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Transportation Nation

How Grand Central Terminal Transformed America

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Grand Central Depot, completed in 1871


New York's Grand Central Terminal turns 100 this year. But when it opened, "it was neither grand nor central," said writer Sam Roberts, the author of Grand Central: How a Train Station Transformed America. He talked about the origins of the iconic transit hub on Wednesday's Leonard Lopate Show -- and how it wound up transforming Midtown, spurring the growth of the suburbs, and even contributing to westward expansion.

But its origins were rooted in Cornelius Vanderbilt's competitive streak, said Roberts. The man known as "The Commodore" had taken control of the New York Central Railroad ("ruthlessly," said Roberts, "in the way robber-barons did in that day").  Meanwhile, Penn Station was being built on the other side of town by the rival Pennsylvania Railroad company, and the Vanderbilts "wanted to say 'we have the best and biggest railroad terminal in the world,'" said Roberts.

"They didn't own the land, but they did own the New York State Legislature," he added, "which made it a lot easier."

Grand Central (photo by Charlie Herman/WNYC)

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Transportation Nation

Transpo Travelog: Trains, Planes, Taxis, Buses, Subways, and a Little Light Rail

Friday, October 19, 2012

Last week, my time was bookended by two weekend conferences. The first was in the Chicago suburbs, the second in Baltimore.

I live in Oakland, California, and the prospect of flying back and forth to California in between conferences seemed both ridiculous and exhausting. So instead, I decided to stay east, visiting friends in New York City and Poughkeepsie for a few days before heading on to Baltimore.

This made for a logistically complex week of getting around. All in all, door-to-door, I used 15 discrete transportation systems to shuttle between five different cities. It sounds like a giant hassle -- but as a transportation reporter, it was great. I loved every minute of it.

I started my journey on a 4:30am BART train ($2.25) to the Oakland Coliseum. It was one of the first trains of the day—BART doesn’t run overnight, much to the chagrin of many Bay Area residents. It also doesn’t yet run all the way to the Oakland Airport (that’s coming soon). So from the Coliseum station, I transferred to a BART airport shuttle bus ($3 in exact change). The process is a little murky unless you’re a local, and I ended up explaining how it worked to several bleary eyed travelers. I even gave one guy a dollar bill just so he could board the bus before it left.

Even at the crack of dawn, the security line at the airport snaked through all the pylons and into baggage claim. I made it through with just enough time to make my flight to Chicago. Got a window seat (my favorite), and watched the sun rise over the beautiful bridges of the Bay before we burst above the cloud layer.

Once in Chicago, I met up with some fellow conference attendees and we split a cab to the distant suburb where the conference was being held ($22 each + tip). On the fare sign in the back of the cab we noticed a special charge—a $50 “vomit clean-up fee.” Must be rough driving a cab in Chicago.

In Chicago, taxicab puking has a price. (Photo by Julie Caine)

Several days later, it was time to head on to NYC. This time, I caught a ride to the airport in a Town Car driven by a guy with a long ponytail named Kenny ($50 cash + tip). He called me a couple hours before he picked me up just to say hi. We had a little time before my flight, and I hadn’t really seen anything at all in Chicago, so he drove me through some of the neighborhoods where he grew up, past his high school and family church, and then cruised along Lakeshore Drive, while he told me about the water pumping stations out in the lake and gave change to every single stoplight panhandler we encountered. “There but for the grace of God,” said he.

The flight from Chicago to LaGuardia was uneventful (dimmed lights and a hushed cabin) -- as was my late-night cab ride to Brooklyn ($35 + tip).

The next day I took the F train into Manhattan ($2.25) and strolled the beautiful High Line for the first time. In the afternoon, I went to Grand Central Terminal, where I took the audio tour of the station ($7— and by the way, radio producers, we could make that tour so much better!) and got a great shoeshine ($7+tip) before boarding the 4:45 Metro-North train to Poughkeepsie ($36 RT).  Traveling alongside the Hudson, looking at fiery red maples and crumbling architecture, I noticed that many of the conductors and passengers were on a first name basis.

Listen: Metro-North conductor

After a night and day in Poughkeepsie, I headed back to the city -- this time to Penn Station, where I was due to catch an Amtrak train to Baltimore ($70). I loved Penn Station. I arrived in the morning to a cacophony of newspaper vendors calling and singing to us as we streamed into the station. “Good morning, everybody! Get your AM New York right here. Read all about it. Buenos días, mami. AM New York!” (Editor's note: Penn Station doesn't usually inspire such affection -- but some people can find the hidden pockets of grace there.)

Penn Station (photo by Julie Caine)

Listen: audio from Penn Station

Grabbed my one and only cup of Dunkin Donuts coffee (one cream, two sugars), and hopped on board the train to Charm City. Out the windows, I watched the compressed East Coast fly by—Manhattan, Newark, Philadelphia, Baltimore. Next stop Washington DC.

Took a cab from Baltimore’s Penn Station to my hotel ($14 + tip), and was immediately swept off my feet by the nicest cab driver ever, who told me about growing up in a freezing cold basement and never wanting to get out from under the covers in the morning to go to school.  Note: no vomit fees in Baltimore.

(photo by Julie Caine)

A couple days later, and it was time for more travel. Took the Baltimore Light Rail ($1.60) to the airport for my flight home to Oakland, where my kind next-door neighbor picked me up in his car and drove me home (free). As cliché as it sounds, my week really was all about the journey.

 

 

 

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Transportation Nation

PHOTOS: The 1917 Nostalgia Train Rides Again -- Express to the Bronx

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

(photo by Kate Hinds)

The subway car now known as the "nostalgia special" was first rolled out in 1917. New York's MTA brings it back for special events -- like the Yankees' first home game in its best in five series against the Baltimore Orioles to determine the American League Divisional champs, being held Wednesday night in the Bronx.

(photo by Kate Hinds)

The four-car subway pulled into the 42nd Street Grand Central Terminal on the uptown #6 track. It went express to 161st Street/Yankees Stadium. 

The interior has straps for passengers to hold on -- the origin of the term "straphangers."

 


In 1917, the NYC subway fare was a nickel. Today, a $2.25 MetroCard buys passengers access to over 600 miles of subway track.


The interior still has the original ads.

Fans waiting to board (photo by Kate Hinds)


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Features

Take a Snapshot with a Real Oscar Statuette at Grand Central

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Who hasn't stood in front of a mirror, pretending to hold an Oscar and giving a thank you speech? Well, from Wednesday through Sunday, members of the public can do just that with a real Oscar statuette in Grand Central Terminal's Vanderbilt Hall.

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WNYC News

Watch | Tour the Secrets of Grand Central Terminal

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Each day, more than 700,000 people pass through Grand Central Terminal — one of the city's famous landmarks. WNYC took a behind-the-scenes tour of this historic terminal station.

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WNYC News

Look | New Yorkers Are Sweet on Grand Central Charity Bake Sale

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

PHOTOS. In what was billed as the world's largest bake sale, Grand Central Station was host to a variety of sweet and savory items from more than 30 city restaurants Tuesday during a charity fundraiser spearheaded by Food Network starlet and New York's first lady, Sandra Lee.

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Transportation Nation

Stargazing at Grand Central Terminal

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

New Yorker Hatmane Gacevic looking at the new lights at Grand Central Terminal (Stephen Nessen/WNYC)

The iconic constellations on the roof of Grand Central Terminal are shining again after new LED lights were installed yesterday. Read the story--and see more photographs--over at WNYC.

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