The new Moynihan Train Hall, unveiled on Wednesday by Gov. Cuomo, is a sight to behold — a monumentally scaled waiting room for Amtrak and LIRR riders who might blink twice. Crowned with an eye-popping, 92-feet-high skylight, it’s a vision from heaven for passengers inured to the underground Penn Station that’s the Western world’s most-hated place to catch a train.
The Hall, an airy doughnut hole inside the James A. Farley Post Office building, is the centerpiece of a larger, $1.6 billion planned complex inside the Farley building between Eighth and Ninth avenues and West 31st and 33rd streets. It will eventually include a gaggle of entrances, passageways between the avenues, subway links, waiting areas, lounges, stores and restaurants. The Hall and Penn Station one block east, together called the Pennsylvania Station-Farley Complex, will have 50 percent more concourse space than the Penn portion alone.
It comes after three decades of ever-changing plans since the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan in the 1980s first dreamed of a magnificent replacement for the original Penn Station, which was disgracefully demolished in the 1960s. Cuomo deserves credit for kick-starting it and seeing through construction this year, despite COVID-19.
The Train Hall, which opens Friday, is supposed to reduce rats-nest congestion at the detested Penn Station beneath Madison Square Garden, where 650,000 souls squeeze into a space built in the 1960s for just 250,000. LIRR riders may now board and exit trains at either facility while Amtrak users will use only the new Train Hall.
How well it works is yet to be seen until the first, pandemic-thinned crush of riders descends next week. But the Hall’s mighty roof is sure to be a hit with the public.
The Hall at first sight looks smaller than renderings suggested. It’s also relatively mundane, despite lots of expensive marble and wood — except for the great ceiling.
Three monumental steel trusses, remnants of the post office’s mail-sorting room, divide the roof’s acre of glass into four “parabolic” vaults, each comprising 500 glass and steel panels with a web-like design.
It lets in more light than the skylight roofs at the World Trade Center Oculus and the Fulton Transit Center. It’s ravishing when the sun comes out and imparts a golden glow to the entire Hall.
But the Hall’s unfinished appendages are a confusing maze of escalators, stairs, lounges and corridors. It’s hard to find the quickest way to Eighth Avenue, despite a sea of signs. If the old Penn Station held “the sound of time,” as worshipful writers called it, the Moynihan might hold the sounds of people trying to figure out which way is up.
Project architects SOM and politicians do the Moynihan a disservice by constantly likening it to the impossible-to-replicate original Penn Station. Sorry, guys, it isn’t even close, despite a superficial resemblance. The Moynihan Hall should be enjoyed for what it is — less than a masterpiece, but a fine example of “adaptive re-use” architecture and a huge improvement over the Penn Station we all love to hate.