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Grand Central

To be a great city, you must have a great train station.

New York's great train station is Grand Central

I work near Grand Central, and take every chance I can to walk through it. It is a magnificent place. It is what a major train station should look like. Walking through it is like striding through a beautiful Cathedral, or through a national capital.

New York once had two grand train stations, Grand Central and Penn Station. The real Penn Station was demolished to make way for a skyscraper, weeks before JFK was murdered, in what can only be considered an architectural atrocity. I don't know too many people who remember passing through the real Penn Station.

The current Penn Station is a cramped basement of a place. It is shoehorned into the basement of the skyscraper. It does not compare with Grand Central, or with any great station in Europe.

Grand Central was nearly destroyed as well. For the same reason, to make way for a major building. But Jackie Kennedy Onassis lent her name and a lot of effort to a group of preservationists who thwarted the redevelopment. Grand Central, which had fallen into bad repair, has been restored. The ceiling, which had been blackened by coal exhausts, is back to its original blue. The station is beyond gorgeous. It is filled with fine stores and good restaurants.

Some Grand Central facts:

  • Though Grand Central is by far the best train station in America, long distance trains no longer originate or pass through here. Amtrak, the national train system, goes through the Penn Station rathole. So, you can no longer catch a train to Boston or Chicago from Grand Central.
  • Grand Central is still a major station, though. It serves the northern suburbs of Westchester County NY, and Connecticut as served by the " Metro North " system.
  • All Grand Central trains go north, underneath Park Avenue. At 125th St / Park, the trains split into three major lines- the New Haven, which goes to Connecticut, the Harlem, which goes north into NY State, and the Hudson,which essentially follows the Hudson River into the NY State suburbs there.
  • No trains run south from Grand Central. They all go north. Which is why it is not " Grand Central Station " but " Grand Central Terminal ". Because every train that arrives at this station terminates there.
  • It is the largest train station in the world if you measure by number of platforms- it has 44 platforms, and 67 tracks. These many platforms are on two levels.
  • Construction will soon begin on a third level of tracks, in order to accomodate trains from the Long Island Rail Road. This project should be complete in 2012. It will mean a lot more passengers using the vast Grand Central Terminal, which can clearly accomodate them, but it will also mean more people using the very overcrowded Lexington Avenue subway lines.

While travelling back and forth to college in the early 1960's, I always rode the train. The NY/NH & Htfd to Grand Central, and The Silver Meteor and West Coast Champion headed south out of Penn.

During that period I witnessed the destruction of Penn Station. Penn, styled after the Baths of Carcalla, was more grand than Grand Central, truly magnificent.
We lost something very important when it came down.

I wish I had seen the real Penn Station.

As with Ebbets Field, I have nostatgia for a place I've never seen.

I've thought more than once that it would be great if --even now--they demolished the Penn Plaza office buildings and Madison Square Garden in order to rebuild Penn Station where it was, according to the original plans.

It would be a far better use of government funds than half the stuff we spend it on now. And with the MSG brass thinking about building a new arena someday soon, I'm not sure that it couldn't be done. It won't, but it should.

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