The Stars Set To Shine Again In Grand Central

Yesterday afternoon, I received an interested press release highlighting how the stars are set to shine again in Grand Central Terminal. Here are the details:

New York City’s most-beloved galaxy, the constellation ceiling above Grand Central Terminal’s Main Concourse, came alive today with new luminosity in the form of light-emitting diodes.

Fifty-nine of the brightest stars in the winter sky, such as Castor and Pollux in Gemini and Rigel in Orion, were turned on Monday now that MTA Metro-North Railroad, steward of the Terminal, has completed installation of new fixtures.

“Using new technology to celebrate the traditional grandeur of Grand Central’s celestial ceiling is a testament to our commitment to improving the life of the city even as we continue to cut costs,” said Jay Walder, Chairman of Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Metro-North’s parent agency. “We hope people won’t run into one another as they crane their necks and peer skyward in admiration.”

“As New Yorkers face the first workday after the return to Standard Time, when afternoons are short and nighttimes are long, we thought it would brighten spirits to unveil these jewels today,” said Metro-North President Howard Permut. “This project is another reason to love Grand Central and we are proud to use the latest, greenest technology in the city’s beloved landmark.”

The long-lasting, cool-burning LED lights replaced a system of fiber-optic lights, which in turn replaced the original, 10-watt incandescent bulbs. The bulbs were state-of-the art when the terminal opened in 1913. The pride and fascination with which the new-fangled electricity was viewed was evidenced by the bare light bulbs found throughout the Terminal.

Over the years, the star bulbs burned out. Replacing them was labor-intensive as the barrel- vaulted ceiling is quite deep – 50 feet from the top of the cornice to the zenith of the arc. Accessible only through the attic above the sky ceiling, workers would have to crawl on all fours to reach the incandescent fixtures and screw in new bulbs.

Over the years, as the predecessor railroad headed for bankruptcy, there was less and less enthusiasm for this particular maintenance chore and the bulbs burned out, one by one, until the entire winter zodiac sky was dark.

The fiber-optic system, installed in 1997, was a major innovation when it was new and eliminated the need for electricians to change burnt out bulbs. Seven fiber-optic light sources sent light travelling through clear plastic tubes to the individual stars across the expansive, barrel-vaulted concourse ceiling.

Over the years, the tubes got brittle and brown, and did not project light with the same intensity. The stars faded. In the search for a new, environmentally friendly solution, LEDs seemed the obvious choice.

Metro-North sought vendors and selected Design Plan of Frenchtown, NJ, which did the design and supplied the equipment. Installation was performed by Metro-North electricians. The lights, on timers, will be turned off daily from 2 a.m. until 5 a.m., while the Terminal is closed for cleaning. The new fixtures are expected to last 50,000 hours, and use just 4 watts of electricity – 60% less than the previous lights.

The new fixtures were installed in their original locations so as not to disturb the famed, 25,000-square-foot cerulean ceiling, with 2,500 gold-leaf stars and a pair of intersecting 23-carat golden arcs depicting the elliptic and the equator.

The portion of the universe depicted in the mural shows the wintertime zodiac and associated constellations such as Pegasus, Triangulum and Fly, as they appear in the northern hemisphere, not as seen from Earth, but as seen from above. When the Terminal opened, there was a civic debate about the sky being reversed, but the builders insisted it was intentional and showed the stars from the gods’ perspective.

Each LED fixture has the same brightness, but the glass, lens-like diffuser changes the light’s intensity depending on its thickness and depth to better capture the size and intensity of the actual star being depicted. Seven transformers, each servicing several stars, change the power supply from 125 volts AC to 24 volts DC.

When gazing up, 125 feet above the Tennessee pink marble floor, one cannot see all the lighted stars at once. As people walk across the Concourse floor and their vantage point changes, different stars appear, giving a twinkling impression.

You can watch a video with more information courtesy of the MTA’s official Youtube channel:

xoxo Transit Blogger

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