TRACK INDICATOR, Grand Central Terminal

I’m a Long Island Rail Road rider, so my experiences with the great Grand Central Terminal, which for the past few decades has been reduced to serving the commuter trains of Metro-North (formerly New York Central) are somewhat limited. I find it ironic that the mostly dumpy Penn Station, whose grand Beaux Arts palace has been gone over 50 years, now handles all intercity rail transit, while GCT, restored to grandeur in the 1990s after deteriorating to a sorry state, handles only local trains. In any case, GCT has a number of secrets and oddities, some of which I discussed on a page I created for its 100th anniversary in 2013.

It should be mentioned that I am something of a Philistine with regards to the name of the place. Many people gravitate to calling it Grand Central Station (Larry Graham, who was in Sly and the Family Stone, called his band Graham Central Station) only to be slapped silly by buffs who insist upon Terminal. To keep the peace, in all public utterances and scribblings, I’ll duly call it Grand Central Terminal, but all the while, I’m thinking “Grand Central Station.”

After an interview at an agency in midtown (maybe this one will bear some fruit?) I decided to get a sandwich at Mendy’s in the GCT basement (apologizing to the counterman after ordering a turkey and swiss sandwich at the kosher joint and being duly corrected). On the way to the #7 subway back to Woodside, I noticed that all the track indicators had a set of drawers under what are now video screens proclaiming the station stops. I wondered about this on The Facebook and received the answer that they were used to hold the various plaques on which the station names were printed before the track indicators became video boards.

Facebooker Michael P. provided me with a link to the online collection of the Railway Age Gazette from February 14, 1913, when the current GCT building was brand new, and it succinctly explains the system behind the station indicators, which was more intricate than what you’d think:


So there was once a National Indicator Company, which, I’d presume, was responsible for the signage on track indicators in railroad depots, and it was in Long Island City! I would have probably done a stint there. I once did a brief stint at the company that produced the various signage found in Barnes and Noble bookstores, but the less said about that the better.


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5 Responses to TRACK INDICATOR, Grand Central Terminal

  1. Kat says:

    Fascinating! I guess I’m so used to the technology that I never even noticed the drawers, and I used to travel via Metro North daily! I love GCT, it’s so beautiful. I make a point out of taking friends visiting the city there, but playing the polite tourist and keeping the hell out of the way of the people trying to make trains, and avoiding rush hour.

  2. William Hohauser says:

    Just because I like a good kerfuffle I toss a couple of cents into the Grand Central Station/Terminal “controversy”.

    Grand Central is technically a terminal now and has been for a long time but at one point it was a station with a large rail yard. The NY Central line in the 1800’s continued down Fourth Avenue eventually terminating at City Hall. The line was removed for a variety of reasons and the NY Central terminated where it does now.

  3. Jim Beau says:

    The world seemed so much richer when things were done manually; mechanically;’ by real people, instead of by computers and electronics. Oh, what we’ve lost! Machines have replaced people; and people have become more machine-like.

    • NY2AZ says:

      It’s even worse than you think. Please refer to the March, 2016 issue of Car & Driver/ “Autonomous Roadkill”. More & more the human part of the equation is being downgraded. This article is not currently posted on so you’ll have read it in the magazine.

  4. John says:

    My understanding is that if the trains pass through after stopping and continue on it is a station. If they ever finish rebuilding the new South Ferry stop, that will be a terminal. (Dead end then start in the opposite direction).

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