jersey.

Except for a pair of stone eagles and a strangely tenacious red entryway.

Detail of glass and steel entryway from the old Penn Station. (Photo by Jennifer Hsu / WNYC)

COMING SOON: A feature story about the some of the small conveniences in the present Penn Station that can make passing through it more bearable. We'll also be asking for your Penn Station tips.

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Transportation Nation

NY MTA Chief Says Railroads Need To Work Together To Overcome Maxed-Out Hudson River Crossings

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Amtrak concourse at Penn Station in New York. (Scott Beale / flickr)

(New York, NY -- WNYC) New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman Joe Lhota told a conference of transportation professionals that the only hope for moving more people under the Hudson River between Manhattan and New Jersey is for the area’s commuter railroads to set aside their traditional enmity and work better together.

His remarks came after a presentation showing rapid growth in New Jersey’s commuter population has maxed out rush hour crossings — both transit and vehicular — and that relief in the form of a proposed Gateway Rail Tunnel won’t arrive until 2025. If it arrives.

Which raised the question: what to do in the meantime?

Lhota tossed out three ideas, each aimed at boosting capacity at Penn Station in Manhattan, the hemisphere’s busiest railroad station and a terminal for New Jersey Transit trains.

He said the station’s 21 platforms should all be made to accommodate 10-car trains, which would mean lengthening some of them. He also said that the railroads using the station—Amtrak, New Jersey Transit and Long Island Rail Road—should do a better job of sharing platform and tunnel space.

Each railroad currently controls a third of the platforms, which sometimes leads to one railroad having too many trains and not enough platforms at the same time another railroad has empty platforms. The railroads also vie with each other for access to tunnels during peak periods. Lhota said capacity would be boosted if dispatchers in the station’s control room could send any train to any platform, and through any tunnel, as they saw fit.

Lhota’s third suggestion was the most ambitious. He said the three railroads—plus the MTA’s Metro-North line, which connects Manhattan to Connecticut and several downstate New York counties—should use each other’s tracks. In other words, trains should flow throughout the region in a way that sends them beyond their historic territory. For example, a train from Long Island could arrive in Penn Station and, instead of sitting idly until its scheduled return trip, move on to New Jersey. That way, trains would spend less time tying up platforms, boosting the station’s capacity.

The practice is called “through-running.” It happens already when NJ Transit trains carry football fans on game day from New Haven, Connecticut, through Penn Station to Secaucus, where passengers transfer to a shuttle that takes them to MetLife Stadium in the Meadowlands.

Lhota says more trains crossing borders would make for a truly regional and efficient system. But first the railroads must cooperate. "Right now, we're as Balkanized as you can possibly imagine,” he said. “We need to find a way to coordinate that."

MTA spokesman Adam Lisberg said running the football train is complicated but shows that cooperation is possible. “Doing just this experiment required agreements among four railroads to coordinate schedules, crews, track, ticketing, revenue and some minor hardware issues,” he said. “So expanding it to full-fledged through-running will take much more.”

Lisberg said the four railroads are conducting a $1.5 million study to look at improving Penn Station’s capacity. “The study is trying to quantify the benefits and the costs of through-running,” he said. One of those costs would be overcoming the railroads’ disparate technologies: Amtrak, Metro-North and NJ Transit use overhead catenary power, while Long Island Rail Road is powered by a third rail.

In an email, Lisberg further weighted the costs and benefits of through-putting. He said a big advantage would be that trains wouldn’t have to stop and turn around in Penn Station, “or use precious tunnel slots to move empty trains into storage yards.”

And he said the existing tracks and platforms under the station “could be reorganized into simple eastbound and westbound tracks and platforms, regardless of which railroad uses them.” Then he added a caveat: “However, it would require lots of capital investment and changes to existing procedures – and we want to know it can be done without affecting on-time performance.”

The Regional Plan Association, which held the conference at which Lhota spoke, and other advocacy groups have expressed support for through-running—at least until Gateway Tunnel gets built. If it gets built.

 

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WNYC News

Port Authority Says Penn Station Expansion to Begin

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

The long-delayed expansion of New York's Penn Station is set to begin.

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