The World's Greatest Railway Terminal

How the New Grand Central Station Will Handle,
if Need be, Two Hundred Trains an Hour

By Walter Bernard

Easterly facade of the new terminal building,
showing Lexington Avenue as it will appear
when the whole station yard area has been
built over.

A dozen years ago the problem of handling the ever-increasing multitude which flowed into and out of the terminal stations of our leading railroads was causing great anxiety to the engineering and operating departments, whose duty it is to look far ahead and provide for future developments. Particularly was this true of the Grand Central Station, New York, which forms the eastern terminus of the vast system of railroads which is owned and operated by the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad Company. The old station, built in the seventies, with an annual capacity for handling twenty-one million passengers, was considered to be far in advance of its time, and sufficient to take care of a century's growth in the business of the company. Thirty years after its date of opening, however, the company realized that traffic was advancing so rapidly that within a few years' time the Grand Central Station, in spite of its dimensions, would soon be swamped by the swiftly-rising tide of travel.

The company, however, was confronted by two serious limitations, each of which presented an effective barrier against any great extension of the terminal facilities. On the one hand, the station, being located in the heart of the city, was surrounded by property whose value was so high that any adequate purchase of real estate for the purpose of extending the area of the station at street level was out of the question; and on the other hand, the flow of traffic to and from the enlarged station would be throttled by the limited capacity of the four-track tunnel under Park Avenue.

Sectional View of the new Grand Central
Station and the adjoining subways

The station building, 300 feet by 600 feet, rises 105
feet. Twenty feet above street level is a cab and
automobile driveway. At street level are the express
waiting room and concourse leading to the express
trains. Below this are the suburban waiting room
and concourse leading to the suburban tracks.
Below the tracks are the baggage subways.

Electricity, which has solved so many a problem in modern engineering, proved to be the perfect solution of this riddle. The electric motor, silent and smokeless, enabled the railroad man to get rid at once of poisonous gases and the roar of the locomotive exhaust. No longer was it necessary, for purposes of ventilation, to build the new station at street level and open to the atmosphere. Trains could be sent through the Park Avenue tunnel without vitiating its atmosphere, and the great terminal station could be sunk below ground, the street level restored above it, and the whole area of the station yard covered with the residential and commercial buildings of a modern city.

And so the New York Central Company, acting upon the opportunity presented by the development of electrical traction, made large purchases of real estate, contiguous to the old station yard, and proceeded to prepare for the new terminal by making a vast excavation 45 feet in depth and 46.2 acres in extent on the site of the old station yard. Even the 46.2 acres did not provide sufficient area to accommodate the 31.8 miles of terminal trackage, and therefore the station was planned to cover two decks or levels, with a total area of 69.8 acres, the lower level to be devoted to suburban traffic, the upper to the express long-distance service. The plan called for the removal of the old station, with it steel and glass roof, and the substitution of a terminal which should not only be able to accommodate, if need be, some 30,000 people, but should also provide office room for the thousands of employees necessary to carry on the engineering, administrative, and clerical work of the company.

The construction of the station was enormously complicated by the fact that it was necessary to keep the whole machinery of the terminal in continuous operation during the building of the new work; and it is safe to say that the most creditable fact connected with this stupendous work is that it has been carried through simultaneously with the operation of the trains, which, except for some inevitable confusion when electrical service was first instituted, has continued without serious interruption night and day.

Comparative Statement -
Principal Passenger Stations
in the United States and Europe
Total Area,
Number of
Number of
New Grand Central Terminal
Pennsylvania, New York City
Chicago & Northwestern, Chicago
St. Louis Union Station
Boston South Station
Washington Union Station
London Waterloo Station
Dresden Main Station
Paris St. Lazare
Frankfort Main Station
* Of the total 67 tracks these 46 have platforms.

The plan of construction was to commence excavation at the easterly, or Lexington Avenue side, and as fast as the work was carried down to grade, to erect upon it the steel work for the two new levels, lay the tracks upon it, and transfer the trains gradually from the old to the new levels. This plan has been followed with great success; and a few months ago the last of the express trains, after it had cleared the Park Avenue tunnel entrance, swung over on to the upper deck of the new steel structure, and the demolition of the old station building was begun, followed by the blasting out of the last section of the rock excavation. In a few weeks' time the excavation will be completed and the last car load of the three million cubic yards of rock will have been hauled through the Park Avenue tunnel and dumped on the river side of the New York Central Railroad tracks, where they skirt the Hudson River far to the north of the city.

New Station Excavation Looking South

To the left are the new office building and the excavation for the tracks. To the right is the old train shed, now removed, and a part of the express traffic using the old high level.

Architecturally and esthetically, New York City will be greatly advantaged by the construction of the new station. In the first place, all the crosstown streets, from Forty-fifth to Fifty-sixth, inclusive, will be carried at grade entirely across the station yard, intersecting Park Avenue, which will also be extended at grade from Fifty-seventh Street down to Forty-fifth Street, on the south side of which will be the north facade of the new station structure. From this point the traffic will pass around the station on a broad elevated driveway to Forty-second Street, which it will cross on a bridge of handsome design, continuing at grade till it joins the present high level of Park Avenue at Fortieth Street. This broad, rectangular driveway, standing at a considerable elevation above Forty-second Street, Vanderbilt Avenue and Depew Place, will form, as it were, a broad, elevated base, from which the huge station building will rise with a fine monumental effect.

By referring to our front page engraving it will be seen that, for the present, the station yard tracks will be exposed to view in the area north of the station; but ultimately these areas will be covered by buildings designed to present a monumental effect, in which will be included museums, hotels, business blocks, and theaters. These buildings will either be erected by the railroad company and leased, or they will be put up by private enterprise. In the latter case the railroad company will reserve the right to exercise a strict supervision over the architectural features of the buildings, which probably will be classical or semi-classical in treatment. Ultimately, the whole space will be covered in, and on the site of the old and unsightly yard, with its smoke and dirt and noise, there will rise a new section of the city which, in the dignity and harmony of its architecture, will be unequaled in any part of the greater city. It is interesting to record that the rentals from these buildings will be sufficient to cover the interest on the vast expenditure involved in the construction of the new station.

The new terminal will have four levels, where the old had but one at street level. At the grade of Forty-second Street will be the gallery; below that will be the great concourse on the level of the forty-two tracks that will handle the through express trains. On the third level will be the twenty-five tracks for the suburban trains; and below these, running east and west under Forty-third and Forty-fifth Streets, will be subways for handling the inbound and outbound baggage.

View of Excavation Looking North

It has been necessary to remove 3,000,000 cubic yards of rock in sinking the tracks to the new level, 45 feet below the streets. To the right is the steel work for carrying the two levels of tracks for express and local trains.

An important problem in building the terminal station is to separate the inbound from the outbound traffic, so that passengers and their baggage may flow in an unbroken stream from street to train or from train to street. To secure this unobstructed flow has been the governing motive in designing this station, and an important element in the plan has been the total elimination of stairways and the substitution therefor of inclined passenger walks, or, as they are technically known, "ramps," which will be constructed on a grade of eight feet rise to every hundred feet of length. With a view to avoiding congestion, no less than twelve separate entrances to the station are provided. The passenger purchases his ticket in the express concourse, and passing to the next counter, turns over his ticket and baggage checks to the transfer company, who send them by pneumatic tube to the baggage room, where the trunks are checked, and the trunk checks sent back. Passing through the gates on the side of the concourse opposite the ticket offices, the passenger walks down an easy incline to the express passenger platforms, which are at the same level as the floor of the cars, and board his train.

The handling of baggage into and out of the trains is entirely separated from the passengers, the incoming baggage being unloaded beyond where the passengers leave the train, and the outgoing baggage being brought up to the baggage cars, at the front of the trains, from the subways already referred to.

Following out the principle of segregation of classes of passengers, there will be two large waiting rooms adjoining the Forty-second Street entrances, one for through long-distance passengers, and another immediately below it for suburban service, each being on the level of the tracks which it serves. Everything, ticket offices, entrances and exits for the express and suburban service, will be entirely distinct and separate, each having its own concourse, its own information bureau, baggage checking places, parcel room, and other facilities for travel. The concourse for inbound trains can comfortably hold 8,000 people, that for outbound trains, 15,000. The waiting rooms will accommodate about 5,000 more, and altogether this great station can take care of nearly 30,000 people without subjecting them to uncomfortable crowding. It is estimated that 70,000 outbound passengers can pass through the terminal in an hour, which is double the maximum carrying power of any passenger station existing today.

The great train capacity of the station, estimated at a maximum of 200 trains an hour, is due to the introduction of the loop system, both for express and suburban service. Instead of trains coming out, they will continue on, when empty, around a loop underneath the southerly front of the station, and then run over to the yard at one side of the station yard, where they will be cleaned and made ready for the next trip. No longer will trains be run out through the Park Avenue tunnel to Mott Haven for cleaning and making up, and the four tracks through the tunnel will be left entirely free for the service of the incoming and outgoing traffic.

Not only has electricity rendered possible this underground and entirely-inclosed station, but it has cut out a large amount of switching and has been called into service in the installation of an electric signal system, which is one of the latest and most perfect to be devised. An interesting detail of the signal system is the fact that, when the gate to the train platform is closed, its shutting gives an electrical signal, not only to the trains, but to the signal towers clear up the main line - an arrangement which will save minutes of time over the old system.

We doubt if, anywhere on earth, there can be found such a busy center of city and railway traffic as that represented by Forty-second Street and Park Avenue, where the entrance to the Grand Central station is located. Passengers arriving in New York will find themselves in immediate touch with half a dozen or more separate lines of transportation, either by elevated railway, surface car or subway, by which any section of Greater New York may be reached, frequently without change of cars. Running past the entrance at street level are the surface cars of several of the main lines of travel north and south through the avenues and east and west by the streets. Above these is a branch of the elevated system which puts the passenger in touch with the east side elevated roads throughout the length of Manhattan and the Bronx. Immediately below the street is the Interborough subway. Below that will be the new subway connecting with the Hudson and Manhattan tubes, by which passengers and their baggage can proceed direct to the terminals of the western railroad to Jersey City; and below that again is the Belmont tube leading beneath the East River to Brooklyn. Passengers will be able to proceed by broad footways direct from their trains to any one of these three subways, or to the surface cars and the elevated trains.

We close our description with a few statistics which cannot fail to be of interest. The total area of the old terminal was 23 acres; that of the new will be 70 acres. The old terminal had a capacity of 366 cars, the capacity of the new will be 1,149 cars. The station building proper will be 600 feet long on street level, 300 feet wide and 105 feet high. Below the street level it will be 745 feet long, 480 feet wide and 45 feet deep. The main concourse will be 120 feet wide and 100 feet high. Eighty-five thousand tons of steel will be used in the construction of the new terminal.

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