Rather than razing blocks of New York City south of Pennsylvania Station to expand capacity of the busy rail hub, transit agencies could collaborate to implement “through-running” there, nonprofit planners say.

Panelists on a May 24 event, “Remaking Penn Station for Riders and the 22nd Century,” called for an independent industry group to examine state Gov. Kathy Hochul’s proposal, announced in 2021, to replace the current station with a 250,000-sq-ft, single-level facility. The plan calls for an underground connection to the 34 St-Herald Square subway station, a 30,000-sq-ft public plaza and more than 1,000 units of mixed-income housing in the transit-dense neighborhood.

The New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority is working with Empire State Development, Amtrak, New Jersey Transit and various community stakeholders to advance the draft plan.


Governor's proposed station would double existing capacity but have an impact on the neighborhood south of Penn Station.

Rendering courtesy of Gov. Hochul's office

But groups, such as ReThink NYC and the New York Landmarks Conservancy, want MTA to reconsider the concept, which they say would put historic buildings at risk along with displacing residents and businesses on blocks south of the station. Through-running would better link all rail system routes by creating other transit hubs in the region, panelists said. While Amtrak does “run through” Penn to points north and south, commuter lines NJ Transit and Long Island Rail Road do not. 

“Our plan allows transit systems to operate together, from anywhere to everywhere,” said Sam Turvey, chair of ReThinkNYC.  “Instead of Penn Station being the last stop, trains can run through Penn to other hubs. No hub would be overloaded.” 

Elements of the proposed Regional Unified Network include adding new tracks for rail agencies to continue through to new hubs in Queens and the Bronx, adding rail yards in New Jersey and other NYC boroughs, rebuilding and electrifying two unused trackbeds over Hell’s Gate Bridge and adding a Metro-North Railroad station at Port Morris.

“If we expand the region’s core [of transit hubs], we can stop cannibalizing the cityscape of New York,” Turvey said. “There would be no need to demolish the neighborhood south of Penn.”

Robert Paaswell, a professor emeritus of the City College of the City University of New York, said other global capital cities have or plan for through-running at their major stations, as well as high-speed rail. “It’s almost embarrassing that we don’t have through-running and high-speed rail,” he said.

“We need to look to the next century, not the last” in terms of transit planning, Paaswell added. “We  need a world-class independent peer review team to evaluate competing ideas.”

He compared the proposed plan to EZ-Pass toll transponders that can be used throughout the region regardless of which toll road is used, and proposed that a federally authorized commission could be created to provide legislative context for a transit equivalent.

Christine Berthet, transportation committee co-chair for Manhattan’s Community Board 4, added that “through-running is not the technical challenge” since 56% of train traffic already “runs through” Penn Station to Sunnyside Yard, including all Amtrak traffic.  “Why not 100%? Why are the railroads saying ‘wait’ for years and years?”

Speaking to the idea of just building a bigger Penn Station, including a rail yard, instead of optimizing other existing and potential hubs: “Why let trains sit there under the central business district for several hours, while destroying high-density blocks?” she said. “The railroads must be told that ‘no eminent domain’ is a base assumption.”

Karim Ahmed, founding principal of Reform Architecture, said that the plan would create additional capacity within Penn Station, while costing half of the governor's estimated $17.7-billion project. Citing the East Side Access project, he noted that building underground in Manhattan’s bedrock is invariably costly and time-consuming.

“Through stations should be a national standard,” he added.