Last Train to Westchester

NYT has an interesting feature on those who miss the last train out of Grand Central Station [RSS] and get stranded for several hours until they reopen for business in the morning. This is a rather odd phenomenon. In cities like New York, Chicago, and Washington, where the reliance on public transportation is so heavy, it’s just baffling to me that the trains ever stop running. I can understand reducing the frequency of the trains during off peak hours, but it makes little sense to stop them entirely. The spin-off effects–people deciding to skip late night events for fear of getting stranded, people driving and adding to the traffic congestion who would otherwise have taken the train, and so forth–would seem to outweigh the advantages of the shutdown.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. jen says:

    When I lived in New Hampshire money was tight, so I took the bus to visit my sister in NYC. My return bus trip to Boston was a nightmare – the bus was delayed leaving New York and as a result we got in to Boston at about 10pm. The last bus to Manchester, NH had just left and I was looking as spending the night at the bus station until they started running the morning buses. Then someone pointed me to the counter of a small, regional bus company – turns out they had one more bus to Manchester leaving at around 11pm so I did make it home that night, but only because of the kindness of one person who took pity on me.

    It never crossed my mind that a major city like Boston wouldn’t run their public transportation late into the night.

  2. Sam says:

    Keep in mind that the vast majority of people commute within New York City–while there are a lot of people commuting from the suburbs, it isn’t anything like, say, Washington DC. The subway lines run all night, going to the boroughs of NY: Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens. Metro-North and the LIRR are more like MARC and VRE, except they extend farther and run weekends.

  3. I saw the Rolling Stones at Shea Stadium in (what?) 1990 and as soon as the concert ended (before the encore), I booked to the subway and caught the last train back to New Jersey just minutes before it pulled out of the station.

    I sucked missing the encore, but the considerable expense of the concert ticket would have been compounded by an expensive hotel stay.

  4. TM Lutas says:

    I’ve been caught waiting at GCT after I missed the last train to Westchester. There was a nice cop hanging out and keeping order and a single hot dog vendor who hung around and made enough sales. The difference is that a train is a lot more expensive to run than a hot dog stand and there were only about ten of us waiting who weren’t rich enough for the $50 cab ride home or the $100 hotel room stay.

  5. James Joyner says:


    True. Of course, if people show up and find the station closed–or know in advance that it’s closed–they unlikely to hang around. I could understand running trains, say, every hour or so during those periods. But not shutting down entirely for several hours.