“THE BEACH SHIELD HAS BEEN INTRODUCED”
Restarting the Hudson Tunnel from Jersey City
The Hudson Tunnel Railroad Company continued work for more than two years after the tunnel collapse in July 1880.
The caisson in Jersey City reached its permanent depth some time in October, and with the air lock to the shaft open, more normal working conditions were gradually restored. Engineer S D V Burr wrote in 1885, Opening this lock greatly facilitated subsequent movements, since it was both easier and quicker to lower supplies down the shaft, and pass them through the lock, than it was to admit them through the vertical lock [in the caisson].1
The caisson was strong enough to support the earth around it without air pressure, Burr noted. It was decided to extend the two tunnels to the shaft, and not finish the upper half, but leave the whole as one large chamber uniting the two. This intended floor level was 8 feet below the sides of the caisson, so it was dug out carefully bit by bit and finished in brick until the exposed section of caisson rested securely on the new brick foundation. At the same time a masonry arch three feet thick was built across the top. Thus the caisson was converted into a large working chamber, connected with the outer world by three air locks. and wholly enclosed in masonry.1
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Attention then turned to opening the east side of the caisson to the two tunnels. Burr had nothing to say about reopening the north tunnel. Apparently the water was pumped out without incident, an opening was made from the caisson and the tunnel was found to be intact.
One more body was recovered on November 4, nothing but a skeleton. The last four bodies were finally found together in the north tunnel on November 29. The bodies were lying together in a bunch, as if the men had huddled together for mutual aid and comfort. Superintendant Anderson is of the opinion that the four men ran toward the air lock when Assistant Superintendant Woodland shouted to the men to save themselves, but being unable to get into the lock they ran into the north tunnel in the blind hope that some means of escape might be found there. Their agony was probably more prolonged than that of the others, who were crushed by the falling earth and iron plates. The bodies were in a very advanced state of decomposition— in fact they were little more than skeletons— and, as their clothing had nearly all rotted away, it was next to impossible to identify them … The head of the headless body among the last recovered was also found later and taken out.2 So ended the recovery.
The problem of the south tunnel
The south tunnel was a different story. During the reopening it was found to be the source of the river water and the fish that had appeared in the shaft. The company’s timing as to the reconstruction of the temporary entrance was not fully explained in statements to the press or in the coroner’s jury testimony, but it had something to do with getting the south tunnel under the shoreline bulkhead. Anderson had made a comment to the jury about needing to increase air pressure but seemed to link it to work in the north tunnel. Burr’s account in 1885 clearly explains that the problem was with the south tunnel.
The tunnel was then pushed forward, Burr wrote of the south tunnel, until the advance plates struck the old wooden-crib bulkhead, when work on both tunnels was stopped, and operations were directed toward removing the temporary entrance, or connecting chamber, as this was too weak to stand the increased pressure necessary at the heading … It was through this old bulkhead that the water came at the time of the accident ; it caused a great deal of trouble when recovering the bodies of the men and beginning anew.3
In describing the renewal of the work from the caisson, he continued, The south tunnel, through which water flowed from the river to the shaft, was filled with water, except a sloping bank next to the wall. It was impossible to finish this portion of the work until the inflow of water was effectively checked. The water was held back by the wall of the caisson, but how would it be opened? The first step taken was to plug the tunnel with silt. To do so, a 2-inch pipe was tentatively inserted into the wall and a slurry of silt and water was pumped in by maintaining the air pressure above that of the water. When no more would go in, a 3½-inch pipe was pushed into the space, and the same repeated. When this plan would no longer work silt was rolled by hand into compact balls, which were dipped into water to make their surface slippery, and then placed in the pipe. When full a long ramrod, worked by four to six men, forced the load through. This pipe was supplemented by a 6-inch one, and silt rammed in until the near end of the tunnel was completely filled with a solid and tenacious mass. Then sections of the side of the caisson were cut out and a bulkhead put in.4 It was hoped that the silt would hold back the air when an opening was made in the caisson to resume work. But the silt only extended only so far, and beyond that there was a big problem.
The river had come in right under the shoreline bulkhead. Scientific American explained in December that it was discovered that the inrush of water through the loosely constructed crib-work had not only washed out much of the earth which had filled the spaces between the timber and stones, but had excavated the large hole shown in our engraving which was located under the bulkhead just ahead of the tunnel. Two serious hindrances were thus placed in the way of the work : the absence of support for the timbers of the crib on the original inclination caused them to drop below the upper line of the tunnel, necessitating their removal before the tunnel shield could be pushed forward, and the washing away of the protecting silt allowed the water to flow in, and the compressed air of the tunnel to escape.5
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The cavity was discovered by sounding. Instead of clearing out the original tunnel at once, a small pilot tunnel, six feet in diameter, was first driven [from the caisson] through the washed-in silt almost to the cavity. Then a six-inch tube was thrust through the remaining wall of silt, and an attempt was made to pass through the tube a sufficient quantity of mud balls to fill the opening. It was thought that this had been accomplished, and the mud wall was removed only to discover a leak through the crib that defied the usual means of stoppage by the use of bags of bran and the like. At this stage the recent serious inflow of water occurred, compelling a change in the plan of procedure.5
Workmen spoke of a cave-in on December 4. The shift at work at midnight were admonished by the hissing sound which indicates the escape of compressed air that there was danger, and the men at once dropped their implements and ran for their lives. An instant later a portion of the south tunnel caved in and the water rushed in in volumes. It is said that it came in with such force and speed that the men were rather pushed along by it. This appears to be the ‘serious inflow’ mentioned by Burr. But characteristically, tunnel officials deny that there was a serious break.6
The new plan involves the construction of a movable bulkhead fitting the pilot tunnel like a piston.5 In this was placed a pipe, 3½ inches in diameter, through which silt could be forced. The piston-rod extended across the caisson to the opposite wall, and was operated by two hydraulic jacks.6 They were coming closer to using a shield. This system somehow filled in the space enough to hold air, and the full size tunnel was opened and cleared. Burr commented, When the crib-work was reached it was found that air would occasionally escape through the spaces between the loose filling. The application of a ball of silt would stop a small leak, but in large openings a bag of cement was forced up, when the air-pressure would hold it in position.6 Tunneling through the wood and stone crib, which in some places projected half through the tunnel, was a difficult task. The ends of the piles had to be cut off and the horizontal timbers removed so as to clear the iron plates.3
The pilot was John F Anderson’s idea, and he was inspired to use it all the time afterwards. It would provide an idea of the ground ahead and also keep the tunnel in alignment. A described by Scientific American in 1891, This pilot tunnel was 6 feet in diameter, and made up of interchangeable plates, flanged so that they could be bolted together, and formed a central hub which extended a few feet into the silt in advance of the face, and also a few feet into the completed masonry of the tunnel. Being supported rigidly at both ends, the central portion of this pilot acted as a foundation upon which struts to support the plates could be placed.7 The pilot was like the hub of a wheel, and the spokes radiating from it to the plates kept them from deflecting until the brick lining was in place. All of the tunnel built after 1880 was much better aligned than before.
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Hudson Tunnel progress under Haskin
Haskin and company obtained permission to build in New York state with the passage of the Hayes Act in 1880. Following this they incorporated the Hudson Tunnel Railroad Company of New York and sought permission from the Dock Department to sink a shaft at the foot of Morton St. Haskin planned to build a Union Station on the New York side somewhere near Bleecker St and Broadway.8 It took until March 1881 to get the lease of land 100 feet square from the Dock Department,9 and while an engine and piles of bricks promptly appeared, construction of the shaft lagged until late in the year.
On the Jersey City side, the problems in the south tunnel were solved by December 14, 1880, and work resumed in a more normal way. The company decided first to make the south tunnel as long as the north and put all the men to work there. The tunnel advanced about four feet a day, reaching 200 feet by July 1881.10 Meanwhile the company began to prepare bulkheads in the tunnels so that compressed air could be confined to only the work area near the ends of the tunnels. This would keep the rest of the tunnel safe in case of trouble at the working face, and for the safety of the laborers the bulkheads were to have two locks, one always open for them to run into if necessary.11 The tunnel was lit by electric lamps, and a private telephone in the entranceway communicated with the office above. The south tunnel is just emerging from under the bulkhead that gave so much trouble at the time of the accident, reported the Sun in the middle of 1881. The soil is so porous that the compressed air may be seen at the surface of the river as it escapes from the tunnel through the water, and bubbles up like a boiling spring. The work is progressing smoothly, and Mr Andersen says that it is all now plain sailing.12
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During this year William Sooy Smith became chief engineer of the company. With his appointment the company finally had someone with experience working with compressed air and caissons, mainly in the construction of bridge foundations.13 On the evening of August 11, after the air lock had been installed in the south tunnel, Smith tested the strength of the tunnel west of the air lock by having the air pressure gradually reduced. The lock or bulkhead proved to be not air tight, and the end of the south tunnel lost pressure and began to fall in. But the new system did work as far as protecting the workmen, since they all ran into the new air lock and escaped uninjured. The last 30 feet of tunnel were crushed. Of this the company officers insisted the damage is slight !14
By the start of November 1881 the air locks in the tunnels had been properly installed and tested, and air pressure was eliminated in the caisson and in a long part of the tunnels. The air lock at the top of the caisson was removed and the roof completed, and the wall to the shaft was opened. A reporter visiting the caisson on November 5 noted that it was now open to the fresh air. He also found there to his surprise a boy grooming the company horse that pulled the carts on temporary track between the caisson and the end of the tunnels. He marvelled at how they had ever managed to get a horse in through the six-foot high air lock. The distance to the air locks in both tunnels was now said to be 400 feet, and the north tunnel extended 150 feet beyond that. Some changes in the work had been introduced. The silt was now being pumped out to the surface mixed with water using a system patented by Smith. The bottom half of the tunnel was now being built of concrete instead of brick. Smith reported an advance of 90 feet in October, and with work about to begin from New York, he thought it would be finished in 1885.13
The end of air pressure was not without incident. Contrary to what we have been led to expect, wrote the trade publication Manufacturer and Builder, a number of leaks were developed as the air pressure was removed, through one of which, in the north bore, the water is reported to have entered in such volume that it could only be stopped after much hard work. Haskin explained that the location was right under the crib-work at the edge of the river, with very little earth, and that the air pressure inside the tunnel had strained the brick lining outward and cracked it. This explanation must strike the engineering mind as being highly unsatisfactory. This portion of the tunnel, it should be noticed, is reported to be finished— that is, the iron plates and masonry work are all in position, and yet its strength and stability are so inferior that on the withdrawal of the trifling excess of air pressure within (about 10 to 15 pounds to the square inch), it shows the effects of strain and weakness by allowing the water to pour in.15 Touring engineers in January 1882 found the roof of the caisson to be dripping in an unpleasantly suggestive manner.16
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The Hudson Tunnel in New York
Construction in New York was begun by sinking a caisson, the method that most now felt should have been used to begin with on the Jersey City side. The caisson was completed on the surface at the start of November 1881 after about six months’ work. The air lock formerly at the top of the Jersey City caisson was carried across the river and reused here.17 A report on November 18 said that compressed air was turned on a few days before, electric lights were hung, and work would now begin.18 Work progressed at about two feet a day, so it took more than two months to reach the intended depth. On January 20, 1882, the caisson was reported almost down.16 The ground at the bottom was not silt but sand and loose rocks. The finer sand could be blown out dry, but buckets had to be used to take out the gravel and rocks.17
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Work on one of the tubes started probably in March. Chief engineer William Sooy Smith was concerned about the loose sand and gravel. He thought it would leak air and water. Scientific American told readers in June, Instead, therefore, of prosecuting the work on the plan which Colonel Haskin, the chief promoter, had so enthusiastically favored from the first, he preferred other and more expensive, though safer, methods, which he claimed would also be more expeditious. Finding that Colonel Haskin and the directors insisted on proceeding as they had done from the first, he resigned his position and went West. What Smith feared happened on March 31: a blowout. Air forced its way out the end of the tunnel, and water rushed in, flooding the caisson. But all the men got out safely.19
By about May 25 the two tunnels had been completed inside the caisson. In the Jersey City caisson one large arch had been built across both tracks, but in New York separate tunnels were built with a common center wall. From the caisson the north tunnel was started first, and when it was 12 feet out, a temporary bulkhead of iron plates was built across it, braced against the end of the masonry. It was not a tunnel shield like those previously used by Beach and English engineers. It had no hood, nor was it moved forward in one piece, so it was really no more than a temporary bulkhead. For the tunnel walls, shorter iron plates were used than in Jersey City, and those against the roof were kept braced by timbers until the masonry was done, to keep them from deflecting. Laying of masonry was kept close to the working face. Exposed earth was covered with silt brought over from Jersey City.20 By June 30 the north tunnel was 30 feet long and advancing.
Work from Jersey City edged closer. By the middle of April the north tunnel was 839 feet long21 and the south tunnel about 500 feet. A new brickyard company opened in Jersey City, its raw material Hudson River silt from the tunnel.22 By mid May the north tunnel was 1,000 feet long,23 and 1,200 feet by mid July. Air pressure was now at 30 pounds per square inch. No more work was being done on the south tunnel. The New York side had advanced just 5 feet in two weeks.24 A report on August 15 gave progress for the past week of 20 feet in New Jersey and 15 feet in New York.25
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There was another blowout at the New York end on August 20, when part of the temporary bulkhead gave way. By this time the tunnel had an air lock in it like the ones on the New Jersey side. The break was 65 feet from the caisson, but only 20 feet from the air lock, and and all the men escaped.26
Oddly enough this was followed ten days later by a blowout on the New Jersey side. This one was no secret: ferry passengers saw a waterspout shoot ten feet into the air, about a thousand feet off shore. The air had escaped from the unprotected heading of the tunnel, and some of the iron plates fell at that point, but all the men got out safely. Haskin blamed it on workmen being not sufficiently cautious.27
Water again invaded the New York end on October 9. The tunnel had been located by bad luck where a fresh water spring fed into the river. Now 70 feet in length, the tunnel again opened into a pocket of fresh water and filled rapidly. The workers were almost up to their necks in water by the time they got out.28
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The end of construction
Work stopped on November 4, 1882. The company had run out of money. Almost all the men were discharged, but a few were kept on to build stone and wood bulkheads at the ends of the tunnel. The pumps were then shut off and the tunnels were allowed to fill with water.
Trenor Park was the head of the construction company and the major fundraiser for the project. He told reporters that the project was not being abandoned. The work was never in as good shape as it is now. All there is of it is that the money that has been subscribed has been exhausted. The company does not propose to run in debt. Three-quarters of a million or more has been spent and a million or so more will be required to complete the north tunnel. If it had not been for my poor health, work would not have stopped at all. One thing is certain— the tunnel will be built. All the money that is needed can be obtained without any difficulty.29
Haskin gave the completed distance of the north tunnel as 1,542 feet from New Jersey and 75 feet from New York, out of a total 5,200 feet across the river. The south tunnel ran 562 feet from New Jersey.29
Park died on December 21.30
Attempts to revive the Hudson Tunnel
Accounts of the Hudson Tunnel sometimes say that work stopped from 1882 to 1889, but there were two revivals during that time.
Work was restarted at the New York side on April 22, 1883.31 From this date 72 feet was added to the north tunnel, and the south tunnel was started for 23 feet. Work was suspended again on July 20 for lack of funds.32 A few watchmen were kept on. The scene at the foot of Morton St was described two years later: The engine houses and workshops are deserted, the paint has become blistered by exposure to the sun and has fallen off in patches, giving the buildings the appearance of deserted barns.33
Haskin managed to raise some money and work started again on May 5, 1887, this time from the New Jersey end. The tunnels were pumped out and the air compressors were restarted and an elevator was installed in the shaft. Work was again in the north tunnel, at a pressure of 27 pounds per square inch. The tunnel was found intact after more than four years, but silt had forced its way in with the water and the pilot tunnel had drifted slightly northward. Exactly the same plan of work was resumed except that the masonry was now built four feet thick. Haskin predicted completion in 1889.34
But after 305 feet of tunnel had been built, money ran out again. Work stopped in September 1887.35
Revival with English capital
Reports a year later said that Haskin had interested some English investors in the project, and that it had been reviewed favorably by John Fowler and Benjamin Baker, the engineers of the Firth of Forth bridge.36 A prospectus was circulated in London in February 1889 proposing to complete the north tunnel for £180,000 and the south tunnel for £250,000, or a total of £550,000 for everything including the approaches and terminals.37 A mortgage for that total, about $2,750,000, was filed in Hudson County on April 16, 1889, to English trustees.38
An English engineer called E W Moir was assigned to the job by Baker in 1889. He spoke about it in 1910. Construction had resumed at first following Haskin’s old methods, Moir said. Haskin continued for a short time after Sir Benjamin Baker made his report in 1888, in which Sir Benjamin staked his reputation on the completion of the work— a very bold thing to do for a man who had so great a reputation to lose … At that time there was about 200 to 250 feet of tunnel built beyond the last bulkhead, and Haskin had three collapses in 100 feet. The tunnel was full of something worse than slurry, the pilot tube was askew across the tunnel, and there was a hole 12 feet in diameter right through to the bed of the Hudson River. It was impossible to get near the face. After trying many expedients, a thing like a plum-pudding in a canvas cover, 12 feet in diameter, was put into the hole by means of a large floating crane.39 The English investors would not put up with Haskin any longer.
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The Beach or Greathead shield
In November 1889 a contract was made between Haskin and the English engineering firm of Samuel Pearson and Son to carry on construction.40 As Moir put it, they cut away the bottom of the plum-pudding and there made a chamber to put together a shield that was imported from Scotland. This was done in December 1889.41 The erection of the shield began early in 1890, and by July, under a pressure of about 40 pounds per square inch, it had been riveted up and put through the temporary bulkhead … On first commencing to push the shield there was great difficulty in preventing the tunnel from becoming a shaft. The ground was exceedingly soft, due to the eruptions of air to the river and other disturbances, and the sinking of the shield was very considerable.42
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Imagine Alfred E Beach’s delight in describing Pearson’s work. Compressed air was still used as Haskin had done. But as an engineering precaution, and to assist in the more rapid prosecution of the work, the Beach hydraulic shield has been introduced. Furthermore, iron plates much thicker and stronger than those before used have been adopted for the outer walls of the tunnel. Our readers are familiar with the history of this form of shield. It was designed and first constructed by Mr A E Beach, one of the editors and proprietors of the SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN. It was first used in constructing a short section of the projected Broadway underground railway in this city, 1868-1869.43 As in the Beach Pneumatic tunnel, the hydraulic jacks could be worked separately to force the tunnel into the alignment desired.
English sources called it not a Beach shield but a Greathead shield. James H Greathead had been Barlow’s assistant engineer on the Thames Tunnel built about the same time as the Beach Pneumatic tunnel. He developed what became known as the Greathead shield in 1874, incorporating Beach’s use of hydraulic jacks as well as additional patent devices for working under compressed air, but the project for which he developed it, a Thames tunnel at Woolwich, was not built. Instead Haskin became the first to build a major tunnel with compressed air. At the time Pearson took over the Hudson Tunnel, Greathead was nearing completion of the first tube railway, the City and South London, built from 1886 to 1890 using the Greathead shield for all of the work.44
Pearson’s engineers found that the silt was so fluid that it did not have to be dug out. When the six hydraulic jacks forced the shield forward, the silt flowed through the doors in the shield, extruded in the shape of the doors for a few feet before it broke off and fell to the floor. The workmen had only to cart it away. After a year’s work in November 1890 the north tunnel ran for 1,250 feet outside the first air locks and about 1,000 feet beyond.43
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Engineering success, financial failure
The north tunnel was 2,720 feet long at the start of 1891 and progressing at about 7 feet a day. Beach happily reported in Scientific American that the Beach hydraulic shield is advanced the width of one of the rings in eight minutes, a progress formerly requiring from 2 to 4 hours. Formerly, the great trouble was in getting the shield ahead; at present the great obstacle is getting away the excavated silt fast enough. A system of chutes is soon to be tried … The company hope to record ten feet a day when these changes are completed.45
By June 1891 the north tunnel was about 3,800 feet in length. By this date the company president was William Sooy Smith, the engineer who had quit in 1882 because Haskin ignored his advice. The company’s attorney John Dos Passos now predicted completion in 1893. The question of motive power to be used in the tunnel has been one of the most important which we have been called upon to solve, he admitted. In connection with the railroads, we have considered every conceivable plan of motor, and we are now convinced that we will be able to use electricity.46 This was early for such an idea. The first main line railway electrification, the Baltimore and Ohio’s tunnel at Baltimore, opened in 1895.47
The tunnel was now at the middle of the river and coming closer to the riverbed. On June 18 Pearson requested permission of the United States War Department to dump clay into the river to make sure that there was 20 feet of solid material over the top of the planned tunnel. The tunnel profiles showed as little as five feet of earth over the tunnel. The plan was approved in July.48
After going so well, worked stopped again in October 1891 when the collapse of the Barings Brothers banking firm in England caused the panicky English investors to drop out. Recently the members of the English syndicate, it is said, fell out among themselves, and the firm of Pearson and Son was frightened into believing that the whole scheme was going to smash, reported the Times. Haskin told reporters, It’s all bosh. It doesn’t amount to a snip of the finger. The whole trouble is caused by these Englishmen. They have tried as usual to grab everything in sight … Their greediness in connection with the Hudson Tunnel Railway Company has brought the company to its present unfortunate position. They’ve mismanaged things and squandered money and quarreled among themselves. Pearson put a mechanic’s lien on the company’s property, but Haskin claimed that they owed the company for work not done.49 The bottom line was that work had stopped.
East River tunnels
As the Hudson Tunnel progressed in fits and starts and then was seemingly abandoned, over on the other side of Manhattan Island other capitalists and engineers sought to overcome the barrier of the East River. The New York and Brooklyn Bridge, opened in May 1883, was one of the triumphs of the age, but its immense success inspired a demand for more crossings, including plans for tunnels.
Many of the proposals came from fianancier Austin Corbin, president of the Long Island Railroad. At this time the Long Island operated the only ‘rapid transit’ route in Brooklyn, but it was badly compromised by coming in no farther than the corner of Atlantic Ave and Flatbush Ave, and by operating in private right of way at street level in the middle of Atlantic Ave. Passengers had to transfer to street railways to get to the center of Brooklyn, and passengers for New York from Jamaica and points east found it more convenient to ride to Long Island City and take boats. When the Brooklyn Bridge opened, Corbin announced his plans for the Brooklyn and Long Island Trunk Line Railroad, to run from New York over the bridge and then by elevated railway through city streets and along the Atlantic Ave right of way to the city line.50 But the bridge authorities would not allow steam trains on the bridge, and opened a cable railway in September 1883, using large cars similar to those on the elevated railways.
With the bridge route unavailable, Corbin formed the Brooklyn and Long Island Cable Railway in 1884, to build an elevated railway from South Ferry (the foot of Atlantic Ave) to the Long Island terminal and again onward by elevated to Jamaica.51 When the courts ruled that an elevated railway would need to be chartered under the Rapid Transit Act, Corbin incorporated a rapid transit company in 1886, the Long Island Elevated Railway, to build the same route.52 But then he abandoned the plan. The two elevated railway companies that had been battling for franchises since the 1870s had finally got moving after the bridge opened. The Brooklyn Elevated Railway opened in May 1885 from a station a block away from the bridge terminal, connected to it by an elevated walkway. In 1888 the Brooklyn Elevated opened a second bridge terminal at Sands St, reached via Myrtle Ave and Adams St, and the Kings County Elevated Railway opened their terminal over Fulton St. One of the Brooklyn Elevated routes, the Fifth Ave El, stopped at the Long Island Railroad terminal at Flatbush Ave, thus providing Long Island riders a rail route to Manhattan but with two changes of train, from 1889. The Kings County Elevated’s main line in Fulton St ran parallel to Atlantic Ave just two blocks away.53 Some of the pressure was off on the Brooklyn terminal, but what about Long Island City?
Bridge and tunnel crossings from Long Island City were proposed a few times in the 1880s. In 1887 banker Walter S Gurnee and incorporated the New York and Long Island Railroad to build a railway under the East River. Gurnee had backed the Greenwich St elevated years earlier, and other proponents included Thomas Rutter, engineer on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad tunnels in Baltimore, and Frank Hain, later General Superintendant of the Manhattan Railway. Austin Corbin claimed no involvement, but the railway would have offered a connection, with change of trains, from the Long Island’s main terminal to points in New York. The company’s original charter proposed a tunnel under 38th St in New York, with connections to New York Central and Hudson River Railroad at Grand Central Depot and at 30th St and Ninth Ave, and also to the Hudson Tunnel in the vicinity of Washington Square. This was during Haskin’s last revival of the tunnel.54
The New York and Long Island route was changed in 1890 to state that it would connect with the Long Island Railroad tracks, and then run across the East River and under 42nd St, connecting with the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad at Grand Central and at Tenth Ave. Further changes of route in January 1892 explicitly connected the tunnel railway to both Long Island railway lines (the old main via Woodside, and the ‘Montauk’ main line alongside Newtown Creek). During this time William Steinway, of the piano company, took a financial interest in the company and proposed to operate it as an electric railway. Construction started in May 1892 at a shaft in Long Island City, but work was slow because a spring kept forcing water into the shaft. In December there was a tremendous explosion on the surface as workers were trying to thaw out dynamite, killing five people and damaging many buildings. Lawsuits put the contractor into bankruptcy and the Panic of 1893 forced the end of work in February 1893. No more than the shaft had been built. Work was resumed in 1905 with the plan of using the tunnels for Long Island City streetcars and terminating at Grand Central. Following a series of legal and political manueverings the Steinway Tunnel was opened in 1913 as a subway line.54
In 1890 Austin Corbin returned to the idea of extending the Long Island’s Brooklyn route to New York. He hired English engineer Charles M Jacobs, who would soon make his name as a tunnel engineer in New York. Corbin now proposed to tunnel under the East River from the foot of Atlantic Ave to the Battery in New York and then onward under the Hudson River to the Central Railroad of New Jersey terminal in Jersey City, which was used also by the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad and the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. For this project Corbin created the Metropolitan Underground Railway. Surveys, borings, and thorough investigations were made, Jacobs recalled in 1910, but Corbin changed his mind about the routing.55 Officials of the very profitable Pennsylvania Railroad were looking for a way to improve their terminal facilities at Exchange Place, Jersey City. In 1891 they raised a mile of main line in downtown Jersey City onto an elevated structure and rebuilt the terminal for the second time, but this was still not enough. Even while the Pennsylvania was involved in a proposal for a huge Hudson River railway bridge to midtown, a tunnel to lower Manhattan was also being discussed. This would fit well with Corbin’s plans, and the Pennsylvania had the money to build the Hudson tunnel.56
Corbin was also interested in rapid transit in New York and was one of those making proposals to the Rapid Transit Commission in 1891. Jacobs wrote about it in 1910. In conjunction with schemes for river tunnels, complete plans for rapid transit subways for New York City, very much on the line of the present rapid transit subways, were also prepared for Mr Corbin by the writer. These plans provided a system of deep tunnels in rock, entirely below the plane of quicksand, and at the Battery the lines were to connect directly into the tunnels to Long Island and New Jersey, respectively, and the stations throughout, where the rock was at a deep level, were to be fitted with elevators, … using private property on each side of the street at station locations— one side for north-bound and the other side for south-bound traffic. These plans were submitted to the first Rapid Transit Commission, and, after long consideration, were rejected by that Commission because they provided for the construction of the tunnels by a private company, notwithstanding Mr. Corbin gave the Commission assurances of ample financial means to carry the work to completion.57
At just this moment, the practicality of river tunnels was suddenly proved by the successful construction of a tunnel under the East River. It was not a railway tunnel. The East River Gas Company was organized to supply gas in Long Island City, but around the start of 1892 the company got the rights from the state legislature to supply gas to New York. The company hired Charles M Jacobs in May to make plans for a tunnel from the works at Ravenswood to 71st St, passing under the two channels of the East River and Blackwell’s Island (now Roosevelt Island). Jacobs took cores on both shores, but only drillings in the river bed, because the current in the river (really a strait) made it too difficult to take cores. All indications were that the proposed tunnel would be through bedrock all the way, which would make it fairly simple to tunnel the river. Wasting no time, the company took bids and awarded a contract in June 1892, and work started by the end of the month.58
The tunnel proved much more difficult than expected. Spring water running into the Ravenswood shaft was the least of the problems. The rock was not solid all the way, and compressed air had to be used from February 1893, but Jacobs resisted using a shield. When pressure was taken off the completed sections in April 1893 the tunnels began to leak, and Jacobs determined that the brick-lined tunnel would need to be backed with cast-iron plates to maintain the integrity of the tunnel. Sometime later the contractor refused to continue without additional pay, the work being much more difficult than originally stated, and was taken off the job. Jacobs carried on with workmen hired by the gas company itself. The company tried to continue work through the panic of 1893 but finally had to stop in August. During the interval Jacobs finally decided to use a shield, which was installed on the New York side in November. Work from the Ravenswood side had been much delayed, and while air pressure was put on from August 1893, Jacobs did not put in a shield there until about January 1894. Work then progressed quickly from both sides, and the tunnel was holed through in July 1894. Gas mains were laid through the tunnel before the end of the year. This tunnel is still in use today and is owned by the Consolidated Edison Company.58
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Following the digression into New York rapid transit Austin Corbin again turned to the idea of a tunnel from Brooklyn. By June 1892 he had settled on building a tunnel from Flatbush Ave terminal under Flatbush Ave, Fulton St, Pineapple St, the East River, Maiden Lane and Cortlandt St in New York, and the Hudson River, to the Pennsylvania’s terminal at Exchange Place. Corbin incorporated the New York and New Jersey Underground Railway in New Jersey and the New York, New Jersey and Eastern Railroad in New York. The same month, President George Roberts of the Pennsylvania appointed engineer Samuel Rea to research solutions to the Hudson crossing problem, and in his report in October one of the options Rea proposed was a rapid transit tunnel from Exchange Place to lower Manhattan and continuing to Brooklyn. This was of course the same as Corbin’s plan, so in December 1892 Corbin went to speak with Roberts about ideas to connect the two railways. The two tunnel companies were merged into the Brooklyn, New York and Jersey City Terminal Railway in May 1893, and franchises were applied for. The plan died in the Panic of 1893.59
Besides the Brooklyn tunnel, Corbin was still interested in a Long Island City tunnel as well. Charles M Jacobs recalled in 1910 that Corbin wanted a tunnel to get better facilities for handling the baggage and express matter of the Long Island Railroad and the Long Island Express Company across the East River … In 1893 an investigation was made for such a tunnel, to be of similar size to the East River Gas Tunnel (8 by 10 ft), solely for the purpose of handling baggage and express matter. Investigation was made and estimates prepared, but the cost was considered to be prohibitive in view of the possible earnings solely from the handling of baggage and express, and the matter was not considered further. 60 Jacobs worked on these plans at the same time that he was supervising the gas tunnel.
Austin Corbin died suddenly in a carriage accident in June 1896. Within four years majority ownership of the Long Island Railroad was bought up by the Pennsylvania Railroad, effective May 1900.61 This soon led to an enormous construction project connecting the two railways by tunnels under the Hudson and East Rivers with a joint station at 33rd St, namely Penn Station. But there was still a need for crossings to lower Manhattan for business travel.
The City of Brooklyn appointed a commission for the relief and improvement of Atlantic Avenue in May 1896, very shortly before Corbin died. The object of much agitation was to relocate the railway off street level into tunnels or elevated railways. Under subsequent state law effective May 1897 a Board of Atlantic Avenue Improvement was appointed, including the president and vice president of the Long Island Railroad. The cost was to be shared half and half by the city and the railway. The law linked the ‘improvement’ to construction of a tunnel under the East River to Maiden Lane in New York. Accordingly the Long Island Railroad again sought franchises, finally gaining approval in New York in 1899 but not in Brooklyn. A new company, the New York and Long Island Terminal Railway, was created to build the tunnel route if approval was granted. The company’s engineer was J Vipond Davies, an associate of Charles M Jacobs. After much lobbying a law was passed in 1901 separating the Atlantic Ave project from the tunnel. The Atlantic Ave ‘improvement’ was constructed from 1901 to 1907, comprising the below-grade Flatbush Ave terminal, a tunnel, an elevated railway, and another tunnel, as far as Stone Ave in East New York. The idea of an East River tunnel was abandoned in 1902 when the City of New York— now including Brooklyn— announced plans to extend the subway, then under construction, to Brooklyn, ending at the Long Island Railroad’s terminal. This subway was opened in 1908.62
The need for a Hudson crossing from Exchange Place to lower Manhattan remained. It would finally be provided by the company that revived Haskin’s tunnel.
The New York and Jersey Railroad
For several years from 1891 the Hudson Tunnel was in litigation. The holders of the first mortgage met in London in April 1893 and decided that if they raised $1,000,000 it would complete the tunnel. The north tunnel was about 4,000 feet long from New Jersey and needed just 1,500 feet to reach the 150 feet built from New York. But they knew that the last part included a section through rock near the New York side.63
In July 1893 Pearson and Son asked the Court of Chancery in London to appoint a receiver.64 It took a long time. Pearson sent Charles M Jacobs in 1895 to evaluate the tunnels, and at that time they were pumped out, possibly only at the Jersey City end. Jacobs reported the north tunnel to be in good condition.65 At the end of 1895 lawyer and financier John Dos Passos suggested to the press that the company might soon be reorganized and work restarted.66
The suits continued to wind through the courts in New Jersey. Finally the New Jersey property was foreclosed on June 15, 1899, to the only bidder, Frederic B Jennings of Stetson, Jennings and Russell, attorneys for the American bondholders, for just $300,000, subject to a lien of $62,000 by Pearson and Son. The next day the New York property was foreclosed to Jennings for $100,000.67 Jennings paid Pearson the lien and ownership was now secure.
Dewitt C Haskin died on July 17, 1900, missing the new century and the completion of his tunnel.68
Jennings and associates incorporated the New York and Jersey Railroad on February 11, 1902,69 and appointed Jacobs as chief engineer. The president of the new company was William Gibbs McAdoo, a young corporate lawyer from Tennessee who came to New York in 1892.70 McAdoo was credited with promoting the Hudson Tunnel to a new generation of Wall St investors, the key factor leading to its completion.
The new company planned at first to operate the line with trolley cars and made plans for a ramp at the Jersey City end and an underground terminal in New York at the corner of Christopher St and Greenwich St, connecting there with the Ninth Ave El and a crosstown car line. The terminal property was acquired and part of it is still used as the entrance to Christopher St station. The trolley plan was changed in 1905 to a rapid transit railway for trains similar to those in the subway and elevated lines in New York.71 The several companies involved were consolidated into the Hudson and Manhattan Railroad in 1906,72 the name under which the tunnel was opened in 1908 and operated until 1962.
Completion of the Hudson Tunnel
The shield used by Pearson and Son was still at the end of the north tunnel and it was used to complete the job. The tunnel began to advance in October 1902 and reached the reef of rock in November. During blasting there were two blowouts stopped by dropping clay over the tunnel from scows in the river. After the rock was passed, the tunnel entered a very fluid area of silt. Five barges of clay were dumped over it, and the clay was fired from within the tunnel to bake it hard. Finally on March 11, 1904, the tunnel met the bulkhead of the short tunnel built years earlier from the New York side, and the first tunnel under the Hudson River had been completed.73 A party of twenty officials walked through from Jersey City to New York, by way of the shafts and the air locks, parts of the tunnel being still under air pressure. In the ceremonies that day President McAdoo thanked the 200 workmen currently employed and gave them two days off with pay.74
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The old Pearson shield was about 18 feet in diameter, about 3 feet larger than what was now needed for trolley cars or rapid transit trains. Hudson and Manhattan engineer J Vipond Davies wrote in 1909, After this tunnel was completed … it was internally lined with concrete to the same internal diameter as the other tunnels throughout, and this difference in size enabled many of the irregularities in the earlier construction to be straightened out and adjusted.75 Jacobs said that the the defective iron lining installed in the early stages of the work was rendered efficient76 by the reinforced concrete lining. But for some reason the inner lining was not carried through the very earliest part of the tunnel from before July 1880, so the brick lining and the taller ceiling are still visible today.
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A shield was installed for the first time in the south tunnel at the Jersey City end in July and August 1903, and it began to move on September 22. Because of Pearson’s experience in pushing forward through the silt without digging, the new shield was made even stronger and with more hydraulic jacks, sixteen, in order to push as much as possible. Amazingly the engineers found that they did not need to open the doors at all. The silt moved aside as the shield was pushed forward. With no need to dig or even remove waste silt, the heading advanced more than 60 feet a day, an incredible rate compared to Haskin’s proud 3 feet. Work was stopped from April to August 1904 while the company negotiated with the Board of Rapid Transit Railroad Commissioners over an extension of the line through Christopher St and Sixth Ave. Then after another year’s work the tunnel was holed through into the Morton St shaft on August 25, 1905.77
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The franchise to extend the route to 33rd St and Sixth Ave was granted in February 1905. This portion under land was built from the Morton St shaft by shield tunnelling as far as 12th St and then by cut and cover to the end. From the shaft the tunnels had to take a slight reverse curve into the line of Morton St, and then sharp curves of 150 feet and 168.5 feet radius turning from Morton St to Greenwich St to Christopher St. These curves permanently determined the maximum dimensions of cars on the Hudson and Manhattan Railroad.78
On the New Jersey side, after passing the 15th St shaft the route divides, running north to Hoboken and south to Erie (Pavonia), and to avoid grade crossings the junction was to be built on two levels. Two other junctions were needed nearby to connect the two branches to each other forming a triangle. Jacobs, the engineer in charge, described the change made in the south tunnel. As there was not sufficient distance between the ends of the old tunnels at the Fifteenth Street shaft and the first switch enlargement, in which to separate the tunnels so that one could be carried above the other without the use of excessive gradients, it became necessary to rebuild the first 500 feet of the old south tunnel adjoining the shaft. This was accomplished by erecting a shield in the same shield-chamber that was built for the south-tunnel river-shield at the end of the old brick tunnel, and driving westward towards the shore, using a slightly descending gradient ; as the old tunnel was on a very sharp ascending gradient, they quickly separated, the shield cutting through the bottom and sides of the old brick tunnel until the outside of the iron lining entirely cleared the invert of the old brick lining, and passed on under the bottom of the shaft. To do this a bulkhead and air lock had to be installed, to keep the work under pressure while the south tunnel was partially opened, and access to all this was only from the Morton St shaft a mile away. On the original level, the shaft was put under pressure so that an opening could be made in the west side to extend the north tunnel by shield to the junction.79
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The two-level junction was constructed of reinforced concrete at the surface and then sunk as a caisson into position. Doing so avoided the problems of widening a shield tunnel in the waterlogged soil. This caisson was built from March to June 1906. The lower level was completely built and sunk partway and then the top level was built over it. The junction is still known and marked as ‘Caisson 1’. Two shields moving west from the 15th St shaft were then run into the caisson, the lower shield always a little ahead of the upper, carried through, and run out the far side to continue the tunnels on two levels curving to the north to Caisson 2. They were again carried through Caisson 2 and continued toward Hoboken, meeting shields coming down from the terminal in June and August 1907. Lengths of tunnel were then dug with shields south and west from Caisson 1 and 2 until the opening of the first segment of the railway stopped work. When Caisson 3 was completed work was continued from there.80
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There is a mysterious extra junction built out of the shield tunnel immediately west of Caisson 1. Jacobs says only this: After caisson No 1 had been completed it was found necessary to arrange so that an additional pair of tracks could be connected with the tunnels immediately west of this caisson. This rendered necessary the construction of an enlargement from the tunnel sufficient to admit of the placing of the junction switches and tracks when required.81 Old plans show that the junction was for a route to Newark82 that was under consideration for just a very short time.
The Hudson Tunnel open for passengers
The old tunnels started by Haskin were part of the first segment of the Hudson and Manhattan Railroad to be opened to the public. On February 25, 1908, train service began between 19th St at Sixth Ave and Hoboken.
The Hudson and Manhattan Railroad constructed a second Hudson crossing beginning in September 1905. It ran from the Pennsylvania Railroad terminal at Exchange Place to a terminal at Church St and Cortlandt St, where the company built twin office towers called Hudson Terminal. This tunnel fulfilled half the idea proposed in 1892 for a tunnel from Jersey City to New York to Brooklyn, and the city’s ‘Contract 2’ subway extension provided the route to Brooklyn, although passengers going through had to walk one block outside in Manhattan to make the full journey. Both lower Manhattan tunnels were under construction at the same time, and they were opened in January 1908 (subway) and July 1909 (H & M).83
The former Hudson and Manhattan Railroad is operated today as PATH (Port Authority Trans Hudson). Trains running westbound from 33rd St to Hoboken and Jersey City run through the old north tunnel that was the product of so much hard work and tragedy. Riders can look out the front window of trains and see the locations of the Morton St shaft and 15th St shaft at each end of the river tunnel, plainly marked as emergency exits. Because of the uniform concrete lining it is not possible to distinguish the successive sections built by the New York and Jersey Railroad, Pearson and Son, and Haskin after the collapse.
But the oldest section built before the collapse is still easy to spot. A sharp reverse curve right and left leads into a tunnel with brick lining and a taller elliptical shape, a little crooked, but still solid and watertight, the legacy of Haskin and the men who braved the unknown and started the Hudson Tunnel. More than twenty years older than the first subway in Manhattan, this length of the Hudson Tunnel is the oldest existing part of the New York area rapid transit network.
The Hudson Tunnel today
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