Milestone-Proposal:Grand Central Terminal Electrification

From IEEE Milestones Wiki

To see comments, or add a comment to this discussion, click here.

Docket #:2015-02

This Proposal has been approved, and is now a Milestone

To the proposer’s knowledge, is this achievement subject to litigation?

Is the achievement you are proposing more than 25 years old? Yes

Is the achievement you are proposing within IEEE’s designated fields as defined by IEEE Bylaw I-104.11, namely: Engineering, Computer Sciences and Information Technology, Physical Sciences, Biological and Medical Sciences, Mathematics, Technical Communications, Education, Management, and Law and Policy. Yes

Did the achievement provide a meaningful benefit for humanity? Yes

Was it of at least regional importance? Yes

Has an IEEE Organizational Unit agreed to pay for the milestone plaque(s)? Yes

Has the IEEE Section(s) in which the plaque(s) will be located agreed to arrange the dedication ceremony? Yes

Has the IEEE Section in which the milestone is located agreed to take responsibility for the plaque after it is dedicated? Yes

Has the owner of the site agreed to have it designated as an IEEE Milestone? Yes

Year or range of years in which the achievement occurred:


Title of the proposed milestone:

Grand Central Terminal Electrification, 1906-1913

Plaque citation summarizing the achievement and its significance:

Grand Central Terminal, in continuous use since 1913, was the first large-scale railroad electrification project, a development that enabled it to become a major railroad terminal. The design of the Terminal included several notable achievements in the field of electric traction such as innovative designs of electric locomotives, multiple unit (MU) control of electric rolling stock and the pioneering use of underrunning third rail.

200-250 word abstract describing the significance of the technical achievement being proposed, the person(s) involved, historical context, humanitarian and social impact, as well as any possible controversies the advocate might need to review.

IEEE technical societies and technical councils within whose fields of interest the Milestone proposal resides.

In what IEEE section(s) does it reside?

New York Section

IEEE Organizational Unit(s) which have agreed to sponsor the Milestone:

IEEE Organizational Unit(s) paying for milestone plaque(s):

Unit: New York Section
Senior Officer Name: Neil Weisenfeld

IEEE Organizational Unit(s) arranging the dedication ceremony:

Unit: New York Section
Senior Officer Name: Neil Weisenfeld

IEEE section(s) monitoring the plaque(s):

IEEE Section: New York Section
IEEE Section Chair name: Neil Weisenfeld

Milestone proposer(s):

Proposer name: Joseph J. Cunningham
Proposer email: Proposer's email masked to public

Proposer name: John L. Sprague, LM
Proposer email: Proposer's email masked to public

Proposer name: Robert W. Walker
Proposer email: Proposer's email masked to public

Please note: your email address and contact information will be masked on the website for privacy reasons. Only IEEE History Center Staff will be able to view the email address.

Street address(es) and GPS coordinates in decimal form of the intended milestone plaque site(s):

Grand Central Terminal 89 East 42nd Street, New York, NY (Manhattan)

40.752998, -73.977056

Describe briefly the intended site(s) of the milestone plaque(s). The intended site(s) must have a direct connection with the achievement (e.g. where developed, invented, tested, demonstrated, installed, or operated, etc.). A museum where a device or example of the technology is displayed, or the university where the inventor studied, are not, in themselves, sufficient connection for a milestone plaque.

Please give the address(es) of the plaque site(s) (GPS coordinates if you have them). Also please give the details of the mounting, i.e. on the outside of the building, in the ground floor entrance hall, on a plinth on the grounds, etc. If visitors to the plaque site will need to go through security, or make an appointment, please give the contact information visitors will need. Landmarked Active Railroad Terminal

Are the original buildings extant?


Details of the plaque mounting:

Interior wall

How is the site protected/secured, and in what ways is it accessible to the public?

Railroad terminal public space patrolled by railroad police and city police; accessible at all times by the general public passing through, visiting shops or to/from train platforms. There is no access fee to enter public space.

Who is the present owner of the site(s)?

MTA-Metro-North Railroad which operates, maintains, and funds capital construction projects involving the terminal.

What is the historical significance of the work (its technological, scientific, or social importance)? If personal names are included in citation, include justification here. (see section 6 of Milestone Guidelines)

As the first major electrification of an urban railroad terminal it made possible elimination of the smoke and pollution of steam engines to allow the design and construction of the present terminal facility which expanded railroad capacity and released land for residential and commercial development in the form of apartment buildings, office space and hotels. Significant suburban development southern Westchester County was encouraged by the introduction of fast and frequent rail access to the business district of New York City. The terminal remains the busiest rail facility in the nation in terms of the daily number of commuters, visitors and customers of the shops and stores located within.

What obstacles (technical, political, geographic) needed to be overcome?

At the time electric operation was initiated in 1906, the installation had not only to accommodate traffic levels never encountered previously but also the simultaneous demolition of the then existing terminal buildings and ancillary structures and the construction of new facilities without disruption to daily train operation. Upon completion of the new terminal in 1913, the project involved not only the terminal itself but over 50 route miles of line on two separate branches; the traffic consisted of both long distance trains pulled by electric locomotives and electric multiple unit coaches for suburban commuter business.

What features set this work apart from similar achievements?

As the first complete electrification of a large urban terminal, the anticipated traffic volume was such that two separate generating stations were required (Glenwood in Yonkers, NY and Port Morris in the Bronx section of NY City) with a network of distribution substations and control equipment and the necessary modifications to signal and related equipment. Power was distributed over the new "under-running" third rail, a recently developed design which protected the rail from accidental contact on the sides and above, named the Wilgus-Sprague type after its inventors. Unlike previous installations, train operations required both electric locomotives and self propelled electric multiple unit coaches. Long distance overnight trains that consisted of coaches, sleeping, dining, mail and baggage cars demanded locomotive tractive effort never required previously; a demand that resulted in the most powerful locomotives constructed at that time. Those were also the first application of the gearless bipolar motor in an electric locomotive. Local suburban commuter traffic was provided by the largest fleet of electric multiple unit coaches ever assembled at that time; the use of such necessitated by the need for rapid acceleration to accommodate the large number of trains on close headways along the four track line leading into the terminal.

Supporting texts and citations to establish the dates, location, and importance of the achievement: Minimum of five (5), but as many as needed to support the milestone, such as patents, contemporary newspaper articles, journal articles, or chapters in scholarly books. 'Scholarly' is defined as peer-reviewed, with references, and published. You must supply the texts or excerpts themselves, not just the references. At least one of the references must be from a scholarly book or journal article. All supporting materials must be in English, or accompanied by an English translation.

J.L. Sprague and J.J. Cunningham, a Frank Sprague Triumph the electrification of Grand Central Terminal, IEEE Power & Energy magazine, p. 56-78, volume 11, number 1, January/February, 2013

ASCE Metropolitan Section article on Grand Central Terminal - 2013

ASCE Roundup ASCE news blog "ASCE Dedicates Grand Central Terminal as Historic Civil Engineering Landmark" Doug Scott March 5, 2015 -

ASCE engineering legends "William J. Wilgus and Grand Central Terminal" Richard G. Weingardt, P.E., Dist.M.ASCE volume 11 issue 1 (January 2011)

F.Dalzell, Engineering Invention, Frank J. Sprague and the U.S. Electrical Industry, Cambridge, MA MIT Press, 2010

W.D. Middleton and W.D. Middleton III Frank Julian Sprague, Electrical Inventor and Engineer, Bloomington, IN; Indiana Univ. Press, 2009

H.C.J. Sprague, Frank J. Sprague and the Edison Myth, New York, William Frederick, 1947

Supporting materials (supported formats: GIF, JPEG, PNG, PDF, DOC): All supporting materials must be in English, or if not in English, accompanied by an English translation. You must supply the texts or excerpts themselves, not just the references. For documents that are copyright-encumbered, or which you do not have rights to post, email the documents themselves to Please see the Milestone Program Guidelines for more information.

GCT Milstn figure 1.jpg
GCT Milstn figure 2.jpg
GCT Milstn figure 3.jpg
GCT Milstn figure 4.jpg
GCT Milstn figure 5.jpg
GCT Milstn figure 6.jpg

Please email a jpeg or PDF a letter in English, or with English translation, from the site owner(s) giving permission to place IEEE milestone plaque on the property, and a letter (or forwarded email) from the appropriate Section Chair supporting the Milestone application to with the subject line "Attention: Milestone Administrator." Note that there are multiple texts of the letter depending on whether an IEEE organizational unit other than the section will be paying for the plaque(s).

Please recommend reviewers by emailing their names and email addresses to Please include the docket number and brief title of your proposal in the subject line of all emails.