The Long Island Rail Road restored a bit of grandeur to train travel on Tuesday, as pols and other officials cut the ribbon on a new $108-million terminal near the intersection of Atlantic and Flatbush avenues.
The facility atop the busiest transit hub in the borough replaces a dour subterranean mess that has existed since the original Atlantic Terminal was torn down in the 1980s. Construction began in 2002 and came at an estimated $26 million above the original budget, the New York Times reported.
But Tuesday was a day for congratulations. Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman Jay Walder hailed the facility as nothing less than a Grand Central Station for Brooklyn, though the building is far smaller than its Manhattan counterpart, and only services a branch line of the Long Island Rail Road rather than the full Metro-North commuter railway.
“This is a place where you would want to take a train to or from,” Walder said. “It is a spectacular new addition to Brooklyn.”
The glass walls and roof of the new center bathe commuters in sunlight. Grand staircases bring riders down from street level, where a craggy overlook designed by artists Ellen and Allen Wexler offers a nifty vantage point down on the harried workers. There’s a new ticket window, an area for maps and schedules, and even inviting rest rooms.
Borough President Markowitz offered a dose of Brooklyn pride.
“Why would you disembark in cold, soul-less, windowless Penn Station when you could come to this beautiful atrium, where the rays of the sun come all the way deep underground?” he mused. “I say, ‘All aboard!”
Markowitz pointed out that the terminal — which connects the LIRR to 10 subway lines — may itself become a hub of economic development. It will serve as the destination of future fans of the Brooklyn Nets, who hope to one day be ensconced in the Bruce Ratner–built Barclays Center across the street, and it may entice Long Islanders to make day trips to cultural offerings such as the Brooklyn Academy of Music and Junior’s restaurant — “all of which are within a few feet of the station,” Markowitz said.
But not everyone was overjoyed with John di Domenico’s lofty design.
Councilwoman Letitia James (D–Fort Greene) criticized the LIRR for ringing the terminal with 14 massive coffin-shaped concrete-and-granite bollards to ward off potential, though unspecified, terror attacks.
“The coffins are ugly,” she said. “This is a facility that is supposed to celebrate openness, yet they put hideous barricades in front of it.”
James said she would meet as soon as possible with LIRR officials to see if the security perimeter can be made more attractive.
Long Island Rail Road President Helena Williams agreed with James that the bollards are unattractive, but said that they are necessary “in this day and age.”
“We worked with the NYPD and the MTA police, who assess the risks and tell us what kind of security we need,” she said. “Do these bollards lack elegance? Yes. But they are necessary.”
She admitted that the sarcophagi were not part of the original approved design in 2002 and were not part of the design when construction began in earnest in 2005.
Architect di Domenico said his initial idea was to ring the terminal with “a group of low benches,” but added that the security fencing was bulked up several times as construction continued.
“Security concerns kept increasing,” he said.