Long Island Rail Road riders are a step closer to never having to enter Penn Station again.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Thursday announced the start of a major phase of construction at the nearby Moynihan Train Hall, with a promise to restore architectural dignity to daily commutes when the project is completed in 2021.
Beneath the 72-foot ceiling of the barren hall, Cuomo heaped praise on the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who had been a champion of the project that will now bear his name.
“Sen. Moynihan was probably the greatest intellect to ever stand on the Senate floor,” said Cuomo, speaking under the building’s ceiling, which will be 92 feet when completed. He recalled speaking with the senator after getting confirmed as assistant secretary of housing and urban development in 1993. “He said, ‘Now, Andrew, go get good things done’ . . . Today, we have gotten a good thing done.”
The same tracks that run under Penn also run under Moynihan. So Amtrak and LIRR riders will be able to access their trains via the nine platforms and 17 tracks from a series of 11 escalators and seven elevators in a new 255,000-square-foot hall.
Commuters can connect Penn Station through the recently opened West End Concourse.
Moynihan’s daughter, Maura Moynihan, praised the project, while criticizing Penn Station as a dimly lit and unpleasant “pit.” She likened the new train hall to “releasing from purgatory.”
Construction of the $1.6 billion hall began in September. It’s being built within the nearby Farley Building that dates to 1912, which was designed by McKim, Mead and White to complement their design of the original Penn Station.
Cuomo celebrated the completion of a project milestone Thursday; its contractors recently demolished the hall’s second-floor mezzanine, which will allow for full-scale construction, according to Cuomo. The project’s contractors, Skanska USA, have already demolished 6,000 tons of concrete and removed about 800 tons of steel.
“If you were here just six weeks ago . . . you wouldn’t have the beginnings of the massive train hall that we have now,” said John Sullivan, lead executive on the project for Skanska. “There’s a major demolition package that we’re in the middle of working on right now; there’s a major structural steel reinforcement and rehabilitation package that’s got to happen and then one of the other big components — all of the mechanical and electrical systems to make the facility air-conditioned and safe.”
Whitney Donhauser, director and president of the Museum of the City of New York and an attendee at Cuomo’s announcement, believes the hall will restore the “elegance” of the original Penn Station that was demolished in 1963.
“The modern Penn Station lost the grandeur and connection to classical architecture,” Donhauser said Thursday. “The original structure of 1910 imparted that there was an importance and a weightiness to transit so that those who arrived from New Jersey and Long Island felt the power and the magnitude of the city.”