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Pennsylvania Station (commonly known as Penn Station) is the major intercity rail station and a major commuter rail hub in New York City. The station is located in the underground levels of Pennsylvania Plaza, an urban complex in Midtown Manhattan, and is owned by Amtrak. It is the busiest station on three major passenger railroads and by far the busiest train station in the United States.

Penn Station is at the center of the Northeast Corridor, an electrified passenger rail line extending south to Washington, D.C. and north to Boston. Intercity trains are operated by Amtrak, while commuter rail services are operated by the Long Island Rail Road and New Jersey Transit. The station is also connected to six New York City Subway lines.

Penn Station is the busiest Amtrak station in the United States. The station saw 4.3 million Amtrak boardings in 2004, more than double the traffic at the next busiest station, 30th Street Station in Philadelphia.[1] Penn Station's assigned IATA airport code is ZYP.[2] Its Amtrak station code is NYP.



Penn Station is named for the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR), its builder and original tenant, and shares its name with several stations in other cities. Until the 20th century, PRR's rail network terminated on the western side of the Hudson River at Exchange Place in Jersey City, New Jersey. Manhattan-bound passengers boarded ferries to cross the Hudson River for the final stretch of their journey. The rival New York Central Railroad's track ran down Manhattan from the north and terminated at Grand Central Terminal in the heart of Manhattan's business district.

To address its disadvantage, the Pennsylvania Railroad considered building a rail bridge across the Hudson. This option was rejected as too expensive. The alternative was to tunnel under the river, but tunnel's length would be difficult to ventilate and too long to be compatible with steam locomotives. The development of the electric locomotive at the turn of the 20th century, however, made the ventilation problems of a tunnel much less serious.

On December 12, 1901, PRR president Alexander Cassatt announced the railroad's plan to enter New York City by tunneling under the Hudson and building a grand station on the West Side of Manhattan, south of 34th Street. The PRR had secretly been buying up the necessary land in Manhattan and New Jersey for some time.

Two single-track tunnels were bored from the west under the Hudson River and four single-track tunnels were bored from the east under the East River. This second set of tunnels linked the new station to Queens and the Long Island Rail Road, now under PRR control (see East River Tunnels). Sunnyside Yard in Queens would be where trains were maintained and assembled.

The tunnel technology was so new and innovative that in 1907 the PRR shipped an actual 23-foot diameter section of the new East River Tunnel to the Jamestown Exposition near Norfolk, Virginia to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the founding of the Jamestown Settlement. The same tube, with an inscription indicating that it had been displayed at the Exposition, was later installed under water and remains in use today.

Original structureEdit

The current facility is the substantially remodelled underground remnant of a much grander structure designed by McKim, Mead, and White and built between 1905 and 1910. The original Pennsylvania Station was an outstanding masterpiece of the Beaux-Arts style and one of the architectural jewels of New York City. The above-ground portion of the original structure was demolished in the mid 1960s to make room for the current Madison Square Garden complex.

The original structure was made of pink granite and was marked by an imposing, sober colonnaded Doric order. The colonnades embodied the sophisticated integration of multiple functions and circulation of people and goods. McKim, Mead and White's Pennsylvania Station combined frank glass-and-steel train sheds and a magnificently-proportioned concourse with a breath-taking monumental entrance to New York City, immortalized in films (see link below). From the street, twin carriageways, modeled after Berlin's Brandenburg Gate, led to the two railroads that the building served, the Pennsylvania and the Long Island Rail Road. The main waiting room, inspired by the Roman Baths of Caracalla, approximated the scale of St. Peter's nave in Rome, expressed here in a steel framework clad in travertine and was the largest indoor space in New York City.

The demolition of the original structure — although considered by some to be justified as progressive in the trade at the time, and largely ignored by non-professional Americans -- nevertheless left a deep and lasting wound in the architectural consciousness of the city. A famous photograph of a smashed caryatid in the landfill of the New Jersey Meadowlands struck a guilty chord. Pennsylvania Station's demolition is considered to have been the catalyst for the enactment of the city's first architectural preservation statutes. The sculpture on the building, including the angel in the landfill, was created by Adolph Alexander Weinman. One of the sculpted clock surrounds, whose figures were modeled using model Audrey Munson, still survives as the Eagle Scout Memorial Fountain in Kansas City, Missouri, there is also a caryatid at the sculpture garden at the Brooklyn Museum, and all of the Penn Station eagles are still in existence.

Ironically, Charles McKim may have doomed his own structure by not allowing Alexander Cassatt to include multi-story office buildings as part of the Penn Station complex. By the 1960s, the air rights of Penn Station were too valuable to be left idle and the Pennsylvania Railroad, which was losing money at the time, would have had one less incentive to tear down the beautiful building. McKim opposed high rises because he considered them anti-urban.

Ottawa's Union Station, built a year after Penn Station (in 1912) is another replica of the Baths of Caracalla. Therefore, this train station's departures hall now provides a good idea of what the interior of Penn Station would have looked like (at half the scale). Chicago's Union Station is similar as well.


After a renovation covered some of the grand columns with plastic and blocked off the spacious central hallway with a new ticket office, Lewis Mumford wrote critically in The New Yorker in 1958 that "nothing further that could be done to the station could damage it". History was to prove him wrong. Under the presidency of Pennsylvania Railroad's Stuart T. Saunders (who later headed ill-fated Penn Central Transportation), the above-ground components of this structure (the platforms are below street level) were demolished in 1964, without disrupting the essential day-to-day operations, to make way for present-day Madison Square Garden, along with two office towers.

A point made in the defense of the demolition of the old Penn Station at the time of its demolition was that the cost of maintaining the old structure had become prohibitively expensive and that the citizens of New York City were unwilling to shoulder the costs of maintaining and cleaning their beloved station. The question of whether it made sense to preserve a building, intended to be a cost-effective and functional piece of the city's infrastructure, simply as a "monument" to the past was raised in defense of the plans to demolish it. As a New York Times editorial critical of the demolition noted at the time, a "civilization gets what it wants, is willing to pay for, and ultimately deserves", and an easy-to-maintain "modern" slab was precisely what the "city that never sleeps" was after.[3] Ironically, modern architects rushed to save the ornate building that was seemingly contradictory to their own styles, calling the station a treasure, and chanting "Don't Amputate - Renovate" at rallies.[4]

Four eagles salvaged from the station currently reside on the Market Street Bridge in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania across from that city's 30th Street Station. Another is located at the Long Island Rail Road station in Hicksville, New York. Yet another is located on the grounds of the National Zoo in Washington, DC.

The furor over the demolition of such a well-known landmark, and its replacement by what was widely deplored as a mediocre slab of real estate, are often cited as catalysts for the architectural preservation movement in the United States, and for laws restricting such demolition. Within the decade, Grand Central Terminal was protected under the city's new landmarks preservation act — a protection which was upheld by the courts in 1978, after a challenge by Grand Central's owner, Penn Central. The demolition interestingly mirrored a similar debate in London, England at the same time, where the architectural Victorian masterpiece Euston Station was similarly destroyed in 1962, to be replaced by an unsympathetic glass and steel structure. This loss also galvanized a similar response, with strict building preservation laws the end result. St. Pancras station, possibly the finest gothic revival building in the UK was accordingly saved when threatened with demolition in the mid-1960's.

The outcry over the loss of Penn Station prompted activists to question the "development scheme" mentality that was also cultivated by New York's "master builder", Robert Moses (although the cash-strapped railroad, not Moses, was actually responsible for the demolition). Moses' plans for a Lower Manhattan Expressway were scrapped due to public protests and a rejection of the plan by the city government.

In the longer run, the sense that something irreplaceable had been lost contributed to the erosion of confidence in Modernism itself and its sweeping forms of urban renewal, and thus strengthened interest in historic preservation. Comparing the new and the old Penn Station, architectural historian Vincent Scully once wrote, "One entered the city like a god, one scuttles in now like a rat." This feeling, shared by many New Yorkers, has led to movements for a new Penn Station that could somehow atone for the loss of an architectural treasure.[5]


The current Pennsylvania Station is often criticized for its charmlessness, especially when compared to the much larger yet less used Grand Central Terminal. That image comes even with owner Amtrak and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's renovation work in the 1990s to improve the look of the waiting/concession areas, sharpen the station information systems (audio and visual) and remove much of the grime. (The 34th Street Long Island Rail Road entrance features an old four-sided clock from the original depot, and the walkway from its escalator has a mural with elements alluding to the old Penn Station's architecture.)

But hope for a grander railroad terminal lies just one block west. Across Eighth Avenue from Penn Station sits New York's General Post Office, the James Farley Post Office. Under pressure from the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, plans were publicized in 1999 to move entrances and concourses of Penn Station under this building, which fills an entire city block. The newly completed station inside the Landmark James A. Farley Building, will be named Moynihan Station in honor of the late Senator.[6].

Initial design proposals were laid out by David Childs of Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill. In a rather uncomfortable series of events reminiscent of the continuous redesign of the Freedom Tower (also by Childs), the project schedule had been stretched further and further into the future. In July 2005, it was announced that Childs' plan had been scrapped, and a new one was unveiled. This second plan was similar, but much more modest than the original and is the result of a collaboration between the architectural firms of James Carpenter and Hellmuth, Obata and Kassabaum (HOK). Later in 2005, Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill reacquired the project and released a third design, which is a compromise. This design, as of June 2006, resembles the interior of BCE Place and does not require the demolition of part of the facade of the Farley Building.

Amtrak was to be the major tenant of the building, leaving the old station for use by the local commuter passengers. Signs of construction appeared in November 2005, with plywood barriers installed on the sidewalks and orange nets covering main facade on 8th Avenue[7].

Amtrak, however, has pulled out, and New Jersey Transit is to become the Moynihan Station's anchor tenant. NJ Transit is apparently in the process of negotiating a 99-year lease on the Farley Post Office [8][9]. In the meantime, relocation of Madison Square Garden to the west flank of the Farley Building is being contemplated by Cablevision, owner of the Garden, and such a project could lead to Vornado Realty Trust building an office complex on the current Garden site [10].

News reports are vague as to the exact whereabouts of the proposed new Madison Square Garden and what is to be done to the Farley building, other than preserving the facade (work is already underway on the facade preservation; scaffolding is up and the Empire State Development Corporation is looking for advertisers for that scaffolding[11]. The project is currently in limbo, with Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver refusing to give the go ahead for existing plans, citing the need for greater integration with the larger Midtown renovation plan proposed by developers and Cablevision.[12][13]

Silver and New York Governor Eliot Spitzer seem to favor the Madison Square Garden owners' proposal, which suggests a westward move of Madison Square Garden, which would provide "daylight" to Penn Station, and leave the current Penn Station site open to development.


Baroque music is played in the upper level (western section for Amtrak trains) concourse of the station. A 2006 New York Sun article quoted Mr. Bell, that the soundtrack is "one tool of many in the comprehensive program to make [Penn Station] a safer, cleaner, and more efficiently run transportation facility."[14]

A passageway originally connected Penn Station to the subway station at Herald Square, although there was no free transfer between subway lines. However, the passage was closed in the 1990's. Passengers must now walk at street level to go between the two stations.

One wall of the NJT concourse features a timeline of significant railroad related milestones in New Jersey, while a display case also in the concourse features several moving caricatures of New Jersey landmarks such as the Lower Trenton Bridge.

Penn Station is the only station on the LIRR that is not situated on Long Island.


For Amtrak services, see this section.


  E at 34th Street-Penn Station (IND Eighth Avenue Line)

  at 34th Street-Penn Station (IRT Broadway-Seventh Avenue Line)

  W   at 34th Street-Herald Square (BMT Broadway Line)

  D F V   at 34th Street-Herald Square (IND Sixth Avenue Line)

New Jersey TransitEdit

Main article: New Jersey Transit

Passengers can also transfer at Secaucus Junction to Main Line, Bergen County Line, and Pascack Valley Line trains.


Port Authority Trans-Hudson (PATH) service to Hoboken and Jersey City, New Jersey does not technically serve Penn Station, but is located only a block away, at 33rd Street and Sixth Avenue. It was once accessible via underground passageway, but this has been closed to the public for security reasons, and now the only access is via the surface streets.

See alsoEdit

External linksEdit



  1. TABLE 1-8 Top 50 Amtrak Stations by Number of Boardings: Fiscal Year 2004, Bureau of Transportation Statistics, accessed June 1, 2006. In 2004, Penn Station saw 4,367,553 boardings.
  2. Full list of US Airports Three Letter Codes - N, accessed August 1, 2006
  3. Farewell to Penn Station, New York Times, Oct. 30, 1963 (The editorial goes on to say that "we will probably be judged not by the monuments we build but by those we have destroyed").
  4. A 1960's Protest That Tried to Save a Piece of the Past, New York Times, May 20, 2001 (scroll to the last article on the page).
  5. "That it was torn down in 1963, mindlessly, has been with the city for a long while, how could we do that? We now have an opportunity to recreate the building."Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Moynihan to Help Recreate NYC Pennsylvania Station, Reuters, Aug. 27, 2002.
  6. Team Chosen For Project To Develop Transit Hub, The New York Times, July 18, 2005
  7. The New Penn Station: When Will It Arrive?, accessed June 11, 2006
  8. Moynihan Station Development Corporation and NJ Transit Agree to Partner in Moynihan Station, press release dated November 21, 2005
  9. New Jersey Transit To Be Anchor Rail Tenant of Proposed Station, New York Sun, November 22, 2005
  10. High Expectations for Madison Square Garden's Rumored $750M Move, Commercial Property News, February 15, 2006
  11. Posting 2-block ad, New York Daily News, January 18, 2006
  12. Sheldon Silver May Axe Moynihan Station Project, NY1, October 11, 2006
  13. Fate of Moynihan Rail Station Will Be Handed Over to Silver, New York Sun, October 11, 2006
  14. "Transit Hubs See Benefits of Baroque in the Background." New York Sun, Dec 26, 2006.[1]


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