8. M42 Station

M42 basement
The M42 power station.

Deep below Grand Central Terminal is a hidden power station known as M42. The M42 basement (also known as Substation 1T and 1L) is said to have played an important and clandestine role in World War II. The original converters, which are no longer in operation, powered much of the New York Central Railroad and were said to be a target for German spies who wanted to sabotage rail movement on the East Coast. While there were spies in America focused on destroying infrastructure, there is no contemporary evidence as of yet that Grand Central, or the M42 basement specifically, was a target. In the book Grand Central: How a Train Station Transformed Americawriter Sam Roberts offers that Grand Central could have been a target but as I Ride the Harlem Line documents, neither the reports from MI5 or first-hand accounts by the spy ring’s own members mention it.

Still, M42 was part of the shift from steam-powered locomotives to electrified rail. This shift occurred following a horrific accident in the Park Avenue tunnel in 1902; steam blocked sightlines in the tunnel out of Grand Central and caused an express train from White Plains and a commuter train to collide under 56th Street. Steam trains were banned in Manhattan starting in 1908 six years after the deadly incident. Third rail power was produced by a steam station on Park Avenue between 49th and 50th Streets, which was later demolished both because residents had come to see it as an “eyesore” and because a sale of the increasingly valuable land and air rights was needed to fund the new Grand Central Terminal.

Don’t forget to join us on an upcoming tour of the Secrets of Grand Central to see more of these hidden tunnels and secret spots!

Grand Central terminal main atrium

Secrets of Grand Central

Next, check out the Top 10 Secrets of Grand Central Terminal!