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The Secret Train Station Under New York City

The Secret Train Station Under New York City
The Secret Train Station Under New York City


You’ve heard of the secret train system in DC, you’ve heard of the secret train platform in London, but have you heard of the secret train station in New York? I hope not because that’s this week’s dose of content. Let’s rewind 150 years to the era of not planes, trains, and not automobiles. In this time, the railroads coming from the north into New York City ended up at Grand Central Depot. This massive rail yard took up more than a dozen city-blocks in one of New York’s densest areas and so the owners of the station, the New York Central Railroad, saw an opportunity. They would put the entire rail yard underground, build a huge new station, sell all the freed up real estate, and get that bread. 10 years and 85 million cubic feet of dirt later Grand Central Terminal opened and it was actually pretty neat. It has more tracks and platforms than any other station in the world and today includes all sort of non-rail related things like a tennis club in the ceiling which was once run by a certain future US president. The station also had at one point, and this is true, a 65 foot indoor ski slope. As this implies, Grand Central was long at the center of American opulence as much of the country’s early wealth was earned by rail tycoons. Given that, on top of the now buried tracks, plenty of important buildings sprang up. In the area that was once the rail yards there is today the headquarters of the Colgate-Palmolive Company, JP Morgan, MetLife, Major League Baseball, and also the Waldorf Astoria hotel. This hotel has long been considered one of the world’s most prestigious and has been stayed at by countless celebrities. Up until 2015, when the hotel was bought by a Chinese company, the Waldorf Astoria was the place where US presidents stayed when they made their frequent visits to New York. The hotel has a lavish Presidential Suite that’s been stayed in by every US president between Herbert Hoover and Barack Obama and non-presidents like the Kings of Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Spain, and Norway, the Queen of England, the Emperor of Japan, General Charles de Gaulle of France, and more. While it costs the general public between $4,000 and $8,000 to stay there per night, the hotel gives a generous discount to the US government and, by extension, the American taxpayer, and the room is even designed to emulate the style of the White House. Conveniently, the room is also about 500 feet above the Grand Central Tracks buried more than 100 years ago. Now, back in a time before private jets, the way that America’s richest and most powerful individuals got around without mingling with the normals was by private rail car. These would be hitched to the back of public trains and included dining rooms, kitchens, large bedrooms, lounges, and more. In the same way that US presidential candidates now often do speeches at airports in front of their planes, in the past candidates would do whistle-stop tours where they would make short speeches in small towns across America from the back of private rail-cars. Roosevelt was a particular fan of using these trains. Due to polio-induced paralysis, the bottom half of his body didn’t work but he did serve twice as many terms as any other US president so, equal? Unbelievably though, he was able to hide his handicap from most of the American public through careful coordination at events and the cooperation of the press. That’s why whenever he was seen standing he was holding on to someone or something. Giving speeches from the back of a railcar was therefore easy as he didn’t have to go far in public. While nowadays presidents fly on Air Force One to New York, Roosevelt would often make the trip by rail but arriving in Grand Central Station would be far too public to hide his ailment. His train therefore stopped a third of a mile short of Grand Central and was shunted to a small secret platform directly below the Waldorf Astoria hotel. From there, an elevator would take him up into the hotel. It’s unclear how many times FDR used this secret station as it was, of course, secret but its believed to have been used by plenty of presidents and celebrities since his era. The secret platform and elevator still exists today and, while its existence is no longer secret, we’re not always sure what it’s being used for. This inconspicuous door on 50th street is reportedly the entrance to the elevator down to the platform. We do know for sure that the platform has been used at least once in recent decades while a US president has stayed at the Waldorf Astoria. In 2003, while President Bush was staying there for a United Nations General Assembly session, an idling Metro-North train was kept at this platform ready to shuttle the president off Manhattan at any moment in case of emergency. While not confirmed, it’s assumed that this procedure is repeated whenever presidents visit the Waldorf Astoria nowadays.

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