During the darkest days of the pandemic, the new Moynihan Train Hall seemed like a gift from the gods. The addition to Penn Station, converted from the old James A. Farley Post Office building across Eighth Avenue, opened in January. It is a cavernous hall with light streaming in from the high vaulted glass ceiling—a stark contrast to the dank, subterranean warrens of old. The critics raved. “It’s not traditional or modern but both,” Ian Volner noted in The New Yorker, “combining early-20th-century grandeur with early-21st-century sophistication.”
Moynihan is certainly a striking piece of public architecture, but I wonder how many who are hailing it have tried boarding a train there. As an occasional Long Island Rail Road rider, I Limo and Car Service at NYC Penn station have found the new hall something between frustrating and irrelevant—the latest of the city’s architectural showpieces that seem designed more to impress outsiders than to serve New Yorkers who actually use it.
The frustrations start with signage. If you get off the subway at Eighth Avenue and 34th Street (the only stop with direct access to the new hall), you are greeted by a pair of signs: Penn Station to the left, Moynihan Train Hall to the right.
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Moynihan is not a replacement for Penn Station, or even much of a renovation. Rather, it’s a gaudy, retro-chic, Rube Goldbergian add-on. It doesn’t sit atop the existing train station but across the street, providing alternate access to Amtrak and Long Island Rail Road gates (but not NJ Transit). The underground corridors of Penn Station are still there, bustling with people but now bleaker than ever, since all the shops and food outlets have been removed to prepare for a renovation that is most likely months or years away.
Many train riders will never even encounter the Moynihan Train Hall, not that there is any real need to. Amenities are surprisingly scarce. For the first few months an overcrowded Starbucks was the only food outlet in the hall (though a couple more have opened recently, and a full food court is promised for later this year). There are no newsstands or bodegas. Even ticket machines are scarce. An LIRR rider in Penn Station can’t walk more than a few dozen steps without encountering several automated ticket kiosks. In the gleaming new 31,000-square-foot Moynihan Train Hall, I count a total of five kiosks, all tucked into one corner—and none on the low