Fixing the Penn Station Mess

Fixing Penn Station in New York first requires cooperation among the 3 railroads that use it: Amtrak, New Jersey Transit, and the Long Island Rail Road.  So says Robert W. Previdi, former spokesman and operations planner for New York City Transit, writing in the Op-Ed section of The New York Times.  A new Penn Station, he notes, would take billions of dollars and agreements between multiple agencies in 3 states, as well as at least a decade to accomplish.  However, Previdi says, simpler things could be done much faster.

A unified customer information and ticketing scheme would be a good start. The 3 railroads operate in different sections of the vast station and, says Previdi, “each rail line operates as if the other two don’t exist.”  To transfer from the LIRR to NJT, you have to “navigate the subterranean labyrinth” and seek out a NJT ticket window or machine and then find your train—LIRR has one departure board and NJT and Amtrak have others.  Airports, with dozens of airlines, have single information boards; why not Penn Station?

Another way to improve the Penn Station experience, says Previdi, would be better management of the retail stores, as is done at Grand Central Terminal and Union Station in Washington, D.C.  Why can’t this be done?  Previdi says that “territorial claims within the station run deep,” inhibiting cooperation.  There are glimmers of hope, Previdi says: MetroCards work both on New York subways and buses and on the PATH trapid transit system; NJT sells tickets good on SEPTA connections to the Philadelphia area; and NJT runs through trains a few times a year to Connecticut for those coming to New Jersey football games in the Meadowlands.  So, who should take the lead in improving the Penn Station mess?  Previdi says the ball is in the court of the governors of New Jersey and New York to break down the barriers between the jealous public agencies.