Moynihan Train Hall in Midtown moves LIRR, Amtrak riders out of darkness and into light

Amid the darkness of a grim year for New York, daylight broke through the massive skylight above the newly opened Moynihan Train Hall in Midtown on Wednesday — a project that moved forward even as the COVID-19 pandemic derailed normal life.

The 92-foot skylight towering above the hall’s main concourse contains more than an acre of glass and, for the first time in more than six decades, provides natural light to passengers heading to or from Amtrak or Long Island Rail Road trains stopping at Penn Station.

Governor Andrew Cuomo helped cut the ribbon on Dec. 30 to mark the hall’s completion decades after the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan first raised the idea of turning the underutilized Farley Post Office into a grand new transit hub harkening back to the original Penn Station, which met the wrecker’s ball in the 1960s.

For Cuomo, the Moynihan Train Hall’s completion amid the COVID-19 pandemic that first struck New York hard in the spring perfectly underscores the city’s resiliency and fortitude.

“This would be an amazing accomplishment at any time, but it is an extraordinary accomplishment today,” the governor said. “We’re at a place where no one ever envisioned us being. We saw the greatest country in the world fall prey to a microscopic virus, and we have seen our world turned upside down.”

Through it all, Cuomo noted, the work to complete Moynihan Train Hall — which began in 2017 — went on, meeting a goal he outlined in January during an address to the Association for a Better New York. That the hall is set to open on Dec. 31 gives the governor great optimism for the year ahead, even as the state battles the second wave of COVID-19. 

“You will have challenges in life, but the question becomes how you respond to those challenges,” Cuomo said. “We learn the lessons and move forward. What this hall says to me is, ‘Yes, we can. Yes, we can learn. Yes, we can grow.’ As dark as 2020 was, to me, this hall brings the light literally and figuratively. … New York brings the light.” 

Photo courtesy of Governor’s office

Joining Cuomo at the ceremony were a litany of leaders who helped move the project forward in recent years, including Eric Gertler, Howard Zemsky, Steve Cohen, Douglas Carr and Holly Light of the Empire State Development Corporation; Tony Khosa, William Flynn and Stephen Gardner of Amtrak; Janno Lieber and Phil Eng of the MTA; Rick Cotton, executive director of the Port Authority; and Paul Goldberger, famed architectural critic who served as a project consultant.

Maura Moynihan, the late Senator Moynihan’s daughter, also joined in the festivities.

The new Moynihan Train Hall moves Amtrak and LIRR commuters out of the dingy labyrinth of underground concourses and tunnels that they’ve trudged through for decades since the original Penn Station was demolished to make way for Madison Square Garden. 

As of Dec. 31, Gertler explained, passengers will be able to access all Amtrak and Long Island Rail Road trains from Moynihan Train Hall, which is located directly above 17 tracks and nine platforms. They’ll be able to wait in dedicated lounges with free wi-fi access, and shop at more than 700,000 square feet of new commercial, retail and dining space (once dining restrictions are lifted). 

Benches in the waiting area.Photo courtesy of Governor’s office
Photo courtesy of Governor’s office

The new train hall includes three new artistic installations as well as an art deco-styled clock that serves as its centerpiece much like the golden clock at the heart of Grand Central Station.

Along with the concourse’s opening, the MTA is also cutting the ribbon on the train hall’s eastern entrance at the corner of 33rd Street and 7th Avenue, which will double customer access, Gertler said. 

The new MTA entrance at the corner of 33rd Street and 7th Avenue.Photo courtesy of Governor’s office

The Moynihan Train Hall also sets the stage for further train access through the Empire Station Complex project, which remains in the works. How that plan moves forward will largely depend on whether the state can procure federal funding for the Gateway Tunnel, which would increase train access under the Hudson River.

In the meantime, “Moynihan Train Hall is a fully functioning transit hub designed for New York” that will also “be an aggressive catalyst for the state’s economic growth,” Gertler added.

Goldberger observed that the project meets the vision Senator Moynihan first laid out for the Farley Post Office in the 1990s by providing New York City with “the great entrance it deserves.”

“It is the first step toward turning the busiest rail center in the U.S. into the best rail center in the U.S.,” Goldberger said. “There’s still a long way to go, but we’re moving in the right direction toward a recognition that great public spaces belong to everyone — that a great city deserves a noble public realm, and that the government has a responsibility to make that happen.”

New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, as shown in this 1999 photo.REUTERS/File photo
The original Penn Station, as shown in 1911.Photo via Wikimedia Commons/Library of Congress