Saturday, January 17, 2009

Off track 2

Malcolm's second BBC whinge:

This time it's a "colour" piece by Heather Alexander. She explores
The secret below Grand Central Station.
She claims to be visiting one of the most secret, historic parts of the terminal.

Again, true, but with many question-marks around it.

Malcolm's main complaint here is the claim that the
secret rail platform under Grand Central Station - Track 61 ... does not appear on any station maps or plans and was built specially for President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to use in the 1930s.
The impression is given that it was constructed largely to protect FDR's vanity about his incapacity, the consequence of polio, his wheel-chair and leg-braces.

The truth about Track 61

This story crops up, as do so many, with monotonous regularity. Why does nobody (Malcolm notably excepts himself) undertake some basic research?

Track 61 is explained by numerous websites, not omitting Columbia University.

Start from the days when railroads had money.

At the start of the twentieth century, the New York Central Railroad electrified. It no longer needed direct access to the atmosphere. So it dug a vast hole between 42nd and 50th Streets, between Lexington and Madison Avenues. Into this pit, thirty feet below street level, the tracks were dropped. In modern terms, it cost something in excess of $2 billion. The "air rights" (building on stilts over the tracks) were then up for offer.

One of the last erections over the tracks and marshalling space was the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, completed in 1931. The Waldorf traded on exclusivity. What better than a private rail siding for those private rail cars? With a lift directly into the hotel!

So a platform and lift were constructed. Stand on platform 24, and look north: up there is the "secret" platform 61, up by 50th Street.

First to avail of this facility was General Pershing, in 1938.

Then it became associated with FDR. He could arrive from Hyde Park, via the Hudson Line, be decanted and removed to the Presidential Suite, out of sight and (in wartime conditions) under complete security.

The coincidence of the "secret" platform, the conveniently-parked armoured railcar, and the number of times this story re-appears suggests that someone, somewhere has the notion of a future tourist attraction.

As for "secret" ...

The platform has been used for various events.

Back in free-and-easy 1946, the New York Central Railroad held its “Debut at the Waldorf,” showing off its new diesel locomotive.

In 1965, "Dick Ekstract" rented the platform and hosted The Underground Party, in honour of the birthday boy, Andy Warhol. Fitting, if nothing else.

Julia Solis (in New York Underground) has given a pretty comprehensive account of this "mystery".

So: ya wanna "inter-react" wi' Track 61, huh?

You walk past the awning of the Waldorf-Astoria, down to the corner of 50th. That's St Barts over there, OK? Swing right. Make three or four strides. Look over your shoulder. See those metal doors, telling you this is the Metro North emergency exit? You're thirty feet above that "secret" Platform 61.

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Anonymous said...

I just watched the report and immediatey got to work contacting the BBC about how their report twists the truth and misleads.

Dewi Harries said...

That's the real secret of Grand Central - you have to try it it's extraordinary.

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