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Grand Central: How a Train Station Transformed America Paperback – September 12, 2017
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Grand Central Terminal in New York City owes its current incarnation to a fatal train crash in 1902, which was caused partially by human error and partially by design flaws in the New York Central Railroad system. The rebuilding of the terminal was a massive municipal project marshaling the talent and financial resources of leading architects, engineers, and artists. The result is an urban landmark akin to a palace as well as a transportation hub. Roberts, an urban-affairs correspondent for the New York Times, seems to have a love affair with the place, and he describes the building, evolution, and unique features of the terminal with an infectious passion. It is, as he notes, a major tourist attraction, the setting for key scenes in many motion pictures, and a center through which an estimated half a million people move each day. This well-done piece of urban history will appeal to both railroad enthusiasts and general readers. --Jay Freeman --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
"This well-done piece of urban history will appeal to both railroad enthusiasts and general readers."
"A wonderful volume for New York City buffs or railroad aficionados, Roberts closes with discussions of some of the terminal's quirks and mysteries like the ubiquitous decorative acorns, the secret staircase, and various secret underground locations."
"Sam Roberts' book integrates a historical perspective with contemporary storytelling. This compelling narrative invites the reader into an immersive world of Grand Central that is personal, historically rich, and peppered with engaging anecdotes."
―American Institute of Architects
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Top Customer Reviews
It's hard to believe that Amtrak exists, and that it does not use GCT, but the terminal itself is much smarter and more interesting than it was, even in the days of the 20th Century Limited, and Roberts careful description makes this work a real page-turner. I thank him for his effort.Excellent photographs are generously displayed.
I wish the book were larger, though.
Grand Central Terminal, opened 1913, is the world's largest rail terminal, with 43 platforms and 43 tracks, plus another 48 underground storage tracks. Construction took 10 years and cost over $2 billion in today's dollars. By 1902, three railroads carried 44,000 passengers every weekday on 177,450 trains in/out of Grand Central Station - one every 45 seconds during rush hours. Today the number of passenger served annually is nearly 100 million/year. The terminal houses six secret staircases, one going to a top floor that officially doesn't exist, another to a secret subbasement constructed to convert AC to DC power, and a third accesses a secret train platform still protected by armed guards. Its 13-foot diameter clock facing 42nd Street is the world's largest example of Tiffany glass.
The first rail line in NYC began operating in 1831 - its charter specified that, while it could parallel the Hudson, the tracks would have to be laid too far east of the river to threaten the steamboats' passenger and freight monopoly. The railroad industry was still so primitive that the first iron rails had to be ordered from England. Horses pulled the carriages the last few miles - due to fear of a steam engine explosion. Cabbies objected to the competition and vandalized some of the tracks. Later a railroad official noticed a new class of customer - the repeat passenger taking to/fro trips to work and home. The railroad originated an imaginative fare based on unlimited rides for six months or a year at a steep discount - the full fare was commuted and the railroad 'commuter' was created. The initial fare was too high for the ordinary and for a time kept the areas outside NYC clear of the poor. Eventually competing rails were laid.
Originally the maze of tracks and trains was commanded from a four-story switch-and-signal tower - on one floor was a machine with 400 levers to sort out the suburban trains, one the floor above, another machine with 362 levers controlled the express tracks. A worker was assigned each battery of 40 levers, and tiny bulbs on a facsimile of the train yard were automatically extinguished as a train passed a switch and illuminated again when it reached the next switch. The old depot had handled 100 trains/day, had a capacity of 366 cars - the new one could accommodate 1,053. Special accommodations were provided for immigrants and labor gangs - they could be brought into the station and enter a separate room without meeting other travelers. Grand Central was billed as the first great 'stairless' station - gently sloping ramps instead.