The President’s Secret Train Station

Grand Central Terminal, located in the heart of Midtown Manhattan, has over 40 platforms, making it the largest train station in the world.  But one of those platforms is rarely, if ever, used.

In 1871, Grand Central, pictured above, opened its doors.  While the building itself stretches from 42nd to 45th street, the terminal as a whole extends — underground — as far uptown as 50th Street.  One of the buildings above these tracks, somewhere between 49th and 50th Streets, was a powerhouse for the Terminal.  The powerhouse had its own loading platform beneath it, used for discharging workmen and transporting machinery to the site as needed.  But when Con Edison, the local utility company, began to provide power to the Terminal, the powerhouse became redundant.  By the late 1920s, the world famous Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, took over the entire block between 49th and 50th, bulldozing the powerhouse.  By historical accident, the Waldorf-Astoria has its own, rarely used, train station.

Rarely used.  But not never.   When the President of the United States is in town, the platform is a backdoor to safety.

For decades, the Waldorf-Astoria has played host to presidents visiting the city.  In the mid-1940s, Franklin Delano Roosevelt visited the hotel, and a potentially apocryphal story suggests that he, for reasons of both vanity (he wanted to hide the fact that he was wheelchair bound) and security, employed a custom-made train car which brought him right to the Waldorf-Astoria’s “secret” train station.  The custom-made car — replete with bullet-proof glass, gun ports, and plate armor — still sits on the tracks, somewhere beneath Grand Central, as it is too large to move without taking it apart.  It also remains on site because it may be useful.  When the President is in town, all the entrances to the platform are guarded by police officers and military personnel, ensuring safe access to this underground escape route by the President in case of emergency.

Bonus fact: The Waldorf is not the only New York landmark with an unused, subterranean train platform.  City Hall, in downtown Manhattan, is home to an unused, frozen-in-time subway station.

Related: The Waldorf-Astoria Cookbook.

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