Friday, March 25, 2016

The Oculus and New York's Other Train Stations

the force is strong in this one - my daughter Sophie at the oculus
New York is blessed with two of the greatest train stations in the world and one of the worst. I've used all three extensively in our brief soujourn in the city. We're going back to Australia in a couple of days and unlike Europe or America train travel in Oz is not something you do very often. Its a 10 hour train from Melbourne to Sydney and another ten hours from Sydney up to Brisbane. There are some great trains in Australia and one day I hope to be able to take the famous Ghan from Adelaide to Darwin. Anyway off topic. I wanted to talk about New York's train stations. Grand Central is one of the wonders of the world in my opinion. A beautiful utilitarian secular cathedral that is all the more exciting because it is your gateway to many other fascinating destinations. Grand Central makes wonderful cinematic backdrops in North By Northwest, The Fisher King to name but a few. And one of the greatest titles of all time is Elizabeth Smart's By Grand Central Station I Sat Down And Wept. (Great title, great book, but as Angela Carter famously said, she founded Virago Press from "the desire that no daughter of mine should ever be in the position to write By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept, exquisite prose though it might contain. By Grand Central Station I Tore Off His Balls would be more like it, I should hope.")
This week I visited the Oculus, the new PATH train station at the World Trade Center. There's been a lot of grumbling from the New York Times about cost over-runs and delays at Oculus but once you go there all of that can completely dismissed from your mind. The Oculus is without doubt one of the most beautiful buildings I've ever been in. A soaring bird like frame over a gorgeous white marble floor, this is the Sistine Chapel of modern railway stations and New York City should be very proud of this place. 
Penn Station, er, not so much. New York's main Amtrak station is a grim underground bunker from the sweaty seedy 70s. A frightening, claustrophobic hell-hole from a noir movie Penn Station is an awful place. And this is the place that greets many visitors to New York for the very first time. Getting out at Penn Station undoes all the good of all the I LOVE NY campaigns or the attempts to clean up Times Square. The New York Times shouldn't grumble about the money wasted on the Oculus, rather it should grumble about the continuing disgrace of Penn Station. Penn Station needs to go and the Oculus shows that is entirely possible to build something beautiful, new and daring in its place.