“MOVING IN MID-AIR UPON NOTHING”
Second track on the Greenwich St El
At the same time that the Gilbert Elevated Railway Company built the Sixth Ave El, the New York Elevated Railroad Company moved ahead on two fronts. The piecemeal addition of second track to the old Greenwich St line was reaching its conclusion, while on the east side the company had taken on construction of the Third Ave El all the way from the Battery to Harlem.
The second track was finally completed at the end of May.1 New schedules went into effect June 7 reducing rush hour headways from eight minutes to five, increasing service from 105 trains each way to 280. Running time from South Ferry to 59th St was 25 minutes, the same as the Sixth Ave El (which had just opened two days earlier). The company also reduced the fare to five cents during the same commission hours observed on the Sixth Ave El, even though they were not legally mandated to do so here on their old route.2
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The joint line to the Upper West Side
Some accounts say that the second track was built to 59th St, but the more careful Railroad Gazette described it as the double track, now completed to Fiftieth street, which for the first time enables the company to put on as many trains as there may be occasion for, and gives an excellent and solid structure on at least one side of the street throughout the length of the road, from the Battery to Fifty-ninth street. The solid structure designed by Daniel W Wyman included the first track north of 34th St. Heretofore trains have been run on this road as frequently as was possible, it being necessary to meet and cross at four stations. But aside from this, the capacity of the road for speed has been greatly limited by the lightness and imperfection of the old structure from Morris street to Thirtieth street, which was bought with the franchise by the present company from its bankrupt predecessor. The weight of engines on this part of the structure is limited to eight tons, while thirteen-ton engines will be allowable on the rest of the structure, and will be used on the new east side road which this company is building. Of course no heavier engines can be used on the west side, so long as this old road is used, as it must still be in one direction ; and, as we have said, with the present length of road the speed is sufficient. But the road can now be worked, if a few sidings are added, without the old structure, which can thus be renewed, when the time comes for it, without interrupting the traffic of the road.3 This was a well-informed prediction, for the removal of Harvey’s original structure began a year later.
From 53rd St north, Ninth Ave had been awarded to both companies. They had made an agreement on March 30 regarding the portion up to 61st St, where the New York Elevated already had its first track along the west curb line. It was agreed that New York Elevated would build its second track in the roadway on the west side of the streetcar tracks (as had been done with a siding at 34th St) and that Gilbert Elevated would build a third track on the east side of the horsecar tracks, with joint use of the two new tracks. Also, if it was determined that only two tracks could lawfully exist, the two new tracks would be those used.4
It is hard to imagine each company literally constructing one track of a two-track structure. It sounds as if the New York Elevated’s second track along the east side of the streetcar tracks ended beyond 50th St station and crossed over to the west side. It is not clear what new construction was done north of there by June 1878. A second track may have been built on the west side of the streetcar tracks by this date and discounted by Railroad Gazette as a siding.
It might be assumed that the opening of the Sixth Ave El drew passengers away from the older route. But Cyrus Field distributed a statement dated July 10 stating, The New-York Elevated Railroad Company carried 70,740 more passengers during the first five weeks after the opening of the Metropolitan Elevated Railway, than it did during the five weeks previous to the opening of that road ; and 117,686 more passengers than for the same period in 1877.5 The elevated railways were generating new traffic.
The Gilbert or Metropolitan company began work on the 53rd St connection by May.1 This was the part of its main line running from Sixth Ave to Ninth Ave (the section continuing in Sixth Ave from 53rd St to 58th St was chartered as a branch). The customary litigation by property owners began in August6 but work progressed well before winter set in, and trains began running to the Eighth Ave station on February 25, 1879.7
The first section of the joint Upper West Side route to 81st St was constructed by the New York Elevated Railroad in the same style that they used on Third Ave. All the foundations were completed by the end of September and the iron parts had been received. The company over-optimistically predicted that the iron would be up and the line opened by January 1879.8
The Third Ave El : types of structure
The major work of 1878 was the New York Elevated’s east side line in Third Ave. Not only was it twice as long as the celebrated Sixth Ave El, but it would prove to be the busiest and longest lasting of the four main lines.
The New York Elevated Railway has a structure based on the ‘one-legged plan’, the essential feature of which is that the weight of the roadway as far as possible is carried immediately over the posts which support the structure. The Gilbert company, on the contrary, in nearly all cases, supports its roadway between the posts on the transverse. The only place where New York Elevated had main track not directly over the columns was in Front St and Pearl St and the only reason seems to be that the curb line in those narrow streets was too close to the buildings. By contrast all of the Sixth Ave El main track was carried by cross beams between the columns, in both the side truss and deck structures.
Where Pearl St widened at Peck Slip, the structure changed to two one-legged structures. From Franklin square to the intersection of the Bowery with Third avenue, along the New and Old Bowery, owing to the number of surface railroad tracks and other circumstances, the columns must be on the line of the curbs9 and by the company’s preference this meant that the tracks also must be on the line of the curbs. There were two streetcar tracks from Peck Slip to Grand St, then three for a block, and then four the rest of the way, because the very busy Third Avenue Railroad and the New York and Harlem Railroad did not share track. On the two-legged structure in Pearl St the middle was filled with a short third track and the Franklin Square station platform. In the Bowery there was a wide separation left open except for two blocks north of Chatham Square that were filled with a wide station platform and sidings and switches spanning the street.10
On Third avenue the upper stories of the buildings are occupied very generally as dwellings, and it was thought desirable to remove the tracks as far from the houses as possible, and as the roadways are 50 feet wide, with a double line of surface horse railroad tracks in the middle, a line of columns is to be placed upon each side of the horse railroad tracks, and connected at the top by light elliptic arch girders.9 The decision to build this type of structure was made by the commissioners appointed in January 1876. The company still placed the tracks over the columns, so they were not directly over the streetcar tracks as on Sixth Ave, and even this portion was almost two independent one-legged structures with just a thin girder between them. The space down the center was just wide enough for a third track, and short sections of third track were built near Ninth St and 42nd St.10
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The branch in 42nd St had two widely separated tracks supported by columns in the street about halfway between the streetcar tracks and the curb. It was almost two one-legged structures but the branch was so short that for most of it there were crossover tracks and platforms between the main tracks. Entry was by two one-track curves facing north and south in Third Ave, which crossed each other such that the south-facing curve ran to the north side of 42nd St. This eased the curve as much as possible but meant that trains in and out of the branch had to share a single track for a few hundred feet. The terminal itself had three tracks.10 No regular service ever used the north-facing curve and it was removed after about one year.
At first sight the impression produced by the appearance of the one-legged structure, as it has derisively been called, is that it is lacking in lateral stability. This, however, is not the case, as the structure is subjected to very little lateral strain, the chief difficulty being to give sufficient longitudinal stability to resist the action of the momentum of the train when the brakes are applied. This difficult arises from the necessity of allowing space between the ends of the girders for their expansion and contraction, and therefore such strains cannot be transmitted through them to more than two, or probably three, columns. To provide for this, the longitidunal guard timbers, which are not subject to expansion by changes of temperature, are securely bolted through the cross ties and to the flanges of the top chord of the girders. In this way the longitudinal strains are distributed over and indefinite length of the structure.9
Columns have been set on Third-avenue, and a few girders are in position, but the general work on the East Side is not in an advanced state,11 according to a report on March 7. Another report about a month later describes the efforts of the Passaic Rolling Mill Company to construct four miles of single track, evidently the route in the Bowery, with derricks designed by Mr Watts Cooke, the president of the company.12 A report of an accident on Pearl St on April 25 documents that girders were being erected there.13 In another accident on May 21, a 5,600 pound girder fell while being put into place on the Bowery, and the report documents that it was on May 20 that girders were first placed on the east side of the Bowery, delayed by the removal of telegraph poles.14
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By June 8, when the Sixth Ave El was open, the Third Ave El structure was almost complete to 50th St and beyond, and track had been laid on part of it.15 By June 17 only two gaps were left for the structure to be complete. The last gap at Franklin Square was filled on June 27.16 At this time the company proposed operating the west side line through South Ferry to the Hanover Square and Fulton St stations and even listed them in the new timetable,2 but decided against it because the trains were already filling up in rush hours.17 No more lightweight west side equipment was being ordered so west side service could not be expanded.
The company asked for additional tracks over Battery Park on June 26.18 This must have been for the curve into the South Ferry branch, which would be at right angles to the structure of 1877 and form a four-track terminal for the east and west side routes. The Parks Department approved this on July 17.19 However the South Ferry terminal was not built in 1878 and operation started using the old two-track station.
The Third Ave El : locomotives
The company ordered a large fleet for the Third Ave El. For opening day in August, they had 30 new engines and about 120 new cars, and more kept coming until March 1879. By that date the company had a total 131 engines and 242 cars, of which only 21 engines and 39 cars were of the lightweight type needed on the Greenwich St and Ninth Ave route.20 All the rest were for the Third Ave El. It was a huge expansion even for a company already in the elevated railway business.
The new engines would not be steam dummies but were still small by mainline standards, tank engines carrying coal and water on the engine rather than in a separate tender, a type mainlines used for switching in trainyards. They were of two basic plans, three sizes of 0-4-0T and two sizes of 0-4-4T. The latter were the Forney type invented and promoted by Matthias Forney, the editor of Railroad Gazette. Company director David Dows had decided to order some of each type and base future decisions on that. Two builders, Baldwin and Rhode Island, both made ten of each type. The Forney proved superior and became the standard on the elevated railways.21
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The Third Ave El : the start of service
On July 27, pedestrians on the Bowery were astonished by an unusual sight in the busy thoroughfare, although it was not one which was altogether unexpected. It was a test run of the elevated railway from South Ferry to the Cooper Union, the start of Third Ave itself. The train came along without further announcement than its own rumbling noise. The car was loaded with a number of railroad officers, who had started off on the trial trip over the East Side line. The train was driven slowly along Front-street, Coenties-slip, around the double curve and up Pearl-street, then along the high track over New-Bowery, up the Bowery to Cooper Union. Here it stopped. On the way it was noticed that the stations at Hanover-square, Franklin-square, and Fulton-street are nearly ready, while those at Chatham-square and along the Bowery have been scarcely begun. At Cooper Union only the trusses for the platform are up. At Fourteenth-street the posts for holding the platform trusses are in place, and several trusses are up. The stations are all being constructed, but not with great rapidity.22 The train was a steam dummy and a car from the Greenwich St El, which soon afterwards ran another trip to 59th St.23 These few early trips were probably the only time Greenwich St equipment ran on the east side.
After three weeks of testing, invited guests were taken over the new line to Grand Central. By invitation of the President and Directors of the New-York Elevated Railroad Company several hundred gentlemen made an excursion over the East Side part of the line yesterday, starting at Hanover-square, in front of the Cotton Exchange, and going directly to the Grand Central Depot Elevated Station … The trip over the elevated railroad, however, was merely a ruse, a base device, of which Mr Cyrus W Field would not have been thought capable, to get these gentlemen into the company’s depot in Forty-second-street, where they were drugged with choice champagnes till they gave favorable opinions of the road. And this, too, was after they had been stuffed visibly with goose and turkey and paté de foie gras. Some of the old stagers would not acknowledge that it was a good and safe road till several bottles (quarts) had been emptied into them.24
The first part of the Third Ave El opened on August 26, 1878, from South Ferry to Grand Central. The cars were just arriving, so only two-car trains could be run on a limited schedule, fifteen minutes apart during much of the day and ten minutes during the commission hours.25 Engines relayed as they did by now on the Greenwich St line. When a train arrived at the terminal, its engine was uncoupled, and the cars were taken out for the next run by another engine. The light engine then followed the train out of the dead end and stopped outside the terminal, waiting to repeat the process by taking out the next set of cars. On a railway this busy an engine waited only a few minutes.
The only stations open were South Ferry, Hanover Square, Fulton St, Franklin Square, Ninth St, 14th St, 23rd St, 34th St, and Grand Central,26 and even so one reporter noted that none of the stations along the route of the New-York Elevated Railroad are in very inviting condition.25 Another wrote that they were just temporarily fitted up. The Grand Central station at the end of the branch was the only one that appeared to be completed.27 But looking beyond the work in progress, the impression was that the stations are substantial and comfortable, but not as highly finished as those of the Metropolitan Road.24
New Yorkers must have been already jaded to new elevated railways, for while people in the street stopped to look up and people in the buildings watched from their windows, the crowds of curiosity seekers who had turned out to ride the new Sixth Ave El did not materialize. All the patrons seemed to be persons in the legitimate pursuit of business or pleasure, who took their seats with a sigh of relief and content.27 Superintendant Onderdonk told reporters that 4,000 people had boarded by 11:00, and that four fifths were going downtown. He estimated two cars per fifteen minutes allowed for only 800 an hour, or 1,500 ‘with close packing’ as had been the case during the half-fare commission hours that morning. During the midday hours the trains ran half empty, but in the first evening rush the available trains proved inadequate for the numbers who wanted to go uptown, and some trains had to leave passengers waiting on the platforms. The day’s total was estimated as 15,000.25
Each train was composed of an engine and two passenger-coaches. The engines are unlike those used on the West-Side line, being miniature locomotives. The cars are of the same general pattern, with seats extending lengthwise along the sides. In some of them these seats are divided by brackets similar to those in the cars of the Metropolitan Road. No attempt at display has been made in the construction of these cars, which have been built evidently for long use. They are bright and airy, with interiors finished in ornamental woods ; the outside is painted a deep maroon color, picked out with gold.27
They may have been built for long use, but the group of 203 cars acquired from August to October 1878 were taken out of service only twenty-four years later in 1902-1903 at the end of steam operation. They all had board and batten siding and a large oval in the center that was removed sometime in the 1880s, and they had fourteen evenly spaced windows except one group of shorter cars with thirteen. The cars made by Gilbert and Bush had pointed arches over the windows while those from Wason had rounded arches. All these cars were sold or scrapped after 1902, except a few that lingered on as non-passenger cars. Car 41, transformed into ‘car G’ is the sole survivor now safe in a museum.28
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During the trial runs it was said that the trains run smoothly over the tracks, without any perceptible trembling, and with comparatively little noise, the engine and cars being directly over the uprights.24 By this time the noise of the Sixth Ave El was the subject of much complaint. It seemed to be free from the vibratory roar heard on Sixth-ave, but was rather a harsh creaking as if from severe friction.27 The creaking might have been the timbers that provided longitudinal stability. The noise was within the level of normal street sounds. Along the Bowery the trains passed without subduing the roar of the street, and were almost unnoticed on account of the noise. The horses of the Third-ave surface road did not appear to be seriously disturbed by the passage of the trains.aa45
It was noisier inside the train. The seats are not cushioned at all, and, without the slightest padding to absorb the vibration of the wooden surfaces, each car is and must continue to be a series of sounding-boards very carefully dovetailed together. The movement of the engines is also very noisy, and the sifting of dust and cinders constant and disagreeable. The elevation is so great that the sensation of the ride, particularly along the Bowery and New-Bowery sections, is very far from one of pleasure or security. The train appears to be moving in mid-air upon nothing ; the people in the streets below are reduced to pigmies, and the sound of moving vehicles is very faintly heard. On the Bowery, where there are no transverse girders connecting the two tracks, it requires some little nerve to sit at the car window and look steadily down upon the street, and the passenger who attempts it for the first time shrinks back startled, unless he is habituated to such an elevation. Contrary to expectation, the oscillation of the Bowery section is very slight, although sufficient to render it considerably noisier than the Third-avenue.25
This was just the first half of a much longer elevated railway under construction all the way to 129th St. The next portion to 67th St and Third Ave was opened on September 16. Together with this the company opened the Chatham Square and Houston St stations on the first portion, the 42nd St station on Third Ave, and stations on the new portion at 47th St, 53rd St, 59th St and 67th St. As a promotion, the company also built a temporary station at 63rd St for visitors to the American Institute Fair that was held in October and November, and sold a combined ticket for the fair and a round trip for the usual price of admission to the fair alone, fifty cents. The remainder of the main line was expected to open by the end of the year, and so was the branch from Chatham Square to City Hall.8
During this time engines and cars continued to arrive and service was increased from time to time. By December reported off-peak headways were five minutes each to Grand Central and upper Third Ave, giving a train every two and a half minutes south of 42nd St, 24 trains an hour in each direction. During rush hours this increased to two minutes to Grand Central and three to upper Third Ave, making 50 an hour each way.29 What is even more amazing about this level of service is that the nominal southern terminal was still the original South Ferry station, an island between two tracks, which had to be shared with the Greenwich St line. It is not possible that the rush hour service could have been worked from just this terminal. Some of the trains must have been turned back using the third track just south of Franklin Square station.10
The Third Ave El : a tour
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Rapid Transit in September 1878
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Alfred E Beach and the Broadway Underground Railway
Alfred E Beach resigned as president of the Broadway Underground Railway Company in September 1878.30 At the stockholders’ meeting on December 26, Samuel Sparks Jr was elected president. Beach’s son Frederick continued as secretary as he had been since 1875. The board of trustees as of this date was: Samuel Sparks Jr, Frederick C Beach, Moses S Beach, Frederick S Betts (with the company since 1868) and Charles Y Beach (Alfred E Beach’s nephew, son of Moses S Beach). At this date there were 1,700 shares paid in full, $170,000, and the company had debts of $297,442.66, most or all of it advances from Alfred E Beach.31
This marked the end of Beach’s active role in the company, but he continued to be a major stockholder. He went quietly. Nothing appeared in the press besides the legal notice about the new trustees. The Broadway Underground Railway was a small privately held company sliding into oblivion, possessors of no more than an expired charter and three hundred feet of useless tunnel under Broadway.
A year later editorial opinion again intrudes into a Scientific American article on the elevated railways. The ancient story of the intruding camel, who begged a shelter for his head in his master’s tent and ultimately crowded in his unshapely body, to his master’s great discomfiture, is paralleled in the history of elevated railways in this city. The main reason for the adoption of this form of rapid transit was the cheapness with which it could be supplied. The camel’s head was not attractive, but it was easily let in, and promised an easy removal should such an issue prove desirable. Beach contrasted the simple one-legged structure of Harvey’s Greenwich St line with the heavy structures of the more recent elevated railways. The utter inadequacy of any cheap structure of slight capacity (such as the elevated roads were at the start) to meet the wants of a city like New York, and the fallacy of the assumption that such a rapid transit road was advisable on the score of economy, were repeatedly enlarged upon by the SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN in the early days of the system ; and the result has more than justified the position then taken. After reviewing the current work under way he concludes, Of the favorable and unfavorable influence of these elevated roads upon property along their routes, and on the convenience and comfort of living in the city, it is not our purpose here to speak.32