Rail

Grand Central Terminal Endures as Transportation Icon

Posted on April 24, 2013 by Janna Starcic, Executive Editor

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Designed in the French Beaux-Arts style, the structure features the world’s largest Tiffany clock.
Designed in the French Beaux-Arts style, the structure features the world’s largest Tiffany clock.
This year, New York City’s Grand Central Terminal celebrates its 100th anniversary. The iconic building, which began its storied history as the “gateway to America” has since survived the threat of the wrecking ball, decline and disrepair, to emerge revitalized as a popular destination and lasting monument to the city’s rebirth.

“Hundredth anniversaries come and go, but when it’s a building that you almost lost, it’s sort of a reminder that we didn’t,” says historian and lecturer Anthony W. Robins, who recently co-authored, with the staff of the New York Transit Museum, a new book commemorating the landmark.

Storied beginnings
Acclaimed as the “largest and greatest railway terminal in the world,” Grand Central was completed in 1913, after 10 years of construction, at a cost of $80 million. Before the terminal’s construction, steam trains serviced the original Grand Central Station. But, after a horrific accident in 1902, when trains collided in a smoke-filled tunnel, the switch to electric trains began. With electrification, engineer William J. Wilgus developed the idea of sinking the train tracks underground. This would create prime real estate above the rail yard, which could be sold or leased to help pay for the cost of the project. This followed the new concept of “air rights.”

Serving commuter and long distance rail lines, the terminal encompassed nearly 70 acres, with two levels of underground track. The terminal building had separate concourses for the various incoming and outgoing trains to help with passenger flow, who reached the different levels of the underground terminal using ramps. It was the first terminal to make use of this element as a mechanism to move people.

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