Thursday, September 29, 2016

Why It's Hoboken Terminal not Hoboken Station

Amidst all the concern about the train crash in Hoboken Terminal today, and relief that only one life was taken, and thoughts for that family and the people and families of those who were injured, the question arose of why the train was said to have crashed into Hoboken Terminal not Hoboken Station.

Well, that's what the Hoboken train structure is called, and the reason is that when it was first constructed a century ago it was a terminus, literally the end of the line, a place were trains completed their runs, and went no further, except to turn around and go back the way they came.  In such a Victorian and Edwardian world, it made sense to call these facilities terminals rather than stations, where in contrast to terminals the train stopped but continued its journey in the same direction.

Grand Central Terminal is named terminal for the same historical reasons, even though it is often called Grand Central Station, which itself has become a metaphor for bustling with activity.   But train buffs know it should be Grand Central Terminal, and bristle when it's called otherwise. I was once sternly told by an assistant editor that I needed to change Grand Central Station to Grand Central Terminal in one of my novels. I complied and learned.

Of course, neither Grand Central nor Hoboken are true terminals these days, and have not been for years.   When you're on the New York City Subway system and your train pulls into Grand Central, you'll pulling into a station not a terminal, and your train doesn't turn around but instead continues on its way.  Same for the PATH trains in Hoboken.

But it's still charming and quaint to continue to call these places terminals, and I'm all for it.   Yet ... names and physical structures are not the same, and though we can enjoy the old-fashioned name, we want our equipment and  to be as new and crisply functional as possible.

As engineers look for the cause of the crash, and our thoughts continue for the full recovery of the survivors, we should also give a thought to improving the infrastructure of the rail system in this country.  We deserve better tracks and trains to take in and out of these "terminals".

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