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Grand Central - The World's Greatest Railway Terminal


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[float=right]RB0635-2T.jpg[/float]By the early 1830's, New York had evolved into America's largest city and the center of the country's commerce. During this same period, regular operation of steam powered trains on North American railroads began. This development positioned the industry for rapid expansion. By the end of the 1830's, approximately 3,000 miles of trackage would be in service on the North American continent. New York City, which had grown in close proximity to an extensive system of waterborne transportation, was about to begin reaping the benefits of the expanding railroading empire as well.

 

New York's first railroad, the New York and Harlem, was chartered in 1831. It was an endeavor of very modest objectives. Created to link lower Manhattan with the northern community of Harlem, service utilizing horse drawn cars began in 1832. The railroad took delivery of several steam locomotives during the late 30's; however, due to smoke abatement regulations for the downtown area, steam operations were prohibited south of 14th Street and horse car operation continued on this segment of the system. New York City's first railroad passenger station of consequence was built on 4th Avenue between 26th and 27th Streets. The twin towered structure was shared by the New York & Harlem and New York & New Haven Railroads. This represented the southern terminus of steam operations and passenger cars were pulled by horses below this point to the end of the line.

 

In 1863, the New York & Harlem was purchased by well known steamboat entrepreneur Cornelius Vanderbilt. Due to his success in water transportation, Vanderbilt had earlier scorned the upstart railroads; however, even he recognized the potential of rail transport and entered the industry in a big way. Subsequent purchases included the Hudson River Railroad in 1864 and the New York Central Railroad in 1867. As Vanderbilt's empire developed, he recognized the need for a new, larger passenger facility for New York City. The concept of the Grand Central Depot was thus conceived.

 

Located at 42nd Street and 4th Avenue between Lexington and Madison Avenues, the new station was an impressive structure. Construction began in 1869 with the building welcoming its first trains in 1871. Featuring a train shed which rose 100 feet into the area while providing 600 feet of coverage for 12 tracks and 5 platforms, the new Grand Central Depot represented the state of the art in passenger station development at the time. Still, for all the superlatives bestowed upon it, it was quickly outgrown. Beginning in the mid 1880's, an extensive program was initiated to increase train and passenger capacity of the track approaches and station, itself. Renamed Grand Central Station, the upgraded facility served for only a brief period before the grandest of all projects was approved and implemented.

 

As the city grew and placed greater demands on the existing transportation network, railroad management recognized the potential benefits of electric locomotion; therefore, shortly after the turn of the century, electrification began. A totally new passenger terminal consisiting of two levels was developed and a project of epic proportions lasting several years was underway. In rapid succession, trackage was electrified, rebuilt below ground level and the aforementioned two level terminal erected on the site of the old Grand Central Station. Electric trains actually commenced operation from the old station in 1906. The project's original locomotives, the S-motors, became legendary in railroading annals. In fact, the New York Central 115, renumbered as the Penn Central and later Conrail 4715, remained active in Grand Central Terminal switching service until its retirement in 1981! The new station, named Grand Central Terminal, opened its doors in February, 1913.

 

"Grand Central...the World's Greatest Railway Terminal" is a 160 page hardcover book authored by William D. Middleton. First published by Golden West Books in 1977, it traces the history of railroad and city developments which ultimately led to the terminal's construction. The text is extremely detailed and informative. Numerous black and white photographs, drawings and diagrams provide vivid illustration of passenger railroading at what is now the intersection of 42nd Street and Park Avenue. Since the book was released in 1977, it does not address the wonderful rebirth GCT has enjoyed in recent years; however, it provides a scholarly history of the terminal's ancestor buildings, conception and initial 60 plus years of existence. In fact, there were still shadows looming over Grand Central as the book went to press. Knowing how things turned out after its publication gives the reader an extra sense of satisfaction as various attempts to convert the terminal's space into another skyscraper are recounted. The destruction of the original Pennsylvania Station was a civic crime; thank goodness the same fate did not befall Grand Central Terminal!

 

"Grand Central...the World's Greatest Railway Terminal" is highly recommended reading for students of New York City transportation. It is priced at $32.95 and currently available from the Strasburg Rail Road Store at http://www.strasburgrailroadstore.com/product_p/rb0635.htm. A picture of the book's cover may be seen at www.strasburgrailroadstore.com/photodetails.asp?showdesc=n&productcode=rb0635

 

Best regards,

 

Earle

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I hope it tells us how many levels there are at Grand Central. It's been an enigma for railfanners for generations.

 

There are 4 levels plus the traction power station that sits 30 feet under the lower mechanical level for the terminal.

 

- A

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Yeah, we know the regular 4 levels of GCT. But according to Julia Solis, there are more levels than that...

 

I don't think there is, mainly because the traction power room would have to support the ceiling vs the 30 foot of bedrock supporting itself with 2-3 columns in the center for stability in the traction power room.

 

It is a strange layout to be sure, and it is much larger than its current use has need for. Back in the day GCT had trains on every track coming and going all day long.

 

- A

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I don't think there is, mainly because the traction power room would have to support the ceiling vs the 30 foot of bedrock supporting itself with 2-3 columns in the center for stability in the traction power room.

 

It is a strange layout to be sure, and it is much larger than its current use has need for. Back in the day GCT had trains on every track coming and going all day long.

 

- A

 

Yeah, the track layout is VERY complex

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