Pennsylvania Station

For the Pennsylvania Station in Newark, New Jersey or Baltimore, Maryland, see Pennsylvania Station (Newark) or Pennsylvania Station (Baltimore).
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Exterior view circa 1911. The sheer size of the structure in comparison to the surrounding buildings is notable. Very little of this scene survives in modern Manhattan.

Pennsylvania Station is one of New York City's main railway stations. Commonly known as Penn Station, it is located in the underground levels of Pennsylvania Plaza, an urban complex located at 32nd Street between 7th and 8th Avenues in Manhattan. Madison Square Garden is located atop the station.

Penn Station is located at the center of the Northeast Corridor, an electrified passenger railroad line extending from Washington, DC to Boston, Massachusetts. The station is served by a number of passenger rail services including Amtrak (the station's owner), Long Island Rail Road, New Jersey Transit, and the New York City Subway System.

The station is assigned the IATA airport code of ZYP. [1] (




Penn Station is named for the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR), its builder and original tenant. There could have been no Penn Station in New York City until the Pennsylvania Railroad's rails reached Manhattan. The 19th century PRR did not; it terminated across the Hudson River in Jersey City's Exchange Place terminal, where passengers bound for Manhattan boarded ferries for the final stretch of their journey. The rival New York Central Railroad's rails ran down Manhattan from the north, ending in its Grand Central Terminal right in the heart of Midtown Manhattan.

The Pennsylvania Railroad, unsatisfied with this state of affairs, considered bridging the Hudson River (too expensive) or tunneling under it (too long to work with steam locomotives and too difficult to ventilate). The development of the electric locomotive and electrified railroad systems by the early 20th century provided a practicable solution to the latter problem.

On December 12, 1901, PRR president Alexander Cassatt announced the railroad's plan to enter New York City, to tunnel under the Hudson and to build a grand station on the West Side of Manhattan, south of Thirty-Fourth Street. The PRR had been secretly buying up the land in Manhattan and New Jersey that it needed for some time.

Two single-track tunnels were bored from the New Jersey side, and in addition four single-track tunnels were bored under the East River from Queens to Manhattan, linking the Long Island Rail Road, now under PRR control, to the new station. Sunnyside Yard in Queens would be the place where trains were maintained and assembled.

The tunnel technology was so new and innovative that the PRR shipped an actual 23 foot diameter section of the new East River Tunnel to the Jamestown Exposition at Sewell's Point on Hampton Roads, near Norfolk, Virginia in 1907 to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the founding of the Jamestown Settlement. The same tube, with an inscription that it had been displayed at the Exposition, was later installed under water, and was still in use in 2004.


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The main waiting room, circa 1911.

The current facility is substantially the remodelled underground remnant of a much grander structure built between 1905 and 1910. Designed by Charles McKim of the famous architectural firm of McKim, Mead, and White, the original Pennsylvania Station of legend was an outstanding masterpiece of the Beaux-Arts style and one of the architectural jewels of New York City. The above-ground portion of the original structure was demolished in the mid 1960s to make room for the current Pennsylvania Plaza/Madison Square Garden complex.

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The concourse and steps down to the tracks.

The original structure was a pink-granite exercise in a gigantic and sober colonnaded Doric order embodying the sophisticated integration of multiple functions and circulation of people and goods that is an under-appreciated achievement of the outwardly glamorous and occasionally pompous Beaux-Arts movement. McKim, Mead and White's Pennsylvania Station combined frank glass-and-steel train sheds and a magnificently-proportioned concourse with a breath-taking monumental entrance to New York City, immortalized in films (see link below). From the street, twin carriageways, modelled after Berlin's Brandenburg Gate, led to the two railroads that the building served, the Pennsylvania and the Long Island Rail Road. The main waiting room, inspired by the Roman Baths of Caracalla, approximated the scale of St. Peter's nave in Rome, expressed here in a steel framework clad in travertine.

The destruction of the original structure, although justified as progressive in the trade at the time and largely ignored by non-professional Americans, nevertheless left a deep and lasting wound in the architectural consciousness of the city. A famous photograph of a smashed caryatid in the landfill of the Meadowlands struck a guilty chord. Pennsylvania Station's destruction is considered to have been the catalyst for the enactment of the city's first architectural preservation statutes. The sculpture on the building, including the angel in the landfill, was created by Adolph Alexander Weinman. One of the sculpted clock surrounds, whose figures were modeled using model Audrey Munson, still survives as the Eagle Scout Memorial Fountain in Kansas City, Missouri, there is also a caryatid at the sculpture garden at the Brooklyn Museum and all of the Penn Station eagles are still in existence.

Ironically, Charles McKim may have doomed his own structure by not allowing Alexander Cassatt to include multi-story office buildings as part of the Penn Station complex. By the 1960's, the air rights of Penn Station were too valuable to be left idle and the Pennsylvania Railroad, which was losing money at the time, would have had one less incentive to tear down the beautiful building. McKim opposed high rises because he considered them anti-urban.

Ottawa's Union Station, built a year after Penn Station (in 1912) is another replica of the Baths of Caracalla. Therefore, this train station's departures hall now provides, at half the scale, a good idea of what the interior of Penn Station would have looked like. Chicago's Union Station is similar as well.


Under the presidency of PRR's Stuart T. Saunders (who later headed ill-fated Penn Central Transportation), the above-ground components of this structure (the platforms are below street level) were demolished in 1964, without disrupting the essential day-to-day operations, to make way for present-day Madison Square Garden, along with two office towers. Ironically, Lewis Mumford had written critically in the New Yorker in 1958 that "nothing further that could be done to the station could damage it" after a recent renovation had covered some of the grand columns with plastic and blocked off the spacious central hallway with a new ticket office. Interestingly, four eagles from the station currently reside on a bridge in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania across from that city's Pennsylvania Station.

The demolition of such a well-known landmark and its replacement by a mediocre slab of real estate was widely deplored and is often cited as a catalyst for the architectural preservation movement in the United States, and for laws restricting such demolition. Immediately after the demolition of this original Penn Station, Grand Central Terminal was declared a monument and protected by law. It also hurt the already arrogant reputation of master developer Robert Moses, whose plans for a Lower Manhattan Expressway were scrapped due to public protests and a rejection of the plan by the city government. In the longer run, the sense that something irreplaceable had been lost contributed to the erosion of confidence in Modernism itself and its sweeping forms of urban renewal, and thus helped clear the way for the rise of a Post-Modernist sensibility. Comparing the new and the old Penn Station, architectural historian Vincent Scully once wrote, "One entered the city like a god, one scuttles in now like a rat."

Across 8th Avenue from Penn Station sits the New York's general post office, the James Farley Post Office. Under pressure from Sen.Daniel Patrick Moynihan, plans were publicized in 1999 to move the entrances and concourse of Penn Station into this building's outer shell. The process has not yet been started, however, and it remains unclear whether this will actually take place.

Railways, lines, and trains

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Penn Station underground concourse


  • Acela Express to Boston, Philadelphia, and Washington
  • Adirondack to Montreal
  • Cardinal to Philadelphia, Washington, Cincinnati, and Chicago
  • Carolinian to Philadelphia, Washington, Richmond, Raleigh, and Charlotte
  • Crescent to Philadelphia, Washington, Greensboro, Atlanta, and New Orleans
  • Empire Service to Albany, Syracuse, Buffalo, and Niagara Falls
  • Ethan Allen Express to Albany and Rutland
  • Keystone to Philadelphia and Harrisburg
  • Lake Shore Limited to Albany, Syracuse, Rochester, Buffalo, Cleveland, Toledo, and Chicago
  • Maple Leaf to Albany, Syracuse, Rochester, Buffalo, and Toronto
  • Metroliner to Philadelphia and Washington
  • Regional to Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, Richmond, and Newport News
  • Silver Service to Philadelphia, Washington, Savannah, Jacksonville, and Miami
  • Three Rivers to Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Chicago
  • Vermonter to New Haven, Springfield, and St. Albans


New Jersey Transit

Passengers can also connect at Secaucus Junction to trains bound for Bergen County, New Jersey and Rockland and Orange counties in New York.


Port Authority Trans-Hudson (PATH) service to Hoboken and Jersey City, New Jersey does not technically serve Penn Station, but is located only a block away, at 33rd Street and 6th Avenue. It was once accessible via underground passageway, but this has been closed to the public for security reasons, and now the only access is via the surface streets.

See also

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