I have been thinking about the problem of how to redo the whole Penn Station (including track level) from a logistics standpoint. The "classic" approach might be to try and keep it in service while the station is rebuilt. This would be utterly complex and very expensive.
So I want your feedback on this crazy idea: Completely close Penn Station for 60 days and rebuild the entire track level during that "window." Then reopen the stations in phases.
- Step 1: complete East Side Access for LIRR to Grand Central and a new Macy's station for NJT. These don't "replace" Penn Station capacity, by they do offer perhaps 30%-50% or more of the existing capacity. This means that during the closure of the station you only need to accommodate 50-70% of the daily users.
- You would start by tearing out a lot of the above grade super structure while keeping the station operating. Get as far as you can without impact train operations and station function. This is exactly the way that Madison Square Garden was built in the first place.
- Step 2 -- during the closure you do keep the "through operation" for Amtrak at Penn Station -- but trains don't stop. In other words, you can still take a train from Philly to Boston. But Philly to New York will run to Hoboken. And Boston to New York will run to Grand Central. Thus, all the Amtrak travel options are still available. You could even, maybe, have a skeleton Amtrak station at Penn most of the time, but most of the station will have to be closed under this concept.
- Step 3 -- the Ferry "bridge." For 60 days we are going to have a flotilla of ferries. We are going to borrow every catamaran ferry in the world we can for that period and run a major ferry operation between Hoboken and Manhattan. On the Manhattan side we are going to have a "Super BRT" that runs across the island. Two streets will be closed to all other traffic and buses will take over. The lights will devote green time to buses at the Avenues. The net effect of this is that commute times for most commuters will increase by no more than 15 minutes for 60 days during the "ferry bridge" Of course, some customers will use the new deep cavern station. On the LIRR side, a super shuttle operation will use subways and will involve a similar logistical situation.
- Step 4 -- Free transit. Yes, that is right. NJT is free for 60 days to Hoboken to compensate you for your lost time from having to take a Ferry or Path across the water. Similar arrangements for LIRR. This will help reduce the pain.
- Step 5 -- gut Penn Station. Rip it all out -- fast. This means having a fleet of waste barges docked at the river, and closing two streets to traffic so that dump trucks can continuously transport the waste. It can then be carted to NJ, ground up and reprocessed as aggregate for reconstruction. Recycling, so to speak.
- Step 6 -- "the Miracle" Using round the clock construction, build a new working station in 45 days at track level. All the niceties can come later, but this entails the tracks, signals, power supply, platforms, and a temporary mezzanine. The design will have to account for opening in phases, but the goal is to open a phase one station within 60 days (or a similar time frame).
- Step 7 - Reopen the temporary station. It now has a better operating pattern, but the actual station superstructure is not complete. Spend the next year finishing the actual station complex above the brand new "basement."
The potential advantage of a scenario like this is that you get a lot done quickly, and then life returns to normal. You only live with construction for a year, instead of, say, three or four. You don't have to constantly shuffle train schedules and platforms, etc. as you rebuild the guts of the station. Over and done and then you focus on the superstructure.
Rapidfire construction is not a new idea. It is used, for example, during times of war. The enemy blows up the bridge -- you build a new one in a jiffy. What Penn Station would entail is a massive heavy lift to tear it out and rebuild it as quickly as is physically possible.
Okay, hack the idea to pieces!