MTA bids farewell to NY Penn Station ‘head knockers’

March 9, 2022
The 10-ton low hanging beams limited head space in the station; their removal is part of efforts to increase spaciousness of the Penn Station LIRR concourse.

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

The seven low-hanging beams weigh 10 tons each and have limited heights in Penn Station passageways to six feet, eight inches. Removing the beams, known as head knockers, will allow MTA to pursue its plans to increase the spaciousness of the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) concourse in Penn Station. The project began in 2019 to improve access to the east side of the station.

“New Yorkers deserve a grand entrance to New York City and the removal of these low-hanging beams is another step towards that goal,” said MTA Chair and CEO Janno Lieber. “A new Penn Station, filled with sunlight, accessible to all and more like the original Penn Station will replace the cramped, dimly lit labyrinth that we’ve had since the 1960s. It will also be ready to receive the additional train capacity when the Penn Access and Gateway Tunnel projects are completed.”

The project will raise ceilings, widen corridors, add entrances and creating more stairways and elevators to platforms. Project crews are increasing the ceiling height to 18 feet across the entire concourse, nearly doubling the width of the 33rd Street Corridor to 57 feet from the previous 30 feet, improving lighting, creating more intuitive wayfinding and new direct sight lines to track level. Work is scheduled to be completed during the first quarter of 2023.

“We have responded to the calls for a better customer experience at Penn Station with this complete overhaul of the LIRR concourse,” said LIRR Interim President Catherine Rinaldi. “New Yorkers and visitors from around the world will be greeted by a grand hall with 18-foot-high ceilings, a wider concourse that creates better traffic flow, an updated LIRR waiting room and a view from the Main Gate concourse down onto platforms that let everyone see train movements. All of this translates into a better customer experience for all.”

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 Dec. 31, 2020, the same day Empire State Development opened Moynihan Train Hall across Eighth Avenue.

Improving the functionality and aesthetic of Penn Station has been a long-time focus of New York’s elected officials. In November 2021, Gov. Kathy Hochul revised a proposed plan for the station and refined its priority toward renovating rather than expanding. The governor envisions the station as a modern 250,000-square-foot facility.

“I am glad to join MTA Chair Janno Lieber today as we announce the removal 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-first and community-oriented. In modernizing the look and feel of Penn Station, we bring this transit hub into the 21st century," said Lieutenant Governor Brian Benjamin.

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