Tag Archives: MTA

Happy 100th, Grand Central!

Grand Central

One of NYC’s most glorious icons turned 100 earlier this month with a whole day of festivities. I stopped by Grand Central Station to celebrate the transport terminal’s centennial on February 1, when its always-crowded main hall was absolutely packed with brass bands, ballroom dancers, a Grand Central-themed cake, and, of course, the commuters wondering why this was all happening.

While the train center’s official name is Grand Central Terminal, most everyone calls it Grand Central Station, which was the name of the transit hub it replaced in 1913. Around 150,000 people flooded in on its opening day, and there was almost universal love for its soaring Beaux-Arts design and stately halls. The original 1871 station had to be replaced after steam locomotives were banned from the city (a gruesome train collision in 1902, in which two trains “telescoped” and killed 17, played no small part in the renovation and rebuild).


At the time it was built, it was the largest train station in the world. (It has long been surpassed, and I think Nagoya Station in Japan is currently in the lead.) It’s still the grandest in New York, and one of the few of our transit centers that is actually a beautiful place. (Sorry new Penn Station and Atlantic-Pacific,  you’re sort of dreary.) One of its most stunning features is the terminal clock, which, since its four sides are made from Tiffany glass, is estimated to be worth millions. There’s also the starry mural above with its zodiac constellations, illuminated by bulbs that have to be replaced from the attic, which is almost 50 feet above the floor.

Grand Central Exhibit

If you weren’t able to make it to the birthday (which also included snacks at 1913 prices), there’s a wonderful exhibition called Grand By Design on the station in its Vanderbilt Hall through the middle of March. There are all sorts of centennial events throughout the year (I’ve personally most excited about Nick Cave’s soundsuit horses), so I’ll have to keep an eye out during my commutes.

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A Party in the Past on the Nostalgia Train

Nostalgia Train

The holidays can be quite magical in NYC, and one of the most wonderful of the annual traditions is the appearance of the Nostalgia Train, which the MTA releases along the M line for a few Sundays from late November until the end of December. And as we are a city that can’t pass up a good opportunity for a party, on one December Sunday a group of jazz bands hoped on the train for the day and were met by revelers dressed in their vintage finery to match the spirit. Me and Elizabeth made it on the last ride of the day, so here are some photos!

Nostalgia Train

We boarded the train on the LES and rode all the way to Queens and back. It seemed like the train was going faster than even the new trains that I ride everyday, but that could also have been an illusion caused by the rumbling noise through the open windows.  The above train is from the 1930s and has wicker seats and ceiling fans.

Nostalgia Train

Nostalgia Train

Here’s one of the bands that was playing on board among the crowd. I couldn’t get a good photo, but they even had a singer on an old microphone. There was also a singing trio of women in another car, and some people were dancing and trying to keep their balance as the train flew down the tracks.

Nostalgia Train

Nostalgia Train

There was also a train conductor to announce when the train was ready to depart, and I suppose to assure people who had no clue why a vintage train was suddenly appearing at the station that it would indeed be making its stops and not time traveling into the past.

Nostalgia Train

If you’re in the NYC area next holiday season, definitely keep an eye on the subway platform for a ghost of transit history. I hear there is also a Nostalgia Bus, although it probably doesn’t have room for jazz bands with stand-up basses. The MTA with the Transit Museum also sometimes has vintage train rides to Coney Island and other places throughout the year, and you can always stop by the Transit Museum for some stationary vintage train exploring. (You can check out some of my photos from the museum here.)

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Riding on the Metro: A Visit to the Transit Museum

Last Sunday, I paid a visit to the New York Transit Museum, which is in an unused Brooklyn subway station. I first met friends  for lunch at the Atlantic Chip Shop and enjoyed a walk around Brooklyn Heights. That neighborhood is gorgeous, and there were people strolling through the drizzling rain with palms from Sunday services in their hands.

It is full of mass transit artifacts and history, from the first lines to the disappearing above ground trains to the buses. I got to learn a little bit more about the elevated train that used to be on Fifth Avenue, a block from my apartment, which was closed in 1940.

There were historical progressions of token machines and turnstiles, each a little less charming that the last in an effort to keep people from getting in for free. There was an interesting display of coins and objects that people had used to get in instead of buying tokens. Most of these were foreign coins, which reminded me of the Steal This Book advice I read a long time ago that actually listed the different coins that would work at the time. It seems like it would be more difficult to track down, say, a 5 cent Peruvian coin instead of just paying the 30 cents. Now we just have metro cards with garish colors that set off high pitched beeps when swiped. I can never figure out why they couldn’t at least make all the beeps the same tone, to keep the noise of so many people swiping in less dissonant.

The best part of the museum was the old subway platform, which had out-of-commission trains parked on both sides.

There was even an accessible control room, where we could see the different trains moving on the nearby lines as lights on a board.

Walking through the old cars was extraordinary. They were complete with vintage ads and maps. Here Eszter and Elizabeth examine the map to the past.

The trains I ride everyday are definitely an improvement on those that had exposed ceiling fans (danger of decapitation) or color schemes like an old mental asylum or Soviet submarine.

Others, however, with their wood benches and dangling straps were much more charming, although I’m sure riding in one would have been like riding an old wooden rollercoaster.

The old ads were still in the trains (or reprinted for them). I really like this ad for the zoo, where a kid seems to be fishing for a giant seal.

I also liked this vintage ad for WNYC, my beloved NPR source here in New York. Growing up, NPR was on in our house pretty much on from morning to night, and although I don’t have a radio now, I listen to WNYC every morning through iTunes.

This ad, however, was a little disturbing and I don’t know if it’s what I would want to stare at while commuting for 40 minutes. I guess I definitely wouldn’t let my kid play in the streets after a ride with it.

I read that the trains in the museum are changed out every four months, and I would love to go back and see more of the MTA’s past. They were actually circulating some of the vintage trains and buses in Manhattan during the holidays, but I was never able to find them.

I wonder how many trains are stored, and where they are. Maybe they are out at the edge of the tracks and they get driven through the stations to the museum. I like to imagine that coming home some night at 3 am has the chance of seeing a wooden train rumbling through the center track like a phantom.

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