Alt Penn Station Plan Wants To Fix One Of NYC's Greatest Errors

MIDTOWN, NY — Instead of making Penn Station a nicer rat hole, why not rebuild the palace of the gods and correct one of the city’s greatest blunders?

Renown for its beauty and splendor the world over, Penn Station’s demolition in the early 1960s caused an uproar and is commonly referred to as one of the greatest mistake made by the greatest city in the world.

Now, nearly 60 years later, as the state is fielding plans to spend billions to again rebuild Penn Station, one group asks: why re-invent the (train) wheel?

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ReThink Penn Station wants to rebuild Penn Station back to its pre-1963 state to bring a sense of glory back to urban spaces and transit.

That means getting rid of Madison Square Garden and getting back into Beaux-Arts architecture.

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But it’s not just about aethetics and the desire for an above-ground train station. ReThink Penn Station is also the only plan suggesting a massive overhaul of the train tracks below to facilitate what they call a true regional rail system, all while greatly increasing the currently tapped-out capacity.

Both of those elements would require moving Madison Square Garden to its fifth home, adding a huge expense and burden.

But the group says that the benefits of a new (old), classic grand station and through-running trains would produce unquantifiable benefits for the city and the region.

The only mistake to be made is thinking too small, said ReThink chairperson Sam Turvey.

“We gotta evaluate the true benefit of the different plans versus the cost,” said Turvey.

The other plans contained elements Turvey admires, but he noted how the early renderings of Port Authority looked good on paper, too.

A mid-block atrium, proposed by both the MTA and Italian firm ASTM, would be covered in shadows most of the day, according to ReThink. And both leave Madison Square Garden in place.

“I just think people really need to think long and hard,” he said. “We’re going to be spending $20 to $30 billion. And are we going to be happy with some of the mediocrity that they’re projecting?”

ReThink Penn says that if the new station can turn back the clock, it will stand untouched for the next century.

Their plan right now, aside from some modernizations for accessibility and capacity, is more or less an identical remake of the original building, complete with wrought-iron atriums, ornate facades, columns and Charles Follen McKim’s vaulted, coffered ceiling.

All details unheard of in today’s buildings.

That’s because of the style and tastes of modern architects, said Turvey, not necessarily cost.

Advancements in techniques can make building such an ornate structure not as expensive as one might believe, he said.

“Would it be more expensive? Yes, but not by much,” Turvey said. “We don’t need 1000 stone masons from Europe to do this. They’re much simpler ways to do it.”

Computers, CNC machines and panelized construction, not artisans, will make up most of the work. The rebuild of 90 West St.’s facade after 9/11 could offer a model of how the station could be rebuilt, Turvey said.

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But their goal is to not just “reverse the architectural of crime of the century,” Turvey said.

The group is also positing a forward-looking change currently absent in the other proposals — a regional train plan by upgrading the tracks and platforms to allow for what’s called through-running, which would allow LIRR and New Jersey Transit trains to pass through rather than ending at the station, Turvey says.

Paris, London, Toronto and Philadelphia all have through-running systems, he added.

“Through-running would provide the kind of connectivity that the subways provide to the outer boroughs to our outlying counties,” Turvey said.

State and rail executives have been reluctant to embrace the idea, producing a much-critiqued study a few years ago, but Turvey says that he hopes former MTA executive and current Amtrak head Andy Byford could cut through what he described as railroad intransigence to take the idea seriously.

Turvey said he increased train capacity would actually allow the station to reduce the number of tracks needed and increase platform size, which means riders can board and exit trains in a more efficient — and humane — manner, with more escalators, too.

Other plans, he said, lack this kind of regional thinking.

“They’re building, from 2023 to 2030, a station based on a 1910 track plan. And I think that’s pretty silly,” Turvey said.

The biggest expense would be moving Madison Square Garden — needed for both the rebuilt, above-ground station and to rid structural columns on the track level — which state estimates have priced at $8.5 billion.

Owner James Dolan, who was recently under fire for using facial recognition tech to prevent enemies and their perceived foes from entering events at his properties, recently sunk $1 billion into renovations, but he has hinted that he could be persuaded.

Turvey said that between the increased regional mobility and a tourism interest that he thinks could rival the High Line, ReThink’s plan has “the economic benefits [that] would dwarf what these other stations could do.”

“It’d become a tremendous source of regional and even national pride to do this. And this really was a sensational building,” he said. “They shouldn’t be so quick to recreate a modernized version of the Port Authority Bus Terminal.”

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