Add overcrowded platforms to the Penn Station fix-it list. But put it on top. It’s a problem that can’t wait to be solved through grand remodeling.
Thanks to a treacherous mix of increased ridership and construction barriers that limit precious space even more, commuter rail platforms have become dangerously crowded as passengers weave through constricted walkways and narrow platforms. This is more than an “inconvenience,” which is how an Amtrak spokesman described it. A real emergency or even a scare caused by misinformation or a loud sound could be disastrous. Right now at Penn, through which 650,000 people travel each day, commuters have every reason to be worried.
But neither Amtrak nor the MTA seems to be giving this issue the urgent attention it requires.
Part of the problem is that the construction of escalators and other parts of Moynihan Train Hall, to be located across the street from Penn, results in temporary barricades and less space for movement. There should be an interim fix; overcrowding is too serious to wait for big projects that supposedly will alleviate crowding.
Amtrak owns Penn’s platforms and tracks, but the MTA is equally responsible for its customers’ safety. Immediate changes could include making sure passengers get off one train and walk away from the platform before other passengers go downstairs to the same platform for another train. Better signage and communication could encourage riders to use different routes within the station. And consider limiting the number of riders allowed on the platforms to better control crowds. We know that would anger commuters looking to go home, but it might be necessary to avoid the pervasive and perilous crowding.
Last month, a man rushing for the subway at Penn pushed past Kurt Salzinger, a behavioral psychology scholar, husband, father and grandfather who escaped Nazi-occupied Austria in 1938, knocking the 89-year-old man and his wife to the ground. Last week, Salzinger died from his injuries. Overcrowding could lead to worse outcomes at Penn. Change tracks to get riders home — safely.