“THE TWO ROADS ARE IN PERFECT ACCORD”
1878 - 1879
The success of elevated railways
Alfred E Beach quit the Broadway Underground Railway at a time when the completion of the elevated railway system seemed assured. The Sixth Ave El had opened in June, and the Third Ave El opened its first segment the same month Beach quit, September 1878. The rest of the Third Ave El to Harlem opened by the end of the year, and work on the Upper West Side route had begun.
The new routes were popular. In the year ending September 1877, the Greenwich St El had carried about 8,000 passengers a day. Now in September 1878, it carried 14,000, the Sixth Ave El probably 47,000, and the incomplete Third Ave El 44,000.1 When completed the Third Ave El would become permanently the busiest of the elevated routes. New York Elevated reported an average 82,000 passengers a day for the year ending September 1879, of which 68,000 was for the Third Ave El.2 The totals were 45 million passengers for the year 1879, and would rise to 75 million by 1881.3 (For perspective it might be noted that the Third Avenue Railroad horsecar line alone carried 30 million passengers a year on generally shorter trips.4)
Beach had warned in 1878 that while almost any system of rapid transit is likely to supply public wants … we have always regarded the elevated railway conducted through streets as one of the least advantageous modes of meeting the need.5 The ridership figures and the company profits that went with them tell only part of the story.
The noise on Sixth Ave
The use of some of the most important thoroughfares in the City was to be granted to the new railroads, with the certainty that they would be disfigured and a chance that unforeseen annoyances and inconveniences would be produced, wrote the editor of the Times in reviewing the situation.6
The management of the Sixth Avenue Railroad naturally still smarted over the elevated above them. ‘What are we going to do about it?’ echoed Superintendent Bidgood in reply to the question as to what the company will do in reference to the dropping of oil &c from the elevated structure. ‘What can we do, that is what I’d like to know. A boy came tumbling through the roof of one of our cars the other day. Who’s going to pay the damage, can you tell me? There’s an auger,’ pointing to a large auger near his desk, ‘and there’s an iron coupling dropped from the road the other day, knocking the reins out of a driver’s hands. A hole was burned in [car] No 54 night before last, and yesterday a driver got a hot cinder in his eye.’7
The local miscellany sections of papers carried items like this until they became too commonplace to mention: The destruction by fire of awnings in front of stores along Sixth-avenue, caused by sparks or hot cinders from the locomotives of the Metropolitan Elevated Railway, still continues. Yesterday the awnings in front of the following stores were fired and destroyed: Nos 75 and 181; No 313, owned by M W Conway & Co; No 459, owned by F Schmidt; No 505, owned by Nathan Mehlucamp; No 357, owned by Jackson & Fletcher; No 461, owned by Joseph N Galway; and No 295½, owned by George Becks.8
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The greatest complaint on Sixth Ave however was the noise, which must have been far louder than it was near the light Greenwich St structure. No one was prepared for it. Residents threatened to move away, and shopkeepers reported that they and their customers had to shout at each other.9 However Metropolitan Elevated president William Foster told a group of concerned property owners that he had for several nights slept within two or three houses from Sixth-avenue, and that he was not in the least troubled by the trains … The President admitted that an unnecessary noise was made by the cars, but contended that it was not of such a nature as to prevent sleep, or interfere with business in any way.10
But it was not possible to dismiss so easily the ‘rumble and racket’, the ‘horrid noise and roar’, the ‘real hell’, the ‘Niagara-like roar’, the ‘wretched noise and racket’.11 Amateur inventors proposed solutions such as installing rubber and felt in the trackbed. The noise tortured residents and shopkeepers who could do nothing to escape because of long-term leases. Landlords expected many tenants to leave within the coming year and wondered what price range they could now expect.
While thousands of persons are thanking heaven and the builders of the Metropolitan Elevated Railway for providing the public with a rapid, comfortable, and safe means of transit between the upper and lower parts of this City, there are other thousands of unhappy souls who are heaping curses loud and deep upon the institution, and praying that it may be leveled with the ground, or that they may retain possession of their five senses long enough to get out of its reach, anywhere beyond its rattle and bang and rumble and roar. He who rides over the road cannot appreciate the torture which is inflicted upon many sensitive people by the swift-rolling train that carries him from the Park to Trinity Church. The occasional visitor to Sixth-avenue rather likes the bustle of street cars and steam trains. It adds life to an already active thoroughfare. The unloading trains feed the crowd, and more people are drawn to see the increased throng. This is all very fine for an hour, particularly to the man or woman who can go home, three or four blocks away from the railroad, in a quiet street, and think without interruption about the comfortable new method of getting home from business.12
On July 2 a group of medical doctors brought a petition to the Grand Jury of New York County asking for indictment of the Metropolitan Elevated company as a nuisance to public health. Disease, beginning in or maintained by disturbances of the nervous system, is the great fact of modern pathology … Perverted mental and moral action, cerebral exhaustion, insomnia, hysteria, chorea, mania, paralysis, meningitis, and decay of nutrition must be largely promoted among those who live along the line of the railway, while to some the alternative will be deafness, or dementia, or death. These were not cranks. The 138 signers included the President of the Academy of Medicine, the President of the New York County Medical Society, professors from the College of Physicians and Surgeons, and doctors from all the city hospitals.13
Even Thomas Edison was brought in. On July 10 he attempted to use a ‘phonautograph’ on the el between 23rd and 33rd St stations to record the sound, but it did not work well enough to provide any useful data. Edison did however repeat others’ suggestions to try reducing vibration by placing wood, rubber and felt around parts of the rails and spikes. A complex installation was made south of 14th St station on July 14.14 The company tried someone else’s proposal of hanging flannel drapery under the cars in a misguided effort to cut sound carried through the air.15 They also tried filling columns, lining the iron, casing the car wheels, filling the bottoms of the cars with cork, and … various substances applied in different ways,16 and none of it worked.
The noise problem was worst in the side truss structure in Sixth Ave and Third St. An unnamed engineer writing in Manufacturer and Builder thought that in West Broadway the very busy street traffic of wagons almost drowned out the noise of the elevated railway on the deck structure. But on the side truss structure the design is very defective so far as regards the judicious distribution of material— there is too much of this altogether, except in the columns supporting the upper structure. The design … we consider, in this respect, so defective as to be no credit to Dr Gilbert, its projector, no matter what his friends may think of it. It has a double disadvantage : first, that of greater cost and waste of material ; second, by creating a large mass of vibrating body, which increases the sonorous vibration of a passing train, as the sounding-board of a piano increases the sonorous vibration of a string. Besides the unnecessarily complex structure, he also blamed particularly the solid plate girder cross beams, because in Murray St, the only place they were used on a deck structure, the noise was also very loud. The only good news from this analysis was that a deck structure with lattice girders was planned for all future Metropolitan construction. The engineer pointed out that the alternative New York Elevated structure with the track directly over the columns was also much quieter, because it did not have any heavy cross beams at all.15
The Grand Jury began hearing evidence in September. Medical doctors gave their professional opinions of the mental and physical state of patients they had seen who lived or worked along Sixth Ave. The Grand Jury on October 1 handed up a presentment to the Attorney General. The Grand Jury have not presented an indictment because they are of the opinion that a criminal proceeding is not the best way to abate nuisances unless others fail.17 The Attorney General commented of the presentment that it has no force and he can take no action in regard to it … If there had been evidence before the Grand Jury to warrant an indictment, they should have made the indictment themselves.18 It was legally a private nuisance, a subject for civil damages, nothing criminal.
Some of what appeared to be loss in real estate value was change. Late in 1878 it was predicted that the center of the wealthy dwelling house population would move from 34th St to 57th St and along Central Park, and the center of retail trade from Broadway between Canal St and 14th St to Sixth Ave.19 Most of the familiar photographs of the Sixth Ave El show it passing the large stores that were built after it opened, not the houses that were abandoned. The start of the change was the next May 1, the time-honored date on which leases expired. In a few years more the great bulk of the middling and well-to-do classes will have their homes along and abreast of the Park between Sixtieth and One Hundred and Tenth streets, Fifth and Lexington avenues,19 it was predicted late in 1878. This is exactly what did happen.
Safety practices on the elevated railways were primitive at best.
Although there was a trainman between every pair of cars to operate the gates, the nature of gates themselves was such that passengers would attempt to jump on and off moving trains. A man was dashed to the sidewalk below by being rash enough to attempt to board the down train, as it stopped, while the gates were kept closed. The signal was given to go ahead the instant the train stopped, and the man, losing his balance on the slippery platform of the station, clung to the gate, and was dragged against and over the guard rail, and a distance of six or eight feet beyond the rail before he fell. There were two employees on the platform of the cars, and neither attempted to assist the unfortunate would-be passenger, and the train went on.20 This was at 30th St, Ninth Ave, one morning at 7:30.
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The premature closing of the gates of the elevated railway cars is a fruitful source of peril to the public, gasped the sensational National Police Gazette. Passengers frequently have them slammed just as they set foot on the slowly moving train and are carried out over the street, sometimes a block or more, before the train men condescend to stop swearing at them long enough to open the gate. One of the latest victims was a young lady who boarded a Sixth avenue train up-town just as it got in motion. The gateman slammed the wicket on her and she had made a trip of nearly an eighth of a mile before she was released. Several times she was on the point of falling, but fortunately for her her skirts had become fastened in the gate and she could not be released till they were set free.21
One afternoon at 3:15, a drunken man entered the Franklin Square station. After the train had started, the intoxicated man ran to the cars and attempted to get on the rear platform. The gates were closed, and, in his befuddled condition, he missed his footing, and fell between the last car of the train and the rough edge of the platform. The moving train rolled the unfortunate man along for half a block, splitting his head open, one-half of which fell to the street, together with his heart and other internal portions of his body. The remainder of his body was finally jammed between the wheels and the gearing of the car, from which it was extricated with difficulty.22
Many people suggested the use of better barriers. You are well aware, wrote ‘Preventive’ to the editor of the Railroad Gazette, that several deaths have occurred from people rushing at the gates of the cars after they have been closed and holding on till they are carried to the end of the platform, where their bodies are brought up against, and squeezed by, the railing at the end of the platform ; then, by reason of there being no platform extending beyond said railing, their bodies are plunged to the street below, where they themselves are killed, and there is great risk of falling on and killing others that may be passing. But in the editor’s opinion, It may be a question whether it would not be seriously against public policy to do anything to save the lives of those who, with malice aforethought, cling to closed car gates until they are dragged off the elevated railroad platforms …!23
The gap between car and platform was needlessly wide, almost a foot in places. Instances were reported of children falling completely into the space. In one case a child, holding to its sister’s hand, fell into this opening, and the only way to save the child’s life was to let go of its hand. The child fell through to the street, but fortunately without receiving serious injury.24 Part of the problem was cars that varied in width as much as eight inches on the New York Elevated lines, but there was no excuse on the Metropolitan.
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With trains running every two minutes or less, rear-end collisions were as common as automobile crashes today, and as little noted in the press unless there were serious injuries. A Metropolitan Elevated train stopped at Bleecker St was hit by the next train with a tremendous crash, smashing in the rear end of the last car and hurtling splinters in all directions. Although the engine and car that took the impact had to be sent for repairs, no one was injured but a conductor. The newspaper story adds blandly, A similar accident happened on the New-York Elevated Railroad near Castle Garden a few days ago.25 Strangely the Sixth Ave El actually had block signals, Hall’s automatic electric signals,26 but they were not restrictive, the engineers freely passing danger and running by sight the same as the engineers on the New York Elevated, which had no signals.
Switching accidents usually caused the discharge of employees, but never of the company officials who provided inadequate safety measures. No interlocking system was in use and it was up to the vigilance of the staff to see that switches and signals were operated correctly. In November 1878, a switch was moved as a train was passing over it out of the 58th St terminal, and the rear truck of the second car and also the third car switched off upon the other track. The engineer felt the strain on his train and blew his whistle loudly, but it was too late to stop an up train, which struck the middle car of the wrecked train fairly in the middle, and almost passed through it. The shock threw the car from the track and it fell upon the timbers beneath, while a large quantity of portions of the wood-work of the car fell in a shower upon the street. The broken glass flew in every direction and some of it was picked up nearly a block from the wreck. Incredibly no one was injured. The only passenger in the wrecked car was a boy of nine, who stayed put and was rescued. Company officials insisted that the accident was a mere trifle and the car barely scratched.27
The Third Ave El completed to Harlem
From September 16, the Third Ave El was open up to 67th St, with two train services, nominally South Ferry to Grand Central and South Ferry to 67th St, some trains actually originating at Franklin Square because of limited capacity at South Ferry. The structure was almost finished all the way to Harlem.
A temporary station was opened at 63rd St for the American Institute Fair in October and November. This was the same fair where Beach had demonstrated pneumatic transit but now ten years on it was at a new location.28
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Proper terminal stations were planned for Harlem at 129th St and at South Ferry, similar to the Grand Central branch terminal.29 At South Ferry, a four-track terminal was planned running at right angles to the old one, fitting between it and the ferry terminal buildings. It had been authorized by the Rapid Transit Commission of 1875 as a very short branch connecting with a ferry. Work probably began by December, judging by a complaint in the Common Council that the company had changed the route of its road, and … occupied a portion of the Battery Park.30 The curve from the west side line into the new terminal ran over a small additional portion of the park, for which the Parks Department had given permission. The Council’s complaint was not only for that but for conditions on the existing viaduct in the park. For lack of space elsewhere the company had built a third track over the park to store and clean equipment, and they had never planted the vines promised in 1876.31 The two terminal branches at South Ferry are progressing rapidly, it was reported in February 1879, and they were expected to open early in March.32
Service was extended to 89th St on December 9, 1878, with intermediate stations at 76th St and 84th St.33 Six more engines arrived on December 5 and ten cars on December 7.34 Using them, six more trains were run. Every other train ran to 89th St or Grand Central during most of the day, with a headway of five minutes for each service. During rush hours trains ran every three minutes to 89th St and every two minutes to Grand Central.33
A test train ran to 129th St on December 24 with members of the press, company officials, and select stockholders. As usual the patent heating system did not work, and the party had only their own warmth against an afternoon temperature of 18 degrees. People living along the line of Third-avenue above Eighty-ninth-street welcomed the train with manifestations of joy.35 Intermediate stations were at 99th St, 106th St, 116th St, and 125th St.
The Third Ave El opened to Harlem on December 30 but rather irregularly, as the terminal facilities at the end of the line proved inadequate for the reception and switching of the increased number of trains, and there was more or less of a block on the track all day. It is expected that this difficulty will be obviated as soon as the up-town depot can be put in order. It is still far from completion.36 Some sort of temporary terminal was in place at 125th St. Another report days later mentions delays coming in to 125th St station from 116th St.37 A letter to the Times on January 27 complains that all trains started at 125th St, loading and unloading on the west side platform.38 A single track was certainly inadequate as charged. A storekeeper put up a banner, ‘Dec 30, 1878. A glorious day in Harlem history! Rapid transit an assured fact!’36
One of the most important things on the new portion of the line was a trainyard and shop located in the block between 98th St and 99th St and running all the way to Fourth (Park) Ave. Until this the New York Elevated’s only such facility was the cramped quarters next to 7 Broadway. The 99th St yard was opened in February 1879.39
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The Upper West Side : New York Elevated construction
On the west side, the extension north from 59th St was started late in 1878. This was a joint line for both companies, constructed by the New York Elevated up to 83rd St in the same style as the Third Ave route. By September 1878 the foundations were almost all laid and the iron work was prepared. The company at this point expected to open the line in January 1879 and operate it with the steam dummies and lightweight cars of the Greenwich St El.40 An order of ten lightweight non-dummy 0-4-0 engines that arrived from Baldwin in September were probably intended for this service.41
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New York Elevated still contemplated building a northern Manhattan route separate from that of the Metropolitan Elevated. Former company president Milton Courtright, now consulting engineer, surveyed seven routes north of 81st St to 162nd St and fourteen routes from there to Kingsbridge. Some of them would have been in private property north of 110th St.42 Even in February 1879 a company director said that the New York Elevated would ‘probably’ cross over to Tenth Ave at 83rd St, but that it was not yet decided.32 Train service on all northern branches combined would have been limited to the capacity of the joint line from 53rd St to 83rd St.
Opening in January was still predicted as late as November.43 Around December plans were changed, and opening was put off until the Metropolitan’s 53rd St route was ready. The delay was tied mainly to the company’s decision, made public in February 1879, to rebuild the substandard Greenwich St El.32 No more lightweight engines and cars would be ordered to extend service. The west side had lagged far behind the east side in development so there was no urgent demand for train service. New York Elevated conceded operations north of 59th St to the Metropolitan until the new Ninth Ave El would be in operation.
The Metropolitan had at this time just begun work north from 83rd St. The foundation pits were open up to 106th St by January 24, but only some foundations had been laid. A few of the foundations above Eighty-third-street had to be dug very deep on account of the peculiar formation of the ground … but they expect to have them completed next week … At Ninety-second-street the road crosses an aqueduct, which will cause some delay, but the company expect to have the iron-work and stations up as far as One Hundred and Fifty-ninth-street, Eighth-avenue and Harlem River, as early as July 1.44 This was overly optimistic.
Sixth Ave trains began running to the Eighth Ave station in 53rd St on February 25, 1879. Half the trains ran there and half to the old terminal at 58th St. The level junction at 53rd and Sixth would have to deal with 34 trains an hour in each direction during rush hours.45 New locomotives and cars began to arrive that month in preparation for the extension of service north.41 Opening to 92nd St was predicted for May 1.45
The Second Ave El : start of construction
The Metropolitan also announced in January an imminent start on the Second Ave El.46 Was this one necessary? The Rapid Transit Commission of 1875 confirmed the Gilbert Elevated Railway’s franchise for it mainly because opposition in Third Ave was so strong that the preferable Third Ave El might not be built. The Commission’s Manhattan Railway backup plan explicitly stated that the Second Ave route need not be built unless the Third Ave route had been stopped.47
One explanation is that the two elevated companies were still competitive at this time and that the Metropolitan directors had taken note of the enormous ridership that the New York Elevated was getting on the Third Ave El. Another is that the New York Loan and Improvement Company would turn a profit from constructing it whether it was profitable to operate or not.
The new line started at the end of the Sixth Ave El at Morris St, where it was boxed in by the New York Elevated in Greenwich St to the west and the untouchable Broadway to the east. To make a right of way the company had bought up all of the property along the east side of Greenwich St from Morris St down to and including the New York Elevated yard, and even commenced tearing down some of the buildings, though hampered by some tenants having leases running till May 1. They are going ahead, however, as fast as possible, and have men now at work preparing the foundations, and they expect to get across Broadway to Beaver-street by May 1.
The route would cross Broadway at the north end of Bowling Green, from the private property to Beaver St. The work through Beaver-street will be delayed … on account of the difficulties to be encountered in the laying out of the foundations, owing to the intricate nature of the sewer connections, and gas and water mains in that street. Beaver St ran a few blocks into Hanover Square, meeting the existing elevated structure right where a station had been constructed. The Rapid Transit Commission grant then had both companies running jointly on that structure from there to Chatham Square where the Second Ave El would turn off into Division St. The engineers completed the drawing of the exhibits for Division and Allen streets yesterday, and they will be sent to the Commissioner of Public Works … The present expectation of the company is to have the iron-work and stations completed from Beaver-street to Harlem by Sept 1, including the remainder of the distance from the present terminal of the road at Morris and Church streets.46
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The Upper West Side and Second Ave structures were both subcontracted to Clark, Reeves of Phœnixville, Pennsylvania, and were built to the same designs using Phœnix columns. It is hard to distinguish them in some unlabelled photographs. The Second Ave structure would be heavier than that on the West Side [meaning Sixth Ave], and would be adapted to the laying of three tracks, instead of two. The road now being built on the West Side, above Eighty-third-street, is also heavier than that on Sixth-avenue, below Fiftieth-street, and is intended for three tracks. The engines intended for use on the East Side are to be heavier than those now in use on the West Side, and the cars will be, if anything, nicer than the old ones.46 The Metropolitan hoped to attract riders who wanted something better than the utilitarian New York Elevated trains.
Foundation work began in Division and Allen Sts in February, stretching from Chatham Square to Houston St. It was clarified that the structure in Second Ave will afford space sufficient for the laying of three tracks, but it is not intended to have more than two. The portion in Division and Allen Sts was built for only two tracks.45 Work went fast. Iron columns were raised in Division St and Allen St during the first week in April.48
The City Hall Branch
The joint operation from Chatham Square to South Ferry was to be made possible by routing half of each company’s trains away at that point, on another joint structure down Chatham St (now part of what is called Park Row). New York Elevated was to run to a terminal at the Brooklyn Bridge, and Metropolitan Elevated was to have a crosstown route in Chambers St connecting into the Sixth Ave El. The joint section was built by New York Elevated and was in progress in December 1878. The work is necessarily slow, in consequence of the large amount of travel in Chatham-street. The raising of the heavy iron girders is done late at night, when the street is least crowded.29 The company’s director of construction, H R Bishop, said in February that they had been so many time disappointed in regard to it that he did not dare to make any more promises..32
The City Hall Branch, as it was known, opened on March 17. The company began to run three train services, marked by colored flags by day and colored lanterns at night: City Hall to Harlem, red; South Ferry to Grand Central, green; and Franklin Square to 89th St, white.49 Passengers were allowed to change trains at certain stations. The trainmen are said to be nearly all new hands, and to their lack of familiarity with the route and grades was due the slight delays … One train was ‘stuck’ on an up-grade, but after a brief struggle was able to surmount it. A serious accident occurred early in the morning at the new station. Henry Martin, a switchman, was crushed while in the act of coupling an engine to a train about to start. It was still dark, and the switchman was crushed between the engine and the car platform.50
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The junction at Chatham Square was just south of the station. Uptown trains from City Hall crossed at grade the old downtown track to South Ferry. All trains on this branch come to a full stop just before approaching the Chatham Square station, and are not allowed to proceed without a signal from a switchman at that station.50 The switchmen had a stressful job. It will be a comfort to the public to know that these men are not compelled to work long hours, and are frequently relieved.49 There were now up to 47 trains an hour in each direction north of this junction, an average of 75 seconds, and random delays reduced headways between some trains to much less. The brakemen on the rear platforms of trains were obliged to have frequent recourse to signal-flags to warn following trains.50
Within the first week it was observed that the branch was well used only in rush hours and then only in one direction. It did not make sense to run so many trains. Plans were made to run only a shuttle service from City Hall to Chatham Square in offpeak hours including midday.51
The 42nd St collision
All plans for Third Ave El services changed on March 25 when two trains collided head-on because of a switching error. It happened not at Chatham Square but at the other level crossing at 42nd St. The track plan here was worse than at Chatham Square, because an uptown train to Grand Central had to cross over and run wrong way on the downtown track for a very short distance before taking a switch into the single track curve to the branch.
At 12:20 in the afternoon, an uptown train to Harlem was braking to enter 42nd St station as a downtown train was pulling out. Both had clear signals for the straight route, but the switch on the downtown track was actually set for the crossover that had just been used by an uptown train to Grand Central. This was a contradiction that could not have happened had the railway used an interlocking system. Before the engineer could stop it, the downtown train abruptly crossed over to the uptown track and struck the engine of the approaching uptown train. Only by chance did it not strike the side of a wooden passenger car.
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The two trains met with a crash which shook the station windows for a second like the shock of an earthquake, and sent a visible tremor through the whole structure beneath. Splinters and iron missiles went flying through the air in every direction, and the smoke-stack of engine No 118 dropped to the street at the feet of a passer-by, just grazing his clothing, and giving him a decided fright.52 As neither train was going at full speed the force of the collision was not very great. The engines came together with sufficient force, however, to disable them, and at the same time to shiver the glass windows of both trains.53 The trains met with a momentum that lifted the two engines into the air, and tore off masses of the heavy wooden guard-rail for the space of about 20 feet. The latter, happily, being of new timber, withstood the shock, and the engines settled back into place without dropping to the street.52 Engine 86 had damage to its boiler plate and plow, and it had been driven back into car 236, crumpling its front platform. Engine 118 had its smokestack knocked off as mentioned, and also its plow, and it was knocked backward 20 feet, damaging the front platform of its first car.
For all this only four people were seriously injured. A police officer and a brakeman on the rear platform of the uptown train were lacerated by broken glass, a passenger in the rear car of the same train was thrown against a seat back, and a company supervisor was knocked down by one of the trains because he had noticed the switchman’s error and was running down the track to correct it, too late. None were fatalities.53
The significance of the collision was its exposure of the unsafe signal system in use. It was as Railroad Gazette headlined it, An Accident which Ought not to have Happened. The company disclaimed responsibility for inadvertent neglect by employees, but the Gazette argued that surely misplaced switches are not such a new thing that the company, or rather its officers, could not foresee that such ‘inadvertance’ is certain at some time or other to occur. If it is impossible to provide against such carelessness in switching, then nothing more can be said, except that the company should select the most careful men procurable … But it is not true that it is impossible to provide against such carelessness. On the contrary, the interlocking system of switches and signals provides an absolute safeguard against mistakes of switchmen, in moving switches so as to be dangerous and at the same time leaving signals to indicate safety or ‘line clear’. With switches and signals properly interlocked it would have been impossible for the switchman to move the switch wrong without placing the signals at both tracks to indicate danger. The collision could then not have occured.54
Saxby & Farmer’s interlocking systems had been marketed in the United States since 1873. The New York representative was Joseph Dixon of the Broadway Underground Railway, and a working model had been demonstrated in the offices at 260 Broadway that year.55 A famous early installation had been made on the Pennsylvania Railroad east of Newark. Certainly the idea cannot have been unknown to the directors of the New York Elevated Railroad. The system mechanically interlocks the levers that move switches and signals, so that levers will not move into unsafe combinations. A signal cannot be set to show the straight route when the switch is set to the turnout. A switch cannot be moved when the signals leading to it show clear.
The immediate result of the collision was the closing of both branches and of the stations at 42nd St and Chatham Square.56 Trains ran simply from South Ferry to Harlem, using by about this time the new South Ferry and 129th St terminals. Additional rush hour runs from Franklin Square to 89th St probably continued. The stations were closed for reconfiguration to support separate full-time shuttle services on the branches.
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Grade crossings prohibited
At Albany, a bill was introduced in the Assembly Railroad Committee to prohibit grade crossings on elevated railways. It was immediately said that the bill is really designed to compel the Metropolitan Railroad to take a route on the East Side separate from that of the New-York Elevated Road. Superintendant F Wolcott Jackson of the Pennsylvania Railroad’s New Jersey Division tried to explain an interlocking system. He told the members that 90 trains an hour could be operated safely in each direction depending on the vigilance of the engineers and operators of the switches as well as on the nicety of the machinery. He believed that the danger of injury to passengers by collision would be infinitely less with the trains crossing and recrossing than it would if passengers were transferred from train to train over bridges. Statistics showed that more passengers were killed or injured in alighting from or getting on trains than were hurt in transit. Somehow after two or three hours had been spent in consideration of the subject, the committee was as much in the dark as when it began, and it decided to visit New-York to see the switch system in operation before deciding whether to accept or reject the bill.57
A gentleman who is thoroughly conversant with the details— an unnamed source— told a Times reporter that the New York Elevated management were concerned about competition from a Second Ave El operated with the same superior accommodations as the Sixth Ave El, fearing it might attract some 30,000 of the 80,000 daily riders on the Third Ave El. Under the guise of humanity and a wish to protect the ‘dear public’, the New-York Company began a great outcry against railroad crossings on a level. Just at this time the accident at Forty-second-street occurred. It is a little odd that three men— a switchman and two engineers— should make a mistake at exactly the same time … The result of this accident was the introduction of a bill into the Legislature prohibiting the roads from crossing on a level, and the stopping of the trains on the City Hall and Forty-second-street branches. All railroad men know, and statistics show, that the danger to passengers is three times greater when they get in and out at stations than when the same number cross in trains over junctions … The Bradley bill simply meant that the Metropolitan Road must stop at Chatham-square. It was to be absolutely blocked at that point, for the bill declared that there must not only be no crossings on a level, but that no junction even should be made. To thus stop competition on the East Side would be practically to stop rapid transit, for all the passengers on the Second-avenue line who wished to go south of Chatham-square would have to change cars and there take the New-York Road. This would require just so much extra time, while the cost of the extra ticket over the latter road would, of course, double the expense of travel … The outrage was still more evident from the fact that it was an attempt to prevent the Metropolitan Road from running over its own route, secured to it by its charter.58
Members of the Assembly were taken on a tour of the elevated railways conducted by Rufus H Gilbert and Horace Porter of the Metropolitan, and Cyrus Field, David Dudley Field and T T Onderdonck of the New York Elevated. They first took the Sixth Ave route to Eighth Ave station, 53d St, and spent a half hour watching switching on the level junction. Then they rode down to Rector St terminal and walked to South Ferry, some of the escort stopping by the way at one or two stations not on any timetable. A special train took them from South Ferry to Chatham Square where they spent some time looking at the place where it is proposed the tracks of the two roads shall cross. The train went on the closed line to City Hall and back and then to Hanover Square for the inspection of a lunch. The special train then treated them to a run to 129th St in 34 minutes, and back.59
New York Elevated announced a series of improvements that were to be made on the busy Third Ave line.
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At 42nd St, a new platform was built for shuttle trains on the south-facing curve, blocking the path of the north-facing curve, which was lifted. This platform connected around the station house to the downtown platform, and an overhead footbridge was built to connect to the uptown platform.48
The same plan was proposed for 34th St,48 where the company had just contracted in February for a new branch to the Long Island Rail Road ferry at the East River.32 This branch opened in 1880 as a shuttle service.
Chatham Square presented a much more complicated situation not only because the City Hall branch came in a short distance away south of the station but also because of the unresolved junction with the Second Ave El. As originally provided for, all trains on both elevated railways would run on the short length of double track between the two junctions. The safety of the level crossings was only one consideration. This badly planned junction would also limit train service. Company engineer Katte could only propose relocating the City Hall branch elevated structure closer to the north side of Chatham Square, so that it could meet the Third Ave El north of the Second Ave El junction. Shifting the branch would also make possible installation of a shuttle platform near enough to the main station to install a footbridge, so that the branch could be run the same as the Grand Central branch.
The changes could technically be done by June, but the structure was half owned by the Metropolitan, so politically they could not be carried out until plans for the whole junction were decided. The result was that the City Hall branch remained closed for almost a year. The only work done at Chatham Square was the provision of two stub tracks at the north end, so that trains from the north could terminate there instead of at Franklin Square.48 This hedged against possible sharing of the line down South Ferry, but it also provided empty rush hour trains for the stations in the Bowery that were crowded with workers going home from the Lower East Side factories.
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The Third Ave El now had third track from Fifth to Ninth Sts, 83rd to 89th Sts, and 112th to 129th Sts, used to turn shortline trains and hold spares for special events. A few rush hour trains started running northbound at Ninth St, probably for workers in the stores around there and 14th St. Service now peaked at an unbelievable 62 trains an hour in the middle portion of the line between Ninth and 89th Sts. The spartan stations, which did not even have canopies over the platforms, finally got attention. The East Side stations, the officers think, do not meet the requirements of their patrons. So this Summer they intend to enlarge the most of these stations, making them one panel longer, about two feet wider, and lengthening the platforms, which … will be provided with awnings.48
Rapid transit for the Annexed District
With elevated service to Harlem a great success, a group of fifty citizens delivered a certified petition to Mayor Peter Cooper informing him that ‘that there is need in the City and County of New-York of a steam railway or railways for the transportation of passengers, mails, or freight’— the statutory call for a Rapid Transit Commission. The mayor apppointed five commissioners on April 2. The petition asked for rapid transit in the Annexed District, or what is now the Bronx west of the Bronx River.57
The Manhattan Railway Company reborn
The grade crossing bill and possibly the idea of a new Rapid Transit Commission spurred the two elevated companies to reach an agreement before something was imposed upon them.
Their plan as announced on April 26 was simply to avoid crossing at Chatham Square by routing all Third Ave trains to City Hall and all Second Ave trains to South Ferry. The City Hall branch would be relocated to the north side of Chatham Square so that its path to the Third Ave line did not cross the path of the South Ferry branch to the Second Ave line in Division St. The Metropolitan would formally abandon its planned routes in Beaver St and Chambers St. At Chatham Square there would be a huge double station and a system of transfer tickets will be put in operation which will enable passengers to cross from one road to the other. For the time being, New York Elevated would continue to run only to South Ferry. The Second Ave El was expected to open to 42nd St by July and to Harlem by August, much sooner than it actually opened.58
Cyrus Field, ever the publicist, provided a banquet at Delmonico’s in celebration, billed by the Times as an elevated railroad love-feast. The day before, April 30, New York Elevated paid its first dividend to stockholders, five per cent. In attendance were eighty directors and officials of both companies. Field announced, I am happy to inform the public that all differences and disagreements are now at an end, and that the two roads are in perfect accord. The basis of agreement has been definitely settled, and will not be changed. Horace Porter fitly expressed the feelings of the company by the quotation, ‘Better is a dinner of herbs where love is than a stalled ox with hatred’. It was almost as if the companies were no longer in competition, some observed, but when they asked about consolidation reporters were given the most positive assurances from both sides that there was absolutely no word of truth in the statement.60
On May 20, a joint committee of the two companies concluded an agreement to reorganize the dormant Manhattan Railway Company to coordinate their operations. This was the company created by the Rapid Transit Commissioners in 1875 to build the elevated railways if the two existing companies did not do so. All of its stock was owned by officials of the two companies. The new president was William R Garrison of the Metropolitan, and the vice president was N Guilford of New York Elevated. The directors were George M Pullman, John Baird, Horace Porter and José Navarro of the Metropolitan, and Cyrus Field, A H Barney, Josiah M Fiske and H R Bishop of New York Elevated.61
Manhattan Railway would operate all the elevated railways and pay revenue to the two old companies. The same Chatham Square plan was still favored, with the Third Ave El running to City Hall and Second Ave El to South Ferry, and passengers could transfer free to the other service at Chatham Square. The Second Ave line would be built to cross over the 34th St branch to avoid a level crossing. The Sixth Ave line would be connected to the rebuilt Greenwich St line at Morris St and run to South Ferry (and by implication Greenwich St service would end north of that junction).61 Nothing was said about the two junctions at grade at 53rd St, but secretly the companies were about to propose a solution to the Rapid Transit Commission.
The financial arrangements were immediately denounced as a scheme. Manhattan Railway was to lease the two owner roads for $10,000 each, payment of the lessors’ mortgages, and a sum sufficient to pay the lessors’ stockholders a dividend of ten per cent. This provided a good but capped payment to the lessor companies. Any further profit would be distributed only to the Manhattan stockholders. The Manhattan also assumed the contracts of the New York Loan and Improvement Company to build the Second Ave route for the Metropolitan.62 The details were much more complex than this, and the three companies and their stockholders engaged in a series of lawsuits over the next few years, in which the leases were modified, cancelled and renewed several times.
From about this time the New York Loan and Improvement Company sold off its holdings in Metropolitan Elevated. By March 1880 an unnamed director of the Manhattan Railway said that New York Loan and Improvement had sold off all of the shares of Manhattan that it had acquired as stockholder of the Metropolitan.63 New York Loan and Improvement’s report to shareholders in July 1880 showed that it owned only 5,000 shares of Metropolitan Elevated out of 65,000.64
The Upper West Side : open to 104th St
The Upper West Side route was now progressing beyond the end of the New York Elevated’s structure at 83rd St. All the iron was delivered by late April and it was starting to go up.58
On June 3 a Metropolitan engine was run up the line to 82nd St to test the track.65 On June 9, Sixth Ave El trains began running beyond Eighth Ave station (53rd St) to 59th St, 72nd St and 81st St stations on the new line. The area was mainly devoted to gardening, and the travelling population is very sparse, so the company did not expect much business until the next opening to 104th St which might get what is called the brewery and public garden trade.66 The 81st St station at least was close to the Museum of Natural History. Only every third train ran to the new route, the rest running to 58th St and Sixth Ave. When you get out at Eighty-first-street, you are nowhere, one rider commented.67
As of the same date, service on the Greenwich St El was reduced to running every 8 to 10 minutes to make possible the reconstruction of the line.65 The reconstruction project would replace all of Harvey’s old West Side Elevated structure and all the track along the west curb line in Ninth Ave. Work on foundations along the west side of the car tracks in Ninth Ave had begun in March.48 The resulting new structure would be something like that in Third Ave, but the columns never matched, since those along the east side of the car tracks were of the Wyman design from 1876. In Greenwich St the plan of separate structures along the curb lines was retained, but all of the east side had to be torn down a section at a time and replaced by new structure in the same location, and possibly the oldest parts of the west side as well, some of which dated to 1874 and 1875. Sections of single track working forced the reduced schedule. Near the lower end of the line around Rector St additional tracks would be laid to provide for terminating trains, four tracks wide, filling the width of Greenwich St. After rebuilding the route was most commonly called the Ninth Ave El.
The two companies both ran in Ninth Ave from the 53rd St junction to 59th St station. The New York Elevated had its first track along the west curb line, but the Metropolitan in June was almost certainly running along two tracks on new structure over the center of the street, and it was said that the 59th St station was not yet completed, as if it was new. The New York Elevated might have been confined to the old track and kept separate for a while, but it seems that this was not done. Rather the tracks of the two companies cross each other on the same level, the condition that caused so much controversy at Chatham Square. To avoid accidents the interlocking system of switches is being put in, and it is proposed to have all the trains come to a halt both below and above the station.66 An accident report from January 1880 makes it clear that by that time there were two tracks at 59th St station used by both companies, and a center third track north of the station where the New York Elevated trains stopped to change ends.68
Metropolitan Elevated service was extended to 93rd St and 104th St stations on June 21.69 This was the first part of the line built by New York Loan and Improvement for the Metropolitan. Here the line ended for the next two and a half months.
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It may be noticed that the stations above 72nd St were not sited at the wide cross streets, 86th St, 96th St and 106th St. The height of the structure at the 96th St valley may have discouraged placing a station at that point, and that may then have affected the location of the neighboring stops. There were no significant buildings in the area to affect station siting.
The Rapid Transit Commission of 1879
The Rapid Transit Commissioners appointed on April 2 conducted their work mostly in secret. They finally sent a report to the mayor on June 14 officially designating the new routes they had chosen. They had been expected to focus on the Annexed District, but unexpectedly they also designated new routes in Manhattan that were arguably related.
First, they designated the New York Central system’s Hudson and Harlem lines as rapid transit routes from the city line down to Grand Central, and on from there. And also commencing at a point on the northerly side of Forty-second-st, below the grade of said street ; thence under, through and across Forty-second-st ; and thence southerly under, through and along the easterly side of Fourth-ave or Park-ave, and below the surface of said avenue to the south side of Thirty-fourth-st, ascending to the surface of Fourth-ave ; then by an elevated road over, through and along Fourth-ave, southerly to a point between Eighth-st and Ninth-st ; thence through the block on the west side of Fourth-ave to, across Eighth-st and Astor-place, through Lafayette-place, ; through the block to Bond-st, to Crosby-st, and along Crosby-st to Grand-st ; thence through the block diagonally to a point in Elm-st near Howard-st ; thence across Howard-st, along Elm to Pearl-st ; thence diagonally across the block to Duane-st ; thence along Duane-st to Centre-st ; thence along Centre-st and Park-row to a line drawn easterly and westerly across the city at the south line of the City Hall.70 With this the Commissioners defined for the first time the route of the subway built in 1901-1904, although here it was of course for an elevated railway.
Second, in response to a letter from officials of the Manhattan Railway Company, they granted changes of route, all of them described as connections from the New York Elevated Railroad to other railways, in accordance with the special clause in the Rapid Transit Act of 1875. A connection was designated to run along 59th St from Ninth to Sixth Ave in order to eliminate the 53rd St section and its two junctions at grade. With the new connection, trains could continue on from the end of the Sixth Ave El at 58th St to the Upper West Side. Presumably Ninth Ave El service would end at a separate station at 59th St. New routes were designated from the end of Third Ave along the river to Eighth Ave and then across the Harlem River to High Bridge station, and from the end of Third Ave along 129th St and across the river to the New Haven’s Harlem River station.70
The Commissioners designated eight routes in the Annexed District, all running in private property. Two ran north from the end of Eighth Ave and five ran from the end of Second Ave. Lastly a tunnel crossing was authorized at First Ave, to connect some of the routes to the Second Ave El at 121st St.70
Mayor Cooper expressed surprise at the Manhattan routes, and so did William H Vanderbilt of the New York Central system. John Baird of the Manhattan Railway said the plan was beyond comprehensive.71 Until the official announcement the Commissioners had said nothing of the so-called Vanderbilt route to City Hall. Both the Manhattan Railway and the Common Council were not happy with the idea of another elevated railway, especially in Park Ave and alongside Union Square. It looked very doubtful too that the Parks Department would permit the 59th St route along the edge of Central Park.72
The mayor delayed transmitting the report to the Common Council73 and when they had it they delayed action on it. Finally on July 8 the Common Council formally rejected the entire plan, 16 to 5,74 causing a procedural crisis. The Commissioners decided that the Council did not have standing to halt their activities and that they were legally obligated to continue or risk forfeiting the $25,000 bond each had given to complete their duties.75
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The Commissioners sent a second report to Mayor Cooper on July 19. It described the type of structures, rates of fare, and deadlines for completion. In doing so it allocated the routes to four new companies. The West Side and Yonkers Railway would have the route from Eighth Ave to Kingsbridge and the city line. The Suburban Rapid Transit would have all but one of the routes from Second Ave up to the city line and would have also the Harlem River tunnel route. The Hunt’s Point Branch Railway had one route from Second Ave. The Park Avenue and City Hall Railway would build from 42nd St south.76
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The first company organized was the West Side and Yonkers Railway. All of the stock was bought up on the first day, August 4,77 and the company was incorporated on August 25.78 This company would go on to construct Putnam Bridge, connecting the Manhattan Railway at 155th St and Eighth Ave to mainline railways near High Bridge. It was controlled not by Manhattan Railway people but by the investors in a new railway called the New York City and Northern, who had acquired the former New York, Boston and Montreal right of way running north from High Bridge.79
Stock was sold the next two days for the Suburban Rapid Transit and the Hunt’s Point Branch Railway, but this and further works of the Commissioners were to be voided. The Supreme Court ruled on February 10, 1880, that the Rapid Transit Act of 1875 provided for the organization of only one company, and that as soon as that was done, a Rapid Transit Commission passed out of existence.80
The Upper West Side : completed to 155th St
The Manhattan Railway Company declined the 59th St route in a letter to Mayor Cooper on August 9,81 and they did not attempt to construct the other ‘connections’ authorized by the Rapid Transit Commissioners.
Effective September 1, Manhattan Railway began operating all the elevated railways. The Second and Third Ave routes were designated the Eastern Division, and the Sixth and Ninth Ave routes the Western Division. The same tickets would soon be good on all lines. A new station at 28th St was opened on the Third Ave El, and more openings were promised soon for the Upper West Side line.82
Rails had been laid to 135th St station, but presumably to some disappointment the stations were not in good enough shape to open on the new company’s debut. Sixth Ave service was extended from 104th St as soon as possible, reaching 116th St and 125th St on September 17 and 135th St on September 27.69
This section included the famous reverse curve in 110th St where the line crossed from Ninth (Columbus) to Eighth Ave. Here the ground drops away to the Harlem flats at Eighth Ave. The strength of the Phœnix column and confidence with elevated railway construction led to a new boldness of design here and in Second Ave. To improve operation, the railway grade on these lines followed less closely the undulations of the ground, resulting in some very high sections.
As the Phœnix Bridge Company catalog would later describe it, the design was such as to meet the difficulties arising from a combination of greatly-increased height with a reversed curve. The inherent stiffness of the Phœnix column in all directions, as well as its superior capacity for resisting compression, render it peculiarly adapted to such extraordinary conditions as these. The transverse and lateral bracing, as well as the longitudinal bracing of the towers, were made sufficiently heavy to permanently meet the requirements of the circumstances.83
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The last stretch opened December 1 to 145th St and 155th St.69 The last stop was located just north of 155th St, a block away from Macombs Dam Bridge. The structure continued to about the line of 159th St. A large trainyard was built here later.
At this remote location the elevated railway would connect with the West Side and Yonkers Railway’s bridge and on to the New York City and Northern Railroad at High Bridge. Officials of the latter now predicted train service as early as January 1880, more than a year before it actually began, and proposed running a boat connection from High Bridge to 155th St. Once the bridge was built they hoped to run their trains through to lower Manhattan over the elevated railway. Vice President Guilford of the Manhattan Railway was unaware, however, that any such arrangement had been made.84 It is odd that he was unaware; by this date the New York City and Northern had come under the control of the men who practically control the Manhattan Railway Company,85 according to an unnamed source quoted in the Tribune.
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Progress of the Manhattan Railway
At the time it began operations the Manhattan Railway had 186 steam engines and 467 passenger cars,41 a big operation concentrated on a small amount of route miles. It was the busiest railroad in the country by train movements, however short they were. The growth in route miles continued until stability was reached in the second half of 1880, but growth in ridership on those routes continued as upper Manhattan and the Bronx grew in population.
The financial return was so good that some began to believe that the day of superior but more costly underground railways would soon arrive. But the early history of the elevated lines reveals a series of errors and misjudgements that were fixed by rebuilding stations, junctions, and main lines to a degree that would have been terribly costly on an underground line. Beach had anticipated the need for interlocking switches and train separation, but depictions of underground stations and trains all too often show facilities that would have been totally inadequate for the crowds that thronged the elevated railways as soon as they opened. The success of the New York subway, when it was finally built, was based partly on hard lessons learned on the elevated system.