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March 1997 - Page 40

William O. Middleton

This perspective from the Empire State Building shows the office building above Penn Station and circular Madison Square Garden. Beyond is the green-stained copper roof of the post office building that may one day house a new Amtrak terminal.

D u r i n g P e n n S t a t i o n 's t w o d a i l y c o m m u t e r peaks, t h e flow o f L I R R trains had reached t h e full capacity of the four East River tunne l s . To decrease congest i on and o p e r a t e a d d i t i o n a l t r a i n s d u r i n g rush hours, the L I RR reduced t h e number of empty trains deadheading through the tunnels to or from storage yards on Long I sland by building an enor mous storage yard and servicing facility on the west side of Manhattan . Completed in 1 986 after four years of construc tion, this $ 1 7 5 m i l l ion yard was built on the site of a former New York Central freight yard along the Hud son River between 30th and 3 3 rd streets. Capable of storing, cleaning and servicing 320 L l R R commuter cars, the 20-acre yard has some 25 miles of track, as wel l as an inspection and l ight maintenance shop. Built concurrently was a new north access tunnel, passing under the yard site to link Penn Station with Conr ai l 's west side freight line. Th is l ine, acquired and rehabilitated by Amtrak, provided a connection a long the H ud son River to Metro-Nort h 's Hudson

Line at Spuyten Duyvil, and a route into Penn Station for Amtrak's Empire Corridor trains. Opening of this new west side connection in 1 99 1 enabled Amtrak to consolidate a l l of its New York services at one loca tion, adding 20 daily trains and a m i l l ion annual pas sengers to the traffic at Penn Station. With the East River tunnel capacity rectified, the Long I s land next had to deal with platform capacity problems in Penn Station itself before more peak pe riod trains could be added. The problem here was with the exi ts. Passengers had to walk several hun dred feet to get from the front of a train to exit stairs at the center of the platforms. Thi s , together with the limited stairway space, added to the time it took to empty rush hour trains and c lear the p l a t forms for other trains. The Long I sland solved the problem by building a new west side concourse near the west end of the platforms and beneath the post office west of Eighth Avenue. This was placed at the intermediate level between the platform and main concourse levels, and linked directly to the Eighth Avenue subway sta tion and the street. S t i l l a n o t h e r m a j o r Penn S t a t i on i m p rovement came out of a 1 988 agreement between Amtrak and New York's MTA, under w h i c h t h e two agreed to jointly finance a new $1 1 0 million, six-story control center for the station and its approaches, at Ninth A v enue and 3 1 st S t reet. I n terlocking control was cut over from t h e four 80-year-ol d e l ec t ro-pneumatic plants to new a l l-relay interlockings, and a computer aided centralized traffic control system began operat ing out of the new control center in September 1 994. When the full project is complete, the control center will have remote control of interlockings throughout Amtrak's New York terminal area. Scheduled for com pletion this fal l , the system will be based in a new op erating theater within the center, where it will share space with Amtrak's New York Division Centralized E lectrification and Traffic Control (CETC) system. By late 1 99 1 , still another major project was under way at Penn Station to further improve and expand the Long I s l and's fac i l i ties for a flow of commuters that had reached an average of 1 ,000 every 90 sec onds during peak periods. Significant elements of the $ 1 98 mil lion project included a new glass-enclosed entrance structure on 34th Street, with stairways, es c a lators, and e levators leading d i rectly from s tree t l evel to the L I R R concourse leve l , and a complete renovation of the connecting concourse under 3 3rd Street, which links the Long I sland's faci lities with the Seventh and Eighth avenue subways. I mproved passenger circulation was provided by two new corri dors for access to the LI RR platforms, one at the cen ter of the station, and another near the Seventh Av enue su bway. Th is work, together with other new stairways, escalators, and elevators, increased the ver tical circulation capacity between platform and con course levels by more than a third. C o m p l e t e d d u r i n g 1 9 9 4 , t h e i m p ro v e m e n t s brought a n architectural quality back to Penn Station missing since Charles McKim's station was torn down 30 years before. Design features such as marble wall panels, granite flooring, and a grand barrel arch ceil ing over the long connecting concourse under 3 3 rd Street give a richness and character to the spaces. At the Seventh Avenue end of the concourse, at its junc ture with the wide corridor leading to the new 34th Street entrance, a sculpture Eclipsed Time b y Maya Lin, a clock that marks time based on the concept of solar eclipse, is mounted on the ceiling. In the corri dor leading to the new entrance , terra cotta murals

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