Trains are better than Cars

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Cen­tral Sta­tion, Buf­fa­lo, NY, cir­ca 1930.

Presley’s sis­ter Kel­ly was in town this past week­end, and she left yes­ter­day on the Amtrak train from Back Bay Sta­tion, which got me think­ing about train sta­tions and trains in gen­er­al. Every­one in these New Urban­ist books that I read can’t fath­om how Amer­i­ca end­ed up wed­ded to the auto­mo­bile, while the Euro­peans remain con­tent­ed with trains.

I think it’s a sim­ple answer: after the war, we just could. It was the thing to do, and we had the resources. But, isn’t there some­thing won­der­ful about trains? And more impor­tant­ly, big city train sta­tions? Grand Cen­tral in Man­hat­tan is gor­geous. Mod­erin­ists moan on about how style should be down-played because it is the taste of eco­nom­ic elites, but I don’t care if putting a build­ing like that up was a cap­i­tal­ist show of wealth and power—it had beau­ty, craft­man­ship and it was a place where peo­ple of all races and incomes passed through. They destroyed Penn Sta­tion in the six­ties to put up Madi­son Square Gar­den. big whoop. If any­thing, MSG is more cap­i­tal­ist-mind­ed than the build­ing it replaced.

So, it brings me around to Buf­fa­lo and Kelly’s depar­ture… Ear­li­er in this cen­tu­ry, Buf­fa­lo actu­al­ly was in the top 5 for most rail­road track—Buffalo had indus­try, and it was locat­ed on the impor­tant route between new york and chica­go. The city built some beau­ti­ful train sta­tions (sub­se­quent­ly demol­ished), who’s archi­tec­ture seems won­der­ful­ly as grand as Grand Cen­tral itself. The last remain­ing sta­tion, Cen­tral Ter­mi­nal, still stands on the East Side, though it’s falling apart. I wish to God the city could find some new use for the facility—problem is, it is locat­ed in the most eco­nom­i­cal­ly depressed area of the city.

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