• The First Train From the New GCT

  • Discussion relating to the NYC and subsidiaries, up to 1968. Visit the NYCS Historical Society for more information.
Discussion relating to the NYC and subsidiaries, up to 1968. Visit the NYCS Historical Society for more information.

Moderator: Otto Vondrak

  by Tommy Meehan
I'm posting this message here in the New York Central Forum (along with quoting the message I'm replying to). This thread was originally in the Metro-North Forum but it's turned into pretty much all-New York Central! :) Since I'm also posting two photos I don't want the thread to get locked. I figured it might be smarter to bring it over here.

PC1100 wrote:That is very interesting information Tommy, and it does raise more questions. Looking at photos taken looking south at GCT from around 48th Street in the 1910-1911 period, it's pretty clear that many of the Upper Level tracks were complete, platforms and all, prior to the new concourse. There's one particular photo from 1911 in the 2001 Kurt C. Schlichting book "Grand Central Terminal" (page 78) which shows tracks and platforms complete at least as far west as what appears to be approximately Track 28. A 1910 photo in the 1977 William Middleton book "Grand Central" (page 86) shows a train loading on what appears to be Track 24.

Perhaps the Upper Level platforms were in service with access through the Lexington Avenue Station prior to the actual concourse just to the south of those platforms. The New York Times article from 1/29/13 "Central Terminal Opening on Sunday" states that "at midnight on Saturday the main section of the Grand Central Terminal will be opened to traffic, and twenty-five minutes later the first train will be sent out from the new trainroom for express service adjoining the great concourse..." Perhaps NH train 2 was loaded through the Lexington Avenue Station, but actually left from Track 18 or 19, on the New Haven "side" of the terminal? If that were the case, its 12:01 A.M. departure would technically make it the first out, but not the first that was loaded through the new terminal concourse. However this would contradict the NY Times article claim about the first train out of the "new trainroom...adjoining the great concourse..." Perhaps the reporter was not counting Track 18 or 19 as "adjoining" the concourse. On the other hand, NYC train 73 might have been initially loaded through the Lexington Avenue Station, from 10 P.M. to midnight, while the train was actually on the New York Central "side" somewhere around Track 28 or 29, with access through the area behind the gates from the new concourse. At midnight, with the opening of the new concourse, the new gates would have been opened, then closed at 12:25 A.M., making NYC #73 the first train out. Without track assignments from that particular day and very little detail available beyond the New York Times articles and Official Guide's, it is really hard to figure out exactly what went on.
That's very interesting PC. That perhaps they were using the Upper Level tracks (some of them anyway) prior to the opening of the actual terminal building itself in February 1913. There's reason to believe they were doing just that. First, in his book Grand Central, the World's Greatest Railway Terminal," William Middleton states that they were. On page 86 he writes, "As each section of the new two-level terminal was completed, it was placed in service, thereby permitting an adjacent section of the original terminal tracks to be taken out of service..."

Middleton also states on page 91 that in 1910 the terminal handled 130,000 trains which averages about 350 a day. There would be more on weekdays. I have never understood how they could've have handled all those trains through the Lexington Avenue terminal. I think it only had about 12-16 platform tracks. Below are two views:

This is looking south from E. 50th Street in June 1909. The tracks in the center foreground are supposed to be the leads to the temporary Lexington Avenue Terminal. (Edit-The tracks in the left foreground are probably midday storage tracks.) I believe that's the old Grand Central Palace still standing. Note that part of the old original terminal is still in use (at the extreme right):


This is a drawing from a magazine published in the spring of 1911. These are the platforms at Lexington Avenue, again looking south. I believe that was the new Grand Central Palace towering above in the background with the old Grand Central Palace -- whose basement area was being used as a station -- barely visible behind it.


Btw, neither one of these images is under copyright.
  by Tommy Meehan
Some of the newspapers reported the first train from the new Grand Central departed at 12 25 AM. They called it the St. Louis express. According to New York Central schedules in the Official Guide for that period there was an NYC train that departed at 12 25 AM but it wasn't named the St Louis express and it didn't run to St. Louis, though it did carry a St. Louis sleeping car. Looking at the condensed schedules I realized it was impossible to understand a particular sleeping car line's routing without looking at schedules division-by-division. Due to the HUGE amount of passenger service that operated then on the New York Central, certain cars made multi-connections before arriving at their final destination. Too many connections to convey in the condensed timetables. I found tracing the car's routing took about an hour of looking through NYC various schedules. For me, it was actually a lot of fun.

Please humor me. :)

According to the Official Guide the train departing Grand Central was NYC No. 73, the Midnight Express to Syracuse. It departed GCT at 12 25 AM daily with three sleeping cars. One went to Albany, one went to Plattsburg (NY) via the Delaware & Hudson, the third was for St. Louis.

The St. Louis sleeper only went as north as Albany on No. 73. Arriving at Albany at 5 30 AM the St. Louis car was switched out to Train No. 45, the Chicago Special which originated at Albany. No. 45 was made up of a Boston-Chicago sleeper or sleepers off Boston & Albany No. 43, Albany-Buffalo parlor cars and a diner, plus the St. Louis sleeper off No. 73 from New York City. Despite it's name (Chicago Special), No. 45 only ran as far west as Buffalo.

No. 45 departed Albany at 6 30 AM and arrived at Buffalo at 1 05 PM. The St. Louis sleeper was then switched into Lake Shore & Michigan Southern's Train 43, the Fast Mail. No. 43 departed Buffalo at 1 28 PM with the New York-St. Louis sleeper and parlor cars for Pittsburgh (via P&LE), Detroit (via Toledo) and Chicago. Arriving at Cleveland 4 35 PM, the St. Louis sleeper was handed off to the Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago & St. Louis (Big Four).

At Cleveland there were TWO No. 43s. The Lake Shore 43 (which departed at 4 50 PM for Chicago) and the Big Four 43 which also departed at 4 50 PM but for St. Louis.

At Cleveland the New York-St. Louis sleeper was switched into Big Four 43, the Southwest Mail. In addition to the New York-St. Louis sleeper, this train carried coaches and a diner (as far as Indianapolis) and a Cleveland-St. Louis sleeper.

Big Four 43, the Southwest Mail, arrived in St. Louis Missouri the following morning at 7 45 AM Central Time. Sleeping car passengers from New York could alight at St. Louis Union Station a mere thirty-two hours and twenty minutes after departing Grand Central, having made the trip via trains NYC&HR 73 and 45, LS&MS 43 and CCC&StL 43.

Having traced it down I now understood why reporters back in 1913, rather than explaining, merely called the 12 25 AM train, "the St. Louis express." :)


  by Tommy Meehan
Just for the record, the newspapers also reported the first train to arrive at the new Grand Central, whose doors were opened at 12 midnight on Sunday Feb. 2, 1913, was a Harlem Division local.

This one was easy to find.

It had to be a train that operated on Saturdays and it had to arrive at Grand Central after 12 00 AM. The last eastbound local of the day from North White Plains is shown in the Official Guide as Train 470. Departed North White Plains daily except Sunday at 10 23 PM and was scheduled to arrive at GCT at 11 20 PM. The schedule shows the first arrival AFTER midnight should've been Harlem Division No. 28. This train originated at Pawling (NY) at 10 05 PM daily except Sunday and it was definitely a local. It made just about every stop between Pawling and Grand Central (about 34 stations, including all the Bronx stops save 183rd Street) and arrived at GCT at 12 31 AM.

I think No. 28 was undoubtedly the Harlem train referred to.
  by Tommy Meehan
Apparently NYNH&H 2Y was the first train to depart from the main concourse area at the newly opened Grand Central Terminal. On a Yahoo message board a former Central employee found in two employee timetables -- one issued in November 1912, the other issued in February 1913 -- that New Haven No. 2Y was listed as departing from Track 26. And also, NYC 73 was listed as departing Track 28. The track gates for these tracks are within the main concourse area.

As was mentioned previously, in his book "Grand Central, the World's Greatest Railway Terminal," William Middleton writes on page 86, "As each section of the new two-level terminal was completed, it was placed in service, thereby permitting an adjacent section of the original terminal tracks to be taken out of service..."

So I think what becomes clear is, what was opened to the public at Midnight on February 2, 1913, was the Park Avenue and E. 42nd Street entrance, the main waiting room (now called Vanderbilt Hall) and the main concourse, plus the stairs and ramps connecting all three to the Lower Level, to the Vanderbilt Avenue and E. 42nd Street entrance (opened in October 1912) and to (probably) the west balcony to Vanderbilt Avenue and E. 43rd Street.

So one minute after the doors were opened, NYNH&H No. 2Y departed Track 26 off the main concourse. It was first. Someone asked, if the doors opened at 12:00 AM how did passengers get to a train departing at 12:01 AM? The answer is they got there the same way they'd been accessing Track 26 since the previous November. From the east, from the temporary Lexington Avenue Terminal, using the narrow concourse area located within the track gates.

I guess that means NYC 73 would've been the first train to load passengers from the main concourse. To load passengers through a track gate from the newly opened main concourse. But technically a New Haven train was first to depart the Upper Level from the newly opened Grand Central Terminal.
  by PC1100
Great research Tommy. The track assignments really do tell the story. It would be interesting to see photos of the interior of the Lexington Avenue Terminal and the access to the platforms from it. It must have been quite a crowded place with all that activity.
  by Tommy Meehan

I imagine the Lexington Avenue Terminal must've been very busy. I have a copy of an ad Central ran in 1910 when the last of the old Grand Central Station was taken out of service. It stated that commencing Sunday June 5, 1910 all trains will arrive and depart at the new terminal. By then some of the new Upper and Lower Level tracks were also being used but access must've been from Lexington Avenue. It was noted that the waiting room and all ticket windows, for New York Central and New Haven trains, would be located at the new terminal. It said that as an "accommodation for patrons arriving via Subway and Madison Avenue lines an entrance will be maintained at Vanderbilt Avenue, north of Forty-second street, until further notice."

That didn't last much longer though. As demolition proceeded all of the old station area had to be closed off to the public. In fact by the end of the month the railroad had to warn patrons that access through the old station was now officially closed to the public and police would prevent anyone from taking a shortcut through what was now a restricted area.

The ad also stated the entrance to the waiting room and ticket offices at the temporary terminal was located at E. 43rd Street and Lexington Avenue. If passengers wanted to directly access the train concourse they could use the entrance at E. 44th Street and Lexington.

Below is a jpg copy of this New York Central ad from June 1910 but unfortunately most of it is too small to read. When enlarged it becomes completely unreadable. :(


  by Tommy Meehan
One additional detail has come to light. In an issue of Railway Age published on November 22, 1912 it was mentioned that access to the new Upper and Lower Level platform tracks was by temporary covered wooden walkways. If you've ever worked or lived in Manhattan (especially) you are very familiar with these.

I have found commuter complaints in old newspaper letters-to-the-editor columns about the difficulty encountered at Grand Central during construction. One gentleman wrote, apparently in reference to the wooden walkways, that you never knew if the passageway you used to get out of the terminal in the morning would still exist in the afternoon when you wanted to get in the terminal!

If you worked or were headed west of Grand Central, say Fifth Avenue, it was undoubtedly inconvenient during construction. If you arrived on one of the new Lower Level tracks you would need to go up one level, access a wooden passageway and walk east. That would take you to Lexington Avenue and E.43rd Street. Then you would have to walk either to 42nd or 45th Street and head west.

Must've gotten tiresome. :)