Beneath Grand Central Terminal's well-known architecture and design is a working railroad that is not only the largest commuter railroad in the nation but which can also boast a 97 percent on-time rate. NY1's Bobby Cuza filed the following report.
Grand Central may function as a tourist attraction, a meeting place, a shopping destination and even a movie set, but first and foremost it is a train terminal. It is home to the nation's busiest commuter railroad, Metro-North, and dozens of men and women in the station's Operations Control Center help it to run.
"The control center is the whole system. I mean, we are the nerve center of the whole railroad here," says Steve Neville, Metro-North's deputy chief of train operations.
NY1 got a rare glimpse inside the control center, which, for security reasons, is shrouded in secrecy. At any given time in the center, roughly a dozen rail traffic controllers are orchestrating a complex ballet, routing and re-routing trains throughout the entire system.
At the railroad's high-tech headquarters, individual trains' progress can be tracked by rail traffic controllers on a large electronic map.
"You have a train, number 727, going north on track number 1 at Morris Heights. The red indicator is the train, the green here is the signals," Neville says, pointing to the board.
With the click of a mouse here in Grand Central, a traffic controller can throw a switch 80 miles away.
The control center, which is somewhere inside the Grand Central complex, is a windowless room out of sight of the 270,000 Metro-North riders that pass through the station on an average weekday, on some 661 trains.
Metro-North's chief rail traffic controller, Joe Lagana, says it’s complicated enough on a good day. Then there's downed trees, sick passengers, equipment failures and any number of unforeseen challenges that require improvisation.
"It’s like a chess game," Lagana says. "One train running late's going to affect trains behind them. And we just run so many trains in and out of Grand Central that there’s no really no room for error."
Metro-North's on-time performance — consistently above 97 percent — speaks to the skill of these men and women and is another of Grand Central’s best-kept secrets.