Tearing Down Iconic Railway Stations … for What??

At the moment, I’m working on revisions and updates for the 4thedition of my book, All Aboard, The Complete North American Train Travel Guide. There’s going to be a new chapter in this edition – a list of ten significant railway stations. My rationale for deciding which stations to include is a bit different. Architectural significance is a factor, of course, but I wanted to pick stations where Amtrak or VIA Rail passengers might find themselves spending several hours between trains … or even overnighting to make a connection the following day.

 In doing some of the research, I was struck by the stupidity and lack of foresight and just plain greed that led to the tearing down of the original Pennsylvania Station in New York City. The Pennsylvania Railroad was having financial difficulties in the early 1960s and so they peddled the air rights above the actual platforms and tracks to a developer. And down came one of the great iconic railway stations in favor of an office building and “the new Madison Square Garden” … which is now the old Madison Square Garden and there is growing discussion about the need to replace it at a different location.

Proving once again that we don’t learn from past mistakes, the same damn thing almost happened to Grand Central Terminal. Some years after the original Penn Station came a-tumblin’ down, the Penn Central Railroad sold the air rights over that magnificent structure. Fortunately, a number of prominent citizens – among them Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis — rose up in righteous wrath and objected. And they hung in there through a 10-year legal battle which ended when Grand Central was designated as a national historic landmark. By then Metro North, the commuter railroad that serves Grand Central, had developed a master plan for the grand old place and something like $160 million was spent on repairs, renovations and restoration.

It would appear that thistime, good judgment and civic responsibility have won out over avarice and rank commercialism. Every so often, the good guys actually do win one. And you can still “meet me by the clock in Grand Central.”