Friday, September 19, 2008
Bright ideas lighting up Grand Central Terminal
NEW YORK (MarketWatch) -- New York's Grand Central Terminal may be a grand old National Historic Landmark, but thanks to some modern technology, it's becoming one the most energy efficient buildings in the city.
The Metro North Railroad, a subsidiary of the Metropolitan Transit Authority which operates the terminal, is in the process of improving energy sustainability throughout the station with projects that include compact fluorescent lighting and recycling programs.
The building's designation as a National Historic Landmark in 1976 helped save the station from the wrecking ball and preserved what the landmarks program has called "a triumph of planning and engineering." But the designation has posed some unusual problems for MTA officials seeking to improve the building's energy efficiency.
Take for example, the 20,000 light bulbs inside the station. It seemed an obvious improvement to replace the incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs, but the spiral-shaped CFLs weren't in character with the building's protected landmark status. So the MTA found CFLs that look more like the building's original round bulbs.
Now, most of the bulbs have been changed -- except for the chandeliers, which present their own special challenges. The MTA is still testing CFLs for the chandeliers that will have the right shape, color and lighting appearance. Officials say that there are about 60,000 bulbs total, including all the interior and exterior fixtures.
Media Relations Officer Dan Brucker estimates the railroad could save $100,000 a year with the new CFL bulbs, which use less energy and can last up to 10 times as long as incandescent bulbs.
The new lighting is "only one small part of being very efficient and very environmentally conscious in the world's largest train terminal," Brucker said.
When the MTA leased the building in 1994, it undertook additional renovations, including Grand Central's one-of-a-kind air conditioning system, which uses low-cost superheated steam running beneath the building.
Because the terminal's status as a landmark prohibited the installation of new ductwork and vents, the 88 million-cubic-foot concourse couldn't be cooled by conventional means. The system, which uses lithium bromide and steam, is nearly twice as efficient as conventional methods and comes at a fraction of the cost, according to the MTA.
Other efforts include the newspaper-recycling program, which collects more than five tons of paper discarded by the station's estimated 700,000 visitors every day.
The drive toward energy efficiency isn't limited to the interior of the terminal. Genesis locomotives, made by General Electric, use ultra-low sulfur fuel. And they have a high-strength, lightweight design with electronic fuel injection. They are more aerodynamic, produce more power and use about 22% less fuel than the previous generation of locomotives.
Increased ridership this year, attributed in part to the rise in gasoline prices, means fewer commuters in cars and more riding public transportation.
The number of monthly tickets sold by Metro North topped 3.9 million in June, up nearly 4% from the same period in last year.
The number is expected to increase again in 2014, when the East Side Access Project, which will connect the Long Island Rail Road to Grand Central Terminal, is completed. The MTA expects the project to bring in an additional 160,000 passengers per day.
Grand Central is not the only part of the MTA committed to improving energy efficiency. An organization-wide report released in April calls for 7% of the MTA's energy supply to come from renewable sources by 2015.