Chapter 01. History and Extent

From nycsubway.org

The New York Rapid Transit Railway Extensions · Engineering News, 1914

Extensions to the existing systems of rapid transit in the City of New York have been planned which will involve an estimated expenditure of $366,000,000. The construction of these lines is now well under way and is being rapidly pushed forward at a rate which, it is hoped, will insure their completion by the end of the year 1917. The length of new line is altogether 110 miles, comprising 325 miles of single main-line track. These additions will make the total length of the completed system of rapid-transit railways in the city 230 miles, with 621 miles of single main-line track. The mileage of main-line track will thus be approximately doubled, though it it expected that the capacity for handling passengers will be increased threefold or fourfold.

The magnitude of this work may be at least partly realized by comparison of its cost with that of the Panama Canal, which, including the $50,000,000 paid to the French, is to cost about $375,000,000. This vast enterprising in the City of New York is progressing literally under the feet of its five million inhabitants and the other several millions of the adjacent territory whose business brings them frequently to the city, with hardly any notice or disturbance of the regular routine of business.

The cost is to be borne in approximately the following proportions partly by the city and partly by the two operating companies which will divide the territory between them.

City of New York$200,000,000
Interborough Rapid Transit Co.105,000,000
New York Municipal Railway Corporation61,000,000

The first of these two operating companies, the Interborough Rapid Transit Co., generally spoken of as "The Interborough," operates the present subway which traverses the length of Manhattan Island, reaching into the Borough of the Bronx at one end and a short distance into Brooklyn at the other. It also operates the four lines of elevated railway in Manhattan and the Bronx, as well as the surface lines in those boroughs. The so called Steinway or Belmont Tunnel, running from 42nd St., New York, under the East River to Long Island City, was built about five years ago by interests closely associated with the Interborough but has never yet been utilized. It is how, however, to be finished, equipped and operated by that company, in conjunction with the other lines of its system.

The New York Municipal Railway Corporation is a company formed by the Brooklyn Rapid Transit Co. to finance and operate that part of this new system of railways which falls to its share. The Brooklyn Rapid Transit Co. is familiarly known as the B.R.T. and both it and the New York Municipal Railway Corporation will be generally so referred to hereafter. It controls all the elevated and surface lines in Brooklyn including those which reach the famous ocean summer resorts at Coney Island.

Heretofore, the operations of these two systems, the Interborough and B.R.T., have been almost exclusively confined to territories divided by the East River, the former to Manhattan and the Bronx on its west side, and the latter to Brooklyn and the Borough of Queens on the other side.

By the new arrangement, the B.R.T. gains an entrance into Manhattan by a new tunnel from the business center of Brooklyn to the lower end of New York, thence via Broadway and 7th Ave. through the center of the business and amusement districts to 59th St. Thence it turns eastward and crosses the East River on the Queensborough Bridge to a connection with the proposed lines to Astoria and Flushing. It also reaches lower New York by a series of underground loops connecting the three lower East River bridges and the new tunnel just referred to, which will permit also continuous circulation of its trains instead of bringing them in as at present to stub-end terminals at the New York ends of the bridges.

The Interborough, besides a new north and south line in Manhattan, will reach the Borough of Queens and will have two lines to Astoria and Flushing from 42nd St., via the Steinway Tunnel. Its present line to Brooklyn is to be extended by two branches, each to a point some five or six miles beyond its present terminus at Atlantic Avenue into the residential section of that borough.

The Borough of Queens, comprising Long Island City, Astoria, Jamaica, Flushing, etc., which up to the present has never been served by any so called rapid transit lines, will now have the two elevated lines referred to which are to be operated jointly by the two companies, linked up to both the Queensborough Bridge, the Steinway Tunnel, and the 2nd Avenue Elevated, and thus connecting directly with all lines in Manhattan and other boroughs.

It is of some interest perhaps to note that part of this route in Queens through Roosevelt Ave. is through a street not yet constructed and marked on the ground only by monuments, being now actually used for market garden purposes, as may be seen in the accompanying photographs, which were taken looking along the center line of the street.

The Borough of Richmond (Staten Island) is eventually to be connected with the B.R.T. system by a tunnel under the "Narrows," the main channel connecting the outer bay with New York Harbor. This, however, does not form part of the present definitely decided-on scheme of construction.

As part of its system of record; the Commission has had many hundreds of photographs taken, showing in detail the character of the streets and of each building adjacent to or near the proposed route, which might be expected to he affected in any way by the construction. This series of photographs is not only of great value for reference in case of dispute or claim for damages, which might be due to the work in hand, but forms a unique and interesting historical record of the appearance of the city at this time.

Recent History.

The adoption of the present scheme and the consummation of the contracts under which the work is now being carried out is the result of negotiations which have been carried on continuously almost ever since the completion of the present subway in 1904.

Almost as soon as operation of that line was started it was seen that the profits from operation were going to be much greater than had been expected. The public lost sight of the fact that when the contracts had been first proposed it was with considerable difficulty that anyone been been induced to accept them, and there was a great outcry, especially by the sensational newspapers, against the so-called monopoly of the Interborough, and the alleged one-sided bargain with the city, and the demand arose that that any future subways be operated as well as owned by the city.

Various forms of contract were therefore proposed, but none of them which required the use of private capital for construction was acceptable to bidders (see Eng. News, Mar. 10, 1910, p. 288 for a discussion of the so called Triborough route). Finally it was determined to start to build certain sections with the City's money, and contracts were let for the construction of part of the Fourth Ave. subway in Brooklyn, and the Centre St. loop in Manhattan, but no arrangement was made for their operation, nor was any made until the final agreement arrived at between the Public Service Commission, the City and the two operating Companies on Mar. 19, 1913.

The Public Service Commission, which succeeded the old Rapid Transit Commission, was appointed and took office in July, 1907. A new city administration under Mayor Gaynor, and including among its members Messrs. Mitchel (now Mayor), Prendergast and McAneny, came into office Jan. 1, 1910.

The bids for the Triborough were called for in October of that year. As noted there were no bids for construction by private capital, but numerous bids were received for construction alone with city funds. The awards for this latter were, however, held up for various reasons in spite of strenuous protests from that section of the press and public which allowed the large profits of the Interborough and the alleged monopoly of this latter to obscure their judgment as to the best interest of the City and the traveling public, which many competent authorities considered were not met by the proposed scheme for the Triborough route.

The objections to the Triborough were principally because it was proposed to build the lines without any arrangement for their operation, because it was felt that the new lines should be linked up to and form a part of the present system (the Triborough as laid out would not have permitted transfer except on payment of an extra fare), because the route was not considered well laid out, and because it was inadequate to meet the growing needs of the city and to properly provide for all the boroughs, and, above all, because at the time the amount of city money available for railway construction was very limited (not more than 60 to 70 million dollars).

From the beginning, Mayor Gaynor's administration, through the Board of Estimate (the approval of which is required on all expenditures of the city's money) adopted an attitude of cooperation with the Public Service Commission, and the present contracts are the result of nearly three years of very hard work and the most persistent, patient and diplomatic negotiation between these bodies and the companies which have now finally undertaken the operation. It was necessary that the city's credit be strengthened and its borrowing capacity be enlarged, and this in itself was no small part of the task.

During all this period, certain sections of the public press were very bitter in urging their own views, and there were many committees of citizens, public meetings, etc. At one time the Interborough entirely withdrew and everything was to be given to the B.R.T. The delay was well nigh intolerable owing to the congested and crowded condition of the present lines of transport; but it is felt now that the delay has been more than justified by the comprehensiveness of the scheme evolved, the consolidation of the lines into two large systems, either of which can be traversed throughout its length for a single fare, and the conclusion of equitable contracts by which not only will the city own the lines free of cost at the end of 49 years, but will have shared in such profits as there may be beyond a certain stated amount.

It may not be out of place to emphasize the advantage to the city from the perpetuation of the virtual monopoly of these two companies under fair and efficient regulation. The public is not only allowed a ride for a single five-cent fare over the lines of a complete system reaching almost to every part of the City of Greater New York, but the city shares in such profits as there may be from the consolidation of the management and its own contribution of credit in obtaining the greater part of the money at low rates of interest. A most important consideration is also that which provides complete arrangements for the operation of all routes in advance of design and construction, so that these latter can proceed with an intelligent conception of the operating requirements.

Character of the Lines.

The 325 miles of new lines already decided on will be built underground in the more thickly populated sections of Manhattan and Brooklyn and elevated in the outlying districts. The subway will embrace various types of structures, both for two, three and four tracks, the latter in some cases all at the same level, in others as a double-deck structure, each level having two tracks. There are to be sub-aqueous tunnels under the rivers, some sank from the surface by methods similar to those developed at the Detroit tunnel, and others probably to be driven by the shield method. The elevated will be mostly a steel structure of the familiar type though of modern construction, but in some cases where parkways or boulevards are crossed or traversed it is being built of reinforced concrete with special attention to artistic architectural design, as illustrated in Fig. 3.


Fig. 3. Design for ornamental reinforced-concrete viaduct on Queens Boulevard. (Click image to enlarge.)

Improvements in Design.

On all the new lines a special effort will be made to locate all the stations on tangents so as to avoid the inconvenience and possibility of danger from the space between the car and the platform on curves, which occurs at some places on the existing subway line. An endeavor has also been made in so designing the structure at the junctions and connections of main lines and branches, etc., to avoid grade crossings of the various tracks. With the abnormal density of traffic during the rush hours this is very desirable, as the slightest delay at any one point may be, and generally is, reflected over the whole system. Footpaths at the sides of the tunnel at the level of the car platforms, similar to those built in the Pennsylvania R.R.'s New York tunnels, are to be constructed so as to provide a walk for passengers in case a train should meet with an accident and be stalled.

The new subway will be divided by partitions so as to separate the trains going in different directions, with the expectation of thereby so improving the ventilation by utilizing the piston-like action of the trains to change the air, that the accumulation of excessive heat so noticeable in the summer in the present subway may be avoided.

In furtherance of this also, waterproofing will omitted when it is possible to do so, as it is thought that the practical enclosure of the existing subway in a waterproof envelope materially helps to prevent the diffusion of the generated heat through the walls of the structure. As is well known, locally at least, this accumulation of heat in the subway in the summer time, due to the heating of the motors, the friction of brakeshoes on wheels, the wheels on the tracks, etc., has made traveling very uncomfortable at times, the installation of expensive ventilating apparatus having only partially alleviated the trouble. In the present subway there are no division walls between the tracks, and while the trains stir up the air in passing, they do not change it very much, and not nearly to the extent so noticeable in all the single-track tube tunnels already built under the waters of New York Harbor and on all the lines of the Hudson & Manhattan Co.

Another point of interest is the provision of or for three tracks on the lines in the outlying districts where the density of travel does not require four tracks for continuous express service. This allows express service one way during the rush hours.

Existing Lines.

The principal feature of the rapid transit lines now in operation in Manhattan are the four elevated lines running north and south through Second, Third, Sixth and Ninth Aves., the principal parts of which were built between 1870 and 1880, and the present subway, built between 1900 and 1904. (A history of the rapid transit situation up to that date and a full description of the construction features of the original subway was published in a series of articles in "Engineering News," Vol. XLVII. Jan. to June, 1902, while a description of the proposed Triborough Route and further notes to date will be found in the "Engineering News" of March 10, 1910, p. 288.) In Brooklyn the existing elevated lines, which were built soon after those in Manhattan, radiate from the old Brooklyn Bridge, one group westerly toward Jamaica and the other toward Coney Island. Some of these last-mentioned lines, after reaching a point some five or six miles from the bridge, drop to the surface and remain there for the rest of the way to Coney Island, and all these are to be elevated (or depressed in open cuttings), and are shown on the map as new elevated lines of the B.R.T., although through trains from the bridge to Coney Island are operated over them now.


Almost ever since the elevated lines were first put into operation, it has been notorious that the congestion and crowding of the transportation lines of New York has been unequaled on any other transportation system in the world. The opening of the present subway in 1904, although it had then a capacity of 400,000 passengers per day, afforded little relief. By the lengthening of the express platforms to accommodate 10 instead of eight cars, the installation of the most modern and approved types of automatic block signals, brakes, car and air-line couplings, center side doors, etc., its capacity was increased so that 1,250,000 passengers can be and have been handled in 24 hours, but the crowding during the rush hours is as bad as ever on all lines.

The following figures, condensed from a table given in the last report of the Public Service Commission, with the addition of the figures for 1913, show the great and greatly increasing amount of travel, and justify the attempt to meet the requirements by the system now proposed, enormous though its cost will be:

YearSubwayElevatedSurfaceBrooklyn-AllQueens SurfaceTotal

(Note-In 1905, its first year of operation, the subway carried 71,000,000 passengers. In 1914 it carried 340,400,000 passengers.)

Ever since the opening of the present subway in 1904, plans for extensions have been under consideration, first by the old Rapid Transit Commission and since then by its successor, the Public Service Commmission for the First District of New York, but for the reasons already given there were various delays until the present comprehensive scheme of routes was developed to give so far as possilde and, as may be seen bv the maps, fair and equitable service to all parts of the greater city. There had been for some time a feeling that Manhattan had been unduly favored at the expense of the other boroughs, and while this to some extent is reasonable, both that it had, and that it should be, there can be little fault found with the scheme now laid out.

The routes of the various extensions and their character are shown on the maps, Figs. 4, 5 and 6, but for the benefit of those not entirely familiar with the situation it may be well to briefly enumerate their salient features and some of the details of the scheme.


Figure 4. The older New York rapid transit system and the new lines now under construction and planned.


Figure 5. Subway lines and elevated lines in the completed rapid transit system.


Figure 6. The systems of the two operating companies, the Interborough and the Brooklyn Rapid Transit.

New Lines.

The Interborough: In Manhattan the Second, Third, and and Ninth elevated lines will complete the installation of third tracks from the downtown business section to above 125th St., thus enabling express trains to be run downtown in the morning and uptown at night.

The present subway will be divided at 42nd St., with lower part being connected with the new Lexington Ave. subway, giving a four-track line all the way up the East Side, splitting into two three-track branches in the Bronx after it crosses under the Harlem River; the upper part will be connected to the new Seventh Ave.-Varick St. line, thus giving a through route up and down the West Side, and placing the Pennsylvania Terminal at 33d St. on a main line of the rapid transit system. The present West Farms branch of this line in the Bronx will be extended some five miles farther to the Mount Vernon line at the northerly boundary of the city.

The Brooklyn end of the present subway will be extended from Atlantic Ave. by two branches via Flatbush Ave. and Eastern Parkway into the residential sections of Brooklyn.

The part of the present subway on 42nd St. between the Grand Central Station and Times Square will be operated by a shuttle service between the main lines on the East and West Sides.

The Steinway tunnel will be extended back to Times Square and forward to the east end of the Queensborough Bridge, where it will connect with the two lines to Astoria and Flushing, over which both systems are to have trackage rights. The Second Ave. elevated will be connected to the Queensborough Bridge and so to these same two lines.

There will be certain other small extensions and connections to allow the proper linking up of the various lines and permit desirable or convenient combinations in the operation of trains, all of which are shown in the maps.

The Interborough will thus have, besides its four elevated lines, four double- or three-track branches in the Bronx leading to two main trunk lines (four-track) throughout the length of Manhattan on Fourth and Seventh Aves. to two tunnel routes under the East River, joining under Fulton St., the main business street of Brooklyn, and then spreading out again into two branches into the residential section of that borough. The distance from the upper end of the Bronx to the ends of the lines in Brooklyn is about 26 miles. From the center of this system there will be the offshoot at 42nd St. via the Steinway tunnels to the lines in the Borough of Queens to Astoria and Flushing.

The Brooklyn Rapid Transit: Besides certain extensions of various lines in Brooklyn and the construction of the elevated structures in South Brooklyn on the Coney Island lines, as already referred to, the main features of the contract of this company with the city are those which provide for its entrance into New York and the linking up of the four bridges across the East River into lines of through travel instead of establishing terminals at their ends. There is one important new line in Brooklyn, the Fourth Ave. subway, which was started some five years ago, a considerable part of which is now nearly completed, this route extends from the Manhattan Bridge through Fourth Ave. to Fort Hamilton, and will be part of an important new route to Coney Island.

The principal line of the B. R. T. in New York will be that already described, running from the center of Brooklyn under the East River and via Broadway and Seventh Ave. to 59th St., the Queensborough Bridge, and to Astoria and Flushing. This will be a four-track line in Manhattan above City Hall (Park Place).

From a certain point of view, the linking up of the New York end of the three downtown East River bridges, the old Brooklyn Bridge, the Manhattan just above it, and the Williamsburg Bridge, a mile farther up the river, is one of the most interesting features of the whole scheme. For years the crowding and congestion at the ends of the Brooklyn Bridge were worse than even on the elevated and subway lines. Nearly all the travel from the lines of the B. R. T. was concentrated at this one bridge and brought over to a stub-end terminal at the New York end. In an attempt to provide better means of communication between Brooklyn and New York, the Williamsburg Bridge was built and opened in 1905 and the Manhattan Bridge in 1908. No provision was made, however, for the operation of these bridges or their proper connection with any of the existing lines of communication, and the people from Brooklyn have been brought over to the New York ends and dumped there, to make the best of their way to their destination. The travel between Brooklyn and New York is nearly all toward New York in the mornings and toward Brooklyn at night, all four of the East River bridges providing for lines of rapid transit (two or four tracks) as well as for street cars, ordinary vehicular traffic and pedestrians.

To eliminate the stub-end terminals the so called Centre St. loop was planned to connect up the New York ends of these three bridges, and its construction was started in 1907, though no arrangement was made for its use. Now, however, it is to be completed and further extended down along the New York side to a connection with the new tunnel which is to connect the B. R. T. with its Broadway line. This will enable all the trains to circulate, coming over on one bridge, continuing and returning via another instead of coming into a terminal in the congested district and having to back out.

There will be also another new route established under 14th St., New York, and the East River to the easterly section of Brooklyn (East New York).


The contracts between the city and the two operating companies provide for a single fare of five cents on each system, with free transfers at intersecting points for a continuous ride in the same general direction. On the Brooklyn system, transfers will be exchanged between the elevated lines and the subway lines, but on the Interborough only such transfers as are now given will be provided between the elevated railroads and the subway. On the existing lines, as they stand today, the longest ride obtainable for five cents is through the subway from Atlantic Ave., Brooklyn, to Van Cortlandt Park or 242nd St. on the Broadway branch, a distance of 17.5 miles. Under the dual system, as the new system has been commonly called, it will be possible to travel over the Interborough subway from the terminus of the White Plains Road line, near the northern city boundary, the whole length of the Bronx and Manhattan, under the East River to Brooklyn, and through the Eastern Parkway subway and its extensions to New Lots Ave., a distance of about 26 miles, for one fare and without change of cars.

The longest ride on the Brooklyn system will be from Flushing, at the end of the Corona branch, to and across the Queensborough Bridge, through the Broadway subway in Manhattan, under the East River to Brooklyn, and through the Fourth Ave. subway and its connections to Coney Island, about 21 miles, for five cents.

The fare from the center of Brooklyn to Coney Island had always been 10 cents (15 cents from New York) up to within the last few years, when a general agitation for its reduction was started.

As soon as the connections of the Fourth Ave. subway in Brooklyn with the elevated lines are made and through-train operation is possible from Manhattan to Coney Island, the five-cent fare between these points will apply. This, it is estimated, will take about 18 months.

Changes in Methods of Communication in New York.

Before leaving the general subject of routes, it may not be amiss to call attention to the radical change in the character of the means of communication between New York City proper (Manhattan) and the surrounding territory, which has taken place in the last six or eight years. Direct land communication has never been possible except to the north, while the most densely populated of the surrounding districts have been to the east in Brooklyn and the west in New Jersey, with which communication was only possible by means of boats of one kind or another, and from both of which districts enormous numbers of people come to Manhattan daily.

Brooklyn was connected with Manhattan by means of the famous Brooklyn Bridge as long ago as 1883 but with the completion of that structure progress along these lines stopped for almost a quarter of a century. Within the last eight years, however, three more bridges have spanned the East River and six pairs of railway tunnels have been put into service under the rivers, one pair more has been built, three pairs are to be built under the present scheme, making four bridges and ten pairs of tunnels for railways, besides which there have been built two tunnels for gas and one for water-supply, and thus making practical the direct physical connection of Manhattan, by land lines of communication with the populous districts to the east and west.

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