By Luke Carothers

On October 28th, 1963 demolition began on New York City’s original Pennsylvania Station (Penn Station).  When the building came down, people around the world mourned the loss of an architectural and artistic icon, and the people of New York City mourned the loss of their city’s grand entrance.  In an effort to reclaim this fundamental part of the City’s heritage, Empire State Development (ESD) has transformed the 109-year-old James A. Farley Post Office into Moynihan Train Hall.  

The James A. Farley Building, which sits 50 feet above Penn Station currently, was home to the U.S. Postal Service for over 100 years.  The building housed New York’s primary mail sorting and distribution operation, which is why it was located near a railroad hub.  When the reliance on railroad for shipping mail stopped in the 60s and 70s, the building was abandoned and fell into disrepair.  

The plan to readapt the James A. Farley Building was first pushed by Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan more than a quarter century ago.  The building was named in his honor.  The project to readapt the building is a public-private partnership led by ESD on behalf of the State of New York, with Vornado Realty Trust, The Related Companies, Skanska, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority/ Long Island Rail Road (MTA/LIRR), Amtrak, and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ).  When construction began on the project in 2016, ESD tapped WSP to be the Program Manager.  WSP, having worked with ESD since 1991 in guiding the project to successful completion, was responsible for the management of Developer/Design-Builder’s obligations to ESD, including design and construction of the train hall and overall redevelopment of the building to time and budget constraints.

WSP’s Shaun Pratt served as project director, leading a team of WSP staff and sub consultants who worked alongside the ESD and PANYNJ.  Pratt and the rest of the WSP team were responsible for project management, commercial management, technical oversight, construction oversight and compliance, and stakeholder coordination.

The completed Moynihan Train Hall increases Penn Station’s concourse space by more than 50 percent.  This is especially important because it is the busiest transportation facility in the Western Hemisphere, being used by more than 700,000 passengers a day–more than LaGuardia, John F. Kennedy, and Newark International Airports combined.  However, this transformation is about more than just space; the new concourse doubles elevator capacity and provides natural light and sky views via the restoration of the main train hall skylight, midblock skylight, and historic windows.  Additionally, the new hall allows for ease of movement by the clear, high-ceilinged circulation spaces.

These upgrades are especially timely in light of the global COVID-19 pandemic.  At a time when sufficient space and quality of air are the forefront of the industry conversation, these updates mean stations will be cleared faster, congestion will be reduced, and provide more personal space to socially distance.  Additionally there are cleaning protocols, such as the facility shutting down from 1:00 a.m. to 5:00 a.m. each night for thorough disinfection, that will improve the health, safety, and comfort of passengers and workers using the space.  From construction to the finished facility, attention was paid to the quality of air, and techniques were employed to ensure the passengers’ well being.  This came in the form of an advanced air handling system, low chemical emitting paints and adhesives, and an indoor air handling plan.

The Moynihan Train Hall also integrates several technological features that improve theaccessibility and enjoyment of passengers.  For example, the new facility integrates state-of-the-art wayfinding through a distributed network of LED/LCD displays for train information, messaging, and visitor experience enhancement.  The facility also features a next generation wifi system that is free for the public to use. 

This project was the first new train hall constructed in New York City in more than 50 years, and, to add to the complexity of the project, it is the first ever facility shared by Amtrak and LIRR.  In order to facilitate such a transition, the WSP team implemented an Operational Readiness Activation and Transition (ORAT) program, which is typically used by airports.  The ORAT program involves collaborative planning and testing of scenarios and procedures, ensuring readiness for opening.  In the contemporary world of the pandemic, this came to fruition in the form of both virtual and in-person trials with the railroads and property managers to review and approve processes and familiarize staff with the facility and their responsibilities.

The recently opened Moynihan Train Hall represents a return to both grandeur and accessibility for the millions of New Yorkers who use this transit hub.  This facility is a blending of the accessibility afforded by contemporary technology and the hope that is spurred on by reimagining and reinvigorating one of the City’s most iconic spaces.


Luke Carothers is the Editor for Civil + Structural Engineer Media. If you want us to cover your project or want to feature your own article, he can be reached at lcarothers@zweiggroup.com.

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