Inside America’s worst train station

February 29, 2016

By Andrew J . Hawkins, The Verge

Once upon a time, New York’s Pennsylvania Station was not a hell hole. In fact, it was one of the grandest places in America. Built in 1910 on the West Side of Manhattan, the original structure was majestic, a reflection of principal architect Charles McKim’s vision to celebrate “the entrance to one of the great metropolitan cities of the world.” And celebrate it did, from its Beaux Arts exterior of pink granite and marble, to its stately colonnade, to its cavernous main waiting hall inspired by the Roman Baths of Caracalla. It was one of the architectural jewels of New York City.Website Insert Real Numbers copy

Today, Penn Station is more like a polished turd, except it’s not really polished. It’s been called “the worst place in New York City,” “the worst transit experience in the US,” and “the worst place on Earth” — and that’s just from Googling one adjective. It’s home to three different railroads: Amtrak, New Jersey Transit, and Long Island Rail Road, but it is almost entirely owned by Amtrak. Madison Square Garden squats on top of the station, choking off all natural light and air. Its cramped corridors, suffocating odors, confusing signage, and baffling layout make the overall experience of traveling through Penn Station equal to a very invasive, very unnecessary surgery. Without anesthesia.

But forget all that, because Penn Station is getting a makeover. In January, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo unveiled his grand plan for the nation’s busiest-but-dingiest train station (600,000 passengers a day, 200 million a year). Calling it the “biggest construction project in our state’s history,” Cuomo said he would remake the current rat’s nest under Madison Square Garden, while also transforming the nearly vacant James A. Farley Post Office across the street into a new passenger waiting area. He called for the creation of a new glass-walled entrance, the razing of a 5,600-seat theater under Madison Square Garden, and brand new retail. The hopelessly tarnished name “Penn Station” would fade from memory. This would be the “Empire Station Complex.”

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