MTA Says Goodbye to NY Penn Station “Head Shocks”

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) removed obsolete building components that limited open space at New York Penn Station.

The seven low beams weigh 10 tons each and have limited heights in Penn Station walkways at six feet eight inches. Removing the beams, known as the head-stoppers, will allow MTA to continue with its plans to increase the hall space of the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) concourse at Penn Station. The project started in 2019 to improve access to the east side of the station.

“New Yorkers deserve a grand entrance to New York City and removing these low beams is another step toward that goal,” said MTA Chairman and CEO Janno Lieber. “A new Penn Station, filled with sunshine, accessible to all and more like the original Penn Station will replace the cramped, dimly lit maze we have had since the 1960s. It will also be ready to receive additional train capacity when Penn projects Access and Gateway Tunnel will be completed.”

The project will raise ceilings, widen hallways, add entrances and create more stairs and elevators to platforms. Project teams are increasing the ceiling height to 18 feet across the entire lobby, nearly doubling the width of the 33rd Street hallway to 57 feet from the previous 30 feet, improving lighting, creating a more intuitive orientation and new direct lines of sight at track level. The end of the works is scheduled for the first quarter of 2023.

“We’ve answered calls for a better customer experience at Penn Station with this complete overhaul of the LIRR lobby,” said Catherine Rinaldi, Acting LIRR President. “New Yorkers and visitors from around the world will be greeted by a grand lobby with 18-foot-tall ceilings, a wider lobby that creates better circulation, an updated LIRR waiting area, and views from the main gate concourse on the platforms that let everyone see the movements of the trains.All of this results in a better customer experience for everyone.

Other work recently completed at Penn Station as part of this project is the iconic new entrance to Penn Station at 33rd Street and Seventh Avenue. The new “East End Gateway” opened on December 31, 2020, the same day Empire State Development opened the Moynihan Train Hall on Eighth Avenue.

Improving the functionality and aesthetics of Penn Station has long been a priority of New York’s elected officials. In November 2021, Governor Kathy Hochul revised a proposed plan for the station and refined its priority toward renovation over expansion. The Governor envisions the station as a modern 250,000 square foot facility.

“I am pleased to join MTA President Janno Lieber today as we announce the retirement of the aptly named ‘Head Knockers’ from Penn Station. This renovation brings us one step closer to Governor Hochul’s vision of a Penn Station that is both commuter-driven and community-driven. By modernizing the look and feel of Penn Station, we are bringing this transit hub into the 21st century,” said Lieutenant Governor Brian Benjamin.

Melvin Z. Madore