Penn Station Elimination Followup

Several commenters, both here and on Streetsblog, have raised a number of points about my proposal to eliminate above-ground Penn Station and reduce the station to a hole in the ground. A few of those points are things I’d already thought about when I wrote that post and didn’t want to clutter; others are new ideas that I’ve had to wrestle with.

Waiting

On Streetsblog, Mark Walker says, “Getting on a train at Penn is not like using the subway. Instead of a train that runs every five minutes, you’re waiting for a train that runs once per hour (more or less),” implying nicer waiting areas and lounges are needed. My proposal, of course, does not have dedicated waiting areas. (That said, there’s an immense amount of space on the platforms under the escalators, which could be equipped with chairs, tables, and newsstands.)

However, I take exception to the notion that when the train runs every hour, passengers wait an hour. When I lived in Providence, a few trips to Boston, New Haven, and New York taught me the exact amount of time it’d take me to walk from my apartment to the train station: 21 minutes. I learned to time myself to get to the station 2 minutes before the train would leave, and as I recall, I missed the train twice out of maybe 30 trips, and one of those was when I had a lot of luggage and was in a taxi and couldn’t precisely gauge the extra travel time. Walking is that reliable. People who get to Penn Station by subway have to budget some extra time to account for missed subway trains, but from much of the city, including the parts of the CBD not within walking distance from Penn, the required spare time is less than 10 minutes. Moreover, Penn is at its most crowded at rush hour, which is precisely when subway frequency is the highest, and people can reliably time themselves to within less than 5 minutes.

Outlying train stations in Switzerland are deserted except a few minutes before a train shows up, because the connecting transit is all timed to meet the train. This is of course inapplicable at very large stations with many lines, but the modes of transportation that most Penn Station users take to the station are reliable and frequent, if you can even talk of frequency for walking. The result is that the amenities do not need to be extravagant on account of waiting passengers, and do not need to be more than those of a busy subway station in a busy area.

Shelter

Several commenters raised the idea of shelter. One option, raised by James Sinclair, is an arched glass roof over the station, on the model of Milan. This involves above-ground infrastructure, but the arched structure is only supported at the margins of the compound, which means that the primary feature of a hole-in-the-ground station, the lack of anything that the track area must support the weight of, is still true. I do not think it’s a bad idea; I do, however, want to raise three additional options:

Do nothing. A large proportion of the usable area of the platforms would be located under the walkways above, or under the escalators and staircases. Having measured the depth more precisely, through Plate 14 here, I found it is 13 meters from street level to top of rail, or 12 from street level to platform level, translating to 21 meters of escalator length, plus 2.2-2.5 meters on each side for approach (see page 23 here). About 16 of those 21 (18.5 out of 25.7, counting approaches) meters offer enough space for passengers to stand below the escalators, leading to large areas that could be used for shelter, as noted in the waiting section above.

Build a simple shelter. Stockholm-area train stations have cheap corrugated metal roofs over most of the length of their platforms. These provide protection from rain. Of course those roofs require some structural support at the platform, but because they’re not supposed to hold anything except rainwater, those supports are narrow poles, easy to move around if the station is reconfigured.

Build a street-level glass pane. This may be structurally intricate, but if not, it would provide complete shelter from the elements on the track level, greatly improve passenger circulation, and create a new public plaza. But in summer, the station would be a greenhouse, requiring additional air conditioning.

Note that doing nothing or building a simple shelter would not protect any of the track level from heat or cold. This is fine: evidently, open-air stations are the norm both in cities with hotter summers than New York (Milan is one example, and Tokyo is another) and in cities with colder winters (for example, Stockholm). Passengers are usually dressed for the weather anyway, especially if they’re planning on walking to work from Penn or from the subway station they’re connecting to.

Architecture

Multiple commenters have said that public art and architecture matter, and building spartan train stations is unaesthetic, representing public squalor. I agree! I don’t think a hole-in-the-wall Penn Station has to be drab or brutalist. It can showcase art, on the model of the mosaics on the subway, or the sculptures on the T-Bana. It can use color to create a more welcoming environment than the monotonous gray of many postwar creations, such as the Washington Metro. The natural sunlight would help a lot.

But more than that, the walkways themselves could be architectural signatures. The best way to build them without supporting them on the track level is some variant on the arch bridge – either the classical arch bridge (which would require three or four spans), or a through-arch. This gives a lot of room to turn the bridges into signature spans. The design work would raise their cost, but short pedestrian bridges tend not to display the same cost structure as massive vehicular ones; the Bridge of Strings, a Calatrava-designed light rail bridge on a line that cost far more to build than light rail should cost, was $70 million for 360 meters. The walkways would not carry light rail, and would be about 140 or 150 meters in span.

TOD

Commenters both here (Caelestor) and on Streetsblog (Bolwerk, Matthias, C2check) have brought up transit-oriented development as a reason to allow a tall building on top of the station. With respect, I think on top of a train station is exactly the wrong place to build a tower. Let’s Go LA has an explanation for why the engineering for air rights is so complicated, although he stresses that Penn Station and Grand Central, which were built with the expectation of future high-rise air rights, are exceptions. I’ll add that Penn Station track simplification would also remove many crossovers and switches, making it easier to build air rights. That said, the track spacing is not friendly to the column spacing he proposes.

In New York, the tallest and most expensive recent private-sector office tower on solid ground, the Bank of America Tower, cost around $6,000 per square meter of floor space, in today’s money. Some of the luxury residential towers are more expensive; so are the new World Trade Center buildings, e.g. One World Trade Center was $12,000 per m^2. But the office towers cluster in a specific band of cost, around $2,500 to $5,000 per square meter, with taller towers generally more expensive. The Hudson Yards air rights towers cost in the $10,000-14,000 per square meter range, as much as One World Trade Center. Contrary to Bloomberg’s promises of windfall property tax revenues as his justification for the 7 extension, the city has had to offer tax abatement to encourage developers to build at those prices. Amtrak’s plan for Penn Station South assumes the block immediately south of Penn Station would cost $769 million to $1.3 billion to acquire; when I roughly computed its floor area by counting floors per building, I got 100,000 m^2, which means the price of real estate in that area, $7,700-13,000/m^2, is no higher and may be lower than the construction cost of air rights towers.

In contrast, some sites on firm ground immediately surrounding Penn Station are ripe for redevelopment. The block south of Penn Station, as noted above, has about 100,000 m^2, for a block-wide floor area ratio of 6.7. The Empire State Building’s floor area ratio is 33, so replacing the block with closely spaced supertall towers would require developers to burn just 20% of their profit on acquiring preexisting buildings. To the north of Penn Station, the two sites at 7th and 8th Avenues, flanking One Penn Plaza, are flat; so is nearly all of the western part of the block northeast of Penn, between 33rd and 34th Streets and 6th and 7th Avenues. Eighth Avenue is not developed intensely at all in that latitude – it only becomes important near Times Square. Supertall buildings surrounding Penn Station could even be incorporated into the station complex: railroads using the station might decide to lease offices in some of them, and the exteriors of some of those buildings could incorporate large clocks, some signage, and even train departure boards.

Phasing

TheEconomist, who has had some truly out-of-the-box ideas, raises a very good point: how to phase the deconstruction of Penn Station in ways that allow service to continue. I don’t have a complete answer to that. Arch bridges, in particular, require extensive falsework, which may complicate matters. However, a general phase plan could consist of knocking down the above-ground buildings, then removing the upper concourse (leaving only the lower), and then removing arms of the lower concourse one by one as the walkways above them are built.

Passenger Throughput

In comments here, people have suggested several alternatives to my proposal to reconfigure Penn Station to have 12 tracks and 6 island platforms between them. There should be 6 approach tracks, as I outlined here: southern approach tracks, combining new Hudson tunnels with a link to Grand Central (which I call Line 2); central tracks, combining the preexisting Hudson tunnels with the southern East River Tunnels (Line 1); and northern tracks, combining the realigned Empire Connection and West Side Yard with the northern East River Tunnels (Line 3).

In my view, each approach track should split into two platform tracks, flanking the same platform. In this situation, there is no need to announce track numbers in advance, as long as the platform is known. Stockholm does this on the commuter lines at Stockholm Central: the northbound lines use tracks 15 and 16 and the southbound lines use tracks 13 and 14, with a platform between each of these track pairs, and until a few minutes before a train arrives, it’s signed on the board as “track 13/14” or “track 15/16.”

The compound looks 140 or 150 meters wide; the maps are unclear about to what extent Penn extends under 31st and 33rd, but according to a diagram Joey shared in comments, it extends quite far, giving 150 meters or even a bit more. Under my proposal, this is enough for 6 platforms of 17 or 18 meters. It sounds like a lot, but it isn’t, especially on Line 3, where Penn Station is the only CBD train station, which implies entire trains would empty at Penn in the morning rush hour. (Line 2, which I expect to be the busiest overall because it’d serve both Penn and Grand Central, is the one I expect to have the least platform crowding problems, precisely because it’d serve both Penn and Grand Central.)

Staircases should be 3 meters wide. Escalators with 1-meter steps have 1.6-meter pits; their capacity is theoretically 9,000 passengers per hour, but practically only 6,000-7,000. Clearing 30 entire trains per hour, filled to seating capacity with 4 standees per square meter of standing space, requires moving about 75,000 passengers per hour. (Per meter of train length, this is comparable to the 4/5 trains and the RER A at their peaks.) With 6 access points, this requires 2 up escalators per access point. The minimum is then 3 escalators, running 2-and-1 at the peak; 4 is better.

In comments, Ari Ofesvit proposes the Spanish solution, which I’ve discussed in previous posts. I’m now convinced it is not the right solution, simply because it compels platforms to be too narrow (about 8.6 meters), which has room for exactly half of what a standard platform twice the width would have, without the possibility of running 4 escalators 3-and-1 at the peak. My comment in that post has more detail, albeit with the assumption that the compound is 140 meters wide.

Fbfree proposes something else: more platforms for intercity trains. Giving intercity trains more platforms (as is done in Stockholm, which has just two approach tracks to the south) gives them more time to dwell; unfortunately, it also narrows the platforms for the regional trains, precisely the ones that can expect the most crowding. Even a single-track platform would take up space out of proportion to the number of passengers it would serve.

Pedestrian throughput is, at the maximum, 81 people per meter of walkway width per minute; this assumes two-way flow, but the numbers for one-way and multiway flow aren’t too different. This is a little less than 5,000 per meter-hour. An escalator bank with two up escalators then needs almost 3 meters of unobstructed platform width on one side (the other side can be used as overflow, but most passengers would use the side of the platform the train discharged them on). This is easy to supply with a 4-escalator bank on a 17-meter platform (there would be 3.8 meters); on an 8.6-meter Spanish platform, there’s only one up escalator per bank, so half the width is required, and is indeed obtainable. But if there are extra platforms for intercity trains, this becomes more strained.

For maximum throughput, it is necessary to minimize separation between escalators on the platform, down to about 6 meters plus approaches, in order to allow wider walkways, which in this case would make the walkways about 25 meters wide. The point here is that the walkways have to have very high pedestrian capacity, since each of them is fed by escalators from all platforms. At 25 meters, the capacity is about 15% less than that of two up escalators per access point (121,500 vs. 144,000), which is fine since some platforms (Line 2 in both directions, Line 3 eastbound in the morning and westbound in the afternoon) would not have so much traffic. But putting in elevators would disrupt this flow somewhat.

I see two ways to increase capacity in the future, if train traffic warrants it: first, build the glass floor/ceiling I outlined above, in the shelter section. This is the simplest possibility. Second, build three more walkways, midway between 7th and 8th Avenues and the two walkways already discussed, and have each walkway or avenue serve only half the platforms – one serving eastbound platforms, one serving westbound platforms. At this point the station would be half-covered by walkways, if they are all about 24 meters wide, but the walkways could be narrowed; as long as they are longer than 15 meters, any passenger arriving on a platform by any of the included access points would be sheltered by the walkway serving platforms in the opposite direction. Elevators should go from each walkway to each platform still, which would facilitate transfers, but the workhorse escalators would spread the load among different walkways.

Concessions

I’d originally thought that the walkways could host retail and food concessions. The calculation in the preceding section suggests that this wouldn’t be possible, unless the walkways are widened beyond the escalators, with concessions on the outside. Every meter of walkway width would be required for passenger circulation. Even information pamphlets might be restricted to the very edges of the walkways; train departure boards would have to be mounted in the air, for example on the support cables if the through-arch option were chosen for the walkways.

However, there is ample room directly beneath the escalators, staircases, and walkways. With the caveat that escalators of such length need an extra midway support point, they would still have a lot of space underneath: 15-16 meters with sufficient clearance for people to stand comfortably (say, at least 2.5 meters of clearance above); with the upper approaches and the walkways, this is 60-62 meters of largely unobstructed space, for a 60*10 space that could be used in almost any way. Even in the 5-6 meters with less clearance above to the escalator, it’d be possible to use the space at least partly – for example, for sitting, or for bathrooms, the minimum clearance is reduced (I’m writing this post from my apartment, where the ceilings slope down, and the ceiling height above my couch is about 1.5 meters).

There would be two such 60*10 spaces per platform, plus two smaller spaces, near 7th and 8th Avenues, depending on exact placement of access points to the subway. This gives us twelve 60*10 spaces. I doubt that they could ever host high-end concessions, such as full-service restaurants: passengers would probably not go out of their way, to a platform that they weren’t planning on using. This means newsstands could succeed, but not much else; food would have to be shunted to the streets, and presumably restaurants would pay extra to locate right outside the compound. In lieu of concessions, those spaces could host sundry uses, including additional circulation space, information pamphlets, busker performance space, waiting areas for passengers, public art displays, and waiting areas for train crew and cleaners.

108 comments

  1. digamma

    ” Stockholm-area train stations have cheap corrugated metal roofs over most of the length of their platforms.”

    You hardly have to go that far. The outdoor platforms of Washington Union Station are like that. Hoboken. Baltimore. New Haven. Syracuse.

    When taking into account lack of climate control, it’s worth noting that the platform level at NYP is often unbearably hot in the summer. Exposing it to fresh air would be a massive improvement. I often look at the LIRR’s west side yard and wish it were a station.

  2. anonymouse

    One huge benefit of the 6 platform arrangement is that it allows NYP to basically operate as three separate mostly-through four-track stations, with absolutely no conflicting moves at all, and hopefully allows much gentler approach geometry that doesn’t slow trains down as much on the approach. This is vastly more efficient than the current arrangement of a mostly-terminal station with lots of elaborate ladder tracks going all the way across everything with 10 mph speed restrictions. Maybe they’ll even manage to put more than 24 tph through the approach tunnels thanks to that, though I’d have to crunch some numbers to be sure. It also means that keeping station dwells low becomes the crucial factor in the capacity of the whole arrangement, which is why the GCT connection is important: it means that some trains will split the dwell time between the two stations, since only half the passengers will be getting off at NYP. This also means that the southern set of tracks might actually be a better place for terminating intercity trains (Acelas and Regionals that end in NYC).

    • Joey

      The one disadvantage I see to this arrangement is that it doesn’t allow cross-platform transfers between the lines. But it’s probably easier to provide those at secondary stations anyway.

      • Alon Levy

        Well, it’s pretty much impossible to have cross-platform transfers at Penn – it’d require way too many flying junctions. FWIW, back when I thought the 33rd Street tunnels went westbound and the 32nd Street tunnels went eastbound, I thought the new Hudson tunnels should have one single-track tunnel flanking each side of the preexisting pair.

        Line 1/Line 2 transfers can fit at Secaucus easily anyway – that station needs two extra tracks no matter what, to accommodate stopping regional trains and nonstop intercity trains. Line 1/Line 3 can be done at Sunnyside; it wouldn’t be cross-platform, because it’s more important to do cross-platform transfers between Line 1 and the ESA trains, but it’d involve much less crowded under- or overpasses. But of course, the Line 3/ESA division in Long Island is pretty artificial, in the sense that any branch that goes to Line 3 could go to ESA and vice versa, so it shouldn’t be difficult to connect the important branches to ESA for easy transfers. Line 2/Line 3 is the hard one, but the Line 1/Line 2 division in Jersey is as artificial as the Line 3/ESA division in Long Island. This leaves just wrong-way transfers, and of those, the only one that makes sense at Penn at all is between the Empire Connection and the lines to Jersey.

  3. threestationsquare

    Pretty insignificant in the grand scheme of things, but I take it you’d truncate the long distance/sleeper trains at Washington or elsewhere? (I guess the ones from the north could go to Grand Central.) I found it remarkable at stations like Tianjin how almost equal amounts of platform space seemed to be devoted to high-speed intercity trains and much less frequent long distance trains. Though of course neither of those approaches the ridership numbers of effective regional/commuter rail.

    • Joey

      The Park Ave tracks are already oversubscribed at peak hours (MNRR runs them 3+1 at peak), so if the long distance trains went to Grand Central they’d have to do it off-peak.

      The new stations in China do seem rather overbuilt, but they do have the advantage of being mainly greenfield or peripheral stations where there’s a lot of space.

      • Ryan

        Or you could just build more tracks. The Park Avenue tunnel and viaduct can definitely support six tracks up through Harlem and they could possibly even handle eight but +2 tracks for intercity through service that stops twice at the maximum is all you really need.

        Directly connect the new tracks to the lower level (Tracks 1##) in GCT exclusively and punch every single lower level track through to a four-track tunnel that reconnects to the hole formerly known as Penn Station and suddenly all your intercity gilt and bloat can move into a gilded and bloated station that won’t even notice the addition because of how much excess space isn’t being used.

          • Ryan

            I don’t have the tunnel schematics on hand but my recollection is that there’s enough space between the tunnel walls and the existing tracks to expand to six; you’re probably going to lose the abandoned station platforms – but who honestly cares? Emergency exits can be rebuilt and that’s the only redeeming value to be had from decades-abandoned relic stations.

            Even if there isn’t enough space available right now without tunnel modification, Park Avenue is 140 feet wide between Grand Central and the viaduct, making potential reconfiguration far less challenging than it might have been on narrower roads. Some reconfiguration if you wanted to go to eight tracks would be necessary but I’m not sure anyone seriously thinks we need eight and if we arrive in the future where that changes, then ridership on Metro-North is shattering records and the political capital that can be brought to bear will be too great not to expand.

            There’s ten tracks already on the terminal approach (one stub ended that doesn’t merge into the existing four track tunnel), and the merge down doesn’t happen until somewhere around 53 St, leaving just over 40 blocks for which tunnel expansion might actually be necessary. If I recall correctly, all the crosstown lines to Queens sit beneath the Park Avenue tunnel, rendering them non-issues, and with the road being both 140 feet wide and already underneath some tracks, expanding the viaduct through to 125 St (past which six tracks may no longer be necessary) is a similar non-issue.

          • Alon Levy

            Expanding around an active tunnel with no room isn’t as trivial as you make it sound. Consider that Sixth Avenue Subway was first built as two tracks flanking the Hudson Tubes, and later as two additional express tracks under the whole shebang; having to open up the street again while maintaining Hudson Tubes service drove costs up. More fundamentally, if there’s money for several kilometers of new two-track subway in Manhattan, six-tracking Park is the wrong way to go; there are more important crosstown corridors. For Metro-North capacity, not only would Penn Station through-running involve large-scale diversion of New Haven and Hudson Line trains toward Lines 1 and 3, but also it’s possible to squeeze extra capacity more cheaply by lengthening platforms.

          • Ryan

            I’m still questioning the assertion that there is “no” room. Perhaps there’s not enough room for two more tracks with zero modification, but there’s definitely a non-zero amount of space between the outer edge of the tracks and the tunnel wall. Certainly, if it DOES turn out that there’s space for tracks 5 and 6 in the tunnel as constructed, there’s really no reason not to put them in – ballast and rail ties are cheap compared to the spent cost of ROW acquisition.

            It’s an open question as to whether large-scale diversion would actually result in less trains utilizing the tunnel, since it’s just as likely that every train evacuated to an alternate corridor would be replaced by one more train inside the tunnel itself. Maybe you can get the capacity utilization down enough that you can end 3+1 track splits during the peak (and if you do that, then you go from needing a six-tracked tunnel and viaduct to needing a two-track bypass of Harlem, which is much much much cheaper), maybe you can’t. If you can’t, you add more tracks.

            Of course the crosstown corridors are more important – this shouldn’t be done instead of, say, a subway from Jersey to Queens via 86 and/or 125 – it ought to be done in addition to.

          • Adirondacker12800

            Penn Station Access for Metro North is a stop gap measure. They need six tracks now.
            Four trains an hour to Boston, two or three to Montreal, two or three to Toronto and two or three to Cleveland we need a tunnel from Rahway to North White Plains.

          • Ryan

            I agree with you on this, actually, except for two minor points:
            a) Tunneling all the way from North White Plains to Rahway is excessive when you can just have the tunnel from the Bronx to Secaucus and either build more tracks cheaply on the surface or utilize excess capacity in the tracks that already exist for the rest of that trip

            b) There’s literally no reason to run the train from New York to Cleveland via Albany, people going to Cleveland from Albany will have service on the train from Boston and people going to Cleveland from New York City will save something like 150 miles and an hour on the trip because their train to Cleveland will go via Pennsylvania instead; in fact, with the exception of the western edges of Upstate and Canada, it’s always faster/significantly shorter distance to go west via Pennsylvania instead of via Upstate

          • Adirondacker12800

            Sometimes burrowing a tunnel is cheaper than having an elevated teetering over the multiple layers of highway and railroad. Or tearing down downtown Elizabeth. Or passing through Penn Station Newark at 60 mph. Or Secaucus at 90. Though if there’s that much traffic to do that it might make sense to think outside the box and have it teeter over the New Jersey Turnpike for the super expresses. A quick glance at the March 1956 Official Guide has four trains an hour between Suburban and Penn Station and one an hour-ish between Reading Terminal and Jersey City. For “local” service – not including the long distance trains between the two.
            Shortest route from New York to Chicago is through the big empty spaces along I-80 in Pennsylvania. Next shortest is the former Pennsylvania RR route. Buffalo and Pittsburgh are roughly halfway. People in Washington want to go to Albany and people in Baltimore want to go Utica and Syracuse and people in Philadelphia want to go to Rochester and Buffalo. And vice versa. They get off in Albany, Utica, Syracuse, Rochester and Buffalo and get replaced by people who want to go to Cleveland. And Columbus and Cincinnati and Saint Louis and Detroit and Chicago. Toledo. Dayton, Indianapolis. Milwaukee.
            People in Richmond get the urge too. A quick glance at Wikipedia’s entry for Richmond’s airport says that there is service to Boston, the three New York airports and Philadelphia. Which isn’t very useful for New England. Or Upstate New York. There are lots of people who are deeply interested in getting between Albany and Richmond. Or Hartford and Harrisburg. Or Trenton and Boston. Or Providence…. Two to “Cleveland” is probably low.

    • Alon Levy

      Yes, exactly. I usually think of this truncation as coming out of HSR (since it’d let people from the East Coast sleepers connect to faster service at DC) and not out of Penn Station improvements, but I also think that HSR should be funded ahead of this level of Penn Station remodeling.

      • Nathanael

        The one-a-day trains are going to continue to go to Penn. That is non-negotiable from Amtrak’s point of view, and the city *doesn’t* have eminent domain powers over Amtrak.

        Why is it non-negotiable?

        First of all, for the trains heading south, Amtrak has found that people really dislike having to change trains at DC; Amtrak gets significantly more riders and significantly more money by running the trains all the way to New York. This has been experimentally tested. Most of these trains are, in fact, profitable before Amtrak’s infamous overhead accounting. Amtrak has no interest in changing them from profit to loss.

        Second, for the trains heading north, Amtrak has found that people don’t want to make complicated subway interchanges from Grand Central to Penn. This includes the state-sponsored trains to Toronto, Montreal, and Vermont, and the profitable-before-overhead train to Chicago.

        These trains are all going to continue to go to Penn. This has to be accomodated in any design, period.

        Now, from a track-and-platform point of view, this isn’t a big issue. These trains are all scheduled outside rush hour. If each track path splits to two sides of a platform, the one-a-day train can do its business on one side of a platform while the more-frequent trains stop on the other side.

        From an amenities perspective, however, it is an issue. You are not going to get rid of the waiting room and you are not going to get rid of baggage handling.

        This is why the proposal to move all that stuff over to the vacant (but historic so you can’t knock it down) Farley building makes sense.

        • Adirondacker12800

          In 2040 you’ll have a choice. Take the HSR train to Richmond and be there in two hours and a few or take a long distance train that has to use the local tracks and takes 5 or 6 hours.

          • Nathanael

            And I just found another link. The cost for “Moynihan Phase II” ‘s “train hall” (presumably with ticketing and baggage and retail, but it’s not clear whether this is the whole building) is quoted as $700 million, of which $500 million is *already budgeted*, coming from the City and air rights developers.

            http://ny.curbed.com/archives/2014/08/27/longawaited_moynihan_station_is_actually_making_progress.php

            So, the residual (unfunded) cost of Moynihan station is $200 million, and construction could start tomorrow if the money was found. We could be using it by 2020.

            Seems worth it to me at this point.

        • Alon Levy

          Nathanael, the issue with moving Amtrak’s functions to Farley for the sake of the long-distance trains is that there are only a couple of them, which doesn’t justify spending the money on moving to Farley. Even the first phase, for a few hundred million, is far too much money on not enough riders once you strip away NEC riders (and riders on trains that act like NEC trains, i.e. Keystones and Virginia service).

          • Nathanael

            “Only a couple”

            I count, counting all the one-a-day-each-way trains where people will wait for long periods:
            2 x Silver Star
            2 x Silver Meteor
            2 x Palmetto
            2 x Carolinian
            2 x Crescent
            2 x Pennsylvanian
            2 x Vermonter
            2 x Ethan Allen
            2 x Adirondack
            2 x Maple Leaf
            2 x Lake Shore Limited
            —-
            11 arrivals, 11 departures

            This is a conservative count.

            Arguably you should add the Norfolk trains to the list.

            People will wait a pretty long time for a train which only runs four times a day, too, so you should probablly add all the Newport News frequencies *and* all the Niagara Falls frequencies. That gets you to 17 departures and 17 arrivals per day.

            You can’t reasonably write this off as “just a couple”.

          • Alon Levy

            The Virginia trains need to be considered as NEC trains that go a little farther (think where most of their ridership is – and the same question can be asked of the Niagara Falls trains). This is especially true when you think of sequencing: the Penn non-Station that I’m proposing assumes new Hudson tunnels, a Penn-GCT link, and realignment of Empire Connection tracks, and those together should be built simultaneously with HSR or even after fast trains start running (say, with 2:00 NY-DC and 2:15 NY-Boston, as opposed to the full-fat HSR target times of 1:35 each). The issue then is that once there’s HSR on the NEC or something like it, the return on investment of extending it farther south is very high, because it gets you New York-Richmond and New York-Norfolk trips for the cost of just DC-Norfolk. At the very minimum, Amtrak should be planning on electrification, even if the trains still run on legacy freight track. That alone means the frequencies would not be as low as today. At the other end, New Haven-Springfield must be electrified, and this would also make electrifying the Vermonter pencil out, even if frequency remained daily.

            This also encourages the long-distance trains to turn at DC. Today, they’re only marginally slower than the Regionals: 3:58-4:15 from New York to Washington, vs. 3:27-3:39 for the connecting Regionals. Now, suppose that instead of 3:30 Regionals, you have high-speed trains doing the trip in 1:45, coming every 10 or 15 minutes all day so you never have to wait long even if the long-distance train is late. It raises the direct time saving by 1:45, plus the difference in connection times. The transfer penalty is not several hours long; at least from evidence with medium-distance trips, measured in hours, Reinhard Clever’s paper says it’s 45 minutes. We’re talking about five trains per day per direction, counting the not-officially-LD Palmetto and Carolinian, and it’s just not worth it building a train station for them, or narrowing other platforms. Even letting the trains loiter on the platform while the other Line 1 trains use the other platform is not ideal; Line 1 is the least peaky, because it combines intercity trains (which, in the Northeast’s context, are not peaky at all) and trains serving urban neighborhoods (i.e. Metro-North Penn Station Access). Even off-peak, 12-18 tph frequency should be expected, which can fit on one track trivially, but is still not low traffic.

            The Pennsylvanian can be treated either like Virginia or like the rest of the Southeast. It really needs to be run as a longer Keystone – right now it takes 3:34 from New York to Harrisburg, vs. 3:14 on the fastest Keystone. Even partial HSR upgrades on the NEC could get the Keystone down to 2:15, and somewhat more thorough ones (including the Swampoodle Connection to avoid the reverse move) perhaps 1:55, even without breaching 200 km/h on the Philly-Harrisburg portion of the trip. So either the Pennsylvanians trains should terminate at Philadelphia, or Amtrak should get an agreement with Norfolk Southern to electrify, run tilting passenger trains at somewhat higher speed (4.5 hours Harrisburg-Pittsburgh should not be difficult), and add more trains.

            The Crescent should be euthanized. I know people in West Virginia and Kentucky think euthanasia is immoral*, but it’s the right way to go. Offer Kentucky reasonable service from Chicago to Louisville instead. West Virginia is pessimally located for good intercity rail service – it’s like Monterey that way – but I’m sure there’s a solution that doesn’t involve going all the way from New York to Washington to Chicago. Most travel is local, after all.

            This leaves the trains that use the Empire Corridor. Somehow I feel like they’re easier to deal with than the long-distance trains that go through Washington, but maybe it’s because I’m not as wedded to cutting the latter trains to Washington as I appear. Even in the medium run, Amtrak and the state should be planning on an HSR spine from New York to Buffalo anyway. But the state has Andrew Cuomo, and Amtrak wants to spend more on Gateway than a competent railroad would spend on HSR from Boston to Washington plus new Hudson tunnels.

            In fact, I’m going to go ahead and propose that Empire Connection realignment should happen simultaneously with HSR at least as far north as Albany (which implies either that all trains going farther north or west get cut, or that the lines are electrified). Electrification is a necessity for good regional rail, the Hudson Line north of Croton-Harmon is one of the two busiest diesel branches in the region (it has 17,000 daily riders), and electrifying each segment with a different system leads to painful service compromise. Just string 25 kV 60 Hz catenary all the way, and make a decision on whether you’re running tilting trains on legacy track to Albany in 1:45 or building HSR track from Croton-Harmon to Albany and having trains do the trip in 0:55.

            It’s pretty hefty scope creep, granted, but I rate these two projects as having roughly equal importance, and politically, it pairs Downstate and Upstate spending. If somehow there’s realignment but no (or not much) improvement to intercity trains, it is possible for trains to loiter on the tracks – Line 3 is likely to be extremely peaky, possibly even limiting off-peak service to the minimum required to serve the Empire Connection stations adequately.

            *Sorry.

          • Nathanael

            Now, was ‘phase one’ worth doing for these trains alone? No. But ‘phase one’ is basically a west entrance for the LIRR.

            Building a waiting room is worth it for 17 departures a day.

          • Nathanael

            (And yes, I’ve watched crowds leaving the waiting room for all of those.)

          • Adirondacker12800

            If there’s HSR to Niagara Falls NY passengers that use the Maple Leaf can take HSR to Niagara Falls and change to a VIA train. Maybe the Canadians will build HSR from Niagara Falls Ont. to Toronto. No need for a conventional train to Toronto. Same thing with the Adirondack.
            Ethan Allen passengers can change to HSR in Saratoga Springs. Vermonter passengers can change to HSR in Springfield. If Massachusetts and Vermont can scare up the money, electrify the tracks to Burlington and the train can just go to Burlington at lower speeds.
            If there’s HSR between New York and Cleveland the people in Pittsburgh can just use the HSR train. If there is HSR all the way to Chicago there’s no need for the Late for Sure Limited. Or a revived Broadway Limited.

            The Swampnoodle connection is in North Philadelphia for Chestnut Hill West trains. Instead of crossing over all the tracks on the former PRR NY line they’d get on the former Reading line and approach the city via Temple. Instead of stopping at North Philadelphia they’d stop at North Broad. Doesn’t have anything to do with the PRR Main Line to Pittsburgh. If you want to send trains from Harrisburg to New York without reversing at 30th Street they can already do that via the “NY-Pittsburgh Subway” just west of Zoo interlocking. If I remember correctly it’s express tracks to express tracks.

            http://wikimapia.org/12214782/New-York-Pittsburgh-Subway

          • Alon Levy

            …yes, I forgot where the Swampoodle Connection leads. You’re right.

            What I meant is a connection from the NEC to the SEPTA Main Line, allowing intercity trains to go to Market East, take the SEPTA tunnel, and emerge on the PRR Main Line without either doing the 30th Street Station reverse move or skipping central Philadelphia. (In fact, they’d make an extra city stop, in a more central location!)

          • Adirondacker12800

            Intercity trains could go to Suburban and Jefferson/Market East if they wanted to send them there. The same way SEPTA trains get from the Pennsylvania “side” to the Reading “side”.

          • kclo3

            The issue for intercity trains is how to transition PRR-Reading-PRR. You could build the N. Broad – N. Phila flying junction (though it wouldn’t be pretty or natural like Swampoodle), or have them run up the West Trenton Line (painfully slow Main Line speeds), then access the Trenton Cutoff at Morrisville to Trenton station. Either solution, costly or not time-saving, isn’t worth it for destinations beyond Harrisburg, and not worth juggling express Amtrak – local SEPTA dispatches. The main city pairs for Pennsylvania trains include Philadelphia; shortening the reverse move by eliminating the air brake test would be sufficient.

          • Joey

            In the long run I can’t help but wonder if it might be better to use a different route for Philadelphia-Harrisburg trains. The existing route shared with SEPTA is mostly 4 tracks, but it also has a lot of sharp curves which would be difficult to realign, and, as several commenters have mentioned, exits 30th St Station the wrong way for through NY-Philly-Harrisburg service.

            What if, instead, you build a new HSL splitting off of the NEC south of Newark, DE and rejoining the existing track near Lancaster? Excluding the area near Gap, PA which should really be re-aligned anyway, it’s only about 46 km. The hills might require a bit of cut and fill, but no tunneling (at least until the aforementioned Gap realignment). The junction could also be turned into a wye, providing reasonable travel times on Washington-Harrisburg-Pittsburgh service.

            I do emphasize the “long run” part of this though – it probably wouldn’t make sense to even consider this unless Harrisburg-Pittsburgh gets full HSR.

          • Adirondacker12800

            The trains from New York can go to Suburban, Market East/Jefferson and Temple the same way the SEPTA trains from Trenton get there without building anything at all.

          • kclo3

            Impossible. Look at a map. The basic sequence of Trenton Line stations from NY is: NY-Trenton-N. Phila-30th Upper-Suburban-Jefferson-Temple-North Broad etc.. That lands you in the opposite direction from the Keystone Corridor, which is NY-Trenton-N. Phila.-NY-Pittsburgh Subway-Keystone Corridor. The Keystone Corridor and NEC merge separately into 30th Upper. The only way to get to Jefferson from Trenton is to overshoot into ZOO then curve backwards. Unless you’re actually advocating for Keystones to make this huge diversion, this is a pointless exercise into SEPTA-covered territory.

          • Adirondacker12800

            If there’s an HSR network east of the Mississippi there will be more than one train an hour passing through Harrisburg or originating in Harrisburg. They can have an hourly express to Boston that doesn’t stop in Philadelphia, an hourly express to Richmond that stops on the lower level of 30th Street, a local to New York via West Trenton and something that turns around at Fern Rock.

          • kclo3

            I’m not seeing a Keystone-based HSR or intercity network fanning from Philadelphia that utilizes ZOO, the Reading main, or the CCCT in its current form. Far too many curves. By the time HSR rolls around it’d be more useful to build a combined regional-HSR tunnel from Jefferson to Camden and greenfield HSR to around Levittown.
            The Lancaster-Newark DE diversion also doesn’t make sense as it needlessly approaches and misses Philadelphia when a Capital Limited-based greenfield HSR would be easier.

          • threestationsquare

            @Alon: The train to WV and KY (which should indeed be euthanised/rethought) is the Cardinal. The Crescent is the Atlanta and New Orleans train, and pretty good at what it does. Maybe it should be truncated to DC but it should be kept around in some form if any long-distance train should.

            Would it actually be impossible to run the long distance trains (having changed to electric locomotives at or south of DC) through your proposed two-track regional rail tunnel to Grand Central off-peak? Their passengers don’t mind if the train sits in Newark for 20 minutes waiting for a slot.

          • Joey

            @threestationsquare: The problem is that with unpredictable delays on the LD trains, an off-peak arrival can easily turn into a peak arrival, and then there’s no slot at all. I suppose one other option is to sent the LD trains to Hoboken. It’s not in NYC, but it’s not too far away. But honestly, would anyone other than super-masochists not transfer to HSR in DC?

          • Ryan

            But honestly, would anyone other than super-masochists not transfer to HSR in DC?

            You think Johnny Tourist and his twenty million souvenirs from Miami are getting off that train in DC so that he can lug everything back into the concourse and back out onto another train, just to “save” an hour and change? He’s on vacation and he ain’t movin’.

            How about the businessman who has a 9 AM meeting in New York – you think he’s going to be getting on the long-distance train at 11 PM in Charlotte if it means he’s gotta drag his ass off in DC at 5:30 AM for a transfer? Forget about it. He’s going to want that extra time to sleep all the way through to New York.

            There are a million legitimate reasons to avoid a transfer and plenty of studies that people hate transferring and will spend incredible amounts of their own time (and/or money) to avoid it.

          • Alon Levy

            Yes, I meant the Cardinal, sorry.

            Electric locomotives may not be able to handle very steep grades, which are probably necessary for Penn-GCT. That said, the grades head down from stations and up into stations, so in normal service it may not be a problem.

            Sitting at Newark waiting for a slot is possible… but that makes the time penalty vs. transferring even longer. (By the way, it is not a problem to have as many HSR trains as possible stop at the same platform as long-distance trains, to make those luggage-heavy transfers cross-platform.)

            It leaves the overnighters who want to get on the train at night and arrive in New York in the morning. Right now, there is no service for them at all. Don’t forget, the Carolinian and Palmetto are day trains. The only morning arrival is the Silver Meteor, at 11 in the morning, with 7 am arrival in DC. The only way your business traveler gets to Penn Station in time for a morning meeting is by making the transfer.

          • Adirondacker12800

            The businessman from Charlotte catches a flight the night before and is settled into his hotel room by 9 or 10. Or he leaves work a bit early and takes the HSR train that runs from Atlanta to Boston and is in his hotel room by 9 or 10.
            Trains can’t loiter around in Newark sucking up one third of the capacity.

          • threestationsquare

            So the plan is for southbound “cross-platform” transfer passengers to loiter on the platform in DC for most of an hour? (They’ll want a long buffer in case they miss their train at NY and have to take a later one.) I guess there are plenty of platforms in DC, and the station is fine for waiting in if they don’t mind schlepping their luggage around it.

            In the other direction, won’t people get to Penn ~30 minutes early even for every-two-hours electrified Buffalo trains?

            Also, not that this should be a determining factor in the design, but what happens during service disruption/delays when people pile up in the station? Any station would have difficulties in such a situation but I think e.g. Grand Central would handle it better than a couple walkways would.

          • Adirondacker12800

            Union Station in Washington DC has 24 tracks, an enormous waiting room and a mall. Penn Station in Newark has 6 tracks and a lot more commuter traffic. And the twice an hour train from Chicago and the twice an hour train from Harrisburg. The people who don’t want to fly to Florida can suck up the 10 or 12 hour train ride in coach on the HSR train. The land cruise passengers can change trains in San Antonio and Minneapolis.

          • Nathanael

            Alon, I don’t see how you realign the Empire Connection tracks
            (1) at all,
            (2) before removing MSG and ripping the pillars out.

            I’m all for building the GCT-Penn connection.
            And HSR to upstate NY would be great. HSR to Chicago would be better.

            But people don’t like changing trains unless it’s actually a lot faster. And the branch-line trains *are* multiplying — we’re seeing more and more of them, not fewer. And they’re once a day or a few times a day. And they need waiting rooms.

            You’re not going to get the Vermonter replaced with a “change trains at Springfield” option unless you have HSR to Springfield MA. I suppose the northern trains can go to Grand Central once the GCT link is done, but then you’ll have the same problem with the trains from the south. You think those can change at DC if the DC-NY trains are fast enough. Apart from the lack of waiting space at DC (yes, this is a problem), OK, sure… but then you have the trains coming through Philadelphia from the Pittsburgh and Harrisburg direction. I don’t think Philaelphia-NYP can be sped up enough to make people want to change trains there. You can make Philadelphia-Pittsburgh HSR too, and Adirondacker has quite clearly proposed the “BUILD EVERYTHING HSR” proposal, and that sounds nice, but…

            How long do you want to leave Penn Station in its existing state? 20-30 years, perhaps? Maybe 50 years? Because you can’t actually get rid of the waiting room until you’ve *finished* all of these projects. Before you have HSR in *every single direction*, there will still be people who *arrive early to catch their train* because they have an infrequent train to catch somewhere down the line.

            And most of these projects aren’t even twinkles in the eye of a politician yet.

            Meanwhile, getting Amtrak’s waiting room moved across the street to make a better environment for both Amtrak passengers and commuters can be done *relatively quickly*. It doesn’t require building full-fat HSR from DC-NY, Philadelphia-Pittsburgh, NY-Buffalo, and tunnels from Penn-GCT first. And with the entrance on 8th Avenue usable by commuter trains as well, it means that the *complete* demolition of the Penn Station block for construction becomes possible.

            Nobody will let you demolish Farley so it’s a reasonable place to park operations during the demolition / reconstruction of Penn.

          • Alon Levy

            Realignment has nothing to do with MSG, since all the work is west of 8th Avenue. It involves replacing the last few hundreds meters of the Empire Connection with a new tunnel, going under parts of West Side Yard and then surfacing to connect to the high-numbered tracks, in a pattern chosen to eliminate at-grade conflicts between opposing moves.

            Amtrak’s “moving the waiting rooms relatively quickly” plan is $2 billion, so forgive me if I don’t prioritize it over actual improvements to infrastructure.

          • Nathanael

            Also, Alon, *Amtrak has actually experimented with this*, and the trains lose a lot of riders and a lot of revenue if you make people change trains at DC or Philadelphia or Albany or even New Haven. *People want to go to New York* and the one-seat ride is worth something. Which is why Amtrak is not going to go along with your suggestions of truncation. It’s also why no rail operator in the world has ever done such a thing. Amtrak will insist on capacity for trains from New York to the hinterland.

            Ryan’s suggestion of running them all into Grand Central is pretty great, but although I know how you get two tubes out of Grand Central to the south, I can’t figure out how you connect those to more than a few platforms.

          • Alon Levy

            Amtrak experimented with this when the travel time difference between the Regionals and the long-distance trains was maybe 20 minutes. It should experiment again when this difference is closer to 2 hours.

            In fact… it’s going back and forth on whether to run trains all the way to Springfield or make people change at New Haven cross-platform; this isn’t even about travel time difference (there is none), but, I think, about consist length. And one of the daily Keystones already only runs from Philadelphia to Harrisburg.

          • Nathanael

            “In fact, I’m going to go ahead and propose that Empire Connection realignment should happen simultaneously with HSR at least as far north as Albany (which implies either that all trains going farther north or west get cut, or that the lines are electrified). Electrification is a necessity for good regional rail, the Hudson Line north of Croton-Harmon is one of the two busiest diesel branches in the region (it has 17,000 daily riders), and electrifying each segment with a different system leads to painful service compromise. Just string 25 kV 60 Hz catenary all the way, and make a decision on whether you’re running tilting trains on legacy track to Albany in 1:45 or building HSR track from Croton-Harmon to Albany and having trains do the trip in 0:55.

            I have to say — don’t I wish. 😛 But we’ve been trying to get this for decades, and we couldn’t even get very much during the big ARRA funding round.

          • Adirondacker12800

            Springfield or make people change at New Haven cross-platform; this isn’t even about travel time difference (there is none),

            There is a time penalty on the schedule. They change engines on the through trains. If they electrify to Springfield or Burlington the train can depart New Haven much faster. Or they can get some more dual modes. ALP45-ish would make more sense because they can run electric from New Haven to Washington DC or Harrisburg.

            Metro Albany is slightly smaller than metro Hartford. Hartford is closer to New York than Albany is. Springfield is it’s own metro area about half the size of Albany and just as far give or take a few. The Springfield line has much lower ridership. Because it takes an hour longer to get to Springfield from New York as it does to get to Albany. A few tens of millions for new locomotives for the through trains and it cuts 10, 15 minutes out of the schedule.

            tilting trains on legacy track to Albany in 1:45 or building HSR track from Croton-Harmon to Albany and having trains do the trip in 0:55.

            It takes 50 minutes or more to get between Penn Station and Croton now. There are claims on Railroad.net that one of the reasons the Turboliners were able to get between Grand Central and Albany in 2:10 was that the Metro North track had higher speed limits back then. If you want to get to Albany in an hour and Montreal in three and Toronto in under four there needs to be a tunnel.

          • Alon Levy

            The tracks between Penn Station and Croton are pretty straight. There are some curves, but nothing that higher superelevation and tilting trains can’t handle at 200 km/h. Don’t forget, the superelevation and cant deficiency are still governed by the superseded ICC rules from the 1950s.

            The ALP-45 might save 15 minutes of engine change at New Haven, but that only makes up for its shitty performance under catenary – higher weight (the difference is about 60% of an Amfleet) and less power than the Sprinters. Not that the Sprinters are great rolling stock, but they’re better than dual-modes.

          • Adirondacker12800

            Normal people don’t give a shit about how much a locomotive weighs. The do care about sitting in New Haven for 15 minutes when they want to get from Hartford to Philadelphia. They don’t give a shit about how much a locomotive weighs when they look at the speedometer on their smartphone and see that the train is going through Princeton Junction at 124. Or give a shit that it’s specs are a megawatt less than the other locomotives, all they care about is that they are going to get to Philadelphia faster than driving. It’s a cheap simple way to grow ridership which makes it easier to get funding for electrification to Springfield or even Burlington. If it’s electrified in 2025 they can use the dual modes on other lines – Pittsburgh service?, west of Albany? – and run Acela IIIs to Springfield when they get delivered in 2030.

          • Alon Levy

            They might care that the schedule is slower, or that the train can’t run as punctually. (Not that Amtrak revises schedules as it gets better locos, but it could.)

          • Adirondacker12800

            Amtrak revises it’s schedules twice a year most years.

            No one except foamers care that an ACS64 could haul trains between New Haven and Washington DC 146 seconds faster than an ALP45. Or whatever Siemens comes up with that is like it. Passengers on other trains would care that the diesel engine shut off outside of the station and that the track clears in a minute or two instead of 15 or 20.

          • Nathanael

            Alon, I haven’t seen the latest estimates for the “Moynihan Phase II” project….
            (checks)
            The estimates I’m seeing for “Moynihan Phase II” are around $1 billion, not 2. It can probably be brought down, and it can be done with money from pots other than “transportation” money.

            Most of it is bog-standard “renovate a decayed historic building” stuff. Doing this in St. Paul Union Depot cost $243 million; given the way construction costs work in NYC, doing it in NY should be expected to cost more, unfortunately. Historic restoration grants should be accessed.

            Here’s the point worth understanding: the full plan renovates the *entire* building for retail, etc. The key line in the description is “At present, approximately 75% of Farley’s total 1.4 million square feet is vacant, but would be restored to productive use by the Project.” You know how expensive this is in Chicago, where Amtrak is finally getting around to doing it with Union Station. Given the actual situation, the project can be bitten off a chunk at a time — putting in just the waiting room (with fancy glass ceiling), ticketing, baggage, and adjacent retail would be only roughly a quarter to half of the renovations proposed in the Phase II plans, and should accordingly be expected to run in the $250 million – $500 million range.

            These are still the newest proposed floorplans I can find: http://www.empire.state.ny.us/Subsidiaries_Projects/MSDC/MSGPP.html (And those floorplans have to be out of date because there are more elevators going into the West End Concourse to make better ADA access.) Practically everything on level “C” could be deferred, frankly.

          • Alon Levy

            How much demand is there for retail at that location? And you’re still ignoring the fact that ticket offices should be located on passengers’ way to the platforms and not out of their way; going west of 8th forces people to take a detour.

          • Adirondacker12800

            Someone somewhere at Neiman Marcus has a moderately good idea of how to predict retail demand. Who then recommends hiring a consultant who can predict demand and confirm their numbers. They are building a store west of the Farley Building.

          • Adirondacker12800

            …and a later phase in the stuff Nathanael found builds another concourse even farther west. Washington’s Union Station has it’s headhouse at the front of the trains, from the point of view of someone arriving from points north/east. Havng the Acela lounge at 8 1/2 Avenue makes a lot of sense. It’s where the first class cars will be.
            It’s a very lucrative trick Amtrak pulled off, charging twice as much to ride on a train that gets between DC and NY just a bit faster than the plebeian all-coach trains. Even more impressive that they are selling coach seats at business class prices.

          • Joey

            The Acela Lounge isn’t going to matter to most passengers. Most passengers aren’t going to want to lounge around before boarding the train, they’re going to want to get to the station with the minimum amount of time required to not miss the train, get to the platform, and board. Ignoring cost for now, it’s fine if this stuff is located at one end of the station, but passengers shouldn’t be required to detour through it if they don’t have to. There should be platform access and TVMs at the very least distributed along the length of the platform.

          • Adirondacker12800

            The access that is already there will still be there. There’s no room on the platforms for TVMs. Anyway hipsters who don’t bother to read the notice to be at the station ahead of time will be using the ticket on their smartphone.

          • Joey

            Or on the mezzanine level, whatever. And there’s some access along the rest of the station, but it’s limited. All of the tracks should be accessible via the Central Corridor and the LIRR’s main concourse (and all on the same level). Knowing Amtrak, they’re going to want people to line up in their fancy new space to check tickets.

          • Adirondacker12800

            Why is walking along a cluttered platform better than walking along a wider concourse?

          • Joey

            The platform is even more cluttered if everyone is forced to access it by a small number of staircases.

          • Adirondacker12800

            Then why is another concourse with more stairs and elevators at 8th and Half Avenue a bad thing? No one is going to be stopping you from missing the change of track announcement while you are wandering down track 13 from the 7th avenue end.

          • Joey

            Another concourse and stairs are not a bad thing, but (1) It shouldn’t take priority over unifying and enlarging the existing concourses and (2) It’s being billed as “everyone using Amtrak go over here and everyone else stay where you are.” Based on the drawings Google is willing to give me, it looks like some of the very low and very high numbered tracks will be accessible from the new concourse but not all.

          • Adirondacker12800

            The long platforms are in the middle of the station. The ones that continue west of 8th Avenue. The diagrams in the link Nathanael provided match the other diagrams of Penn Station that are floating around on the ‘net. It makes lots of sense Track 1 is under W31st St. and Track 21 is under W33rd St. Arrivals on the lower level departures on the upper level, which has been rearranged somewhat in the past century. Subway where you would expect them to be considering that they are nominally on 34th.
            Very very complex if you are expecting it to be the island platform in Peoria. It ain’t.

          • Joey

            All of the platforms extend far enough that they should be accessible from the new concourse, according to the diagrams. There’s a provision for stairs to platforms 1 and 2 to be built in the future but apparently that’s “out of the scope” of this project.

            Not sure how any of the rest of the information you just gave relates to this discussion. The current configuration of Penn Station is a mess for various historical reasons, yes. There area a lot of easy fixes that should be done before building a new concourse.

          • Adirondacker12800

            Some day far far far in the future there might be 20 intercity trains an hour. They don’t need to be able to get to all the platforms.
            If going to 8th and half is terrible so is sending people who slog back and forth everyday all the way out to 8th. On the other hand they aren’t stupid and they’ll just use the existing access to the platforms.

          • Joey

            1) Why should the new concourse only be used by intercity passengers?

            2) Having certain concourses only able to access certain tracks is generally a bad idea. For one thing, it complicates transfers. For another, it increases platform access time for certain platforms.

            3) Going to 8th isn’t terrible, it’s just not worth spending money on when there’s so much work to be done on the existing part of the station.

          • Adirondacker12800

            Because it would cost more to build more access that you think no one needs in the first place.

        • Ryan

          These trains are all going to continue to go to Penn. This has to be accomodated in any design, period.

          No, it doesn’t. All these trains are going to continue to go to New York City, period – but it frankly doesn’t matter if the one stop they make is at Penn, GCT, a new station in Wall Street, or somewhere else as yet unknown.

          This is why moving Amtrak entirely back into Grand Central is the most elegant solution, because Grand Central has the wealth of space needed to support long-distance trains and also Amtrak’s back office operations, because Grand Central already is a beautiful train station without having to overhaul anything, because Grand Central sure as hell isn’t going anywhere for the next 100 years (or ever), because the link between Penn and GCT can absolutely be built with four tracks end-to-end (and Park Avenue can absolutely support six tracks running under and then over it north from GCT), and because complicated local subway transfers only enter the picture when there isn’t a single building served by 100% of Amtrak service.

          Will Amtrak still stop at Penn even once it’s operating out of GCT? Probably, because the time benefits of passing through Penn at “speed” are slim to nothing, but the GCT stop is going to be the one where the trains get cleaned and the crews get changed and the baggage gets handled and the Penn stop is going to be the one where they leave as soon as everyone whose getting on is on.

          • Eric

            With all the talk of 4 tracks from Penn to GCT, what about GCT to Lower Manhattan? Is there room for *six* regional rail tracks under Park Ave?

          • Ryan

            Park Avenue is 140 feet wide from 32 on through to Harlem. There’s room for six tracks easily.

            South of 32 it’s “only” something like 80 feet wide but since the four tracks to Penn will have long since peeled off, that doesn’t matter.

          • Alon Levy

            Four tracks between Penn and Grand Central are, operationally, a reverse branch (there are more tracks in the core than branch tracks feeding them, in this case tracks west of the Hudson).

          • Ryan

            Portal Bridge should be replaced, and should have four tracks when it is. Dock Bridge already has four Amtrak/NJT tracks, and there’s at least four tracks everywhere west of that through as far as Claymont, DE. The new tunnels under the Hudson will bring the total number of tracks between Secaucus and New York Penn up to at least four. I’m not seeing the reverse branch here.

          • Joey

            Ryan: The number of tracks entering Penn from the West would then be six, but the number entering from the East would be eight.

          • Ryan

            Okay, you’re right.

            I expect that there will continue to be peak-hour terminating trains from Long Island or Westchester County (shuttle runs out to Jamaica, New Rochelle, etc.) even in a majority through-running scheme, thus rending the two-track difference a non-issue.

            Alternatively, if you DO think that it’s going to be a huge problem, running another two tracks out of the west of Penn Station (such as you might do if you were going to run regional rail from the north downtown via GCT, Penn and West St instead of just following the Lexington Avenue Line the whole way down – you end up in the same place anyway) is a much better solution than building a two-track link that’s guaranteed to be over capacity from day 1 even if you ban all non-through-running traffic and all non-regional rail traffic from it.

          • Ryan

            (And just as an aside: I still believe there’s easily eight full tracks worth of cross-Hudson regional and intercity rail demand. But there’s a convincing enough argument to be made for four-tracking the Atlantic Branch and punching a four track tunnel out of Atlantic Terminal, under Fulton St and through to Exchange Place that I don’t think it’s super critical to have six tracks leaving Penn Station to go west under the Hudson.)

          • Nathanael

            “This is why moving Amtrak entirely back into Grand Central is the most elegant solution, ”
            This is indeed an elegant solution…. if the Park Avenue tunnels can handle the traffic. And of course, Penn-GCT tunnels have to be built first.

            The bigger problem is that this option requires a fan from the Penn-GCT tunnels to multiple platforms at GCT, and I don’t know how the hell you’d construct that. Using Penn-GCT tunnels for commuter rail requires only a couple of platforms, maybe 4, but using them for all of Amtrak service requires a lot more.

          • Ryan

            It’s honestly comical how absurdly wide Park Avenue is from 32 St up. I believe the distance between the center of two tracks is supposed to be 12 feet? If that’s correct, you can actually fit 11 tracks into Park Avenue on either side of Grand Central (in the case of the Penn-GCT tunnel the tracks will be curving towards Penn right before Park Avenue starts shrinking, and in the case of the existing Park Tunnel, the tracks surface into a viaduct well before the road starts “narrowing”). Assuming a clear shot south out of the lower level, you would just need to have the 20 (IIRC) lower level platforming tracks merge back into ten immediately south of the platform edges, and then you’ve got way more running room then you’d ever need to merge them back down into four.

            The only real concern is the potentially tight squeeze to push the tracks through the space between the Flushing Line and the Lexington Avenue Line. (The lower level seems to be right on top of the Flushing Line and right below the Lexington Avenue line, which means once you get over the Flushing tube you can start descending and have no further issues.) It might be the case that you need to be merged back down to four tracks by the time you get through the subway station – but that should be more than doable.

            Grand Central is the world record leader for number of tracks. Amtrak could take up the entirety of the lower level in another one of their famous turf disputes and neither Metro-North (which would STILL have more tracks than it could ever possibly fill with trains even were it confined to the uppermost level) nor the LIRR on its stupid lower level concourse would even notice the loss of access to the 100 level.

          • Ryan

            (Not that Amtrak would be allowed to take the entirety of the lower level since that’s where all the tracks to Penn have to go, but the point is that it’s also comical how much excess track capacity is just sitting there at GCT. Amtrak probably doesn’t need more than 10 tracks even assuming fifteen-minute station dwells for every train at all hours of the day and that would STILL leave more lower level platforming tracks for Metro-North to run service between Penn and GCT on than they actually need.)

          • Adirondacker12800

            The MCTA and TA were busy planning and digging the 63rd Street Tunnel while the New York Central was busy trying to sell off everything above the platforms at Grand Central to redevelop into office space. The New York Central would have been delighted to pawn off the lower level to the MCTA/LIRR. ( Metro Norh, Amtrak and NJTransit can’t have a turf war until after they are all formed, Amtrak in 1971 and Metro North and NJTransit in 1983. The 63rd Street tunnel, from 6th Avenue to Queens was completed in 1972. )

            The New Haven line of what is now Metro North has had access to Penn Station since 1917, the Hudson Line since 1991. Plenty of space up in Woodlawn to build a station to transfer to the shuttle to Wall Street. One that meets up with the LIRR, NJTransit and the SIRT station down there. and the Second Avenue Subway.

  4. Richard Mlynarik

    Alon,

    Exactly right in every way. Hardly “trollish”. Serious, considered, justified, and generally The Right Thing.

    (Let’s not even mention the Transbay Terminal in San Francisco: $2.6 billion and climbing to repeat, in brand new construction on a clear brownfield site, all the Penn Station mistakes of inaccessibility, column blockage, platform clutter, criminal escalator inadequacy, grim doomed subterranean shithole ambiance, and then add more, in the process exhausting the budget so that there are no trains at all! Death is far too kind a fate for anybody involved in any role.)

    • Richard Mlynarik

      PS Nothing is worse for fire and explosion safety than an enclosed subterranean maze with inadequate vertical and inadequate ventilation jam-packed with human bodies.

      Penn Station should be “a [glorified] hole in the ground” for unquestionable unassailable National Security Reasons!

  5. Adirondacker12800

    Spanish Solution…

    There’s the LIRR solution which is to deliver people destined for the East Side to Grand Central directly instead of making them change trains at Penn Station.
    If I remember correctly they are predicting 60 percent to Penn Station and 40 percent to Grand Central. Poof, 40 percent of the LIRR horde is gone… To be partially replaced by induced demand and Metro North passengers.

    Sending them directly to Wall Street has the same effect.

    Gateway is being designed so that some time in the future the HSR/intercity trains use the lower level in Gateway. Which connects to the tunnel that runs from North White Plains to Rahway.

    When I lived in Providence, a few trips to Boston, New Haven, and New York taught me the exact amount of time it’d take me to walk from my apartment to the train station: 21 minutes.

    Ya get out of work at 5:00, ya get out of work at 5:00. If it takes 10 minutes to get to the station it takes 10 minutes to get to the station. If the next train is at 5:27 ya loiter around most days. If it involves getting on the subway you loiter around almost everyday for many minutes. If your train is at 5:12 your co-workers will be loitering around for the 5:13 and the 5:14 and the 5:15 and the 5:16 etc. If it takes 12 minutes to get to the station you miss the 5:12 and have to loiter around for 5:29.

    people can reliably time themselves to within less than 5 minutes.

    And if ya get out of work at 5, there’s a 5:10, 5:30 and 5:50 and it takes 13 minutes to get to the station ya have to wait around for the 5:30. Hopping on the train that doesn’t go to your station isn’t particularly useful. If you have to put out a fire at 4:57 and it isn’t out until 5:24 you have to wait for the 5:50. You can twiddle your thumbs at your desk until 5:37 and hope that everything goes well or leave at 5:25 and loiter around the station.

    The result is that the amenities do not need to be extravagant on account of waiting passengers, and do not need to be more than those of a busy subway station in a busy area.

    So just who are all the businesses in Penn Station, Grand Central and the Port Authority Bus Terminal selling to? There’s going to be waiting passengers. People aren’t going to sit at their desks until 5:13 and hope that the subway delivers them to the station exactly at 5:19 so they can catch the 5:21 to their suburb. They are gonna pad their schedule and most days loiter around for a while.

    they’re not supposed to hold anything except rainwater,

    It doesn”t snow in Stockholm? Keeping water out of the escalators, elevators and off the rails has it’s charms. Snow and other frozen stuff off the platforms and stairs too.

    some variant on the arch bridge

    …something like this perhaps

    It’s 2015. The steel gets fabricated somewhere off in the hinterlands. It arrives and gets hoisted into place in a half hour or so. The architect designs it so great big chunks can be fabricated out in the hinterlands and hoisted into place all at once. Even out here in the hinterlands the steel gets fabricated someplace else and it gets hoisted into place in a half hour or so.

    There’s always the option of hanging something over it. Sorta like the roof of…. Madison Square Garden…..

    Penn Station and Grand Central, which were built with the expectation of future high-rise air rights

    Not over the station, over the platforms that extend beyond the station and interlockings but not over the station. Like the Post Office, the Hotel Pennsylvania and the New York Central Building.

    The Hudson Yards air rights towers cost in the $10,000-14,000 per square meter range,

    They are on solid ground as are the buildings on either side of Park Avenue. The pilings go down to bedrock just like any other skyscraper in Midtown. they just have to be arranged around the tracks. Which were arranged so that could be done someday. And no sub-sub-sub basements.

    In nice round numbers, $7,000 a square meter in 2010. And most likely had some very expensive upgrades done before and since.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/111_Eighth_Avenue

    …they dribble cash out their nether regions but I’m also sure they consulted with some very savvy real estate people too. And have a few on staff. It used to be off in the middle of nowhere. It isn’t anymore. But it isn’t Midtown or even Wall Street. … $7000 a square meter for a building that needed a lot of renovations.

    the city has had to offer tax abatement to encourage developers to build at those prices.

    The city could have let the LIRR leave it’s trains in the open air for another 20 years or collect something from it sooner. All those people working there will be paying city income taxes instead of having the jobs move to the suburbs. Or Albuquerque. They are going to go to lunch and stop in Duane Reade now and then. And pay sales tax on those purchases.

    the exteriors of some of those buildings could incorporate large clocks, some signage, and even train departure boards.

    Or prominent entrances/exits from the station instead of retail. Having pedestrians go underground north of 34th Street is a good thing. East of 7th or west of 8th too. Like ARC was going to do. Like Grand Central North does and East Side Access will. Pity that Gateway won’t do anything about crossing the street.

    Assuming you could get community board whatever to approve tall buildings. Vornado was going to tear down the Hotel Pennsylvania. There were loud cries about ruining the view of the Empire State Building. And traffic impacts. And how it would alter the taste of the chestnuts from the pushcarts and make the sauerkraut go bland.

    according to a diagram Joey shared in comments

    You’ll notice the platforms extend beyond the station. 9 car trains fit within the station.
    Moving columns that are outside of the station would be very very expensive. The best you can hope for is paving over tracks between existing platforms.

    • Alon Levy

      I wrote a reply, but WordPress ate it. (WordPress is good about remembering comments if you accidentally hit the back button before hitting submit, but I reply to comments using my admin tools, and those will use any pretext they can to eat my comments.) Anyway:

      If I remember correctly they are predicting 60 percent to Penn Station and 40 percent to Grand Central. Poof, 40 percent of the LIRR horde is gone… To be partially replaced by induced demand and Metro North passengers.

      It’s not about current traffic. Between 8 and 9 am, Penn’s inbound traffic, from both sides, is 56,000 passengers: 34,000 LIRR, 22,000 NJ Transit. The Lincoln Tunnel buses carry another 36,000. Considering that I fret over whether it’s enough to have a pair of walkways with the capacity for 120,000 passengers per hour each, plus sidewalks on 7th and 8th Avenues… I’m thinking in terms of far higher traffic, coming from urban neighborhoods rather than from auto-oriented suburbs.

      Gateway is being designed so that some time in the future the HSR/intercity trains use the lower level in Gateway. Which connects to the tunnel that runs from North White Plains to Rahway.

      Maybe you think this is necessary in the future, but Amtrak isn’t planning on it. The plan is to connect Penn South to Grand Central, and thence north via a new tunnel under Third Avenue, because Amtrak believes in the arboreal origin of money.

      Ya get out of work at 5:00, ya get out of work at 5:00.

      Some people are more flexible than that, but others who aren’t can (and do) still trip-chain. If I have 15 minutes of slack in my schedule, I might loiter at the train station for 15 minutes, but I might equally well grab a sandwich to eat on the train or another kind of food that the station doesn’t have (I do that a lot when I show up at South Station ahead of time), or get groceries, or buy something else I want. Some of this I can do at the train station, but not always; the amount of retail within a 15-minute detour from an office building to the train station is surely greater than the amount of retail at the station itself.

      There’s always the option of hanging something over it. Sorta like the roof of…. Madison Square Garden…..

      Not MSG: the complex is supported on columns on the platforms – new ones, which didn’t exist at the original station – which makes it harder to remodel the track level.

      Not over the station, over the platforms that extend beyond the station and interlockings but not over the station. Like the Post Office, the Hotel Pennsylvania and the New York Central Building.

      Farley and the buildings north of Grand Central were built over platforms and yards, but the Hotel Pennslyvania is on solid ground, without any platforms or tracks underneath. The tracks at Penn end at 7th Avenue; to the east, they’re funneled to the East River Tunnels, which are under streets and not under private property. What I’m talking about is TOD in the style of the Hotel Pennsylvania, and not in the style of Farley and the Waldorf-Astoria; the latter kind is what costs $12,000/m^2 to build over Hudson Yards (more than buildings in the area are worth, apparently) rather than $6,000.

      The city could have let the LIRR leave it’s trains in the open air for another 20 years or collect something from it sooner. All those people working there will be paying city income taxes instead of having the jobs move to the suburbs. Or Albuquerque. They are going to go to lunch and stop in Duane Reade now and then. And pay sales tax on those purchases.

      That’s not what Bloomberg promised – he promised the 7 extension would generate extra property taxes. The other kind of extra tax revenues don’t really make sense. I mean, New York has 4% top income tax rate; how much money is it going to extract from residents? Hell, the Hudson Yards redevelopment isn’t even going to be primarily for city residents, because the location is such that even with the 7 extension, it’ll be easier to commute from the suburbs than from most of the rest of the city. But higher property values is something that could be taxable, given large swings based on easier travel… except that the city has to squander any such revenue on tax abatement to the Hudson Yards developers.

      Assuming you could get community board whatever to approve tall buildings. Vornado was going to tear down the Hotel Pennsylvania. There were loud cries about ruining the view of the Empire State Building. And traffic impacts.

      NIMBYs gonna NIMBY, but I do think it’s easier to knock down the blandness that flanks One Penn Plaza than a historic hotel.

      You’ll notice the platforms extend beyond the station. 9 car trains fit within the station.
      Moving columns that are outside of the station would be very very expensive. The best you can hope for is paving over tracks between existing platforms.

      The columns under Farley are a far smaller deal than those under Penn/MSG/Two Penn Plaza. It’s also okay if the platforms are narrower in that area, especially commuter rail platforms, in the same manner some subway platforms are narrow at the ends.

      • Adirondacker12800

        No it’s not about current traffic. It’s about traffic in 2050. There’s a limit to the amount of cubicles they can wedge into Manhattan. If they add another half million some of those people are gonna live out in the suburbs. If that suburb is in Pennsylvania or the suburb is in Queens. People from Queens take up just as much space on the trains, platforms, stairs etc. as people from Pennsylvania.

        People aren’t idiots. They do errands on the trip between work and the station, whether that’s subway bus or rail. They do it if they commute by automobile, bicycle, Pittsburgh funicular or just walk. 20 work days a month you run out of errands. Which is why there are people milling around. And peopole dashing through the station with the bag of stuff they got at Duane Reade before they got on the subway to get to the station.

        Whatever property taxes they collect it’s more than what they collect from the LIRR. Tax abatements eventually expire. If I remember correctly they are predicting 50,000 people will be working in Hudson Yards. 50,000 at an average of 50,000 a year is a billion dollars in city income taxes roughly every 12 years. They buy lunch, which gets city sales taxes levied on it and they stop in Duane Reade to buy shampoo before they get on the train out to the suburbs. Which has city sales tax levied on it.

  6. Ryan

    While eliminating Penn Station entirely is in my opinion a boorish and trollish proposal, honestly proposing it would allow us to have an honest conversation. Frankly, I’d be in support of that – no concessions whatsoever, a simple non-signature glass canopy, a few staircases and a few elevators, and downgrade its importance wrt intercity rail to be the equivalent of Back Bay assuming you don’t just get rid of all intercity rail service to there entirely.

    What you’ve done instead is to, underneath a headline that might elsewhere be considered clickbait, propose replacing Penn Station with… another Penn Station.

    If you install a full glass (or some other material) enclosure covering several wide walkways over the tracks and these walkways hold concession stands and waiting space and surrounding this enclosure are clocks and information boards… the only real difference is that you’ve eliminated a lot of floor space and forced down the quality of the in-station wait (as well as the quality of the in-station concession options but that’s neither here nor there since anyone eating at Penn Station is either desperate/starving, running behind, or a tourist anyway).

    The amount of support a single-story or even two-story building needs is vastly different from the amount that the 19-acre gorilla squatting on top of the station needs or the amount that a super-tall signature tower would need. By building an enclosure and walkways and bringing in limited concessions… you’re already 60% of the way to a full station. Upgrading your concessions from kiosks to actual storefronts, adding more comfortable waiting spaces (both for riders and for employees), and filling out the holes in the street-level floor gets you the rest of the way to 100%.

    Does it need a signature skyline tower or some expansive air rights development? No. But the construction difference between what you’ve proposed and a modest one or two story building that does have appropriate waiting areas is a rounding error in the budget. Furthermore, you yourself have acknowledged that all the back office space needs to go somewhere – if it goes anywhere other than here, you’re paying for rent for the office space AND you’ve left revenue on the table in terms of what you could’ve put on top of the not-actually-a-hole-in-the-ground.

    • EJ

      Well, if you want drama as well as protection from the elements, we know how to build clear-span roofs well in excess of the width of Penn station, e.g. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tropical_Islands_Resort

      According to wiki, that thing cost 78 million Euro back in the early 1990s. Plenty of stadium domes comparable to the size of NY Penn have been built since. Once something like that is in place, any mezzanine level structure just needs to support itself, the people on it, and any most likely small, single story structures that might be wanted for station functions like ticketing, retail, etc., which means that there’s considerable flexibility where to put your support columns down at platform level.

      Now, this wouldn’t get NYC a signature stegosaurus – they’d probably wind up with something more like the typical big-city stations that get built in Europe nowadays, e.g. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wien_Hauptbahnhof or https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Berlin_Hauptbahnhof

      But these are fine, dignified structures that generally look good and get the job done.

  7. JJJJJJ

    RE; Wait times. I disagree with you and agree with Mark Walker, especially when it comes to off peak.

    On peak, you’re generally commuting alone, and yes, like you said, you can plan your trip to the station down to the minute. You can have NJ Transit Departurevision on your phone and know what platform youre strolling to before you even step inside. You can even get so good as to know when the traffic signals will cycle! Because the walk/subway trip is entirely on your terms, you never have to wait, short of the very rare disaster (maybe a water main breaks and you have to detour a block).

    Off peak? Not so much. In my experience, arrival times at Penn depend entirely on the random comings and going of others. I want to catch the 10:15pm train after dinner with friends, but one of them is awfully slow at finishing her drink, and since its a weekend there are subway service disruptions everywhere. Maybe Ill get to Penn at 10:12 and will run like crazy to catch it. Maybe 10:16 and Im screwed because the NJ Transit has decided there should be a train at 10:02, 10:15, oh and then nothing until 11:19pm. Now Im boned.

    So during off peak, youre combining an entirely unplanned, unreliable schedule for your personal arrival time, due to the random nature of a social outing, with an entirely planned but still unreliable NJ Transit schedule. Waits happen. Frequently. And youll need a place to wait. And a bathroom, preferably one with more than 4 stalls. Seriously, Ive been to an Applebees that had more stalls in the mens room than all three of Penn Stations mens rooms combined.

    That being said, you can still have waiting areas, bathrooms, and yes, a Duane Reade, all without the need for a giant building.

    • EJ

      Even if it’s just a work commute, NYC office workers don’t all just drop what they’re doing and slide down the dinosaur tail at 5 pm when the whistle blows. Maybe when 5 o’clock rolls around I’ve still got a few hours of work on the Big Presentation that has to be delivered at 9 am tomorrow no matter what. Maybe our code just freakin’ won’t compile and we’ve got to stick around and debug it until it does. Maybe I’m a cop, or a firefighter, or a health care provider, or a waiter, or a theatrical worker, etc., etc. and my commute doesn’t even occur at peak hours, and I’m not 100% sure exactly when I’ll get off work. The last thing I’m going to want to deal with is trying to time my off-peak subway trip with NJ Transit’s off-peak schedule because there’s no place to get out of the rain at NY Penn.

    • Adirondacker12800

      NJTransit and Amtrak arrange their off peak schedules so they can keep them if there is only one tunnel open.

    • Alon Levy

      I don’t know – I mean, I visited Boston last month, and had lunch with a bunch of other transit activists and bloggers. I had a train to catch back south; we’d finished eating long before I needed to go, and kept hanging out, but I made sure to leave in time to make my train with a few minutes to spare.

      At any rate, wide platforms + long escalator banks = lots of space under the escalators. Bathrooms in particular would fit where the clearance between the platform and the escalator is a hair too narrow for other uses, like retail. But as I said, it’s harder for retail to work on a platform than in a central stationhouse. Or on a street.

      • JJJJ

        Sure, but that was a one off thing, and you had to be on a specific train. Your entire plan was based off being on the train.

        Think week to week, when the planning is the opposite. Unless youre rushing to make the last train, you dont care what train youre on. You just want A train.

        So imagine, oh, this Saturday theres a new bar in a part of Brooklyn Ive never heard of. How long does it take to get to Penn from there? Google says 27 minutes, but with all the weekend work… And then next Sunday theres the Gold Cup final which we can totally watch at a great soccer bar near Wall Street. Ok, game is over, everybody is leaving, jump into the subway to get to Penn and just get there when you get there.

        And again, when there are 1-3 trains an hour set up at the most random of times, it just doesnt work out where you can always make it for a sub 5 minute wait.

        • Adirondacker12800

          If you are downtown and want to go to New Jersey take PATH to Hoboken or Newark.

          • JJJJJJ

            Nah, not on weekends 20 minute waits in Manhattan, 5 minute layover in Hoboken, forced transfer (and potentially 10 minute wait) at Journal Square.

      • EJ

        So, there’s this assumption that it’s ok for passengers to just use the platform as a waiting facility. And, sure, at small to mid-size stations, that’s what they do. But you admit that the platforms at your 6 platform hypothetical Penn Station really aren’t all that wide. You really want passengers for the 6:40 to Trenton milling around and getting in the way when you’re trying to board the 6:15 to Bay Head? (I just made those trains up, not gonna wade around in NJT schedules, but you get the idea.).

        When this question comes up, some people will say that, well, that’s what they do in Europe. But TBQH that hasn’t been my experience. They don’t do it that way in London, or Vienna, or Budapest. I don’t think they do it that way in principal stations in Paris, but it’s been a while so I could be wrong. They announce the platform 10-15 minutes before departure – not because they don’t know which one they’ll use, that’s often scheduled months in advance, but because they don’t want people wandering around on the platform long before their train is due to leave. The smaller stations, sure, and in mid-size cities there are often a lot of facilities on the platforms – coffee shops, waiting rooms, etc. But this doesn’t apply to a station like NY Penn.

        • Alon Levy

          The platforms I’m proposing aren’t thaaaat wide when it comes to passenger circulation, which consists of escalators, staircases, and leftover space between them and the tracks. But that still leaves a ton of space under the walkways and the escalators, which isn’t really needed for circulation.

          My recollection is that in both Paris and Stockholm, platforms are printed on the ticket. Bear in mind that in Stockholm I bought my ticket minutes before departure – but the departure board shows you all the trains and their track numbers, even well in advance. In Paris my memory is hazier, but people did not wait on the tracks. Instead they waited in the massive train hall – Jarrett even has an old post about how terminal stations like Paris’s make the city seem more important, so in a sense it’s not surprising there are massive waiting halls.

        • JJJJJJ

          Yeah Im coming up blank in thinking of a major terminus where waiting on the platform makes sense. Its fine at newark, for example, but thats because 600 people arent getting off and 600 getting on, + as you mentioned, countless others waiting for the train on the other track. It does work well enough if the train sits for 30 minutes and they leave the doors open though. Then you can wait inside your train.

          • Adirondacker12800

            You’ve never been in Newark at rush hour have you? What do you think happens when people change from PATH to the suburban trains?

          • Adirondacker12800

            Cross platform transfer from east/north bound trains that come in on Tracks 1 or 2 onto PATH. West/south bound passengers flow down the stairs and ramps directly to 2, 3, 4 and 5.

  8. anonymouse

    In terms of constructability and phasing, the easiest thing to do would be to tie this in with East Side Access and Gateway. Once the new tunnels are under construction, start demolishing Madison Square Garden. By that point, hopefully East Side Access is finally open and LIRR trains can get kicked out of the southern East River Tunnels entirely, leaving a whole bunch of open slots for NJT deadheads to Sunnyside (or through service to New Haven) and freeing up some of the high-numbered platforms for use by NJT and Amtrak. Eliminating conflicting moves allows more efficient use of the current platforms and frees up the existing low-number platforms for construction of a 4-track station for trains coming out of the new tunnels. Once the new tunnels and platforms open, the rest of the platforms can be closed for reconstruction a few at a time as well.

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