Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Penn Station, Then and Now

We took the train into Manhattan for dinner Saturday after several months out of the state.  Our train line lets people off at Penn Station, the busiest rail station in the country and, I'm guessing, the one offering the most unpleasant passenger experience.

Here is a view from the outside.  The big round thing on top is Madison Square Garden.

Amtrak and many New York subway lines run through Penn.  It is also the Manhattan stop for the Long Island Railroad and New Jersey Transit trains.  It is estimated that 650,000 people arrive and leave each day, more than five times the number originally anticipated when the station opened in 1968.  

The pictures below illustrate the main floor inside the station.  I think they minimize the levels of pedestrian overload, signage noise and ugly lighting.  Penn is a demoralizing place to spend time.

 In fact, this is the second Penn Station.  Most people know that  the first one was taken down in the 1960s and rebuilt with the relocated Madison Square Garden on top.  Some New Yorkers tried to stop the rebuilding, but it was done anyway.  The result, almost universally reviled,  effectively launched America's historic preservation movement.

Below is an early picture of the exterior of the first Penn Station, which opened in 1911, a Beaux Arts structure designed by the famed firm of McKim, Mead, and White.  

As the station was being planned, city fathers asked the architects to make a taller building, adding upper floors for other uses.  The architects stood firm.  You can see the results below.

In 1913, another major train station opened in Manhattan, Grand Central Terminal, which now houses subway stops and the Metro-North Railroad.  This station was not torn down and replaced.

Here is a picture of the main concourse at Grand Central.

Below is Gare du Nord in Paris, the busiest train station in Europe, which opened in 1846 and was enlarged in 1860.

And, following is Stazione Termini in the center of Rome, another older station that was rebuilt in 1950.

I have traveled through the Paris and Rome stations.  They are busy and crowded, and they can be confusing and frustrating, especially to an American.  Still, on their worst days, they are much nicer than Penn Station in New York.

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