Underground Rapid Transit Routes Proposed by the Metropolitan Interests (1904)

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Underground Rapid Transit Routes Proposed By The Metropolitan Interests To Be Operated Under A Free Transfer System In Connection With Their Three Hundred Miles Of Surface Lines On Manhattan Island.

Letter From Thomas F. Ryan To Alexander E. Orr, President Of The Rapid Transit Commission. New York, February 25, 1904.

ALEXANDER E. ORR, Esq., President, Rapid Transit Commission.


As the invitation to submit the suggestions which Mr. Vreeland is sending to Mr. Parsons to-day was based upon my representations to you as to the willingness of the Metropolitan interests to become, under certain conditions, bidders for the next rapid transit line, you may fairly expect a statement from me as to the co-operation which your Commission can count upon receiving from the Metropolitan interests.

The problem with which the surface lines have to deal, and to which our present suggestions are directed, is, of course, entirely distinct from the problem which your Commission has done so much to solve by securing the construction of the present subway line from the Bronx to the Battery and from there to Brooklyn. Now that you have provided effective means for carrying passengers at high rates of speed between Harlem and the Battery and between Brooklyn and Manhattan, the great traffic problem which confronts the city is how to provide more adequate means of communication for the portion of Manhattan Island which lies south of 125th Street, where over eighty per cent. of the combined population of the Boroughs of Manhattan and the Bronx reside, and where the congestion of surface traffic has,reached such proportions as to call for radical measures of relief.

Your Commission has wisely recognized in all of its plans that the great majority of the population of New York who daily travel to and fro between their homes- and their places of business can afford but a single fare for each trip, and that the best rapid transit system is the one which provides for a single fare advantageous routes for the greatest number of people.

The inadequacy of the present service upon the surface lines is due largely to the fact that they are now compelled both to carry people long distances and to distribute them in the same surface cars. This would be remedied by a system under which people could be carried for long distances by underground routes, and distributed by the surface cars, without any increased charge to the passenger. You most aptly described the line best calculated to meet this situation when in your statement to the Rapid Transit Commission on December 17th, 1903, you suggested "a north and south line extending at least as far north as the Harlem River . . . and assuring an extensive system of transfers on the basis of a single fare."

A glance at the enclosed map will show how admirably the routes which we suggest are adapted to meet the requirements which you have laid down. Under the transfer system which we propose, by which the underground lines and our three hundred miles of surface lines on Manhattan Island would be operated as one system, almost every person on Manhattan Island would be able to ride from his place of residence to his place of business for a single fare of five cents and at a rate of speed which would be possible only with underground lines operated in connection with a complete system of surface lines. In other words, our plan would practically bring rapid transit to the door of every citizen.


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While the routes which we suggest represent the must careful study of the engineering problems presented and of the needs of the six hundred million passengers who annually ride upon the Metropolitan lines, we recognize that the final responsibility for determining upon the next rapid transit route rests with your Commission and that all that we can do is to suggest and recommend. But agreeing, as I believe we do, upon the nature and scope of the present traffic problem, we are not likely to radically disagree as to the best means of solving it. I, accordingly, have no hesitation in giving you my assurance that if your Commission will lay out the rapid transit routes which we have proposed, or other routes which substantially meet the requirements of the situation, and no unduly onerous terms and conditions are imposed, the Metropolitan interests will submit an offer to undertake the construction of those lines and their operation in connection with their surface lines on Manhattan Island as a single system, thus assuring effective means of communication between all parts of Manhattan Island for a five-cent fare.

Of course, our primary motive in undertaking the construction of underground lines would be the expectation of additional business and relief from the overcrowding which now makes it impossible for the surface lines to give satisfactory service. The public, on the other hand, would have, without any increase in fares, a vastly improved and extended service.

Very truly yours,


Letter From H. H. Vreeland, President Of The New York City Railway Company (Lessee, Metropolitan Street Railway System), To William Barclay Parsons, Chief Engineer Of The Rapid Transit Commission. New York, February 25, 1904.

WILLIAM BARCLAY PARSONS, ESQ., Chief Engineer, Rapid Transit Commission.


Our engineers have completed the preliminary investigations necessary to enable me to comply with your request for the suggestions of the Metropolitan interests respecting the next underground rapid transit route to be laid out by the Rapid Transit Commission. I have assumed that it is the desire of the Rapid Transit Commission that our suggestions should be directed to such a route as President Orr described in his communication to the Rapid Transit Commission of December 17th, 1903, viz.: it a north and south line extending at least as far north as the Harlem River, which will be so arranged as to be the subject of competition by at least the Interborough Company and the Metropolitan Company, and also "assuring an extensive system of transfers on the basis of a single fare." The route indicated upon the map submitted herewith has been laid out with a special view to meeting those requirements.

The northern terminus of the proposed route is at a point in the Bronx, near Third Avenue and 138th Street, at the principal business center of the Bronx, where seven of our surface lines converge. From this point the route extends under the Harlem River to Lexington Avenue; down Lexington Avenue past the Grand Central Station to Fifteenth Street; along Fifteenth Street and under Union Square to Broadway (passing under the present subway at Union Square); down Broadway to Chambers Street; along Chambers Street to William Street (passing under the present subway and the proposed bridge loop); along William Street to Hanover Square; and thence to the Battery through Coenties Slip and South Street; through the Battery (passing outside of the Battery loop of the present subway and over the Brooklyn extension thereof) to Greenwich Street; along Greenwich Street, West Broadway and Hudson Street to Eighth Avenue; along Eighth Avenue to Thirty-fourth Street (passing above the Pennsylvania tunnel and through the center of the new Pennsylvania Station at a grade which has been approved by The Pennsylvania Railroad Company) and along Thirty-fourth Street (passing under the Interborough tunnel at Park Avenue) to a junction with the main route at Lexington Avenue. It is also proposed to add a loop connection on Chambers Street between the East Side line and the West Side line. The plan contemplates the ultimate extension of the West Side line from Thirty-fourth Street along Eighth Avenue to the Harlem River.

The proposed routes are exceptionally well adapted for operation under a transfer arrangement with our three hundred miles of surface lines on Manhattan Island, and more especially our twenty-three cross-town lines. By utilizing the surface lines for local traffic and for carrying long distance passengers to and from the nearest subway stations, it would be possible to very greatly reduce the number of subway stations which would otherwise be necessary, thus materially increasing the speed and efficiency or the underground service.

The transfer system which we propose, by which the underground lines and the surface lines would be operated as one system, would establish means of expeditious communication between all parts of Manhattan Island for a five-cent fare. Such a comprehensive result is, of course, possible only with underground lines operated in connection with a complete net-work of surface lines.

In my opinion the proposed plan would not only accomplish a most radical extension of the facilities for local travel on Manhattan Island, but would relieve the congestion upon certain of our lines which are now crowded beyond endurance. Indeed, some such plan offers the only effective means of relieving that congestion.

Our surface lines which converge at the Bronx terminus, and the net-work of surface lines with which they connect, would bring the proposed underground line within easy reach of a much larger proportion of the population of the Bronx than can be served by the Rapid Transit line about to be opened.

The rapid transit routes which we recommend, in addition to offering the special advantages due to their operation in connection with the surface lines, to which I have called attention, offer the following additional advantages which seem to be of controlling importance:

1. The lines which we propose contemplate two exceptionally direct north and south rapid transit routes for Manhattan Island, following, in the main, the lines of travel where the congestion is now the greatest, and provided with such loop connections as will most efficiently distribute the train service where it may be needed at the various hours of the day.

2. They would furnish means of reaching every part of the city to the 35,000,000 passengers who are expected to pass annually through the new Pennsylvania Station, as well as direct communication between that station and the Grand Central Station.

3. They would afford direct underground connection with the proposed trolley tunnels under the Hudson River which are to have their termini at Christopher Street and Cortlandt Street, respectively, and connections could readily be made with all the East River Bridges.

4. By utilizing the cross-town subway lines on Chambers Street and Thirty-fourth Street, an underground belt line is provided for the lower end of the Island which would furnish the much-needed rapid transit connections between the east and west side of the City, including means for the residents of the upper east side to reach the lower west side without congesting the cross-town surface line.

5. In short, the plan provides a belt line for the southern part of the City which could receive by underground connections the traffic from the three Hudson River tunnels (at Cortlandt, Christopher and Thirty-fourth Streets) from The Long Island Railroad Company's tunnel under the East River and from two and perhaps three of the bridges from Brooklyn, and distribute this traffic to every part of the City largely by underground routes.

I am prepared to submit the large scale drawings prepared by our engineers showing the curves and connections on the proposed routes and other details.

Yours truly,

H. H. VREELAND, President.

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