Cuomo targets Penn Station track expansion through property acquisition
Gov. Andrew Cuomo wants New York State to lead efforts for increased train capacity at Manhattan’s Penn Station.
Cuomo announced plans Monday to add at least eight tracks to the busy transit hub that serves Amtrak, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Long Island Rail Road, and New Jersey Transit. The Democratic governor’s vision would involve Empire State Development Corp. acquiring a block just south of the station on Manhattan’s west side to increase capacity by 40% from its current 21 tracks.
Details about purchase costs for the property acquisition were not revealed, but Cuomo said Amtrak, which owns Penn Station, will participate in financing and planning. The state, Amtrak and other stakeholders will also partner with a consultant design team led by FXCollaborative.
New York State under Cuomo has spearheaded other projects to improve Penn Station in recent years that include ongoing construction of a new Moynihan Train Hall at the Farley Post Office across the street. Cuomo stressed during his remarks though that while Moynihan adds terminal capacity, efforts for a full-scale improved Penn Station will be hamstrung until new tracks can be added.
“The entire old Penn has to be redone,” Cuomo said. “You can’t do that until you have the additional tracks and additional capacity.”
Cuomo said the extra capacity is needed in anticipation of increased ridership on the LIRR and MTA’s Metro North, which has long-term plans to add service into Penn Station to go along with Grand Central Terminal. Penn Station is also expected to see increased traffic from a planned Airtrain for LaGuardia Airport in Queens, Cuomo said.
"I applaud the governor’s bold vision to increase capacity and transform Penn Station as we work to encourage greater use of mass transit,” MTA Chairman Pat Foye said in a statement. “The 21st century, interconnected Empire Station Complex will be an important driver of development for the region, which is the lifeblood of the state economy.”
In addition to creating new track space, Cuomo said the state is also exploring converting the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden above the station into a new entrance. He said the overall plans also include new transit-oriented development around Penn State that can increase tax revenues for the state and New York City.
The Penn State expansion proposal drew praise from transportation advocates groups including Regional Plan Association president Tom Wright, who noted that the concept is vital for fueling economic development in midtown Manhattan. Overhauling and unifying Penn Station was one of the key recommendations outlined in the RPA’s fourth regional plan in 2017.
“We are pleased to see a comprehensive plan that encompasses not only the Station itself, but also the district surrounding it,” Wright said in a statement. “Adding transit capacity and prioritizing safety is critical to the success of the region and for the hundreds of thousands of people that rely on the Station regularly.”
Nick Sifuentes, executive director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, said the Penn Station expansion is important for the LIRR and NJ Transit in order to meet future passenger demands. He noted that it is also important for the federal government to deliver needed funding to build the long-stalled Gateway project’s two new tunnels under the Hudson River to support even greater rail capacity.
“Without added track capacity, Penn Station would always act as a bottleneck that would restrain transit and growth,” Sifuentes said in a statement. “We are glad to see Governor Cuomo taking on one of the region’s biggest infrastructure challenges, and we’re hopeful that a new Penn Station will be a new transit hub that fuels the region’s growth.”