• Penn Station: An engineering marvel

    Michelle Hamilton
    Travel back with me–in time, that is, to 1910.  Back then, commercial air travel didn’t yet exist, and train travel was all the rage.

    Penn Station

    Photo credit: Library of Congress

    We’re headed to the northeastern United States, to the center of the commercial universe, New York City. Here, cutthroat competition among the railroads was at a fever pitch. The Pennsylvania Railroad had bought a controlling interest in the Long Island Railroad. Other lines such as the Erie Railroad, Lehigh Valley Railroad, and New York Central and Hudson River Railroad were jockeying for position.  Who would be the first to actually reach Manhattan?

    Perhaps you didn’t know, but at that time the railroads could transport their passengers only as far as New Jersey. From there, travelers had to be transferred to ferries for the last leg to New York City. The Hudson and East Rivers stood in their way—but not for long.

    Pennsylvania Railroad’s president, Alexander Cassatt, one of the great railroad pioneers of the 20th century, boldly embraced the challenge to build 16 miles of railroad tunnels under the Hudson and East Rivers to connect New Jersey to New York City.

    The naysayers said it couldn’t be done. The expense would be astronomical. The shifting nature of the riverbeds made it impossible.

    But Cassatt proved everyone wrong … and that’s only a fraction of the tale!

    Hat tip to PBS! Their American Experience documentary, The Rise and Fall of Penn Station, will take less than an hour of your time, but your life will be immensely richer for having seen it.

    What a feat! An engineering marvel! The next time you enter Manhattan by rail, remember when …  All aboard!

    Related links of interest:
    Photos of historic Penn Station
    Penn Station, New York, Manhattan, NY Train Station – Map | Amtrak
    New York Penn Station – New Jersey Transit

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