New York City’s Grand Central Station

The World’s Largest Train Station

Officially known as Grand Central Terminal, Grand Central Station is one of New York City’s major rail transport hubs.

Built by and named for the New York Central Railway, Grand Central Station, along with Penn Station is one of the busiest train stations in North America. With 44 platforms and 67 working railway lines, Grand Central Station is the world’s largest train station.(Streamlining Access to Grand Central Terminal)

The Layout of Grand Central Station

The tracks and platforms at Grand Central Station are numbered according to their geographical location within the station, rather than where trains are arriving from. The tracks and platforms are divided between two levels. Intercity trains enter the station on the upper level, while suburban commuter trains enter the station on the lower levels. This system was designed to allow passengers to quickly locate their train and to prevent them from getting lost in the large train station.

Grand Central’s main concourse contains ticket booths, ticket vending machines and the American flag taken from the ruins of the World Trade Centre shortly after 9/11. The four-sided clock above the information booth is one of the station’s most iconic features and has made Grand Central Station a popular meeting place in New York City.

The station’s exterior boasts the world’s largest example of Tiffany glass as well as the world’s largest sculptural group, which depicts Minerva, Hercules and Mercury with an American eagle.(Grand Central Terminal)

The History of Grand Central StationConstruction of Grand Central Station


Three previous buildings serving the same purpose have stood on this site since 1871. The current Grand Central Station was built by the New York Central Railroad with the intention of drawing passengers away from its rival, Pennsylvania Railroad. Beginning in 1903, the remains of the previous structures were systematically demolished, to make room for the new station, which was completed in 1913.

In order to accommodate the increase in rail traffic, the design for Grand Central Station was conceived around what was considered to be a novel idea at the time. Grand Central was to be built as a bi-level underground train station.

Arriving trains approach the platforms by way of a tunnel under Park Avenue and would then be directed to their individual platforms depending on whether they were long distance or commuter trains. Grand Central Station also has turning loops within the building’s footprint. These make it possible to turn trains around without the need for complex switching manoeuvres.(“Grand Central Terminal opens”. Railway Age (Simmons-Boardman Publishing): p. 78.)

Impact of Grand Central Station

Burying the approach to Grand Central Station had other advantages. Doing this created new real estate that the railroads were able to sell. As a result the building of Grand Central Station led directly to the creation of some of the most desirable addresses in New York City.

The construction of Grand Central Station created a mini-city within New York that included the Commodore Hotel and numerous office buildings. It also led to the construction of some of New York City’s most iconic buildings such as the Chrysler Building.

Saving Grand Central Station

As with Penn Station, Grand Central Station saw the peak of its use during World War II. During this time, it was also a lynch pin in the American rail network, as the station housed the generators that powered the American electrified rail network.

By the 1960s, passenger rail travel in the United States was in decline and numerous plans were put forward to demolish the station, following the demolition of Penn Station’s surface structure in 1963. Grand Central was saved in 1978 when the Supreme Court ruled in favour of the station’s preservation, finding that this did not constitute the confiscation of railroad property by the government.(Wiess, Lois “Air Rights Make Deals Fly” New York Post. July 6, 2007)

Restoration of Grand Central Station

Starting in 1990, Grand Central Station has undergone a series of continuing renovations and additions. The most recent of these is the construction a new railroad tunnel to be used by the Long Island Railroad.(Record of Decision: East Side Access Project. US Department of Transportation, Metropolitan Transit Authority, Long Island Railroad. Apr.15/09.)


The copyright of the article New York City’s Grand Central Station in Rail History is owned by Terry Long. Permission to republish New York City’s Grand Central Station in print or online must be granted by the author in writing.

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