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Penn Station Transformation Takes Next Step with Removal of Low-Hanging Beams Known as ‘Head Knockers’ from LIRR Concourse

Updated March 8, 2022 2:30 p.m.
Head Knockers 2

Low-Hanging Structural Beams Severely Limited Head Space 

New Concourse Will Double in Width and Height 

View Video from Today’s News Conference 

View Photos of Today’s New Conference 


The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) today announced that a major step in the reconstruction of Penn Station is advancing with the removal of seven massive low-hanging beams informally known as “Head Knockers” – and have historically limited the heights in Penn Station passageways to 6 feet, 8 inches. These beams, which weigh ten tons each, were part of the original structure of Penn Station but have been rendered obsolete as crews have built a new structural support system. 

“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.” 

“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. “The Governor and I are committed to creating a better experience for all commuters traveling through New York—and that includes our Long Islanders who use LIRR, New Yorkers who share the subway system, and future MTA customers—who will take Metro-North from the Bronx and Westchester—when Penn Station access is completed.” 

“The new Penn Station will be something that all New Yorkers can be proud of, and it will be a beautiful new gateway to New York City,” said, MTA Construction & Development President Jamie Torres-Springer. “Riders will be greeted by high ceilings, better lighting, custom finishes, easily understandable wayfinding signs and more room to move. It will be the perfect greeting to everyone who passes through it daily on their way to work, school and all the amazing activities that New York City has to offer.” 

“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.”  

The low height of the Penn Station ceilings was a result of the low height of the previous structural support beams. In order to raise the height of the ceilings and remove the beams, MTA Construction & Development crews removed the previous structural roof and replaced it with a secondary structure above the roof to bear the load. The first beam was removed last week.  

The removal of the beams is part of the MTA’s ongoing efforts begun in June 2019 to dramatically increase the spaciousness of the LIRR concourse at Penn Station by raising ceilings, widening corridors, adding 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.  

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.  

All these efforts lay the groundwork for Governor Kathy Hochul’s plan for the full-scale reconstruction of Penn Station into a modern 250,000-square-foot facility with many of the same improved features that are part of the LIRR Concourse improvements. Last November, Governor Hochul unveiled her vision for a new commuter-first, world-class Penn Station and revitalized surrounding neighborhood that reflects the community's needs and focuses on public transit and public realm improvements.