(Penn Station Update: Funding, Signage, and Confusion)

Interview with AECOM

Unfortunately most the information was confidential and off the record but it was able to verify we are
heading in the right direction and helped shed light on some uncertain areas.
Points gathered from the material:
Track use via Amtrak, LIRR, or New Jersey Transit
Sectionally we have a better understanding of what is occurring in relation to MSG and despite the fact MSG’s lease will be up in 2023, it is highly unlikely if not impossible to remove them because of money they have put towards the property

Working Model of Penn Station

We are finding that modeling the neighboring properties and overhead will be useful, so they will be added to the model
We were able to produce crowding studies from studying the site at different times, in order to identify “hot spots”, we intend to overlay this with signage, to see if there in confusion or spatial pinch points

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Interview for Psychological Impact

Over the break we will conduct interviews on site to understand user types and their psychological state in the space, what maybe the causes of their on site emotions, and “who they may have to blame”
Ventilation and light quality may also impact people’s perception in the space, so we will map this as well

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Map of Crowding Hotspots and Platform Ownership

Progress Update: Ownership, Funding

As it relates to issues of overcrowding and infrastructure maintenance at Penn Station, our group has additionally begun to look more closely into money, ownership and funding.

In order to get a more clear understanding of the current and former entities involved, our research included a closer look into Amtrak, also known as the National Railroad Passenger Corporation, because of its “ownership” of Penn Station. What does Amtrak truly own at Penn Station and what is Amtrak truly responsible for? Each question governed this particular part of our research. In the upcoming weeks, we will additionally seek to map and uncover who owns — and is therefore ultimately responsible — for what.

Our brief history of Amtrak starts with the original Penn Station.

As noted in The Rise and Fall of Penn Station, a PBS documentary on the original building, the Pennsylvania Railroad Company was the largest corporation in the world and had the second-largest operating budget next to the federal government at the time of construction around 1900. Pennsylvania Railroad inconspicuously bought up four blocks from West 31st Street to West 34th Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenue. It constructed 16 miles of tunnels, including two under the Hudson River, to connect the railroads to New York City. Pennsylvania Railroad undertook this task alone giving it exclusive access to the tunnels. We believe it’s important to note that a private corporation is responsible for attaching Manhattan to the NJ mainland by train.

By 1910, Pennsylvania Station, the fourth-largest building in the world at the time, opened.

Decades later, however, after WWII and with cars and highways completely overtaking the efficiencies of train travel, Pennsylvania Railroad was flirting with bankruptcy. Just as it could conceive and build a massive structure like it had done at the turn of the 20th century, it could be sold to a private entity and thus free to be torn down. In 1961 a deal was struck and Pennsylvania Railroad capped the station and sold its air rights above to Madison Square Garden which built the structure that exists on top of Penn Station today.

Upon closer look, we have come to know the capping was due to cost. When they tore down the station, much of the underground portion remained, and a structural crawl space between the concourse and the platforms was converted into today’s LIRR concourse. It became most cost effective to work with these underground spaces and allow a new tenant being MSG to build on top.

Fast forward to present day. With four tunnels feeding 21 tracks, Penn Station is responsible for double the amount of 30 years ago, and it has become North America’s busiest train station. All train tunnel travel from New Jersey to Manhattan is connected by the same two tunnels built by Pennsylvania Railroad more than 100 years ago. It’s understood that, in terms of alleviating pressure on the bottleneck effect of trains entering the city through the Hudson River Tunnels, nothing matters more than the construction of new tunnels. To make matters even more concerning, the tunnels have suffered damage as they were flooded during Hurricane Sandy. A concerted effort for a second set of tunnels now termed the Gateway Project is underway.

There are plans to build 2 new tunnels feeding into the “station.” The term station is used loosely because most likely tracks from these tunnels would need to divert to another location near the site, meaning Penn Station will need to expand or have annexes. The exact alignment of these tunnels is unclear as well.

But who owns the tunnels which control the trains into and out of Manhattan and, more specifically, into Penn Station? Who is responsible for their care and maintenance? If Amtrak owns the tunnels, what fees does New Jersey Transit pay to gain access to the tracks. What incentivizes freight rail companies, which own a vast majority of rail tracks in New York and nationwide, to give priority to Amtrak passenger trains? Why is there zero clearance in terms of repair and maintenance at Penn Station? We suspect much of this has to due with the complex ownership on site and who the stakeholders are. For instance, an escalator at Penn Station went unrepaired for several months, due to a legal battle to figure out who had ownership and therefore who was going to fix it.

As it relates to private and public ownership, we have also started to identify ownerships and partnerships at Penn Station, including the James A. Farley Building (NY State owned) which will serve as Moynihan Station after completion of its $1.6 billion redevelopment to serve Amtrak and the Long Island Railroad Companies (NY State owned). Specifically, Vornado Realty Trust, which National Real Estate Investor has reported to be the biggest landlord in the Penn Station area with 8 million square feet of buildings including 1 and 2 Penn Plaza, and Related Cos. Together the companies will invest $630 million of their own dollars into the redevelopment that includes 700,000 square feet of new commercial space.

Lastly, as our group continues to look deeper into matters, we have confirmed a date and time for our interview with Vishaan Chakrabarti (March 19 at 4 p.m.), who ran the office of the Department of City Planning under Mayor Michael Bloomberg and who is a registered architect and founder of PAU, and have reached out to Jeff Davis, senior fellow at Eno Transportation, a neutral, non-partisan think-tank that promotes policy innovation, for added insight and information into the complex set of public-private, federal-state relationships at play at Penn Station.

Sources

Inside the crucial and costly fight to fix New York’s tunnels, by Daniel C. Vock, Governing.com: http://www.governing.com/topics/transportation-infrastructure/gov-tunnels-amtrak-infrastructure-newyork.html
Penn Station is getting a private operator, by Henry Grabar, Slate.com: http://www.slate.com/business/2018/03/the-case-for-letting-ben-carson-keep-his-usd31-000-dining-set.html
NYC Commuters to get new train hub as developers sign deal, Bloomberg News: http://www.nreionline.com/investment/nyc-commuters-get-new-train-hub-developers-sign-deal
Trump administration kills Gateway tunnel deal, by Will Bredderman, Crains.com: http://www.crainsnewyork.com/article/20171229/POLITICS/171229921/trump-administration-kills-gateway-tunnel-deal
The consequence of Amtrak Not Owning Its Own Tracks, by Ernie Smith, atlastobscura.com : https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/amtrak-tracks-late-trains
Overview of America’s Freight Railroads, May 2008: http://s3.amazonaws.com/zanran_storage/www.aar.org/ContentPages/17445303.pdf
Who’s at fault in Amtrak crash? Due to secretive agreements, Amtrak will pay regardless, by Jeff Horowitz, Associated Press http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/ct-amtrak-crash-payment-agreements-20180210-story.html
Amtrak’s rights and relationships with host railroads, Sept. 2017 https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/Planning/freight_planning/talking_freight/september_2017/21/talkingfreight9_21_2017bl.pdf
Donald Trump’s Tunnel Vision, NY Times Editorial Board: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/05/opinion/trump-jersey-new-york-tunnel.html
The White House's Leaked Infrastructure Plan Is a Road Map With Few Details, https://www.citylab.com/transportation/2018/01/the-leaked-infrastructure-plan-is-a-road-map-with-few-details/551204/
Penn Station’s Escalator Diaries, The Wall Street Journal: https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-extended-saga-of-fixing-escalator-no-25-at-penn-station-1429783201
The Rise and Fall of Penn Station, PBS Documentary https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=695KwYpwYts

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