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February 26, 2006

"The Secrets of Grand Central"

There is possibly no more beautiful railroad station in the world than New York City’s Grand Central Terminal. As the destination of over 50,000 daily commuters from Connecticut, it’s a place we spend a fair amount of time. But rather than rush to or from your train, next time you’re in GCT, look around and enjoy some of its hidden secrets.

Based on 40+ years of commuting experience, here are some of the nooks and crannies within the station that I find most fascinating… and useful.

Underground Access: Sure, you can enter Grand Central from street level, but in bad weather you can find your way underground from blocks away. The new north-end access afforded at Madison and 47th St., Park Ave. and 48th Street and the Helmsley Building walk-ways are dandy. But did you know you can also access from 43rd or 45th Street, west of Vanderbilt, or via the shuttle station, on the south side of 42nd Street, just west of Park?

Fastest Way from the Lower Level: If your train dumps you on the lower level, forget about the ramps or stairs for the long climb to street level. Walk to the forward end of the train and look for the elevator near Track 112. It’ll take you to the upper level or, better yet, to within steps of Vanderbilt Avenue (see below).

Best View of the Main Concourse: Ever notice the elevated glass walkways at the east and west ends of the station? They’re accessible (though public access is discouraged). Just go to the entrance to Michael Jordan’s Steakhouse on the mezzanine and take the elevator up two or three floors. When you get off, go left and through the non-descript door on your left. Walk out and you’ll have a panoramic view of the station from almost roof-level.

Washrooms with No Wait: The new washrooms at the west end of the lower level have helped a lot, but still there’s often a line. Take the nearby escalator up one level, turn around, and on your left is the Stationmaster’s Office complete with a waiting room and lav’s. Or, go right and just before the ramp up to 42nd St. and Vanderbilt, look on your left for the sign for the Oyster Bar. Go down the steps into the bar and you’ll find ornate bathrooms known only to a few.

Best Place To Get A Cab: Forget about the long line at the taxi stand on 42nd St east of Vanderbilt. Instead, go out the west end of the Main Concourse, up the stairs and out onto Vanderbilt Avenue. Cross the street and wait at the corner of 43rd. Taxis flow through here, leaving off passengers every few seconds. Heading west you’ll avoid the traffic on 42nd Street.

These are a few of my favorite “secrets” of Grand Central. Drop me an e-mail with yours and I’ll include them in a future column.
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JIM CAMERON has been a commuter out of Darien for 15 years. He is Vice Chairman of the CT Metro-North / Shore Line East Rail Commuter Council, and a member of the Coastal Corridor TIA and the Darien RTM. You can reach him at jim@camcomm.com or www.trainweb.org/ct . For a full collection of “Talking Transportation” columns, see www.talkingtransportation.blogspot.com

February 14, 2006

Transportation Spending and CT Jobs

Oh happy day! Hartford finally seems ready to spend billions, investing in our transportation system and the state’s economic future.

Last year, Governor Rell pushed the legislature to long overdue action, allocating $1.3 billion for new rail cars on Metro-North. This year she wants to spend another $600 million on mass transit in the I-91 corridor, including commuter rail from New Haven to Springfield and a busway from New Britain to Hartford.

Not to be outdone, the Democrats are going the Governor one better. House Speaker Jim Amann says its time the state spent $6.2 billion to fund all of the recommendations of the Transportation Strategy Board.

That’s amazingly good news. But where were our lawmakers when the TSB issued its recommendations three years ago? Why have the Democrats finally embraced this issue, which they ignored for decades? Answer… because unlike her predecessor, John Rowland, who said the TSB plan was d.o.a., Governor Rell embraced it and started moving it toward implementation. Thank heavens for party politics in an election year!

But both the Governor and the legislature are missing an important opportunity right now to improve another issue facing our state… jobs and the economy.
We are about to spend $1 billion on new rail cars for Metro-North, but as it stands, none of that money will benefit our state’s economy.

The Metro-North Commuter Council has reviewed the specifications for the new M8 cars as drawn up by the consulting firm LTK (under a no-bid contract to Metro-North). While the specs look great from an engineering viewpoint, it is clear they were drawn up with little involvement or influence from Connecticut DOT, as they favor Metro-North and New York state, not us.

The M8 project will mean jobs… for New York State, but not Connecticut. Though our taxpayers will pay two-thirds of the cost of the new cars, no provision has been made in the contract to see a dime of those funds earmarked for Connecticut.
The three qualified bidders on the M8 project… Bombardier, Kawasaki and Siemens… all have plants in NY State, but not in Connecticut. But shouldn’t Connecticut firms like United Technologies get a piece of the action, and support local jobs in the process?

The minority and women-owned business “set asides” in the M8 contract will total $50 million apiece. But read the spec’s drawn up for Metro-North, and you’ll only see mention of that spending in New York state, not Connecticut.

Metro-North is a vendor to CDOT. They’re hired to run “our” trains and are paid well for doing so. They do that job well. But we are turning over to our vendor the responsibility for the design and construction of a billion dollars worth of rail cars that we’re paying two-thirds of the cost for.

How could CDOT miss the chance to see our taxpayers’ money be spent for jobs and construction in our state? That’s a good question… and one which I hope those in legislative oversight will ask of CDOT staff.

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JIM CAMERON has been a commuter out of Darien for 15 years. He is Vice Chairman of the CT Metro-North / Shore Line East Rail Commuter Council, and a member of the Coastal Corridor TIA and the Darien RTM. You can reach him at jim@camcomm.com or www.trainweb.org/ct . For a full collection of “Talking Transportation” columns, see www.talkingtransportation.blogspot.com