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IRT West Side Line

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Typical name tablet mosaics of the Dual Contracts era at Christopher Street/Sheridan Square on the IRT West Side Line. Photo by David Pirmann, March 2009.


The IRT line on the West Side of Manhattan comprises portions of several different subway construction contracts, including the 1904 Contract I "First Subway" from north of Times Square and several extensions to it, and sixteen 1915-1918 Contract III, or "Dual Contracts" stations.

The Contract I and Dual Contracts construction is covered in-depth elsewhere on this site (The First Subway, and The Dual Contracts), so this overview will consist of a few brief notes.

Service opened in stages, with opening dates identified on each station's description page, but to summarize: October 27, 1904, Times Square - 145th Street, with the rest of the northward part of the line to Van Cortlandt Park opening by 1907; June 3, 1917, shuttle service began between the new Times Square 7th Avenue Subway station and 34th Street/Pennsylvania Station; July 1, 1918, South Ferry to Times Square, plus shuttle service between Wall Street and Chambers Street; August 1, 1918, through service from South Ferry to Van Cortlandt Park; April 15, 1919, service to Atlantic Avenue, Brooklyn, via the Clark Street tunnels which connected to the Wall Street station.

The contract drawings for the "First Subway" were completed in 1898 by chief engineer William Barclay Parsons. The engineering and design of the Contract I subway was divided into 15 sub-sections. The portion of the work included in today's West Side line include:

Section 5A, Center of East 41st Street west and north to the center of West 47th Street and Broadway, a 0.82-mile length of four track subway. Stations were built at Grand Central (express) and Times Square (local) along 42nd Street (today's Shuttle operation). Work on this section commenced on February 25, 1901. It was this section that was broken in 1918 when the "Dual Contracts" 7th Avenue Subway was tied into the Contract I subway at 7th Avenue and 42nd Street. A single track connection was retained for access to the northernmost of the Shuttle tracks, visible in today's Times Square shuttle station. Two articles describe the August 1, 1918 service changes that would become known as the "H System": Great H System Put in Operation, and Approaching Operation of the H Lines/The H Lines In Service.

Section 5B, Center of West 47th Street north to the center of West 60th Street. 0.69 miles of four track cut and cover subway under Broadway. Stations at: 50th Street and 59th Street (Columbus Circle) Construction commenced September 19, 1900. This section underpinned the Columbus statue at Columbus Circle, detailed in a 1902 article: Difficult Engineering in the Subway.

Section 6A, Center of 60th Street north under Broadway to the center of 82nd Street, 1.20 miles of four-track cut and cover subway. Stations at: 66th Street, 72nd Street (express), and 79th Street. Construction commenced August 22, 1900.

Section 6B, Center of West 82nd Street 1.07 miles north under Broadway to the center of West 104th Street. This section included the junction of the "West Side" branch and the "East Side", or Lenox Avenue, branch north of 96th Street, as well as the stations at 91st Street (now closed), 96th Street (express), and 103rd Street. North of 96th Street the express tracks descend and turn eastward northward, becoming three tracks, to the station at 103rd Street. Some last minute design changes added the third track northbound, and a provision for a third track was also built into the lower level Lenox branch of the junction. This accounts for the extra space seen alongside the active tracks in this area. Construction of this section began on August 22, 1900. Service in this area was originally operated with some locals and some express trains entering both branches, causing a bottleneck at the crossovers at the junction. As early as 1908 improvement was sought in this area by planning extra flyunder tracks, which were never built. Better signalling was installed instead; but by the 1950s it was decided that all of the express trains would head toward Lenox Avenue and all of the local trains would continue north along Broadway, which remains the operating pattern today.


Postcard: "Subway at Broadway and 98th Street showing East Side [Lenox] going under West Side branch, New York."

Section 7, a deep rock tunnel under Central Park from 103rd Street to 110th Street, 0.87 miles long. No stations, although one was planned for at Central Park West. Construction began October 2, 1900.

Section 8, 110th Street to 135th Street, two track cut and cover subway, 1.28 miles long. Stations at: 110th Street (island platform), 116th Street, 125th Street, and 135th Street (all side platforms). The subway runs under the west half of the wide Lenox Avenue, having been built here to avoid work under a two track street railway on the east half. The 135th Street station has a third center track intended for use for layups, but now mostly disused. Construction began August 30, 1900.

Section 11, 104th Street north under Broadway for 1.07 miles to the portals near W. 122nd Street. Three tracks of cut and cover subway, with a concrete arch roof north of 116th Street. Stations at: 110th Street (Cathedral Parkway), 116th Street (Columbia University). Construction began June 18, 1900. The third track was added after construction began, detailed in a 1902 article: Difficult Engineering in the Subway.

Section 12, Manhattan Valley Viaduct, three-track steel viaduct 0.41 miles long over Broadway, including an arch over 125th Street (then called Manhattan Street) and a station at that location. Broadway here is in a deep valley, so rather than build the subway under it, with steep grades, the valley was crossed on an elevated structure. The arched viaduct at 125th Street was added both as an ornamental device as well as to avoid having to reroute street railway trackage along 125th Street. The span of the arch is 168 feet, and 55 feet above the street. The ends of this section included short embankments in the middle of Broadway to portals north of 122nd Street and south of 135th Street. Construction began June 1, 1901.

Section 13, 133rd Street portals to 182nd Street, 2.42 miles of three/two track subway and a five track underground yard between 137th Street and 145th Street; cut and cover south of 145th Street, rock tunnel northward. Stations at: 137th Street (City College), 145th Street, 157th Street, 168th Street, and 181st Street. Work began May 14, 1900.

Section 14, 182nd Street to Dyckman Street, continuation of the Fort George Tunnel; 0.81 miles of two track subway. Work began on March 27, 1901. No stations were part of the original design; 191st Street was built later, 181 feet below the surface, and opened January 14, 1911.


A postcard view of the Fort George Tunnel.

Section 15, Portals near Dyckman Street to northern terminus over Broadway, including bridge over the Harlem River Ship Canal. Stations at Dyckman Street, 207th Street, 215th Street, 230th Street. North of the Broadway Bridge, the original route turned on 230th Street, crossed the New York Central's Hudson line, and ended at Bailey Avenue near the New York Central's Putnam division station. The 230th St. station was a two track, single island, elevated station. Service to 230th & Bailey began in March 1906. By 1907 the line was altered to include stations at 225th Street, 231st Street, 238th Street, and 242nd Street-Van Cortlandt Park; and 230th & Bailey was abandoned.

The 7th Avenue subway south of Times Square was known as Dual Contracts Route No. 4/38 and was divided into several subsections:

Section 1a, South Ferry to Battery Place & Greenwich Street; included the conversion of South Ferry station, which was built under Contract I but converted to West Side use.

Section 1, Battery Place & Greenwich Street to Vesey Street, including the Rector Street and Cortlandt Street stations.

Section 2, West Broadway & Vesey Street to Varick Street & Beach Street; including stations at Chambers Street and Franklin Street.

Section 3, Varick Street & Beach Street to 7th Avenue & Commerce Street (just south of Bleecker Street), including stations at Canal Street and Houston Street.

Section 4, 7th Avenue & Commerce Street to 16th Street, including stations at Christopher Street and 14th Street.

Section 5, 7th Avenue & 16th Street to 30th Street; including stations at 18th Street, 23rd Street, and 28th Street.

Section 6, 7th Avenue & 30th Street to 43rd Street; including stations at 34th Street/Penn Station, and Times Square/42nd Street. Section 6A included various reconstruction work required to tie the new line to the old between 43rd Street and 45th Street

The disconnection of the 42nd Street tracks from the main line, and the connection of the new 7th Avenue subway was done on the evening of August 1, 1918 (a Thursday). The preparation for the work was so extensive that the cutover took only a few hours. Work began at 8:00 pm and shuttles were running on the crosstown tracks by 10:00 pm. The "H" system was in operation! (So-called because the lines of the IRT now resembled the letter "H".) The IRT installed at Times Square and Grand Central a system of red and green lines and lights to direct passengers to the shuttle stations from the new main line stations (colors which would continue to identify these two main lines of the IRT until this very day!).

A Brooklyn branch included stations at Wall Street, Fulton Street, and Park Place.

Sources: The New York Subway: Its Construction and Equipment. The New York Subway Souvenir (1904). New Subways for New York, the Dual System of Rapid Transit. David Rogoff, "Contract I Construction", July 1962, revised July 1985, New York Division E.R.A. Bernard Linder, "IRT Broadway-7th Avenue Line Opening Dates and Schedule Changes," December 1990, New York Division E.R.A. Other articles as linked.


IRT West Side Line

242nd Street-Van Cortlandt Park · 238th Street · 231st Street · 225th Street · 215th Street · 207th Street · Dyckman Street · 191st Street · 181st Street · 168th Street · 157th Street · 145th Street · 137th Street-City College · 125th Street · 116th Street-Columbia University · 110th Street · 103rd Street · 96th Street · 91st Street · 86th Street · 79th Street · 72nd Street · 66th Street-Lincoln Center · 59th Street-Columbus Circle · 50th Street · Times Square-42nd Street · 34th Street-Penn Station · 28th Street · 23rd Street · 18th Street · 14th Street · Christopher Street-Sheridan Square · Houston Street · Canal Street · Franklin Street · Chambers Street · Cortlandt Street-World Trade Center · Rector Street · South Ferry


241st Street · 238th Street-Nereid Avenue · 233rd Street · 225th Street · 219th Street · Gun Hill Road · Burke Avenue · Allerton Avenue · Pelham Parkway · Bronx Park East · East 180th Street · West Farms Sq.-East Tremont Ave.-177th St. · 174th Street · Freeman Street · Simpson Street · Intervale Avenue · Prospect Avenue · Jackson Avenue · 3rd Avenue-149th Street · 149th Street-Grand Concourse · 135th Street · 125th Street · 116th Street · 110th Street-Central Park North · 96th Street · 72nd Street · Times Square-42nd Street · 34th Street-Penn Station · 14th Street · Chambers Street · Park Place · Fulton Street · Wall Street · Clark Street · Borough Hall · Hoyt Street · Nevins Street · Atlantic Avenue · Bergen Street · Grand Army Plaza · Eastern Parkway-Brooklyn Museum · Franklin Avenue · President Street · Sterling Street · Winthrop Street · Church Avenue · Beverly Road · Newkirk Avenue · Flatbush Avenue


148th Street-Lenox Terminal · 145th Street · 135th Street · 125th Street · 116th Street · 110th Street-Central Park North · 96th Street · 72nd Street · Times Square-42nd Street · 34th Street-Penn Station · 14th Street · Chambers Street · Park Place · Fulton Street · Wall Street · Clark Street · Borough Hall · Hoyt Street · Nevins Street · Atlantic Avenue · Bergen Street · Grand Army Plaza · Eastern Parkway-Brooklyn Museum · Franklin Avenue · Nostrand Avenue · Kingston Avenue · Utica Avenue · Sutter Avenue-Rutland Road · Saratoga Avenue · Rockaway Avenue · Junius Street · Pennsylvania Avenue · Van Siclen Avenue · New Lots Avenue

Page Credits

By David Pirmann.

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