New York Christmas: Behind the scenes at top holiday sights

Get a peek behind the curtain at beloved New York Christmas sights, from the city’s most famous Christmas tree to a holiday-window tribute to Al Hirschfeld

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Behind the scenes at the New York Transit Museum Holiday Train Show


Each year, the New York Transit Museum renders Manhattan and points north—as in, the North Pole—in miniature for its rail-focused display. Subway cars and Metro-North travel around a 34-foot track, passing landmarks like Grand Central Terminal and the Empire State Building (complete with a tiny King Kong) before arriving at Santa’s workshop. The model set, created by Lionel Trains, looks complex, but doesn’t take too long to assemble—the whole thing is up and running in about a day. Take a look at how the pieces all fit together in our slideshow below.


  • Photograph: Marc A. Hermann/MTA New York City Transit

    Lionel Trains may build the exhibit’s tracks and cars, but it’s up to the “traingineers” at TW TrainWorx to install the whole shebang in the museum’s Gallery Annex at Grand Central. “The display was designed to be modular, set up in a short period of time and be transported in a minimal number of crates,” explains Roger Farkash, the creative director at TrainWorx. The entire unit can be transported in seven boxes.

    It then takes engineers about 12 hours to assemble the display and get the trains running.

  • In preparation for Grand Central Terminal’s centennial in 2012, Farkash and his team gave the attraction a major overhaul. The biggest addition is this model of GCT, a limited-edition piece by Lionel, of which only 250 were created.

    The tiny terminal is also a nod to the location of the train show itself: It’s set up in the New York Transit Museum’s Gallery Annex at Grand Central, rather than the institution’s Downtown Brooklyn location.

  • Photograph: Marc A. Hermann/MTA New York City Transit

    One of the subway cars you’ll see is a model of this R30, a “redbird” that ran, among other places, along the now-defunct QJ line (which connected Jamaica, Queens, to Coney Island, Brooklyn).

  • Look on the wall behind the model to see selections from Next Stop Grand Central, a 1999 children’s book by illustrator Maira Kalman that was re-released last year for the depot’s centennial. The artist’s playful drawings depict all sorts of commuters—kissing couples, crying children and harried office workers among them—as they pass through the terminal, as well as some of the workers who keep Grand Central running.

  • Photograph: Marc A. Hermann/MTA New York City Transit

    While much of the action takes place on the display’s surface level, be sure to take a peek at the bottom, too: You’ll see trains moving along underground tracks, as well as commuters standing on platforms. “Most often, it’s the kids who find the unique details like the subway platforms,” notes Farkash. “We intentionally designed these features into the exhibit at their eye level—the visual treats light up their faces.”

  • Photograph: Marc A. Hermann/MTA New York City Transit

    “The challenges we tend to encounter typically involve pieces that have become worn out over time, that need to be repaired or replaced,” explains Farkash. “When they can’t [be repaired or replaced], there tends to be spontaneous creativity that achieves the results we need—it’s actually a lot of fun to see how well we do each time within a limited time frame.”

Photograph: Marc A. Hermann/MTA New York City Transit

Lionel Trains may build the exhibit’s tracks and cars, but it’s up to the “traingineers” at TW TrainWorx to install the whole shebang in the museum’s Gallery Annex at Grand Central. “The display was designed to be modular, set up in a short period of time and be transported in a minimal number of crates,” explains Roger Farkash, the creative director at TrainWorx. The entire unit can be transported in seven boxes.

It then takes engineers about 12 hours to assemble the display and get the trains running.

The New York Transit Museum Holiday Train Show is at the New York Transit Museum Gallery Annex (Grand Central Terminal, E 42nd St between Vanderbilt and Lexington Aves; 212-878-0106, mta.info/museum). Mon–Fri 8am–8pm; Sat, Sun 10am–6pm. Free. Through Feb 23.

  1. Henri Bendel holiday windows
  2. Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree
  3. New York Transit Museum Holiday Train Show

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