Roosevelt Island Tram

From nycsubway.org


Roosevelt Island Tram against the backdrop of the Queensborough Bridge. Photo by Bill E., May 2007.


The Roosevelt Island Tramway was born in 1976 as a means to shuttle residents to and from Manhattan. The tramway was only supposed to be temporary until the subway station opened. But when the subway finally connected to Roosevelt Island in 1989, the tram was too popular to discontinue. Over twenty years later, the Tram has serviced over 20 million passengers and provided passengers with a breathtaking view of New York as they are quickly shuttled between Roosevelt Island and Manhattan. The tramway is now run by RIOC (the Roosevelt Island Operating Corp.).

The Tramway was built by the Swiss company Vonroll under designers Prentice & Chan and Ohlhausen in 1976. Holding 125 people, the Roosevelt Island Tram is the only commuter cable car in North America. It travels a distance of 3,100 feet at an average speed of 16 mph in 4 1/2 minutes. It rises to a maximum height of 250 feet and travels at certain points parallel and slightly above the adjacent Queensboro Bridge, linking Long Island City, Queens, and 59th Street in Manhattan.

Our tram ride will start out on the Roosevelt Island side and ride into Manhattan. The Roosevelt Island station is at grade and is located on the south end of the island on Main St. (incorrectly called West Road on some maps) and is the southern terminal for the RIOC Roosevelt Island Bus. Upon entering the station, either by steps or by ramp, there is a station agent booth to our right. The usual Metrocard machine and turnstile equipment are present. After passing through the turnstiles, we find ourselves on a high platform somewhat like a train station platform. There are two wires spanning the entire length of the line, one on the right side of the island platform and one on the left. A tram comes on the right side and we board it.

Inside the tramcar, there are very few seats, but many poles, rings, and bars to hold onto. The tramcar can hold about 115 people standing and about 10 sitting. After everybody in the station at the time boards the tram (which can take a very long time), the operator gets in and starts it up, then the doors close. We depart the Roosevelt Island station at a slow speed, but after we are out of the station, we begin to pick up speed. We first cross over Main St., and then begin a gradual rise to Manhattan. Just after crossing Main St., we cross the West Channel of the East River. The Queensboro (59th St.) Bridge is to our left and the apartment buildings on Roosevelt Island and Manhattan are to our right. After crossing the river and passing our peak at 250 feet, we begin a gradual descent over the Manhattan streets, in a small right of way between 59th and 60th Sts.

We cross the FDR, York Avenue, and first Avenue respectively, and then the tram slows down. We slowly cross over the entrance ramp to the Queensboro Bridge and Second Avenue so close to the ground that it appears the tops of trucks will hit the bottom of our tram (they don't of course). Then, immediately after passing over 2nd Av., a loud bump is heard as our tram locks into the station at 60th St/2nd Av., which is "elevated." This station has two side platforms and an island platform and the doors open on both sides of the tram. Normally, people exit to the right and enter from the left, so we go with the flow of traffic. There are turnstiles at the end of all three platforms, and then staircases down to the street. There are exits onto 60th and 59th Sts.

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