The Historic Steam Railways of NYC

The great necessity of New York is some sure means of rapid transit between the upper and lower parts of the island. The average New Yorker spends about an hour or an hour and a half each day in going to and from his business, and an immense amount of valuable time is thus lost, which loss is often increased by delays. For the past few years the citizens of the metropolis have been seeking to procure the construction of a road from the Battery to Harlem to be operated by steam, and it seems probable now that a few years more will witness the completion of such a road. Public opinion is divided between two plans, and it is probable that both will be tried, and that the city will soon contain a steam railway elevated above the street and a similar road under the ground.

The elevated railway has already been tried to a limited extent, but is not regarded with much favor by the citizens. This line extends along Greenwich street and Ninth avenue, from the Battery to Thirtieth street. The track of this road is laid on iron posts, at an elevation of about sixteen feet above the street. The cars are so constructed that it would be impossible for one of them to fall from the track. Dummy engines furnish the motive power. The running time from the present southern terminus at Courtland street to Thirtieth street, a distance of about three miles, is fifteen minutes. The road is pronounced perfectly safe by competent engineers, but the structure appears so light to the unscientific public that nine out of ten view it with distrust, and it is doubtful whether it will ever meet with the success the company hope for.

The only other elevated road at present contemplated, and for which a liberal charter has been obtained, is known as the Viaduct Road. It is proposed to build this on a series of arches of solid masonry, the streets to be spanned by light bridges. The line of the road is to be in the centre of the blocks along its route. The estimated cost of the road, including the sum to be paid for the right of way, is about $80,000,000; and it seems certain that this immense cost will necessitate radical changes in the original plan.

The underground plan has many supporters in the city, these basing their hopes upon the success achieved by the underground railway of London. There are several plans proposed for an underground road. The first is known as the Arcade Railway. It is proposed by the friends of this plan to excavate the streets along which it passes to a depth of about twenty feet, or in other words, to make a new street twenty feet below the level of those already in existence. This new street is to be provided with sidewalks, gas-lamps, telegraph lines, hydrants, etc., and upon the sidewalks the basements of the present buildings will open, thus adding an additional and valuable story to the existing edifices. The lower street is to be arched over with solid masonry, rendered water-tight, and supported by heavy iron columns. Large glass plates, similar to those now used for lighting the cellars of stores, will be placed in the sidewalks of the street above, and will furnish light to the lower street during the day. The roadway of the lower street will be entirely devoted to the use of railway trains. The proposed route of the Arcade line is from the Battery, under Broadway, to Union Square. Thence the eastern branch is to extend along Fourth avenue to the Harlem River, while the western is to continue along Broadway to the junction of Ninth avenue, whence it will be prolonged to the northern end of the island.

The Underground Railway proper is to extend from the lower to the upper end of the island, and is to pass through one or more tunnels, after the manner of the Underground Railway of London.

The third plan for an underground road, is the only one that has yet been attempted. It is known as the “Beach Pneumatic Tunnel.” A small section, several hundred yards in length, has been constructed under Broadway, and the company owning it claim that they have thus demonstrated their ability to construct and work successfully a road extending from the Battery to the upper end of the island.

The tunnel is eight feet in diameter. It commences in the cellar of the marble building of Messrs. Develin & Co., at the southwest corner of Broadway and Warren street, and extends under the great thoroughfare to a point a little below Murray street. It is dry and clean, is painted white, and is lighted with gas. It passes under all the gas and water pipes and sewers. The cars are made to fit the tunnel, and are propelled by means of atmospheric pressure. A strong blast of air, thrown out by means of an immense blowing machine, is forced against the rear end of a car, and sends it along the track like a sail-boat before the wind. This current of course secures perfect ventilation within the car. The company claim that they will be able, when their road is completed, to transport more than 20,000 passengers per hour, each way.


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