It’s a beauty on the outside, a beauty on the inside, and it has that clock. But transportation fans know its beauty isn’t skin deep—it extends all the way to its well-engineered tracks and platforms.
The reference is, of course, to New York City’s Grand Central Terminal, which is celebrating its 100th birthday this week. The station master of the old terminal—the first one was built in 1871—received his set of keys to the newly built transportation palace on February 1, 1913. A few hours later, at midnight on February 2, the station welcomed its first train service and has been busy ever since.
In the 100 years that have passed since then, millions of Americans have passed through Grand Central’s exquisite Main Concourse, have met friends and family by the famous clock—clad in opal on all four sides—that stands over the information booth, and have marveled at the 125-foot ceiling with its expansive celestial mural. People have stood on 42nd Street, gazing at the terminal’s beautiful facade with its massive sculptures and its outside clock that features the world’s largest example of Tiffany glass.
And people have ridden its trains. Served now by the MTA’s Metro-North Railway, the busiest commuter railroad in the United States, Grand Central features nearly 300 departures every weekday. Those trains add up, too. The 100-year-old station serves hundreds of thousands of commuters daily and tens of millions annually.
The trains enter and depart the station using 67 tracks and 44 platforms on two service levels featuring a massive underground railyard. The entire station was built without disrupting existing rail service, a feat that still seems remarkable 100 years later. The terminal included an all-electric signal system, the only one in the U.S. at the time, and the longest amount of mainline railroad electrification in the nation. It was then—and remains today—a monument to American civil engineering. But the station was also a pioneer in transit-oriented economic development. Thirty city blocks of new buildings were constructed using the air rights above the railyard, and the terminal became the anchor for another prosperous commercial community within the city.
Economic opportunity followed the rail lines that led from Grand Central throughout the Bronx and New York City suburbs as development and populations thrived near commuter stations. Readers of this blog know that model continues to thrive today.
One feature that explains the success of Grand Central Terminal is its adaptability. Through the last century, it has been modernized; upgraded with extended access to the nearby subway station, office buildings, and hotels; and restored several times over.
And that adaptability continues today. As the city and region have grown through the century, so has Grand Central Terminal, which will welcome new train service from Long Island to meet new demands.
As time marches on, and generations of New Yorkers and visitors pass through its halls, Grand Central Terminal continues to remain as relevant as rail and transit themselves.
(Source: US DoT)