History: Reflections of the Past, and in the Making in New York City

Posted by George Hamlin
on Tuesday, October 5, 2021

In the New York City subway system, a good deal of history can be seen in a variety of places.  This example (above), at the Herald Square station in Manhattan is illustrative of some of the City’s rail transportation history, inasmuch as it references three entities that are currently operating, but not under the names shown here.

“BMT” is a reference to what was known as the Brooklyn Manhattan Transit Corporation prior to its acquisition by the City in 1940.  At this stop, former BMT service today is provided by the N, Q, R and W lines.

Next to the BMT, the “H&M” is a reference to the Hudson & Manhattan Railroad, more commonly known as the Hudson Tubes.  This entity provided an underwater alternative, via tunnels, between several points in New Jersey and Manhattan, including the former Lackawanna (later Erie Lackawanna) station in Hoboken, and later, between Penn Station Newark and New York City, in particular the Financial District in far southern Manhattan.

Finally, and probably more familiar to those not from the area, the “Penn RR” reference is definitely refers to the mighty Pennsylvania Railroad, and in particular, its New York City terminal, Penn Station.  (Yes, the station is a “through” track layout, but the PRR itself ended here, with service east of the station provided by the Long Island Rail Road, which the Pennsy controlled for many years.)

Notwithstanding the fact that the Pennsylvania Railroad hasn’t existed for over 50 years, New Yorkers continue to refer to the facility bounded by Seventh and Eighth Avenues, and 31st and 33rd Streets as “Penn Station”.

While the long-haul intercity passenger service that Penn Station was originally designed to service is considerably reduced compared with the early 20th Century, commuter traffic has grown considerably in the more recent times, and regional service along the “Northeast Corridor” remains strong. 

Increased traffic on the commuter lines to both New Jersey and Long Island resulted in some additional infrastructure at Penn Station for these entities, including considerable new yard facilities for the LIRR west of the station.  Amtrak services continued to be confined in the central portion of the station however. Crowding, particularly at rush hours, didn’t contribute to a pleasant experience for the carrier’s passengers.

However, the long-awaited re-purposing of the Farley Post Office building between Eighth and Ninth Avenues came to fruition, in the form of the Moynihan Train Hall (picture below) in January 2021, when Amtrak’s operations were largely relocated to the new facility (passengers can continue to board and disembark from their trains via the previous location to the east if desired, however).


Unlike the post-1960s Penn Station to the east, the Moynihan Train Hall features lots of natural light (see below), and a feeling of spaciousness due to the higher -and transparent- ceilings than in the previous location.  Even better, there are far fewer commuter train passengers to mingle with, including no direct access for New Jersey Transit patrons.

At the moment, while essentially complete from an operational perspective, there are still “finishing” details to be completed, including amenities such as food services and access to shopping.  Even without these features, which are on the way, it’s hard not to like the new space, however, although Amtrak passengers destined to points in Manhattan east of the station now essentially have another long east-west block to traverse.

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