Riding Amtrak from Washington’s Union Station to New York’s Penn Station is a trip, architecturally speaking, from heaven to hell. So it came as a surprise this summer when Amtrak announced plans to transform one of those stations into “a world class transportation hub,” at an estimated cost of nearly $7 billion. The upgrades will bring a vast new, glass-roofed train shed by HOK and Parsons Brinkerhoff to—wait for it—Washington’s Union Station, a Daniel Burnham-designed showplace. At the same time, plans for replacing New York’s Penn Station, the famously disgraceful hole under Madison Square Garden, with a more respectable facility in the Farley Post Office building on the West Side of Eighth Avenue—first proposed by Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan in 1993—are in limbo.
True, there is some good news in New York. In May, the non-profit Moynihan Station Development Corporation awarded a $148 million contract to the construction giant Skanska to create street entrances to an existing concourse under the steps of the post office (the concourse is now accessible only through subway passageways). The improved West End Concourse could, someday, be a small component of the long-hoped-for Moynihan Station. But the station itself, once designed by David Childs of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill with a luminous ticketing hall in the courtyard of the old post office building, is still on hold. Amtrak, which would be the lead tenant, is at the mercy of two large developers, Vornado Realty Trust and the Related Companies, which have an option to develop parts of the Farley site, but haven’t found just the right money-making formula. (At one point last year, Vornado offered to build the Borough of Manhattan Community College a campus inside the post office building in exchange for the school’s valuable land in the pricy TriBeCa neighborhood.)