Friday, April 19, 2013

Grand Central’s “Grand Centennial Parade of Trains”

Written by  William C. Vantuono, Editor-in-Chief

An impressive assembly of historic passenger railcars spanning the heyday of luxury rail travel, as well as examples of contemporary railroad technology, will be on display together for the first time at the “Grand Centennial Parade of Trains” weekend May 11-12, 2013, at New York City’s Grand Central Terminal.

The event, which is free to the general public, will take place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day, as part of Grand Central Terminal’s ongoing Centennial celebration.

“The Parade of Trains arrangement of historic railroad equipment comprises the largest and most diverse collection of privately owned passenger railcars ever assembled in Grand Central Terminal,” say the event’s organizers. The event also includes Grand Central’s first model train show and railroadiana antiques and collectibles event, with a variety of retailers and regional railroading museums lining part of Vanderbilt Hall, offering sales and hosting exhibits of unique railroad-related items.

The private railcars, including an observation car from the historic 20th Century Limited, will come from across the country to Grand Central Terminal. Joining them on display will be a number of cars from MTA Metro-North Railroad’s fleet, including the newest equipment—the M8 electric multiple-unit commuter car introduced in 2011— and cars from predecessor railroads serving the New York Metropolitan Area.

In addition, an area of GCT’s Vanderbilt Hall will be transformed into “Kid Junction,” which will be full of free activities for children and families to enjoy, including an activity area and a modular train display from the “Chuggington” animated train series (seen on the “Disney Junior” channel), demonstrations with a Master Builder from the LEGOLAND Discovery Center in Westchester, N.Y., and creative activities led by New York Transit Museum staff and The New York Botanical Garden. Metro-North employees will staff departmental demonstrations, where families can learn the functions that support a smooth-running commuter rail operation.

In conjunction with the Grand Centennial Parade of Trains, many of Grand Central Terminal’s retail tenants will offer special deals and promotions on May 11 and 12.

“Grand Central is one of the most iconic and active terminals in the world, so it’s only fitting that we bring together here more than a dozen elegant and luxurious railcars for our Centennial year,” said MTA Metro-North Railroad President Howard Permut. Randall Fleischer, Co-Director of the Centennial and Vice President of Grand Central Terminal and Corporate Development for MTA Metro-North Railroad, added “The Centennial Parade of Trains weekend will showcase the famous trains that helped put the ‘Grand’ in Grand Central Terminal, and that now reflect its rich national legacy.”

Among the historic railcars to be featured in “Parade of Trains”:

• The 20th Century Limited “Hickory Creek.” Built in 1948 by Pullman Standard, this sleeper-observation lounge car was part of the New York Central Railroad’s 20th Century Limited fleet. The 20th Century departed daily from Grand Central Terminal and was synonymous with first-class service, speed, and comfort. With the Hickory Creek as a backdrop, an all-new post-World War II 20th Century, with modern-for-its-day equipment, was christened at Grand Central in 1948 by Dwight Eisenhower and actress Beatrice Lillie, with a champagne bottle filled with water from the Hudson River, Lake Erie, and Lake Michigan, symbolizing the railroad’s “Water Level Route.”

• “Montana.” The Montana was built in the Milwaukee Road shops as a tap lounge for the streamlined 1947 Olympian Hiawatha, which ran between Chicago and Tacoma/Seattle. The car was retired from regular assignments in 1955 and converted to a business car. Later, it was leased to the Wisconsin Central and then operated on steam excursions. It’s now in private ownership.

• EMD FL-9 diesel-electric/electric locomotive. Unique to the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad (and eventually operated by Metro-North), these dual-mode locomotives were designed specifically for operation into Grand Central. Essentially diesel-electrics, they could shut down their diesel powerplants and pick up traction power from the electrified third rail when operating through the Park Avenue tunnels into the Terminal, eliminating exhaust fumes. The Electro-Motive Division of General Motors built these locomotives from 1956 to 1960.

Phoebe Snow cars. These cars were built in 1949 as tavern-lounge observation cars for the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western’s Phoebe Snow train. The train was named for a promotional character who always wore white clothes to promote the train’s clean-burning anthracite-coal-fueled steam locomotives. The train ran between Hoboken, N.J., and Buffalo, N.Y., and later, under the auspices of the Erie Lackawanna Railroad, to Chicago. These cars currently serve as MTA Metro-North Railroad’s two inspection cars.

• MTA Metro-North M8. This contemporary railcar is the newest equipment used by Metro-North Railroad in conjunction with the Connecticut Department of Transportation. The M8s, designed by noted railway industrial designer Cesar Vergara of Vergarastudio, debuted in early 2011 and are described as “the most technologically advanced commuter railcars in the country. Customer comfort and experience is enhanced with roomier seats, larger windows, better lighting, and more advanced communication options than previous cars. The vibrant red color echoes the historic colors of the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad, a predecessor to Metro-North.”

As an added attraction, Joan Jennings Scalfani is taking a trip back in time for Parade of Trains weekend. Back in 1961, Joan, then in her 20s, was known as “Century Girl,” the hostess aboard the 20th Century Limited. “Century Girl was a rare job during the heyday of luxury passenger railroading; the New York Central railroad took a cue from the airlines and employed a young woman to greet passengers and make them feel comfortable on their journey,” notes Randall Fleischer. “Joan Jennings worked for 15 months on trips back and forth between Grand Central Terminal and Chicago and came away with exciting experiences, such as being invited to eat breakfast with President and Mrs. Harry Truman, chatting with Ernest Hemingway, and fumbling through an introduction to Frank Sinatra. More than 50 years later, Joan, who now lives outside of Buffalo, N.Y., is getting ready to play the part of Century Girl again. She will be a part of Parade of Trains weekend, joining the press preview on Friday, May 10.”