NEW YORK — Moynihan Train Hall, an annex to Manhattan’s much-reviled Penn Station, will open to the public on New Year’s Day, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday as he cut a ribbon for the new facility.
The $1.6 billion hall, in the old James A. Farley Post Office Building across Eighth Avenue from the main station and Madison Square Garden, will serve as a waiting room for Amtrak and Long Island Rail Road passengers.
First proposed decades ago by its namesake, the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York, the project has gone through multiple iterations and rounds of delays before coming to fruition in its its current form.
The 255,000 square foot space is designed to be the antidote to the dark, underground experience of Penn Station, with a sprawling open waiting area centered around an Art Deco clock, and 92-foot-high skylights made out of an acre of glass.
“This is a work of art in a way we don’t build anymore. It’s almost too ambitious. It’s almost too beautiful. It’s almost too breathtaking,” Cuomo said Wednesday. “This is a great public work.”
“For the first time in 50 years, we are restoring light into a transportation hub at Penn Station,” said Doug Carr, executive director of the Moynihan Station Development Corporation.
The project does not, however, add any track or platform capacity to alleviate the crunch at Penn, leading some critics to call it just a cosmetic improvement.
Cuomo announced a separate proposal to build eight new tracks last January, but the proposal remains in its infant stages. And the Gateway project to build a new rail tunnel under the Hudson River remains in limbo.
While Amtrak and LIRR passengers will be able to board at Moynihan, New Jersey Transit passengers will continue to use the old concourses, as will subway riders.
If ridership — currently a small fraction of its normal levels — returns to pre-pandemic levels, Moynihan could serve 225,000 passengers a day. Nine platforms and 17 tracks are accessible from the main hall.
The old, historic Penn Station was demolished in the 1960s to make way for a new Madison Square Garden. The station’s destruction has been lamented ever since, and its cramped replacement, buried under the Garden, has long inspired proposals for an overhaul. Some have called for the arena to be relocated to make way for a refurbished station, although the Garden recently underwent a $1 billion renovation.
The new train hall pays tribute to the old Penn, with photo murals by Stan Douglas, one of three art installations at the building. It also invites comparisons with Grand Central Terminal, sourcing Tennessee Quaker stone for the floors from the same set of quarries that supplied that building. Its main open room is nearly the same size as the grand concourse at Grand Central.
Ticket offices for Amtrak and LIRR will move to the new building, and there are seating areas with power outlets and USB ports for ticketed passengers, but no seating for the general public. The building will be closed between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m., when passengers will have to use the main Penn Station. It opens to the public Friday at 5 a.m.
The train hall was built in what was once the Post Office’s mail sorting room, with the ceiling trusses from that facility — formerly used by postal police to monitor the sorting operation — kept in place and restored. The Post Office remains open in a smaller space.
Moynihan will also include 700,000 square feet of retail stores and restaurants, but most will not open until about a year from now.
President-elect Joe Biden’s pick for transportation secretary, Pete Buttigieg, hailed the opening.
“The Moynihan Train Hall is one of the most significant passenger rail facilities to open in years, and has been decades in the making,” he said. “The newly renovated Hall — in a space which was mostly abandoned for the better part of two decades — will be a shining jewel in the Northeast Corridor.”
Farley, for whom the post office facility was named, was postmaster general and chairman of the Democratic National Committee during President Franklin Roosevelt’s first two terms. He was a native of Rockland County, a suburb of New York City.