All aboard! Make-A-Wish Foundation and MTA treat teen to a tour of Grand Central Terminal

To some people trains are merely a means of transportation, but to others they are an incredible feat of engineering and a source of pure joy that can change a family’s life.

Cole, a 14-year-old train enthusiast from Cape Cod, Massachusetts has loved trams, steam engines, subway cars, and all manner of locomotives ever since he was a small boy. Amassing quite the collection of models and miniatures, he is also an encyclopedia of train knowledge that could put a historian to shame — but it is not always easy for him to communicate it. 

Cole has had a difficult start in life. Living with autism and suffering from a congenital heart defect, Cole’s passion has primarily been restricted to small train sets at home.

However, with the help of Make-A-Wish Foundation and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Cole was treated to a VIP tour of Grand Central Station, fulfilling a lifelong wish to not only see the inner workings but also start the engine of a train himself. The MTA provided him with a guided tour of the Metro-North operations at Grand Central Terminal, a first-hand look at the operator’s cabin, and everything in between.

Cole’s demeanor began the tour rather shy and quiet, but as soon as he was asked about trains, his face lit up with uninhibited joy, especially when he had the opportunity to climb aboard.

Cole waves from the train’s engine room. Photo by Dean Moses

Mike Cunningham, the line superintendent at Grand Central Terminal, provided Cole with an inside Look at a conductor’s engine room and says that moments like this are the best part of his job. 

“We took Cole up on our diesel locomotive. Our Genesis B32, it’s our push-pull locomotive that most commonly runs from here to Poughkeepsie. He was able to start it, honk the horn, ring the bell, see what the engineer would do on a normal basis to start his trip out of Grand Central,” Cunningham said, sharing that simply seeing the teen’s eyes light up and spark with enjoyment warms his heart. 

Cole’s mother begins to cry as she watches her son enjoy the tour. Photo by Dean Moses

Cole’s mother waved to the young man as he sat in the driver’s seat with tears welling in her eyes.

“This is such a dream come true and amazing for him. He loves planes, he loves trains, and I don’t think it could ever get better than this,” Mom said. 

Cole was born with a congenital heart defect, but it wasn’t identified until he was about six months old. At age four, Cole had his first of many heart surgeries. It was through the doctors at Boston’s Children’s Hospital that Cole’s mom was able to connect with the Make-A-Wish Foundation. 

“It’s just amazing because it’s just a nice time for him. He’s gone through so much,” Cole’s mother said. “This is just blowing us away, and watching him up there, he’s going to talk about this for a very long time. After a year of COVID and not being in school with his buddies this is just blowing us away.” 

Cole’s dad shared that this experience was truly beautiful, and he can’t thank Make-A-Wish foundation enough.

“He is such a good boy, and he deserves the best and is truly fantastic. He had a tough go in the beginning and like I said he deserves the best and we are so grateful for Make-A-Wish,” Cole’s dad said. 

Make-A-Wish is one of the largest charity organizations helping to make wishes come true for ages 2 ½ to 18 throughout the world. In the New York chapter alone, they have granted wishes for over 16,000 children with serious illnesses.

At the end of his visit, Cole told amNewYork Metro that “taking the train” was the best part of the day, and then began list all of the replica sets he has at home with his dad.

Cole learns about a train’s control system from MTA. Photo by Dean Moses