Traveling Through New York's Penn Station Just Got a Lot More Glamorous

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Train travelers can expect to see a little more sophistication in 2021, thanks to a modern new train hall that has opened its doors across the street from New York’s Penn Station.

The Daniel Patrick Moynihan Train Hall, a huge new addition to New York Penn Station with sweeping ceilings, slick marble floors, and old-school touches like arched windows, officially opened on New Year’s Day after more than two decades of planning and construction. The hall, housed inside the historic James A. Farley Post Office Building, connects travelers to Amtrak train lines, Long Island Rail Road, and New York City subway’s Eighth Avenue line. 

The project was originally proposed in the late 1990s by U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan to alleviate Penn’s overcrowding. When the original Penn Station was demolished in 1965, the passenger hall and waiting areas were moved into a cramped underground space built to accommodate only 200,000 people. In recent years, daily passenger numbers have surged to an average of 600,000. 

A much-needed addition, Moynihan Train Hall is located in the post office’s 31,000-square-foot former mail sorting room, topped with a 92-foot-high all-glass ceiling with more than 500 individual panels. The space is about as big as the iconic Vanderbilt Terminal at Grand Central. 

Besides much needed space, the train hall brings back some of the glamour of Penn Station’s original building, which rivaled the storied station across town. The post office building where the renovated hall stands now was originally designed by the same architecture firm that created the original Penn Station—McKim, Mead, and White—in 1913.

“We’ve designed a place that evokes the majesty of the original Penn Station, all while serving as a practical solution to the issues that commuters in, to, and from New York have endured for too long,” says Colin Koop, design partner at Skidmore, Ownings, & Merrill, the architecture firm behind the new hall. “We are breathing new life into New York, and recreating an experience no one has had here in decades.” 

Koop says the team used design elements like floors of Tennessee Quaker marble—the same material used in Grand Central—to lend the space an air of vintage glamour. “What we wanted to do was to capture a little bit of the experience of a European train hall,” Koop says. The building’s original metal trusses were also kept in tact, to support the glass ceiling. Also featured in the center of the hall is a new Art Deco–inspired clock.

The new hall is an especially huge win for Amtrak, which has 10.8 million passengers transit each year through New York Penn, making it the train company’s busiest station. Amtrak Guest Rewards members, first-class Acela and sleeper passengers will have access to the new Metropolitan lounge housed inside the building, too. 

“It’s truly a first-class lounge,”  says Dave Handera, Amtrak’s vice president of stations, facilities, properties and accessibility. “It really ranks right up there with many airline top first-class lounges.” 

The lounge is outfitted with a balcony with tables and chairs overlooking the train hall, quiet space, a room for families with small children, a nursing mothers’ room, and gender neutral restrooms. The lounge also has a bar area that will eventually serve food and drinks—once New York State COVID-19 protocols allow for it. “Just imagine sitting on the balcony with a cup of coffee, overlooking the train hall,” Handera says. 

Later this year, Amtrak’s new Acela fleet of trains will also start to operate through Moynihan, making for a completely upgraded experience on the popular route. 

Elsewhere, Amtrak has new waiting areas for ticketed passengers with plenty of seating and outlets, all designed with wider aisles and seating spaces for travelers in wheelchairs.

“The station is 100 percent accessible,” Handera says. “You can come in at any entry point—we have both elevators and escalators—so a person who has a mobility disability can easily move through the entire station.” There are also induction loops in Amtrak’s lounge and at its ticket counters for passengers who are hard of hearing.

Set to open in the fall of 2021 is Moynihan’s food hall, featuring outposts of New York favorites like Jacob’s Pickles, Magnolia Bakery, Birch Coffee, H&H Bagels, Blue Bottle Coffee, Davey’s Ice Cream, and Sauce Pizzeria.

Later this year will also see the opening of a large bar area with a balcony overlooking the station’s main hall and a shopping area. Down the line, there are plans to connect Metro North trains that serve upstate New York to the train hall. But not all travelers will be connected to the gleaming new building: New Jersey Transit passengers and some subway riders will still have to schlep through the cramped confines of the current Penn Station terminal. 

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