Metro-North Transit Adventures

The Grand Central Centennial Parade of Trains

Today I attended (along with an estimated 40,000 other people, five times more than Metro-North expected, Didn’t Realize Trains are that popular!) Grand Central’s parade-of-trains. Yesterday I was in the area already had luckily made a round-trip on the Nostalgia SMEE Shuttle train yesterday (on track 1 using R15 #6239, R12 #5760, and R33WF #9306) at about 3:40pm to suss out my day to actually see the train show. I first noticed a sign saying the line for the cars closed at 2:00pm and then asked a guard what time he recommends arriving, I’m told 9:00am which seemed very early but chatting on the R33WF on my way back to Times Square with a Metro-North employee volunteering to run the train show for the day confirmed that he had talked to people that had waited upwards of two hours.

That firmed up my decision to get there early, sit on the floor and read my book. For once the A train arrived as I walked down the stairs to the platform. I got to 42 Street at 8:56 and I exit fare control (my routine for catching the Shuttle to Grand Central from the A train when I have an Unlimited MetroCard to not deal with the passageways and tunnel beneath 41 Street), walk down 43 Street and use the direct shuttle train entrance by track 4. The Museum train isn’t registering on the Countdown Clocks but the one regular Shuttle train in operation (on track 3) and the Museum Train arrive at the same time. I decide I might as well arrive to wait in line at Grand Central in style. I got in line at 9:12 in the 45th Street corridor after noticing another line looping through the Biltmore Room. Very soon the line starts moving. We slowly leave the 45th Street Passageway and start looping are way around the Biltmore Room, eventually we start going down the ramp to loop tracks 39 and 40 at the end of two M7s spending their weekends inside GCT.

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We leisurely make our way down to the opposite end of the platform and the staircase down to the upper level of Grand Central North. Here they’ve but up a barricade to heard people around and provide more room for waiting, eventually were asked to form to lines and they have tables set up for a bag check. The MTA had posted before the event that backpacks wouldn’t be allowed and I decided to simply ware my camera and put my book in a plastic shopping bag.

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Those without bags were allowed to cut ahead and at 9:35 (over 25 minutes early!) I was going back up the stairs to the platform for Tracks 37 and 36, They had sensibly decided to start early.

These two tracks were a bit of a disappointment. On Track 37, is 2008 BL-14 used by Metro-North for work and shunting service, a pair of M8s you could go into (I didn’t bother, I’ve been inside enough M8s), a 1952 Metro-North 605 Engine, an ACMU #1171, and a 1960 New York Central FL-9, the ACMU was closed for passengers, you could go in the M8s but I didn’t bother. One neat thing was the grills that surround the engines in the locomotives were open for the world to see. On the opposite track was Tonawanda Valley a still unrestored Pullman Observation/Sleeper Lounge Car (you couldn’t go inside), a 1910 US Railway Post Office Car from the Danbury Railroad Museum, and two cars of the 1949 Pheobe Snow Coach inspection train with a 1941 New York Central Coach in between them. The Phoebe snow cars weren’t open to the public and I was very disappointed not to set foot in Metro-North’s Business Train. Having a peak through the  windows I noticed quite a few 1980s armchairs facing inward and seats at the very ends of both cars where the windows wrap around. Last year, Beach Grove (the Amtrak’s President’s car was open for occupancy and I had a fun time exploring it). The middle car was open and is a strange car without any seats (I guess they were all put away if the layout is similar to the Phoebe Snow Cars) banners on the walls promoting Metro-North one day Getaways and a built in counter giving out brochures mainly about the getaways. It felt like a Metro-North advertisement.

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I got to the end of this set of tracks and saw a long line in front of a sign for Hickery Creek. I realized this car I went into last year at the very same place (the end of track 35) and found no reason to wait in line. Letting passengers into this car is time consuming because of the bullet lounge it only has a door at its opposite end, requiring passengers to enter, loop around and come back they way they came instead of continuing through to the next car. There was a shorter line along the opposite wall and we were informed that the private cars hadn’t opened for tours yet. I jointed this line deciding I would skip Hickory Creek. The Hickory Creek Line hadn’t started moving before we were allowed to walk over to the entrance to the platform for Tracks 35 and 34 and down a long red, replica carpet that was rolled out to replicate the experience of boarding the 20th Century Limited. This platform (the train left from track 34) was the platform the last time the red carpet was rolled out for boarding when the 20th Century Limited made its last run in 1967. The carpet ended at a house plant.

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Soon it was back into another short line to enter New York Central #43 and walk through the first set of private varnish cars, with 43 followed by the Wisconsin, New York Central #448, the Ohio River, Kitchi Gammi Club, and Birken. We reached a closed gate at the end of the Birkin car. Here are the interiors:

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Next there was another very short line to visit another Budd Observation/Lounge Car, the Babbling Brook. I had had to wait for the last group to finish their 2 minute tour. This car had a drumhead logo for the New England States and some very comfy couches.

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It was another, slightly longer line with barricades at the end of the platform to board the second set of Private Varnish to the other end of the platform. I got some platform photos.

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I then walked through the other set of private cars Dover Harbor, Tioga Pass, Overland Trail, Pacific Sands, Salusbury Beach, these four cars had come out from Los Angeles and included a room that still has a barber chair with Jerry Gipple a retired barber living and sleeping in the room and offering haircuts to guests, and the Berlin, Cimarron River and Montana. They even had with the prices for trips back to LA (their not sold out, leaving tomorrow):

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Leaving the private cars I walked down the red carpet and got some exterior shots on the platform, it was quite a bit more crowded then earlier when I was one of the first to enter the tour.

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I took my time and left the train platforms at 10:50, looked at my phone and realized I had perfect timing for the 11:00 Arts for Transit Tour. The destination signs at the track gates have historic replacements.

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I went to the Transit Museum Annex for this tour with the Director of MTA Arts for Transit Director Sandra Bloodworth and Deputy Director Amy Hausmann. It was excellent taking us to see the two modern permanent installations in the station and the Lightboxes in the dining concourse that frequently change. It finished with a tour of the current Transit Museum Annex exhibition on OnTime: Grand Central Terminal at 100. Arts for Transit commissioned a number of contemporary artists for new work on the current station and the point of the exhibition finally hit me, how much Grand Central is part of our culture and how artists have and can reflect on the space.

I then headed to Vanderbilt Hall and wondered through the model train show talking to a few of the exhibitors. The best part was meeting three original employees of the 20th Century Limited that were being honored and provided and excellent connection to the history, in recreated uniforms.

It was a good morning at Grand Central for the Parade of Trains but I couldn’t imagine waiting for over two hours as the sign said the wait was when I left at about 1:00pm, to continue my day.