The President's Secret New York City Train Station

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Grand Central Terminal, located in the heart of Midtown Manhattan, has more than 40 platforms. But one of those platforms is almost never used.

In 1871, Grand Central opened its doors. While the building itself stretches from 42nd Street to 45th Street, the terminal as a whole extends — underground — as far uptown as 50th Street. One of the buildings above these tracks, somewhere between 49th and 50th Streets, was a powerhouse for the Terminal. The powerhouse had its own loading platform beneath it, used for discharging workmen and transporting machinery to the site as needed. But when Con Edison, the local utility company, began to provide power to the Terminal, the powerhouse became redundant. By the late 1920s, the world famous Waldorf-Astoria Hotel took over the entire block between 49th and 50th, bulldozing the powerhouse. By historical accident, the Waldorf-Astoria has its own, rarely used, train station.

Rarely used. But not never used. When the President of the United States is in town, the platform is a backdoor to safety.

For decades, the Waldorf-Astoria has played host to presidents visiting the city. In the mid-1940s, Franklin Delano Roosevelt visited the hotel, and a potentially apocryphal story suggests that he, for reasons of both vanity (he wanted to hide the fact that he was wheelchair-bound) and security, employed a custom-made train car that brought him right to the Waldorf-Astoria's "secret" train station. The custom-made car—replete with bullet-proof glass, gun ports, and plate armor—still sits on the tracks, somewhere beneath Grand Central, as it is too large to move without taking it apart. It also remains on site because it may be useful. When the President is in town, all the entrances to the platform are guarded by police officers and military personnel, ensuring safe access to this underground escape route by the President in case of emergency.

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BONUS FACT:
The Waldorf is not the only New York landmark with an unused subterranean train platform. City Hall, in downtown Manhattan, is home to an unused, frozen-in-time subway station. There was also a whole hidden subway system in New York City, as well as ones in Chicago, Cincinnati, and Washington, DC.

The original source for this post is a great CNET News article about the secrets of Grand Central. But a comment therein suggested there was more to the story. A bit of Googling led to the details above. --Dan

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Dallas/Fort Worth Airport Now Has Its Own ER
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If you thought massage chairs were the height of airport health perks, you’ll probably be impressed by a recent addition to Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) in Texas. The travel hub has opened what might be the country’s first airport emergency room, as Condé Nast Traveler reports. Located at the south entrance, the 8160-square-foot center has everything you’d expect from an urgent-care location, including an X-ray machine, a CT scanner, and a laboratory.

The ER is intended to serve dual functions. Because DFW is a massive operation, employing 65,000 workers, airport staff will be able to obtain speedy attention for ailments without having to leave the site. And because traffic at the airport is so high—more than 67 million travelers pass through each year—visitors will be able to address symptoms without delay. That’s especially useful if they’re experiencing respiratory-related issues or conditions frequently associated with air travel, like deep-vein thrombosis (DVT), a blood clot in the legs that can migrate to the upper body and cause a pulmonary embolism.

The airport told Condé Nast Traveler that it was only a matter of hours after opening that a passenger came to the ER complaining of chest pain. (He was treated and released.) Because the facility is located outside of security checkpoints, it’s also open to the general public.

The site’s operator, Code 3, previously opened an urgent-care center in the airport’s international terminal, as well as another urgent-care location in Las Vegas’s McCarran International Airport. The company eventually hopes to expand its ER practices to other high-profile and highly trafficked airports around the country.

[h/t Condé Nast Traveler]

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The Secret to a More Pleasant Flight? Urinals
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Even if you can deal with the lack of legroom, privacy, and decent meal options on airplanes, your patience may start to wear thin when it comes time to pee. Being stuck waiting in long bathroom lines on planes may feel like one of life's unavoidable annoyances, but according to WIRED, there's a way to make the experience more tolerable. The secret involves urinals and a bit of math.

At last month's Crystal Cabin Awards, a competition that recognizes innovation in aircraft interiors, Zodiac Aerospace introduced the Durinal, a two-urinal plane bathroom that takes the place of one toilet. Replacing a bathroom that serves all passengers with one that's made for only half the population may seem like a quick way to make the long-line problem worse, but there's some logic behind the proposed solution.

As Wouter Rogiest, a mathematician at Ghent University in Belgium, tells WIRED, gender-neutral bathroom lines are shortest when men have the option to head straight for a urinal. That's because it's quicker to use a urinal than a stall, and when men opt for the urinal, it frees up stalls for women. When he drew up an equation looking at hypothetical bathroom wait times at a concert, he found that a ratio of 14 toilets to eight urinals produced the most desirable wait times: one minute, 27 seconds for women and slightly under a minute for men. On a commercial plane, this ratio would come out to one or two Durinals per six conventional bathrooms.

Rogiest's concert equation isn't a perfect stand-in for airplane scenarios, so a more specific study would be needed before airlines could consider installing urinals. Unfortunately, if bathrooms with urinals do show up on airplanes, you can expect the spaces to be just as tight as they are now.

[h/t WIRED]

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