Mini Grand Tracks


By Tanya Silverman

A toy pho restaurant.

It’s that time of year when a miniature Grand Central Terminal gets installed within Grand Central Terminal.

The replica is an important component of the 13th annual Holiday Train Show that takes place within the New York Transit Museum. Still yellow cabs are stationed throughout the small streets surrounding the petite Beaux Art building, which is bordered by silver skyscrapers sized to scale. The scene of mini-Midtown Manhattan is back dropped by a simulacra setting of sleepy suburban communities that lead to tree-lined rock formations.

Lionel trains, designed in the style of of Metro North and other railroad models, whiz around the toy tracks throughout.

A tiny suburban setting.

Of course you can simply stop by the Transit Museum and snap a couple quick shots of the toy trains, but it’s more fun to pause there and actually observe the intricate little universe created by the Holiday Train Show. You can catch Santa Claus waiting for his commuter train at Beacon’s Metro North Station, or an animatronic little laborer rolling up a billboard reading “Lionelville”. You can take note of businesses they choose to include in the settings–be it the pho restaurant that represents the worldly culinary options of the city, or an Americana-style Esso gas station set up in the suburban section.

For as much pleasure as you take letting your imagination (or analysis) travel through the Lionel Train track atmosphere, though, your personal interaction can only go so far, as visitors are intentionally blocked off from physically playing with the encapsulated little universe by a plastic wall.

If you want your experience at the Transit Museum to be more educational, you may move away from the capsule and read the placards placed on the walls, which offer insight to the history of train travel. For instance, one summarizes the story of the California Zephyr, a bygone vacationer train that brought passengers on a scenic journey from Chicago to San Francisco, zipping through geologic treasures like the Rocky Mountains and Glenwood Canyon. Service ended in 1970.

Little Grand Central Terminal.

After all the indoor observation and historical tutelage, you can walk out of the Transit Museum and into the present moment: go explore the actual environment of Grand Central Terminal, see what 42nd Street really looks like, or even board an authentic Metro North train to travel to real suburbs.

All photos by Tanya Silverman.

To see additional photos, check out yesterday’s photoblog.