Joan Jennings Scalfani: The Century Girl, or, if you prefer…The Girl of the Century

Frank Sinatra called her “doll” and mesmerized her with his blue eyes. President Harry Truman cheerfully asked her to join him and his wife, Bess, for breakfast. But Ernest Hemingway was uninterested in her greeting, and Lena Horne, though beautiful, seemed icy.

Getting ready to reprise her role as a “Century Girl” for the 20th Century Limited express passenger train brought back these memories and more for Joan Jennings Scalfani.

“It was a fabulous job because I love to talk and I love to listen,” said Scalfani, 80, recalling her days in the early 1960s as a hostess aboard the historic line. “Those were happy days.”

The Williamsville resident returned to New York City’s Grand Central Station recently as a featured guest for one of the events of the iconic hub’s centennial celebration. A collection of railway cars, including an observation car from the 20th Century Limited, was on display.

Scalfani beamed just thinking about her trip back in time. “This is the highlight of my life,” she said.

On a recent afternoon, the Scalfani sparkle that once charmed Sinatra, Truman and others was working on a young designer who flew in to fit her with a muslin form that would be used to re-create her old Christian Dior uniform in, as she remembers, a “rivermist” blue.

As Scalfani held still so the designer could pin together the pattern and remake her uniform in time for the celebration, the story of her serendipitous career spilled out.

Alex Hartman, working fast to finish the measurements so she could catch a plane back in a few hours, admired her subject’s age and grace.

“You’re my goal,” she said smiling. “You have such a great hourglass. So we’re going to try to keep it.”

Scalfani’s smile fit the glamorous black and white publicity photo from her time as a Century Girl in 1960 and ’61. Scalfani, then 27 and 28, was one of five young women with the public relations job of making sure passengers, famous or otherwise, were comfortable and attended to with services such as sending telegrams and baby-sitting.

The posh train, featured in Alfred Hitchcock’s “North by Northwest,” was known for its passenger-welcoming gifts of small bottles of Chanel No. 5 perfume.

The line ran between New York and Chicago, and made special stops to let on celebrities out of view from the crowds, as it did when Sinatra made his way east to President John F. Kennedy’s inauguration.

“They would kind of slink in,” Scalfani said.

She put her hands together and looked up, as if in prayer, when she recalled meeting Sinatra. She found herself staring at the singer and actor.

“When that door opened and I looked into those blue eyes, I just about fainted,” she said. “He was standing there with a smile on his face because he knew what was going on.”

She asked if he needed a postcard stamp. He smiled.

“Doll, if I want a postcard mailed, I’ll be sure and call you,” he told her.

Then she ran into him a second time when he took the train back to Chicago. “I thought, ‘Oh, no, not again!’ ” she said. “I got out of there so fast.”

“You shouldn’t have left,” a porter told her later. “He had nice things to say about you.”

The train would leave Grand Central Station at 6 p.m. and arrive in Chicago by 9 the next morning. It had about 26 cars with staterooms, smaller compartments, and dining and lounge cars.

One Century Girl was assigned to each trip.

“The train was beautiful,” she said. “In the center lounge car there were love seats. … It was a very classy-looking interior. It wasn’t trainlike; it was like a living room,” Scalfani said.

During the recent weekend, the collection of train cars at Grand Central Station included the “Hickory Creek.” It was the last car on the 20th Century Limited, with an observation lounge and wraparound windows.

It was the sort of car where Harry and Bess Truman might have stayed when she asked them during their breakfast whether they had rested well.

“The president said, ‘Won’t you join us?’ And I certainly couldn’t say no,” she said. “They were very pleasant and very down-to-earth.”

Silent-movie comedian Harold Lloyd asked her to join him for lunch. “You’ve been so kind to me,” he told her. “I’d love you to join me for lunch.”

“He really appreciated the fact that I spent so much time there at his doorway,” Scalfani said.

Decades later, she still regrets not accepting his offer.

As she remembers it, Hemingway was less talkative. The author “was more interested in having dinner,” she said. “I didn’t stay too long.”

Horne, traveling with her jazz pianist husband, Lennie Hayton, was lovely but even less interested. The singer and actress “looked like she wanted me to get out of there,” Scalfani said. “In person, she was even more gorgeous.”

In 1961, after 15 months on the job, the Century Girls were among the thousands laid off after a railroad strike. Scalfani, who grew up in Baltimore, eventually moved to Buffalo in a marriage that ended in divorce. She raised two daughters here. Her career in nonprofit management included almost a decade as director of Episcopal Charities.

During the weekend, for the first time since the 1990s, she traveled back to Grand Central Station and her Manhattan neighborhood.

She talked with people, autographed photos and read a story – “Two Little Trains” – to children. A videographer interviewed her, and she participated in a panel of railroad people to explain what train travel used be like.

Scalfani said she found train passengers to be in-depth people with a leisurely attitude. They had time to sit, look out the windows and think about the towns and countryside rolling by. And they talked.

“It’s like, ‘We’ll never see each other again, so I can bare my soul,’ ” Scalfani said. “They took the time, and it was just special.”

She looks forward to putting on the Century Girl suit that always made her feel stylish.

“It’s like being able to turn the clock back,” she said.

See a YouTube presentation featuring Joan Jennings Scalfani in Grand Central Terminal


Gondola plans pushing forward in Albany, New York

Detailed ridership, economic impact assessment being prepared.

Just over a year after the concept was first floated to wide publicity, backers are quietly planning construction of an aerial gondola over the Hudson River between the Rensselaer Amtrak station and downtown Albany.

“We have continued our work on the project, developing plans, meeting with stakeholders and raising private investment capital,” said Peter Melewski, project manager for the proposed Capital District Gondola and national director of strategic planning for McLaren Engineering Group of West Nyack, Rockland County.

A detailed ridership and economic impact assessment for the project is being prepared, he said. In addition to providing a scenic option for people arriving at the Rensselaer Amtrak station on business, a feasibility study completed last November concluded an aerial tram would have significant tourism potential. More information is expected after Labor Day, he said.

“The gondola, combined with other visitor attractions, will enhance the area as a major destination,” Melewski said.

The idea, first proposed in July 2016, has received support — at least as a concept — from local officials on both sides of the river.

Since it was proposed, plans for the state to spend $15 million on a gondola at the State Fargrounds in Syracuse were announced — an idea many people have ridiculed on social media. Melewski said the projects are different, and each should be judged on its own merits.

Initial construction for the Albany project has been estimated at costing between $17 million and $20 million, with annual operating costs of about $2.4 million. These costs could potentially be offset by a mix of private funds, passenger ticket revenue, advertising and public funds, according to McLaren Engineering’s November report. Melewski said the current emphasis is on trying to raise private financing. He didn’t have a timeline for how quickly money might be raised.

The rail station is owned by the Capital District Transportation Authority. CDTA CEO Carm Basile said he’s continued to have contact with the backers over the last year.

“They’re legitimately pursuing it,” Basile said Wednesday. “There are still a lot of questions that need to be answered, especially in the financial area.”

McLaren has identified a one-mile-long corridor between the Amtrak station and a proposed station on South Pearl Street near the Times Union Center. In a later phase, the gondola could continue to the Empire State Plaza.

The gondolas would run on cables anchored to towers on each side of the river. Such systems being used for public transportation are rare in the United States, but are found in other parts of the world.

McLaren is working with is Doppelmayr USA, the U.S. branch of Doppelmayr Garaventa Group, an Austrian-Swiss aerial gondola system maker whose projects include the gondola system built for the London Olympics.

A project scenario developed by McLaren has up to 45 gondola cabins operating 16 hours per day, with the potential to move up to 3,000 people per hour. The travel time across the river would be roughly four minutes — less time than it takes to drive between the two destinations, according to Google Maps.

Public officials including U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, and Rensselaer Mayor Daniel Dwyer have expressed support for the idea, though without making any financial commitments.

Andrew Kennedy, president of the Center for Economic Growth, a nonprofit economic development organization in Albany, said he’s attended meetings with McLaren’s engineering and finance teams in recent months.

“We’re excited about the possibility, and from that point of view, you want to be encouraging and hopeful,” Kennedy said. “Something like this, if the numbers make sense and there is limited taxpayer money involved, it would be a great thing to have, giving people another option for getting to and from the train station.”

He cited the credentials of some of the other partners involved as a reason to take the gondola idea seriously.

The partners with McLaren include Doppelmayr, Capital Gondola LLC, Camoin Associates, Lemery Greisler, Urban Gondola Systems LLC, and Harrison & Burrowes Bridge Constructors Inc. So far, all the development work has been self-funded.

The complete study is available on the McLaren website,

Published in the Schenectady Daily Gazette

Reach Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 395-3086, or @gazettesteve on Twitter.

CVS Move Into Former Upper East Side Grocery Store Space

The Upper East Side will be getting another CVS pharmacy, as the retailer reportedly signed a lease to occupy space formerly home to a grocery store on the corner of East 86th Street and Second Avenue.

CVS plans to open a 15,649-square-foot location on the ground floor of the Yorkshire Towers building by the first quarter of 201, a CVS spokeswoman told Patch. The retail space was most recently home to a Food Emporium

The pharmacy company finalized a 15-year lease to rent the space, Commercial Observer first reported. One of the landlord’s representatives told Commercial Observer that CVS was eager to rent the space due to its proximity to the Second Avenue Subway.

Do Subway Problems Go Back To Robert Moses?

New Yorkers now use a transit system in a state of emergency. The past few months have laid bare the enormity of the problems currently facing the century-old subways, from aging infrastructure to a lack of federal dollars available to help make things better.

Much has also been said about how the world’s largest public transportation system has gotten so bad—the lack of funding, of course, but also Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s penchant for prioritizing flashy projects over system maintenance, along with years of mismanagement within the MTA, an agency that’s admitted to misspent funding that doesn’t go toward maintenance.

But start looking at the decline of, and disinvestment in, New York’s rail lines—from the subway to commuter rails like the Long Island Rail Road—and you’ll find that those problems go back much, much further. And, perhaps unsurprisingly, they seem to lead to one man in particular: Robert Moses.

I have said this before and even written about it:

Robert Moses – Against Mass Transit

Moses was known as the great “master builder” of 20th-century New York, whose machinations helped create the city’s highway system, as well as many of its parks, beaches, pools, and bridges. But one thing’s for certain: He had absolutely no interest in public transit. He prioritized roadways and cars at the expense of subways and buses, a move that left a detrimental impact on the transit system that continues to this day.

To understand what the so-called “Power Broker” had to do with the current system’s failings, it helps to go back to the beginning of it all. On March 24, 1900, New York Mayor Robert A. Van Wyck broke ground on the city’s first subway line, which today corresponds to the 4, 5, and 6 lines. It traveled from City Hall in Lower Manhattan to West 145th Street in Harlem, and construction took four years, six months, and 23 days—a timeline that’s inconceivable today. (The newest subway extension, the Second Avenue line, opened nearly a decade after its most recent official groundbreaking.)

Yes I know, they did tunnels differently: just cut and fill;

Though construction on subsequent rail lines would rarely move that quickly, the city had a very specific attitude toward rail development in the four decades following that groundbreaking: “To never stop building,” as Joe Raskin, author of The Routes Not Taken: A Trip Through New York City’s Unbuilt Subway System, puts it. “The idea was to allow the subway system to expand, and let the city go around it,” he says.

And so subway lines stretched quickly (by today’s standards, anyway) into undeveloped areas of Manhattan and the outer boroughs, with the assumption that housing and commercial development would follow. Despite setbacks—financial shortfalls, the clashing agendas of mayors and borough presidents, and battles with local community groups—it’s how New York City got the expansive, complex rail infrastructure that’s now seen on modern subway maps. This period of major growth lasted until the late 1940s, when annual ridership steadily increased year over year and hit its peak in 1948 with just over 2 billion passengers.

By then, Robert Moses was already exercising his power over the city. He began his foray into large-scale public works initiatives in the 1920s, and by the 1930s was able to take advantage of millions of New Deal dollars available from the federal government.

Moses’s attitude toward public transit was clear from the beginning—he didn’t care about it. To use one example, he’s heralded for building Long Island’s Jones Beach, which opened in 1929. But there’s the oft-repeated story that he intentionally built the Long Island Parkway overpasses with perilously low clearances, which ensured that buses—used by anyone who couldn’t afford a car—would never be able to go under them.

As Theodore Kheel, a retired labor mediator who battled with Moses over a 1965 proposal to double bridge and tunnel tolls and use the revenue to subsidize subway fares, told the New York Times, “[Moses] was hostile to mass transit and hostile to poor New Yorkers.”

He wasn’t unique in this, either, as the idea of “urban renewal” took hold across the country, and mostly white male planners starting demolishing and displacing low-income neighborhoods to make way for highways. According to former United States Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx, the first 20 years of the federal interstate system displaced more than a million Americans—most of them low-income people of color in urban cores.

Another factor taking hold of the country in the mid-20th century was the embrace of the automobile. By the 1940s and ’50s, President Dwight D. Eisenhower had invested in a massive cross-country highway system, and oil companies had grown more powerful. “There’s this concentrated effort to get away from mass transit,” explains Kevin Draper, a historian and director with New York Historical Tours. Subways were considered outdated technology; cars and highways were the glamorous modes of transportation of the future.

It became the American dream that you gotta have a car,” Draper says. “And Moses was all for it.”

Indeed, Moses could make strong cases for his projects—and secure funding for them—better than any mass transit advocate at the time. It didn’t hurt that the Board of Transportation, which ran the subway at the time, was plagued with deep-seated institutional problems that affected transit expansion, alongside the city’s aversion to increasing the 5-cent fare to fund that.

As the Department of Transportation dealt with its own obstacles, Moses gained enough power to charge ahead in building 13 expressways throughout the five boroughs. The impact that they had on the surrounding neighborhoods was swift, and occasionally devastating; the Cross Bronx Expressway, for example, cut off low-income and immigrant communities and devastated property values for residents in those areas.

The Second Avenue Subway was a particular thorn in Moses’s side. The city attempted to build the line twice—in 1942 and again in 1954—and both times Moses prevented funds he controlled from being allocated to the project. The money went to bridges and highways instead.

Now read an article in NY Curbed and it says mch of what I said.

So What Is Going On With TWITTER?

Last night I finished planned work early and decided to do something I had never done before! Go on TWITTER. So I typed “”. I guess I am already logged in because of always posting blogs and WebSites. They must “track” my interests as I got a lot of train pictures.

Then I got a “tweet” from @Write inTrump
“Jeff Bezos may be the richest man in the World but how many nuclear submarines does he have?”

Then I got a picture of Amazon Headquarters

Finally, a cute little poster

Then I got tired and gave up.

Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

Alex Silverman at WCBS 880 has put together a great video on New York City Subways.

In 1973, the five-year-old Metropolitan Transportation Authority was patting itself on the back for a series of shiny new expansion projects, like the Second Avenue subway.

Meanwhile, deferred maintenance had the system crumbling so badly that New Yorkers began to flee. They fled at a rate that, if kept up, would have left no riders on the subway by the early 2000s.

“Our politicians have amnesia. They don’t remember, they don’t follow history,” says Sam Schwartz, who spent those decades as a city transportation engineer. “Starving the system, thinking you’re saving money is going to cause a lot of headaches down the road.”

Out of that crisis came the first of many capital plans.

“New York under Gov. Carey and then Gov. Mario Cuomo invested about $70 billion, and the subway system went from a point where we had three million riders a day to six million riders a day very successfully,” says Mitchell Moss, who runs NYU’s transportation center.

So there’s a touch of irony in the MTA’s go-to line about what causes the bulk of subway delays, which are up 150 percent in less than five years.

“Those are things that fail when you have a capacity problem. And we are at capacity,” former acting chairman Fernando Ferrer says.

Of course, overcrowding wouldn’t be such a problem if we had invested in a modern signal system that could run more trains closer together. So why don’t we do that now?

“They’re taking seven years per line – 40 years to put a new signal system in the subway,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said. “I mean, forget it.”

“The true failures started during the Pataki and Spitzer administration when they went for East Side access and Second Avenue subway rather than investing in modernization and maintaining a good system,” Moss says. “The priority should be taking care of what we have, because that’s what’s moving six million people a day.”

Six million frustrated people.

“Today people regularly get on the train not knowing if they’ll ever get to work,” says John Raskin, who runs the Riders Alliance. “That’s unacceptable for the city.”

“We have to have an MTA that recognizes that this is a crisis which requires crisis management, not business as usual,” Moss says.

It seems like we’re getting there, with the governor declaring a state of emergency last month. But it remains to be seen whether the state and city will come together and split the cost of the fix.

Going to be a HOT Summer with Signal Problems

400,000 angry people getting off the trains each day.” Referring to the commuters from New Jersey and Long Island derailed by track problems at Penn Station and the 100,000 or more subway riders who see their commute disrupted every day by the antiquated signal system.

Citizens Budget Commission report revealed that the three components essential to a reliable subway system—cars, power systems and signals—are all receiving far less than they need to bring the system into a state of good repair.

politicians always prefer new projects. Remember the spotlight the governor hogged at the beginning of the year, when the Second Avenue subway opened? Just wait for the fanfare when the new Tappan Zee Bridge he commissioned is completed later this year. The problems the transit system is encountering are a direct result of that attitude. Any Trump administration infrastructure plan is likely to suffer from the same flaw.

22 reasons the hyperloop and driverless cars don’t mean we don’t need HS2

That Tweet links to Hannan’s Telegraph column, of which this is an excerpt:

Hyperloop may or may not turn out to be viable. Driverless cars almost certainly will: some of them are already in commercial use in the United States. So why is the Government still firehosing money at the rather Seventies idea of high-speed trains?

The short answer is that firehosing money is what governments do.

Well, no, that’s not the only reason is it? I can think of some others. For example:

1. Trains are faster than cars, driverless or otherwise.

2. High speed trains are faster still. Hence the name.

3. The biggest problem with cars as a form of mass transportation isn’t either pollution or the fact you have to do the driving yourself and so can’t do anything else at the same time (problems though those are). The biggest problem is that they’re an inefficient use of limited space. Trains not only move people faster, they take up less room while they do it. So driverless cars, marvellous though they may be, will not render the train redundant.

4. The hyperloop is still unproven, as Hannan himself admits, so the phrase “become a reality” seems just a teensy bit of a fib.

5. Honestly, nobody has ever travelled a single inch by hyperloop.

6. At the moment, like Donald Trump’s Twitter feed, it’s basically one big fever dream backed by an eccentric billionaire.

7. Frankly, I am pretty stunned to see one of Britain’s leading Brexiteers buying into a piece of fantastical utopian nonsense that would require detailed and complex planning to become a reality, but which is actually nothing more than a sketch on the back of a napkin.

8. (That last point was me doing a satire.)

9. Even if it happens one day, a hyperloop pod will carry a tiny fraction of the number of people a train can. So once again Hannan is defeated by his arch nemesis, the laws of space and time.

10. In other words, Hannan’s tweet translates roughly as, “Why is the government spending billions on this transport technology that actually exists, rather than alternatives which don’t, yet, and which won’t solve remotely the same problem anyway?”

11. High speed trains definitely exist. I’m on one now.

12. I really shouldn’t be thinking about either the hyperloop OR Daniel Hannan if I’m honest.

13. I wonder why the French are so much better at high speed trains than the British, and whether their comparative lack of whiny MEPs is a factor?

14. It feels somehow typical that even in a genuinely contentious argument (“Is HS2 really a good use of public money?”) when he has a genuinely good point to make (“The way the cost of major projects spirals during the planning stage is a significant public concern”), he still manages to come up with an argument so fantastically dim that bored transport nerds can spend long train journeys ripping it to shreds.

15. He could have gone with “let’s cancel HS2 and use a fraction of the saving to sort out the northern railway network”, but no.

16. Somehow I suspect he’s not really bothered about transport, he just wants to fight strawman about debt.

17. Also, of course we’re using debt to fund the first new national railway in a hundred years: what else are we going to do?

18. “Unbelievable that at a time when I need new shoes we are borrowing money to buy a house.”

19. Can I go back to my book now?

20. I said I was going to stop this, didn’t I.

21. This is a cry for help.

22. Please, somebody, stage an intervention.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and also has a Facebook page now for some reason.

Cuomo’s attempt to put subway responsibility on city a bit of an about-face

Governor Andrew Cuomo has tried to put the responsibility for the ailing subways on the city and the mayor. It is a bit of an about-face for the governor, who was eager to take credit for the Second Avenue Subway last winter.

Governor Andrew Cuomo was riding high. After years of delays, the much-anticipated Second Avenue Subway was finally set to open on New Year’s Day.

The governor was eager to not only take credit for the success, but also to be held accountable.

“You know who runs the MTA? The governor has the majority of members. And what I said is, I’m going to step up and take responsibility,” Cuomo said at the time. “If this does not open January 1? It’s me. It’s me. I would have failed. And I accept that responsibility.”

Fast forward seven months. The subways are in a state of disrepair. Delays have worsened, and subway rider anger about the system is at an all-time high.

At an event last week, Cuomo quite literally tried to run away from his responsibility for the subways by attempting to avoid reporters’ questions. He was forced to stop and talk, and this time, he hit a very different note about who is accountable for the trains.

“By law, New York City owns the transit system. New York City is solely responsible for funding the capital plan for the New York City subway system,” Cuomo said.

Cuomo has been feuding with Mayor Bill de Blasio on this and many other issues. On Sunday, the mayor rode the train and laid the responsibility for poorly functioning trains solely on his rival.

“The state of New York is responsible for making sure our subways run,” de Blasio said.

Experts back the mayor on this over the governor.

“The state exerts the most control and oversight, both through the number of board appointees that the governor has, more than any other person, including the mayor,” said Nicole Gelinas of the Manhattan Institute. “And also from the financing. The state is the taxing entity.”

The governor’s poll numbers have started to sink, particularly over the issue of subways. Some believe that is precisely why the governor has tried to muddy the waters on this issue.

Mayor releases 5-point subway system improvement plan, Lhota fires back.

The mayor wants:
1) Immediate relief for riders, improving service and reliability.
2) The MTA should have public performance goals and standards.
3) Clear accountability for continual improvement.
4) An efficient and fair MTA budget and a reallocation of resources towards core needs.

5) A meaningful state commitment to the needs of subway riders.

“The political posturing and photo opps are getting silly,” said Joe Lhota, MTA Chairman.

To a stupid outsider like me, it sounds like kickoff of campaign for Governor.

Elon Musk: I got ‘verbal’ approval for 29-minute NYC-to-DC hyperloop

Billionaire innovator Elon Musk said he has “verbal” government approval to build an ultra-high-speed underground rail system in the Northeast, offering hope to travelers overwhelmed by mass-transit failures despite skepticism about such an ambitious project.

In a series of tweets that might not be taken seriously if they came from any other corporate executive, Musk flummoxed the transportation industry with claims that he is pursuing a network that would whisk passengers from New York City to Washington, D.C. in 29 minutes.

Transit experts say that gargantuan costs and prodigious bureaucratic hurdles would make such a plan extremely difficult to pull off.

I guess our corporation (The Muhammad Ali Hyperlink) plus our record in the rail industry will sort of qualify us as a “transit expert”. We have designed a “HYPERLOOP” that is very “budget conscious”: follows an Interstate highway from Louisville to Gary, Indiana. Did not know a cost-effective tunneling system; so we will switch passengers to the South Shore Railroadand can be called “Louisville to Chicago” HYPERLOOP.

We, or anybody else, involved in HYPERLOOP cannot accurately forecast costs.

No normal bank or investment company even wants to talk to us (yet). Maybe we need a new Chief Financial Officer?

In the meantime, Elon Musk has bit the mayor of Chicago with another “bug”: a tunnel between the two Chicago airports. Last I knew, Chicago had financial problems: had to borrow $$$ each week to pay teacher’s salaries.

Guess we did things backwards: should have invented a self-driving electric car and started a space exploration company before we took on transit projects.

Maybe Musk could rescue the Second Avenue Subway: bore tunnels for the remainder. After all, the original subway from 1904 used tunnels.