The main concourse at the Grand Central Terminal is spread across an area of 88,000ft². Credit: Rodrigo.Argenton.
The East Side Access project will enable direct LIRR service into a new concourse below Grand Central Terminal on the East Side of Manhattan. Credit: Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
The Grand Central Terminal also includes a Biltmore Room. Credit: Jim.henderson.

Grand Central Terminal (GCT) is a station located on 42nd Street and Park Avenue in Midtown Manhattan, New York City. It is commonly known as Grand Central Station, as its name is similar to that of a nearby post office. It is also the name of the previous rail station and the New York City Subway station in the same locality.

GCT is the largest train station in the world in terms of area occupied and number of platforms. The terminal is spread over 49 acres and has 44 platforms.

The station is used by more than one million people a week. It serves the Metro-North Commuter railroad, which passes through the city’s suburbs and goes out to Connecticut and New Jersey. The station is currently owned and operated by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA).

GCT renovation plans were announced in 1988. Work began in 1996 and was completed in October 1998. The estimated cost of the project was $425m, excluding the $160m invested in amenities and services within the station.

The restoration project was carried out by GCT Venture, a joint venture between LaSalle Partners and the retail specialists, Williams Jackson Ewing. The project was designed by the architectural firm Beyer Blinder Belle and the amenities were planned by William Jackson Ewing.

History of Grand Central Station

The Grand Central Depot was originally constructed by a shipping tycoon, Cornelius Vanderbilt. It was opened in October 1871 and served three lines, the New York Central-Hudson River railroad, New York-Harlem railroad and the New York-New Haven-Hartford railroad.

During 1898 and 1900, the depot was reconfigured to include a 100ft-wide and 650ft-long steel and glass structure, a 16,000ft² waiting room and cast iron eagles with 13ft long wings. After a steam locomotive accident in 1902, the station was redesigned with a two-level terminal to accommodate electric trains.

The station was re-opened in 1913 after ten years of construction. It was then designed by architectural firms Reed and Stem and Warren and Wetmore under a contract signed in 1904. By 1947, around 65 million people used the GCT.

In the 1950s, the station began incurring losses as the railways faced competition from subsidised highways and intercity air traffic. Due to poor maintenance over the years since the Second World War, the station building began to deteriorate, the roof began to leak and the steel structure rusted.

The renovation plans were considered in 1968 by Penn Central. This drew opposition from citizens who filed a suit to stop the construction.

Penn Central went bankrupt by the time it won the suit in 1970 and the title was taken over by its successor, American Premier Underwriters (APU), a financial group.

In 1983, Metro-North took over the operations of Grand Central Terminal and began to restore the station, including a $4.5m project to replace the leaking roof and skylights. The master plan was adopted by the MTA in a public hearing.

In 1994, MTA entered a 110-year lease agreement with the APU to manage the GCT. This helped MTA to implement the restoration work at GCT in association with GCT Venture. After 12 years of renovation, Grand Central’s restoration was completed in 1998.

Metro-North commuter line details

The Metro-North Commuter Service is the second-largest commuter line in the US. It began in 1832 as a horse-car line in lower Manhattan.

The line currently serves 120 stations and passes through seven counties in New York, namely Dutchess, Putnam, Westchester, the Bronx, Manhattan, Rockland and Orange. It also passes through the New Haven and Fairfield counties in Connecticut.

Facilities at the famous New York station

GCT has a main concourse of 88,000ft² with giant windows. Its ceiling is 12 stories high and is painted with 2,500 stars and zodiac constellations.

There are 44 platforms with 67 tracks. The tracks are on two levels, with 41 tracks in the upper and 26 tracks in the lower level. On completion of the Long Island Rail Road in 2016, the GCT will have 48 platforms and 75 tracks.

The upper level tracks can be accessed from the 47th Street passage and lower level tracks from the 45th Street passage.

The 31 revenue service tracks are in the upper level, numbered from 11 to 42 on the east-west line. Of these, tracks 22 and 31 were removed during the renovation process to allow space for the concourses for Grand Central North. Track 11 was also removed during the same time to expand the platform between tracks 13 and 14.

The lower level tracks are numbered from 100 to 126, also in an east to west direction. Of these, only tracks from 102-112 and 114-116 are in passenger service.

Local and off-peak trains run on the lower level tracks, while express, super express and peak time trains operate from the main concourses. The odd numbered tracks are on the east side of the platform and even numbers on the west.

The information booth and the ticket vending machines are in the main concourse hall. This leads to the upper level tracks and the subway platforms. On the east side is a cluster of food shops, known as the Grand Central Market. The dining concourse is below the main concourse.

The 12,000ft² Vanderbilt Hall, which was previously the main waiting room, is now rented out for free promotions and entertainment, such as tennis exhibitions and an annual holiday fair. The Campbell Apartment at the entrance of Vanderbilt Hall has been restored as a cocktail lounge.

The restoration project also included construction of Grand Central North, which was opened in April 1999.

It provides access to GCT from 45th, 47th and 48th Streets. It is connected to the main hall by a 1,000ft long north-west passage and 1,200ft long north-east passage.

It currently has four entrances and the fifth was opened in 2012.

Grand Central North does not have elevator access from the main platforms. Physically challenged passengers access it through the main terminal.

East Side Access

MTA is constructing the East Side Access project to extend the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) to a new station under Grand Central Terminal on Manhattan’s East Side. Train service from LIRR to GCT is expected to start in 2022. The project will reduce the journey time of LIRR’s East Side-bound travelers by up to 40 minutes per day. A new passenger concourse is being built on the lower level of the Grand Central Terminal.

The project is also installing new signal, communication and supervisory control systems needed for supporting future East Side Access service to the terminal.

Signalling and communications at GCT

The original display board was an electromechanical board that contained flip panels to display train times.

During the restoration process it was replaced with high resolution LCD modules manufactured by an Italian company Solari Udine. These modules are also placed inside the trains to display the destination, time, next station, calling points and other useful information. In 2019, the LCD boards were replaced with light-emitting diode (LED) video wall screens.