Grand Central was owned by the New York Central Railroad
Do you know who owns Grand Central now?
If you said Metro North Railroad, or its parent company, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, then you are wrong.
Nor is it Donald Trump, Disney or WalMart.
Find the answer and find out a lot of interesting facts.
February 2, 1913 New York’s partially completed palatial passenger station, Grand Central Terminal, opens in the center of Manhattan at 12:01 am. About 150,000 people will visit the new terminal today.
This page is our gateway to New York City. Find out about the New York Central Railroad‘s Grand Central Terminal. Explore the fabulous New York City Subway System. Learn who Robert Moses. was and his impact on New York City. Understand New York City transit planning, West Side Freight Line (the “High Line”) and St Johns terminal. The New Haven Railroad and the Long Island Railroad reached into New York City. Did you know the Lehigh Valley Railroad even went into New York City (by ferry). Learn about the Jenney Plan to bring commuters into New York City and finally explore mysterious track 61 at Grand Central Terminal with its relationship to Presidents of the United States.
Used to be a great model train exhibit at Grand Central every Christmas sponsored by Citibank. After the Citigroup / Citibank layout contract was no longer renewed, Clarke Dunham moved the entire layout to his museum, “Railroads on Parade” in Pottersville, NY which is open to the public by admission tickets during the ‘summer season” (Memorial Day through the fall). Pottersville is just off the Northway I-87 in the southern part of the Adirondack Park, maybe 45 minutes north of Saratoga Springs, NY and well worth the trip.
GRAND CENTRAL TERMINAL WITHOUT SIGNAL TOWER B
On September 21, 1986, an electrical fire occurred in Signal Tower “B” in Grand Central Terminal. It happened on a Sunday when the lower level was deserted and caused extensive damage.
The fire severely limited access to the terminal’s lower level. On Monday, delays averaged 30 minutes with some incoming trains almost 90 minutes late. Metro-North continued to run a full schedule with many commuters disembarking at 125th Street.
63,000 rush hour passengers ride Metro-North Railroad on its Hudson, Harlem and New Haven lines. 180,000 people use the terminal each day.
In 1848, the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad Company was granted rights “in perpetuity” to enter New York City and Grand Central.
Metro-North began to look for some creative methods to make up for the loss of capacity. One partial solution has been increased use of the loop tracks. On each level are loop tracks running from the westernmost arrival tracks around the south ends of the terminal and back into the parallel trackage at the east end of the layout. The lower level loop tracks were first used extensively in a 1919 subway strike. Extra trains were run around the loops in almost rapid-transit fashion and a crowd of over 180,000 passengers (huge for 1919 but not by the standards of the 1940s) was moved with an average train delay of only about two minutes. The upper level loop was not even put in operation until 1927.
Grand Central was shut down for three hours on Sunday, September 21. The fire began below Tower “B” (three stories underground at 49th Street). The machinery in the tower, which dates to 1913, controls the 17 lower-level platform tracks and nine storage tracks. Because of its age, it is difficult to repair or replace. Metro-North considered temporary switching equipment and in the meantime moved switches manually. Seven trains used the lower level on Monday – normally 47 trains use these tracks.
Metro-North operates 516 trains on a weekday with 113 of these between 6AM and 10AM and 52 trains between 8AM and 9AM. AMTRAK has 20 trains in and out on a weekday.
Tower “B” is 60 feet long and operates the track switching machinery and signals that tell trains whether to proceed. It is a 400 lever plant with control wires leading to four remote subinterlocking machines from which the switch machines are in turn controlled. In 1913, it was the largest interlocking tower ever constructed. It was designed so that one man would operate 40 levers. The crew of the tower is supervised by a “tower director” who calls out the sequence of the levers to be thrown. If he calls out the wrong sequence, an error occurs and not only does the switching fail to complete, but the train stops. When an operator pulls a lever, this causes a “high field” motor to do its work. When complete, there is a gentle click which is an indication of the release of the armature magnet. There is a huge map of the trackage served by the tower. The little electric lights on the chart represent an accurate facsimile.
Delays were caused by too many trains for too few tracks. One difficulty is a lack of storage tracks both within the terminal and in close proximity. Before real estate values went sky high and much land was sold off, sufficient storage space was available at Mott Haven, five miles north of the terminal. This Bronx facility came into being when the new (1913) Grand Central Terminal was built because there was not space for the car service and storage area formerly in the old Grand Central area. Trains arriving at the terminal emptied their passengers and were towed to Mott Haven for servicing. As new trains were made up, they were towed back to Grand Central before departure. This was a favorite use of the S-class electrics because of their good low-speed torque.
Metro-North’s capital plan, which must be approved by the State Legislature, would combine Tower “B” and four other switching rooms into one modern tower inside the terminal by 1996.
On October 7, only four tracks were in use on the lower level at 5:15 PM but lots of incoming trains were queued inside the tunnel. Over the last several weeks, Metro-North has seemingly coped with the lower-level problem quite well. Commuters used to always arriving at or departing from the same platform forever have had several surprises as they may have not departed from the same track two nights in a row. By moving trains into platforms at the last possible minute and juggling times, trains and tracks; they have shown that the capacity of the terminal is really quite flexible.
Until Tower “B” can be replaced (hopefully 1987), the lower level sees rush hour usage as switchmen manually operate about a dozen key switches and guide trains into the platforms.
Grand Central Terminal Track Plans
Grand Central Terminal is the largest train station in the world by number of platforms: 44, with 67 tracks along them. They are on two levels, both below ground, with 41 tracks on the upper level and 26 on the lower, though the total number of tracks along platforms and in rail yards exceeds 100. When the Long Island Rail Road’s new station, below the existing levels, opens, Grand Central will offer a total of 75 tracks and 48 platforms. The terminal covers an area of 48 acres. There are 31 tracks in revenue service on the upper level. These are numbered from 11 to 42, from the most eastern track to the most western track. Tracks 22 and 31 were removed in the late ’90s to build concourses for Grand Central North, track 12 was removed to expand the platform between tracks 11 and 13, and track 14 is only used for loading a garbage train. The lower level has 26 tracks, numbered from 100 to 126, east to west, though only tracks 102-112, and 114-116 are currently used for passenger service. Grand Central Terminal Track, Signal, and Interlocking Diagrams. A great view of the Long Island Railroad access to Grand Central from Auto-free New York. More detailed explanations of Grand Central Terminal from “New York Architecture”. More questions on the Long Island RR link to Grand Central..
BUILDINGS AROUND GRAND CENTRAL (AND OTHER CENTRAL STORIES)
In April of 1987 the former New York Central Office Building was designated a landmark. It is a pinnacle on New York City’s skyline. The owner has maintained it as if it was already a landmark. Its peaked crown is sheathed in gold and copper. It is encrusted with dozens of oval windows and topped by a beacon 567 feet in the air. Encircling the 15th story is a herd of 78 heads of bison. It is the 34-story (sometimes referred to as a 35-story building because there is no 13th floor) gateway for Park Avenue traffic (Park Avenue runs on four lanes through the building itself). It is located between 45th and 46th Streets. It was designed by Warren and Wetmore and built between 1927 and 1929. It is now owned by real estate developer Harry B. Helmsley who regilded and illumunated the rooftop. He also fixed the clock over the North entrance and in general cleaned it up. The building always housed many other offices than just those of the New York Central. For instance, when the building opened, the Scripps-Howard News Service occupied the entire 22nd floor.
An earlier New York Central office building between 45th and 46th Streets was completed in 1921. It had 16 stories. The first three stories had been completed in 1914. The 16th story held offices for President Smith, William K. and Harold Vanderbilt and Chauncey Depew. The first two floors were devoted to Railway Express and a postal facility.
In 1926, several other improvements were made in the Grand Central area, the largest being the Graybar Building. It is bounded by 43rd and 44th Streets and by Lexington Avenue and Depew Avenue. At the time it was built, it was the largest office building in the area, but this distinction was soon captured by nearby neighbor Chrysler Building. The Graybar’s 40 foot concourse binds to Grand Central Terminal and provides entrances to subways and the former Commodore Hotel – now the Grand Hyatt. Built underneath it were Grand Central services which involved the lengthening of the express tracks. It is 30 stories tall and has 34 elevators. It was named after its largest tenant – the Graybar Electric Company (named after a Professor Gray and a Mr. Barton). It was connected to 11 office buildings and 4 hotels containing 5,900 rooms. With its building, three additional gates leading to 6 tracks were built as well as new loop tracks and a signal tower (Tower “F” on the lower level). In 1928, the roadway around Grand Central itself was opened.
The Grand Central Palace, a large exhibition hall, occupied the block bounded by 46th and 47th Streets and Lexington and Park Avenues. The railroad’s heating and power facilities as well as the Adam’s Express Co. occupied a block between 49th and 50th Streets. In 1929, the Waldorf-Astoria began construction on this site. Completed in 1931 at a cost of $32 million, this magnificent 40-story building is occupied by one of the world’s greatest hotels. It had previously been at 34th Street and Park Avenue. On Lexington between 44th and 45th Streets, a six-story building with a post office on the street level and offices on the upper levels was constructed. The Grand Central Terminal Office Building just north of the terminal and affronting on 45th Street housed additional office space.
When Grand Central Terminal was built, the terminal tracks were depressed below street level and crosstown streets reestablished on bridges above the tracks. This created 30 city blocks of some of the most valuable real estate in the world. Without ever going above ground, a pedestrian can reach 21 buildings from 41st Street to 46th Street and along three blocks of 42nd Street from 3rd Avenue to Madison.
From 45th Street north, Park Avenue was a 140 foot wide boulevard with hotels and office buildings. The change since electrification and rebuilding was like night and day. The marvelous development of Park Avenue as a high class residential street continued far north of the terminal. The Roosevelt, Barclay and Chatham hotels were built just off Park Avenue. The Commodore at the corner of Lexington and 42nd Street was not completed until 1919 because of work on the Lexington Avenue (IRT) subway. The Biltmore opened in 1914. It was just west of the terminal in an area from Vanderbilt to Madison between 43rd and 44th Streets. It had the Grand Central Arrivals Station in its basement. A traveler could take an elevator to the lobby. The New York Central and the New Haven had a financial interest in 21 of these buildings which had a 1946 value of $121 million.
In 1963, the six-story terminal office building was replaced with the 59-story Pan Am Building. Escalators were built from it into the concourse of Grand Central and 2.4 million square feet of office space added.
Before the 1950’s, the New York Central Marine Department was a significant fleet. Now it is gone-scrapped or serving other owners. For instance, a tug is now an ice cream stand in Buzzard’s Bay, Massachusetts. Some comparative data is shown below:
It is interesting to note the changes of station names over the years. The most interesting is how Ossining was once called Sing Sing. The residents changed the town’s name to differentiate it from the prison. Ironically, the prison is now called the Ossining Correctional Facility.
Many thanks to my uncle, Ken Knapp of Delhi, NY for reviewing the text of my New York Central articles. Although he only worked for the Central for one summer, he grew up going on many trips on the pay car with his father and knew many of the names I have mentioned in articles. Adding to my story on snow being hauled from Thendara to Briarcliff Manor, he recounted how snow was also hauled into Lake Placid for the ski jumps at the 1932 Olympics (he was on the scene-thanks to a “trip pass”). Although the D&H owned the line at that time, the rail activity was very heavy and primarily New York Central. Currently he lives in a house with abandoned NYO&W roadbed running through the backyard. Adding to my story on railroad police, there was a detective named Moe Holstein who traveled around the System giving talks to groups about how to avoid pickpockets, prevent crime, etc. When he was introduced, he would ask the person who introduced him to tell him the time. This person would find that someone had taken his watch. Moe would return it to him, which was always good for a laugh.
Grand Central in 1921
Grand Central in 1965
Train arriving on upper level at Grand Central
Interested in the viaduct that carries trains out of Grand Central?
Electrics into Grand Central
Folklore among railfans and New York City buffs is that the operation of steam and diesel railroad engines is prohibited in Manhattan. The law regarding Grand Central Terminal and steam locomotives is Chapter 425 of the 1903 legislative session, laws of New York State, titled “An Act to provide for further regulation of the terminals and approaches thereto of the New York and Harlem railroad at and north of Forty-second street in the city of New York. . .”. This law was passed and effective May 7, 1903.
Its not a “GCT Rule”, its a New York State law. For whatever reason (maybe because “them” (the RR) is now “us” (a city/state agency) the enforcement is now gone, since paying fines from one packet to the other is not useful). The original law was made as regards STEAM engines, which are a LOT worse than an FL9…. (yes, the law COULD be applied to diesels, and was). The restriction is not third rail related, but rather tunnel related.
The law generally provides the powers needed to close and regrade public streets, condemn property, and so on, to make possible the construction of Grand Central Terminal.
Section 3 requires plans for the reconstruction to be submitted within 30 days of the Act (i.e. by June 6, 1903) to the Board of Estimate and Apportionment of the city of New York. This board was until recently the legislative body of the city.
Section 4 states that, beginning 5 years after approval of the plans (i.e. by about June 1908 or slightly later), “it shall not be lawful, except only in case of necessity, arising from the temporary failure of such other motive power as may be lawfully adopted, for any railroad corporation to operate trains by steam locomotives in Park avenue in the city of New York south of the Harlem river. If trains shall be operated by steam locomotives in said Park avenue south of the Harlem river for a period of more than three days, the railroad corporation operating such trains shall pay to the city of New York a penalty of five hundred dollars for every day or part of day during which such trains are so operated, unless the mayor of the city of New York shall certify to the necessity for the use of steam locomotives arising from the temporary failure of other motive power.” It goes on to detail how the mayor certifies the necessity and how the mayor may revoke the certificate at will.
It then states that the New York and Harlem Railroad, the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad, and any successor companies using the railroad in Park Avenue, “are hereby authorized to run their trains by electricity, or by compressed air, or by any motive power other than steam and which does not involve combustion in the motors themselves, through the tunnel and over the improvements.” The “improvements” refers to the terminal itself and the Park Avenue viaduct.
This law is still effective. The use of any internal combustion engines is clearly outlawed by the last section quoted, so operation of any diesel engines is a violation except in emergencies. The only penalty, however, is $500 dollars a day payable to the city, which, while effective for a for-profit railroad, makes little sense when government agencies are paying the railroad to operate. If that were taken from management personally, it might be different!
Note that the law does not limit steam operation in any other tunnels, and that it is not limited to the Park Avenue tunnel but also applies to the elevated viaduct from the portal at 97th St up to the Harlem River. Its application is not to tunnels as such but to the Grand Central Terminal approach on Manhattan Island.
Nothing here prohibits operation of steam and diesel engines elsewhere in Manhattan. Many railroads operated tracks from their piers to nearby yards along the waterfront using steam and diesel engines until the end of such service in 1975. The New York Central’s West Side Freight Line was not electrified until the 1930’s. Penn Station (opened 1910) and tunnels has always been electrically operated, but for practical reasons rather than legal requirements.
Some of the questions I have received on the New York City West Side line are:
(1) is the line electrified?
Yes and no
(2) If so, was it always,
Always is a long time. Steam ruled there, once.
Around 1930 or so, the New York Central added third rail
electrification, though not required to by law. (as not
being a tunnel). The bottom tip, having street running, was
steam dummy, then boxcab diesel. It was “derailed”, then
“abandoned” in the late 70s.
(3) Was catenary added for the Amtrak connection?
Catenary extends just up out of Penn Station, for a block or
so but not all the way up to the bridge. The third rail also
extends out and would allow proforma compliance with local
law. Catenary is a bit of a puzzle, unless for rescue
Gary R. Kazin has given us an update on the catenary on the Empire Connection track from the west side of Penn Station to 38th Street, CP Empire.
This section also has overrunning third rail.
Empire Service trains use the third rail for the dual mode Genesis II and prior FL9 locomotives, obviously.
When the connection was designed, there was concern about using FL9’s, which were getting on in years. When the connection opened, it was common for some Empire trains to be made up in Sunnyside yard with the usual pair of FL9’s (back-to-back, so they wouldn’t have to be turned at Renssalaer) and an E60 or AEM-7 on the front. The electric locomotive would take trains to Penn Station, make the station stop, then out to CP Empire.
They cut off there and went into a short stub wye track which leads about two car lengths to the east. The train would continue; the electric locomotive would return to Penn Station or Sunnyside. Incoming trains were met at CP Empire by electrics as well, but not always: the tracks used by Empire trains (5-8) have ventilators to remove exhaust. These were originally provided for train heat boilers on electric locomotives!
Use of electric locomotives to tow the trains avoided possible FL9 failures (which became more common in later years) causing trains to be stuck in the East River Tunnels or Empire Connection, or getting ‘gapped’ between third rail sections when going through the complex switches on both sides of Penn Station. Interestingly, the FL9’s last regular assignment was as weekend protect power at Penn Station, with a back-to-back pair idling away the days in the yard just south of the North River Tunnel entrance.
This use still occurs: on December 5, 2004 Metro-North’s ‘Farewell to the ACMU’s’ fan trip saw the inbound Lake Shore Limited arrive at Croton with a single-mode Genesis I engine, 134 IIRC. It was met at CP EMPIRE by an AEM7 for the trip to Penn Station and Sunnyside.
This impressive building was the headquarters of the New York Central
466 Lexington was the headquarters of the New York District and also housed various system operating departments. As built, 466 was a perimeter structure around an open central area which allowed all offices to have outside views.
There was also a third building, the Grand Central Office Bldg, which was demolished to make way for the Pan Am Bldg.
230 Park Ave. was sold during the Penn Central years to New York General Insurance and became the “New York General” Bldg. Easiest possible change to the carved stone lettering. The building was later sold to the Helmsley Corp. which did a restoration job on the gold leaf application. 466 Lexington remained as operating HQ for the Metropolitan Region through the 1970’s and into the 1980’s when it was sold to Olympia & York. It now houses part of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
Which one was the “legal headquarters”? Answer is the legal headquarters of the New York Central Railroad, then New York Central & Hudson River Railroad and on and on was on Broadway in upstate Albany, New York.
Yup, Albany Union Station!
A requirement imposed by Erastus Corning and agreed to by Cornelius Vanderbilt
Annual meetings usually held at Ten Eyck Hotel. Except when Robert Young proxy Battle
This is where Robert Young beat the Vanderbilts. Albany’s giant Washington Avenue Armory
In addition to underground storage in the terminal, there was an important yard at Mott Haven. It was located in the area adjacent to the Harlem Division trackage, above MO Tower.
New York City Passenger Stations
Grand Central Terminal is owned by the New York & Harlem Railroad Company (founded in 1831 and hasn’t run its own trains since 1869). NY & Harlem RR is in turn owned by American Premier Underwriters. American Premier is where all the Penn Central stock went).
Grand Central was not the only major station in New York City.
NY Station (Pennsylvania Station to the public) was built wholly by the Pennsylvania Railroad; it, and the 2 North River and 4 East River tunnels, including Sunnyside Yard were operated by the Pennsylvania Terminal and Tunnel Company; a subsidiary of the PRR. The entire project which included NY Station, the 6 subaqueous tunnels, Sunnyside Yard, Greenville Yard, the NY Connecting RR and Hell Gate Bridge were all the brainchild of PRR President A.J. Cassatt. He unfortunately never lived to see his dream come true.
The original, monumental structure was torn down by the PRR between 1961 and 1964 and replaced by the Madison Square Garden travesty. The NY Times called the demolition “A monumental act of civic vandalism.” It was however a “sacrificial lamb.” It helped, along with Jackie O. to save Grand Central Terminal.
There are 3 good books about Penn Station; “Penn Station, Its Tunnels and Siderodders” by Frederick Westing; “The Late Great Pennsylvania Station” by Lorraine Diehl and “Manhattan Gateway” by Wm. Middleton.
The station is now owned by Amtrak with terminal fees shared by New Jersey Transit and the Long Island Railroad.
Manhattan used to have seven passenger rail stations (not counting subway or rail-ferry stations), now there are only three.
West 30th Street
Grand Central Terminal
155th Street (Polo Grounds)
Grand Central Terminal
In 1965, from north to south, the NYC, PRR, Erie-Lackawanna, LV and B&O float bridges were all shown as operating. In the 1975 (PC) map, the only one shown as existing is the one between piers 66 and 68, which means 27th Street, the Erie/Lackawanna one, formerly Erie. In “Waterfront Terminals of the Erie-Lackawanna Railroad”, published in 1976, it is stated that the EL facility was closed to revenue service as of 9/29/1975, and that it was “the very last railroad yard served solely by carfloat.”
The B&O’s original access to New York harbor was by the Staten Island Rapid Transit, which it owned, from Cranford Jct. to a coal dump facility at Howland Hook and a carfloat facility at St. George. During the Depression, the B&O turned its New York Harbor operations over to the CNJ, closing down the St. George operation and transferring coal dumping to the CNJ McMyler dumper at Pier 18, Jersey City. (The CNJ also served in a similar fashion for Reading non-coal traffic in New York Harbor.) However, the large B&O freight station complex at 25/26th Streets remained just that: a B&O location, even though the tugs and car floats were CNJ. However, in 1949,the B&O had built a new, not terribly large, coal unloading facility at Howland Hook, and, in 1964-65 had rebuilt the Arthur Kill Bridge to handle heavier cars, primarily coal. In 1973, the CNJ, in effect, pulled back from Jersey City to Elizabeth, thus effectively ending all carfloat and lighterage operations. At this point the B&O reopened its carfloat terminal at St. George Harwood, in “The Royal Blue Line”, states that until 9/30/1976, when all surviving marine functions to New York Dock, the B&O did serve freight forwarder clients on piers at 23d and 26th Streets. But, this would have been via station floats, unloaded and loaded while on the floats, with no cars being moved on or off the floats to Manhattan tracks, so the Erie-Lackawanna claim is probably correct.
As far as the other Manhattan carfloat operations are concerned, the PRR one at 37th Street would have been made redundant by the merger. I also don’t know the closing date of the Lehigh Valley station in the basement of the Starrett-Lehigh building, now the nightclub known as the “Tunnel”. The LV’s Harlem River station was closed in 1969.
The last three cars of frozen turkeys went below 30th Street in 1980 and the last traffic east of Spuyten Duyvil was paper for the New York Times printing plant located off West End Avenue around 67th Street in March, 1983. (Incidentally, how things have changed; the New York Times spur was originally installed in the 1930s to serve a Chrysler Corporation warehouse, at a time when Broadway from about 55th to 65th Streets was known as “Automobile Row”, from the number of car dealers there.) Some of the car float interchanges handled by the 60th/68th/72nd street yard were eliminated by the PC merger, in particular the Selkirk Yard, LIRR ones. In any event, freight service ended in 1983, to be replaced by the “Empire Connector”. One final point about the “Empire Connector”; this was not an Amtrak idea, but a PRR one. It appeared in the original planning done on the Pennsy side of the merger in the early 1960s, under which NYC through passenger serviced would be switched from GCT to Penn Station. As part of this plan, the “Broadway” would have been downgraded, and the “Twentieth Century” would have been a 15 1/2 hour schedule as an all-room train to Chicago.
The PRR 37th Street float bridge was active until at least mid-1970. The EL facility was sold to Con Ed for a service center and garage operation. There were about 4-6 steel EL boxcars left stranded when they shut down, and they were cut up on the site, when the RR buildings were demolished.
Those Manhattan (and Bronx) terminals of railroads terminating on the NJ side of the Hudson, used the early Ingersoll Rand/GE/Alco boxcab diesels (from about 1925-26). CNJ 1000 was first (in the Bronx), B&O had one that lasted till 1956 and then was sent to St. Louis Transportation Museum. Erie’s yard and I think the LV yard all had them. The PRR used something small, four-wheeled, and of their own design, of course.