Pennsylvania Station, opened 107 years ago as a great entry to New York City and destroyed in reckless fashion over the past six decades, has become the poster child for America’s crumbling infrastructure; a dubious honor which tragically undersells the magnitude of cultural disaster lurking among its three subterranean levels. Recent media attention on derailments and signal failures may give the impression that the station’s current troubles happened overnight. They didn’t. Penn Station is not an aberration. It is not a dark twist in an otherwise happy story. It is the product of chronic cultural ills and stunning societal failures allowed to fester unchecked for over 50 years. Where hand-carved stone eagles once watched over an acclaimed architectural and engineering triumph, the pigeons of our collective inaction have come home to roost.
To understand Penn Station is to understand America. For better or worse, the station has always been a reflection of the times.