Editorial: Breaking the bottleneck at Penn Station
Is there any place in the world that’s as maddeningly and intractably jammed with traffic as the Belt Parkway or the Long Island Expressway? Yes. It’s the east-west passenger rail corridor around Penn Station — which deserves a top spot on anyone’s misery list.
But last week Amtrak announced a welcome first step toward relieving at least part of Penn’s bottleneck. Amtrak will use $185 million in federal superstorm Sandy aid to build the start of a brand-new corridor into the station — an 800-foot concrete stormproof casement that ultimately will help move trains faster under the Hudson River and through the Hudson Yards.
This farsighted move promises a strong benefit for the entire metropolitan region. It will give regional mobility a much-needed boost and enable a strong new engine for Manhattan economic development.
At the moment, whether you’re headed into Penn from Philadelphia on Amtrak, or from Farmingdale on the Long Island Rail Road, or from Newark on New Jersey Transit — or even if you’re simply waiting to board a train at the station — chances are, you’ll have to endure a mysterious slow dance as trains wait to cross under rivers or thread through some of the busiest rail yards in the Western Hemisphere. Delays are endemic.
What the region’s passenger rail network really needs is a total rebuild — now — with stormproof tunnels and fast, seamless access to Penn and its rail yards. Unfortunately, major public projects don’t always work that way.
Planning for the Second Avenue subway began in 1929. The first stretch of that project, from 96th to 63rd streets, will open in 2016.
Manhattan’s west side development will move infinitely faster than that. One reason is that the 800-foot casement Amtrak just greenlighted is the prelude to a platform over the Hudson rail yards, which will support a massive new cluster of commercial, residential and public spaces.
This means commercial development will drive the push for service and infrastructure work that will help long-suffering rail riders. It can’t come soon enough.