For those of you who have travelled through the last pre-COVID iteration of New York’s Penn Station, when you think about it, what immediately comes to mind?
Perhaps you evoke images of packed common areas, a confusing, maze-like structure, dark, dingy underground tunnels, and the feeling of stress when you are rushing through that tunnel maze and crowd from one train to another.
However, that has all changed.
On January 1, 2021, the first phase of Penn Station’s renovation plan began with the opening of the Moynihan Train Hall. Located in the historic James A. Farley building (which was formerly a major post office), ground broke on this part of the project over a decade ago, so it is wonderful to see it finally completed.
I recently had the chance to visit the new terminal, and was extremely impressed to say the least. Here are my thoughts.
Great for Social Distancing
While the old station was super narrow in pretty much all the sections, the wide and open design of the new terminal likely will allow for plenty of space between everyone even when more people resume travel.
Simple and Organized
Unlike the confusing, maze-like old portion of the station, the newer one allows travelers to access nearly every track from the same open room. Tall pillars at each escalator leading down to the tracks not only show the track numbers, but also display the destination of each train and all the stops along the way.
In addition, connection passengers, particularly those going between LIRR and Amtrak, will have to walk far less overall, since once again, most of the tracks are in the same room. The ticketing for both of those rail lines are near each other as well, unlike in the old stations, where their ticketing areas were on different floors.
If a traveler were to get lost in this station or have some other type of issue, there were plenty of easily-identifiable employees situated around the hall and ready to help.
Click here to see a full diagram of the terminal.
Nice Waiting Area
While I didn’t get to spend much time there and therefore couldn’t get good photos, the new waiting area had comfortable seating, plenty of outlets, and tables for working. It also did not have many people (hence why I allowed myself to go), but of course that could change as travel resumes.
Hopefully this will not change as time goes on, but at least when I was there, everything was shiny, and I did not notice a single piece of trash.
A New, Better Lounge
While old ClubAcela Lounge has mediocre reviews to put it lightly, the new Metropolitan Lounge seems far superior in pretty much every way.
While I wasn’t able to visit either or them (since they are only available to first class and sleeper-car Amtrak customers), the pictures and reviews for both lounges speak for themselves.
Need I say more? 🙂
Limited New Jersey Transit Access
This will likely be the biggest issue with travelers going through the station. At the moment, Tracks 1-4 (which are used exclusively by New Jersey Transit) as well as the NJ Transit ticketing and waiting areas are all in the old portion of the station, which means that the only way for most New Jersey Transit travelers to enjoy the new hall is to use the underground passageway to go back and forth, or cross 8th Avenue above ground. It probably isn’t worth the hassle.
It is not entirely clear what access will look like for NJ Transit customers in the future. However, at the moment, the only was for NJ Transit riders to have direct access to the new station is to arrive at a track other than Tracks 1-4.
Limited Dining Options… For Now
The only open restaurant in the new terminal as of writing is Starbucks. However, according to the hall’s official website, more restaurants will open in the future. So expect dining options to improve over time.
BONUS: My Experience Riding Amtrak during the Pandemic
If you’ve read this far, you get to see a bit of my experience riding Amtrak during the pandemic.
This trip was booked pretty last-minute, and I wanted to make sure my train was very empty. Amtrak has a handy new feature on its website that allows users to see how heavily-booked a scheduled train is at any given time.
My train showed as only 5% booked less than one week out (which is actually even less passengers than that since Amtrak is currently only booking trains at 50% capacity).
My train left on time but arrived at my stop about 20 minutes late. We were had a short-distance configuration and had the refurbished seats, which were comfortable, with good padding, legroom, and recline.
Power outlets and reading lights were available at every pair of seats.
The service attendants were all very friendly, and helped passengers at every stop. Unfortunately, because my train ran entirely at night, there was no view, but journey was enjoyable nonetheless, and flew by quickly.
The new station is beautiful, and a massive improvement over the older one. While both are functional, the newer one is far easier to navigate, has better waiting and distancing areas for passengers, and has such a stunning design.
The future of Penn Station looks bright, both literally and figuratively.