Penn Station Long Island Rail Road Concourse Renovation

New York City


Submitted by: Skanska

Owner: MTA Construction & Development/Penn District Station Development LLC

Lead Design Firm: AECOM

General Contractor: Skanska

Lead Architect: Skidmore Owings & Merrill (SOM)

Construction Manager: WSP USA

With the goal of relieving congestion and improving the overall experience for travelers, the Penn Station Long Island Rail Road concourse renovation preserved square footage for essential customer amenities—including retail and restrooms—while expanding public space by more than 15,000 sq ft.

The $412-million project also sought to redefine Penn Station’s 33rd Street Corridor and a new spacious entry hall, which included raising the ceiling from 6 ft 8 in. high to 18 ft high.

Passengers can now descend the escalators from the East End Gateway into Penn Station and the new Long Island Rail Road entry hall. The escalators from 33rd Street and Seventh Avenue were completed in late 2020 in the first project phase. The 26-month Phase 2 concourse renovation finished on schedule and on budget in March 2023.

Penn Station Long Island Rail Road Concourse Renovation

Photo courtesy MTA

The design-build team, led by Skanska with designer AECOM, worked on both phases and included most of the same specific team members. “What really helped Phase 2 be so successful was the relationship that Skanska and AECOM already developed on the Phase 1 project,” says John Sullivan, senior vice president of operations at Skanska USA. “We were able to continue to build on that.”

In the new hall, lighting from over 360 color-changing LED ceiling panels creates a luminous glow with the aim of complementing daylight that illuminates the space. Existing retail spaces and storefronts were shifted to allow for the almost doubling of the concourse width to 57 ft from 30 ft.

Sullivan says the new LED ceiling is the “crown jewel” of the expansion. “It’s the centerpiece that gives you the feeling of natural light,” he says. “Those LED panels really give you an opportunity to give it much more of an open feel. That cramped feeling [in the previous space] just doesn’t exist anymore.”

Michael Voorwinde, AECOM project manager and associate vice president of transportation, says the new design also helps passengers with wayfinding by improving sight lines and creating a logical flow through the space. “There’s a lot of natural light coming in now through the new glazed entrance that is really extenuated by the luminous ceiling, adding a dynamic element to it that helps draw people to where they’re going when exiting the station,” he says.

Penn Station Long Island Rail Road Concourse Renovation

Photo courtesy MTA

Reaching New Heights

A key component of the new design was raising the ceiling of the hall. The existing space included numerous “head-knocker” structural beams along the ceiling that were just 6 ft 8 in. off the floor.

The team needed to remove the old structure and relocate existing utilities in the ceiling to achieve a nearly tripling in ceiling height. Crews executed extensive structural reframing and demolition of the existing Penn Station roof. That roof also served as a critical artery to the loading dock of Madison Square Garden and the One Penn building.

Penn Station Long Island Rail Road Concourse Renovation

Photo courtesy MTA

To maintain the loading dock’s traffic flow, the team collaborated with various project partners, including AMTRAK, Long Island Railroad, MTA Construction and Development, Vornado, Madison Square Garden and local utilities.

As part of its strategy, the project team engineered and constructed an elevated decking system, which consisted of independent steel framing and precast concrete panels spanning the full width of the street.

This solution enabled continuous operation of two active traffic lanes while facilitating construction and operation activities for Madison Square Garden, the One Penn and Two Penn office towers and concourse renovation team operations. The elevated deck also optimized design and construction of the new Penn Station roof structure and facilitated efficient material hoisting, which the team says ultimately saved schedule.

“That decking system allowed us not only to maximize the structural framing construction in that area, which had to be completely reframed for the new higher ceiling of the concourse, but it also allowed full operation of the main artery to Madison Square Garden,” says Nir Golan, senior project manager at Skanska USA.

Penn Station Long Island Rail Road Concourse Renovation

Photo courtesy MTA

Construction Cocoon

Throughout the project, the existing concourse needed to be operational. To minimize impacts on the daily use of the station, the team leveraged a concept used on the first phase. It devised a demolition shield that spanned the width of the public concourse, providing maximum protection to the traveling public at one of North America’s busiest transportation hubs.

“It’s something that we’ve done on other projects, but on this project, we kind of took it to a different level,” Sullivan adds.

Penn Station Long Island Rail Road Concourse Renovation

Photo courtesy MTA

The shield was engineered to withstand the demands of heavy demolition and structural work. It was equipped with comprehensive life safety systems, including temporary fire suppression, lighting, speakers, cameras, communications, HVAC and signage.

In consideration of the historical significance of Penn Station, the design of the shield’s structural supports preserved the station’s iconic glass block slab.

“It was essentially a cocoon inside the existing station. We put our trades to work above it and on both sides of it,” Sullivan says. “That was the key to success with making an aggressive schedule. It let the work happen while the traveling public continued to walk right underneath our feet. It let work happen 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”

He says without that kind of approach, “the schedule would have dragged out over many more months, maybe even years because we would have had to phase the work and do it in very small pieces.”

The shield was one of several critical safety measures on the project. The project team took a proactive approach to safety by implementing a project-specific environmental, health and safety program registered to ISO 45001 and ISO 14001 standards.

Penn Station Long Island Rail Road Concourse Renovation

Photo courtesy MTA

As part of this program, all personnel worked together to deliver EHS excellence through proactive identification and mitigation of risk while stressing continual improvement that emphasized collaboration beyond industry standards, says the team.

The project team partnered a member of the management team with each craft foreman. Management was responsible for conducting monthly crew review with the foremen and crew but it was also responsible for participating in the daily hazard analysis.

Daily foremen safety meetings created dialogue about best practices, recurring safety issues and critical site coordination activities. The project’s environmental, health and safety performance rates were below national averages with an OSHA recordable incident rate of 1.67 and a lost-time accident rate of 0.33 during 598,846 work hours.