Newark – Airport, NJ (EWR)
Featuring large expanses of glass, this bright and airy station links busy Newark Liberty International Airport with Amtrak and New Jersey Transit rail services.
Newark Liberty International Airport
AirTrain from main airport terminal
Newark, NJ 07114
Annual Station Ridership (2016): 138,785
- Facility Ownership: The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey
- Parking Lot Ownership: N/A
- Platform Ownership: The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey
- Track Ownership: Amtrak
For information about Amtrak fares and schedules, please call 1-800-USA-RAIL (1-800-872-7245).
The Newark Liberty International Airport (NLIA) station opened to the public in fall 2001 to link the busy airport with intercity passenger and commuter rail—provided by Amtrak and New Jersey Transit, respectively. The more than $400 million facility was funded primarily through a federal airline passenger surcharge. HNTB, an architectural firm known for large scale infrastructure and transportation projects, worked on the design and provided construction administration services. Unlike the great majority of Amtrak’s rail stations, this facility is not directly accessible by foot or car. The AirTrain monorail connects the station and the airport terminals; monorail fare is included in Amtrak tickets to and from NLIA. Passengers wishing to drive can park in the airport garages and then use the AirTrain to arrive at the rail station.
Constructed of steel with large expanses of glass, the station is bright and open, and offers distant views of planes in flight. The principal structure parallels the tracks and houses the covered monorail platforms on its upper level. From there, passengers access a concourse that spans the tracks; the platforms below are reached by stairs, escalators, and elevators. Although designed according to a clean and crisp modern aesthetic devoid of much ornament, the station does include some whimsical touches. One of these is a two-dimensional motif in gleaming metal that combines elements of air and rail travel. Behind a plane, the contrails have been replaced with railroad tracks, representing the unity of these two modes at the NLIA station.
Present day Newark and Elizabeth were settled by English colonists in the 1660s, but the land that now supports the airport—which sprawls over the boundary between the two communities—was not developed until the early 20th century. Much of it was a wetland along the shores of shallow Newark Bay.
Although largely agricultural into the early 19th century, Newark was connected to New York and other towns by roads and turnpikes. Due to poor surfaces, these paths could be difficult to traverse in winter snows and spring rains. In the 1820s, the 106 mile Morris Canal was constructed across the northern half of New Jersey between Phillipsburg, located on the Delaware River, and Jersey City, located on the Hudson across from Manhattan. By connecting the two rivers, goods could be shipped directly to New York or south to Trenton and Philadelphia, and the waterway stimulated more efficient trade between rural and urban areas. Through political pressure, Newark leaders ensured that their city would be on the path of the canal. Newly arrived Irish laborers were employed to dig the canal bed, and many stayed in Newark to form a community. A decade later, they were joined by German immigrants who influenced the city’s brewing industry.
In a story oft repeated in American history, the Morris Canal enjoyed only a few years of prosperity before its business was taken over by the railroads. Newark and Jersey City were linked by the New Jersey Railroad and Transportation Company (NJRR) in fall 1834. Early railroads were often poorly constructed and unreliable, but rapid advances in technology brought improvements that allowed them to dominate transportation markets. The canal was finally abandoned in 1924, and Raymond Boulevard was built over it in downtown. Below street level, the city’s light rail system was placed in the empty trench that had once held four feet of water.
By the end of the century, a handful of railroads served the city, including the Central Railroad of New Jersey, the Delaware Lackawanna, and Western, and the Lehigh Valley. To consolidate its control over the vital Washington, D.C.-New York City rail corridor, in 1871 the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) took out a 999 year lease on the United New Jersey Railroad and Canal Company, which had been formed four years earlier by the merger of the NJRR with the Camden and Amboy Railroad. By leasing the company, the PRR acquired an important ferry franchise and water rights on the Hudson River. At Jersey City’s Exchange Place, passengers transferred from trains to ferries to reach the island of Manhattan. In 1910, the PRR triumphed with the opening of a pair of tunnels beneath the river, which finally gave the railroad a direct link into what was the nation’s largest city and an important financial center and international port.
Industrial development in the late 19th century created new demands for land and a desire for better shipping facilities. During World War I, the federal government financed and oversaw the construction of Port Newark on the wetlands southeast of downtown, which were dredged and filled. In 1948, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey took over responsibility for the facility and modernized its operations while also expanding its footprint. Completed a few years later, the port was one of the first on the East Coast designed to handle the large containers then coming into wide use in the shipping industry.
Concurrent with work on the port, the city considered the development of a commercial airport on an adjacent portion of the wetlands. Aviation was still quite novel in the 1920s and 1930s, and the era was dominated by daring aviators such as Amelia Earhart, Eddie Rickenbacker, and Howard Hughes, who seemingly broke flight and time records every few months. In spring 1927, Charles Lindbergh became a world-wide sensation with his solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean. That same year, a fact-finding committee from the U.S. Department of Commerce determined that Newark was a strong contender for a commercial air facility. The chosen parcel was close to downtown Newark, with easy access to New York City provided by road and rail routes. Proximity to numerous rail lines and docks was also important for potential shipping and freight processing businesses. Newark Mayor Thomas Lynch Raymond directed $6 million towards the project and work began in late 1927.
To support the facility, 68 acres had to be engineered, a process that included infill, diversion of creeks, and installation of subsurface drains. The fill included not only sand and soil, but also more than 7,000 discarded Christmas trees, and by the time work was completed nine months later, the surface had been raised eleven feet. A grand opening ceremony for Newark Metropolitan Airport was held on October 1, 1928, and spectators were surprised to see the nation’s first hard surface runway, which was composed of asphalt and cinders. In 1929, Newark was designated the airmail terminal for the New York City region, thereby ensuring constant activity. Once the plane landed with the mail sacks, they were taken directly to the main post office across from Pennsylvania Station in Midtown Manhattan.
At the time that Newark Airport was completed, there were not many prototypes from which to draw guidance in planning such a facility, and railway stations were often used as conceptual models. Runways were generally unpaved and airlines housed passenger offices in their hangers. To transfer from one line to another, travelers had to walk out among the planes and go from one building to another; there was no separation between the working areas and the passenger zone. Within only a few years, Newark counted among the world’s busiest commercial aviation facilities. The premier airport in the New York City area, it saw all kinds of people pass through its doors, including famous actors and singers whose arrivals were regularly noted in local newspapers. The U.S. National Weather Bureau maintained an office in a city-owned hangar.
From no service in 1927, the airport processed more than 123,000 passengers in 1934. That same year, the airmail service was temporarily taken over by the U.S. Army, which was unhappy with the condition of the airport facilities. Between shifts, pilots had no designated bunkroom where they could rest, so they slept on the hangar floor. To address some of these capacity problems, a series of upgrades was planned. Thanks to its designation within the airmail system, the city was able to draw on federal funds to construct a new $700,000 administration building. Work on this structure was undertaken by the Civilian Works Administration (CWA), one of the jobs programs created under President Roosevelt’s New Deal.
Designed by the city and the CWA, the two-story Administration Building exhibits a sleek and streamlined Art Deco aesthetic that imparts movement, appropriate for a transportation facility. The structure consists of a central rectangular structure with wings angled at 45 degrees, a layout that allowed for up to eight planes to service the building at once. With a large ground floor waiting room, second story lounge, luncheonette, and roof top terraces, the building was supposed to be used by all four of the major airlines serving the airport—TWA, United, American, and Eastern—thereby consolidating passenger functions into one common space. Completed in 1935, the building would not be used as intended until the early 1940s. After LaGuardia Airport opened in New York City in 1939, all the airlines moved there and Newark briefly closed for reorganization. Upon reopening, the airlines returned and the Administration Building was put into full use.
Constructed of reinforced concrete—a relatively new material—the building consisted of “land” and “air” façades; the latter faced the runways. The land side elevation is dominated by a central projecting pavilion with a recessed entryway. Three sets of double doors topped by large windows allow abundant natural light to bathe the interior foyer and staircase. Above, a large clock flanked by elongated panels resembles a propeller, and it is surrounded by stylized thunderbolts and clouds. To the sides of the pavilion, the façade is highlighted by inset bands of red brick that contain the casement windows. The bands reinforce the horizontal nature of the structure, and the choice of brick provides a contrast in texture and scale to the large expanses of concrete.
The air side is dominated by a rounded bay that rises past the roofline to terminate as the front of a glass enclosed oval room. This unique space served as the control tower, and it held radio equipment. From this perch overlooking the airport, early aviators pioneered techniques for night landings. The bay’s shallow arc is further enhanced by a black porcelain marquee above the first floor and a balcony around the control room that both follow its gentle curve. As a whole, the bay adds an arresting vertical element to the otherwise horizontally-oriented structure.
Inside, fine finishes belie the building’s importance as a model for other airports. Creamy brown Botticino marble is employed for the wainscoting, shiny aluminum is found in the trim around doors and windows, and decorative plasterwork covers the ceilings. The sparkling terrazzo floors included bold geometric patterns executed in red, black, grey, and brown. The floor of the main concourse features the emblem of the CWA: a stylized eagle with strong, outstretched wings set against a circular background that includes the year, 1934, and the initials of the organization.
On the second floor, the wings contained offices and furnished bedrooms where pilots could sleep between flights. At the top of the stairs, passengers had access to a lounge. A series of ten oil-on-canvas murals by Armenian-American artist Arshile Gorky were installed in this space in 1937, and were funded by another New Deal program, the Works Progress Administration (which had absorbed the CWA). Highly abstract and dominated by primary colors such as blue, red, black, and brown, they addressed aeronautical themes. One, named “Mechanics of Flying,” showcases important instruments for early aviation, such as a thermometer, hygrometer, and an anemometer. Another panel, “Aerial Map,” depicts a distorted national map crisscrossed by typical flight paths. Received to mixed reviews, the murals were all painted over during World War II when the airport was commandeered by the U.S. Army. Largely forgotten until they were accidently rediscovered in 1972, only the two above survived. They are now on display in the Newark Museum.
The grand opening of the Administration Building was held on May 15, 1935, and was attended by thousands of onlookers who came to tour the facility, watch a fireworks show, and catch a glimpse of aviator Amelia Earhart. Soon thereafter, the nation’s first air traffic control center opened at the airport to coordinate activities between the terminal’s four carriers. When the U.S. Army took over the facility during World War II, improvements such as new and extended runways, a control tower, and hangars were constructed. The Army used the airport to ship more than 51,000 aircraft overseas for the war effort. They were constructed in factories nearby, flown to the airport, partially disassembled, and packed up for shipping.
Post-war, the city once again took control of the facility, but in 1947 it signed a lease with the Port of New York Authority (now the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey) to manage the airport provided that the organization make improvements. An additional 880 acres were purchased for future expansion, including land in the town of Elizabeth. Over the next six decades, more than $4.3 billion was spent to periodically modernize the airport in response to changes in aviation technology and design. Today, it consists of three terminals serving national and international flights, as well as a cargo handling facility.
By the 1950s, the Administration Building was considered too small and out-of-date. It was altered to serve other functions, and interior partitions were installed. In recognition of its role in early aviation history and advances in technology, the structure was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979. In the late 1990s, the building stood in the way of a proposed runway expansion. Rather than demolish the historic structure, the Port Authority decided to move it almost a mile to the west, undertake a full exterior and interior restoration, and incorporate it into a new airport administration building.
The 7,000 ton structure was cut into three pieces and wheeled to its new spot to be reassembled. The architectural firm of Beyer, Blinder, and Belle carried out the $6 million restoration project, which included repairs to the porcelain marquee, installation of reproduction aluminum framed casement windows, and cleaning and repair of all of the interior finishes. The former glass enclosed control tower now overlooks a private courtyard where employees can have lunch or take a break. A rededication ceremony was held on December 17, 2002, ninety-nine years to the day when the Wright Brothers made their first successful manned flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. In the lobby, display cases contain airport memorabilia that span the decades, and a timeline recounts major milestones.
Long known as Newark International Airport, the facility was renamed Newark Liberty International Airport in 2002 in honor of the victims of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Combined, Newark, LaGuardia, and Kennedy airports form one of the busiest air hubs in the world. The addition of the intercity passenger and commuter rail station created a truly intermodal facility that increases mobility options for travelers.
Amtrak provides ticketing services but does not provide baggage services at this station. Newark Liberty International Airport is served by nearly two dozen daily trains.
- Accessible Payphones
- Accessible Platform
- Accessible Restrooms
- Accessible Waiting Room
- Elevator Accessible
- Enclosed Waiting Area
- High Platform
- Pay Phones
- Quik Trak Kiosk