When the coronavirus pandemic hit New York City, life ground to a halt, but not everything stopped. Work on an ambitious infrastructure project at the historic Farley Post Office continued and the city unveiled Moynihan Train Hall on time despite the odds.
"I think it's really inspiring. And what it tells people is, yes, we can do it. It is this," said Roger Harris, executive vice president and chief marketing and revenue officer at Amtrak. "It's this statement of faith and hope in the future,"
The 255,000-square-foot station will serve as a hub for Amtrak and Long Island Rail Road commuters. Funding for the $1.6 billion project came from Amtrak, Empire State Development, Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, private developers, and a federal grant.
The pandemic may not have influenced the timeline of the project, but it did change the way people travel by rail. According to Amtrak, 37.5 percent of tickets were sold via mobile devices between October 2020 and February 2021, a jump of almost 12 percent year-over-year. The type of commuter has changed too. Business travel has dropped off, as have the higher fares business travelers typically pay.
"Our business travel customers are telling us that it's going to be quite a long time before they may come back," Harris said. "So, what we really need to do in the meantime, is kind of reinvent who we appeal to in terms of providing transportation services."
Moynihan Train Hall does not address some of the serious underlying problems with transportation in New York and regionally, like congestion on the train tracks. But stakeholders hope it will just be the first in a series of more ambitious infrastructure projects with federal support from President Joe Biden, a famous lover of public transit.
"It helps to have an advocate in the White House and in the DoT making these decisions around rail, but we also should remember that the funding for this comes from Congress," Harris said.
"We still need to make sure that in the House and Senate we have the support for the investment that we need."