Begun in 1846, the West Side Freight Line was the only freight railroad directly into Manhattan.
Above old photos of the West Side Freight Line. These are from a brochure published by the New York Central in 1934 and re-issued by the West Side Rail Line Development Foundation (author was a former member and supporter of this foundation).
West Side Freight Line 30th Street Station and West Side Freight Line Passengers
1861. The Abraham Lincoln family pulled into New York City’s 30th Street Station. At about 3:00 p.m. on February 19. 1865. Lincoln’s funeral train left on the journey from Washington to Springfield. That was the terminal for the Hudson River RR. When Vanderbilt bought it as well as the NY & Harlem RR, they built the connection between Spuytin Duyvil and Mott Haven and routed most Hudson River RR trains into Grand Central Depot.
The NYC&HR local passenger service was pretty much a connection at Spuyten Duyvil arrangement from the opening of the original Grand Central from the timetables I’ve seen.
( See June 26, 1921 Employee Timetable)
The opening of the Elevated reduced traffic considerably; the opening of the IRT finished off most ridership; the trolley and El, Trolley/IRT was quite a bit cheaper. A Nickel could get you all the way downtown from 125th St (especially on the IRT) — without the change at 30th, for example.
Somewhere along the line, I had understood that this limited passenger service was eliminated in 1918 during WW1. However, that was a temporary measure as seen by the 1921 timetable. One mystery solved. Tommy Meehan sent me a newspaper article from January 13, 1918 that explains it to be only temporary.
I am going to break down what little research is available into several categories
(1) What we know about West Side Freight Line passenger trains.
(2) Great facts thanks to Tommy Meehan
(3) Remaining mysteries about West Side Freight Line passenger trains.
(4) Other (cool?) stuff about the West Side Freight Line.
What we know about West Side Freight Line passenger trains
There was a passenger train called the “Dolly Varden”, a local train leaving 30th Street station on the west side going to Spuyten Duyvil. “This train became such a symbol both to railroaders and West Siders that for years it was continued on the time-table after it actually ceased to operate.”
I don’t know for sure why NYC kept those passenger trains on the West Side up to the 1930’s, but there were probably several reasons:
1. To carry employees down to 60th and 30th Streets, at least until the subway was put into service.
2. NY State Public Service Commission would not approve discontinuance.
3. Some U. S. Mail might have been handled locally, and maybe some company mail.
4. After they quit hauling passengers, and even into Penn Central, there were first class trains running between 30th St and Spuyten Duyvil for mail and express. No’s. 3 and 13 went to Chicago, and the 800 series trains ran to and from Harmon with head-end traffic to and from the west.
5. To preserve the franchise for passengers on the West Side. From a story that was in the June 15 1931 edition of the New York Times. The occasion was the final use of steam on the line. The final paragraph mentions the West Side passenger service, though it doesn’t seem very accurate. It sounds like what the reporter actually saw was a milk transfer run with a rider car attached for the crew. I do believe it is accurate insofar as the Tri-power units were probably used to haul the passenger trains. I’d be very surprised if they used MU cars, even to tow them, but of course it’s possible.
From a September 2007 discussion in
Daily except Sunday in 1934,
lv 30th St (0.00 miles) 0700
pass 60th St (1.66) 0715
depart 130th St (5.24) 0726
depart 152nd St (6.31) 0731
depart Fort Washington (7.48) 0737
depart Inwood (9.08) 0742
arrive Spuyten Duyvil (10.06) 0747 and the other three trains are similar.
Photo was taken about mid-block on W. 30th Street between 10th and 11th Avenues. It is looking northeast, with W. 31st Street out of sight to the extreme left.” That’s 10th Avenue in the background, of course. It is dated, June 1931, showing the area after demolition. Note the end of a passenger car visible in the left corner, though the windows may be boarded up, it’s hard to tell.
Great facts thanks to Tommy Meehan.
The two points that interest me the most is when the West Side Line passenger service stopped running and when the 30th Street station was closed.
In the R&LHS-NY Chapter monthly newsletter we have been running a multi-part series about efforts by the city to relocate the West Side Line, to get it off city streets, this started in earnest in 1905. Unfortunately it’s a very complex story, very political, and we’re only up to 1918! As a historical society we don’t accept anything as fact unless it can be documented, though.
There are obviously a couple of tracks still in place so if the Central was still running the West Side service, did they have a makeshift boarding area located there? Along W. 31st Street? It seems likely but without some documentation I wouldn’t presume it.
I read the TRAINS forum thread you sent. While there was obviously a lot of bad information as to the West Side Line, based on uninformed speculation, I was surprised to see the claim by TimZ that he has a 1934 ETT showing the passenger trains were still running. I’m acquainted with Tim and he is very reliable. If he says he has an 1934 ETT showing the passenger trains were still running, for me that is pretty convincing.
A former NYC employee once said he would guess the West Side trains stopped running around 1931 as that was when the old terminal area at W. 30th Street & 10th Avenue was leveled to make way for the USPS Morgan Annex.
Btw, the street running along Eleventh Avenue was never equipped with third-rail. That would’ve been very risky and the City of New York would never have permitted it. Another fact, about the slow running times, don’t forget these trains had to be proceeded by a man on horseback. If that didn’t slow them down enough, than you had vehicle traffic along Eleventh Avenue.
Remaining mysteries about West Side Freight Line passenger trains.
Note: much of our material is from various blogs and forums. As you can tell, some of the facts seem like heresay.
Earlier in 1893 a Rapid Transit proposal would have elevated the West Side line of NY Central from 30th to 69th and connected it to the 9th Avenue El.
In 1893 the Times says on the main line the 59th Street station was never used, 72nd Street once a day, 86th Street and 110th Street stations “semi-occasionally” used…this he also proposed for Rapid Transit expansion.
A local was scheduled to leave 30th St in the morning; 20-40 minutes after it arrived Spuyten Duyvil a local was scheduled from there to 30th St. Ditto in the afternoon– the equipment (whatever it was) was at 30th St overnight and midday, far as we can tell from the TT. While there were no engine servicing facilites at Spuyten Dyvil, there was a fully equipped yard at Morris Heights.
The elevated line from 30th St to the so-called St John’s Park terminal opened in 1934, but the depressed line from 60th St down to 35th didn’t open until June 1937. So all trains ran in the street on 11th Ave until then– so no third rail south of 59th St until 1937 at least.
My understanding was that the entire line was grade separated by the time the elevated St. John’s Park Terminal opened, but that some street trackage paralleling the new line remained in place to serve specific customers not served by the elevated line. I think the electrification to 30th Street went into place with the grade separation. Indeed, I think some of the street trackage remained in place almost up to WWII and perhaps during the war.
I understand the electrification extended down to 30th street for trains to the P. O. annex.
Eventually third rail got down to 30th St or thereabouts, but in 1935 the line from 60th St to 30th St was still street running, on 11th Ave.
Thanks for an authoritative answer. I was wrong about l93l, then it was ’34 or ’35. Possibly when Riverside Park was extended over the tracks and the West Side Highway built north of 72nd street the service was abandoned, and this was 1935. Understand the electrification extended down to 30th street for trains to the P. O. annex, and I suspect mu equipment was normal for the two daily trains each way.
The 1919 and 1934 employee timetables shows two passenger trains each way on the West Side: a morning round trip 30th To Spuyten Duyvil and back, and ditto in the afternoon. They’re not in the 1938.
Other (cool?) stuff about the West Side Freight Line.
From a 1939 NY Times article on the reopening of 11th Avenue north of 41st after they finally removed the rails…very interesting history, of the loss of color now that the “10th Avenue Cowboys” were gone (the guys on horseback with red flags to warn of the locomotive behind)..Kids played on the freights and got hurt…the street was the lesser known improvement, 8th and 6th Avenue being better known (removal of Els)
Then an interesting letter to the editor from 12/13/1904 suggesting that the New York Central build a new bigger station at 30th Street, route most traffic there and build an underground passage to the new Pennsylvania Station for connections south….I wonder if this was really a letter writer, his name was Constant Reader.
I know that when the New York and Northern (later the Putnam Division) terminated outside the Polo Grounds it connected with and transferred baggage onto the New York Elevated Rail Road…..the southern point, with a NY& Northern ticket office and baggage handling, was at 30th Street on the 9th Avenue El, passengers would come down using that amazingly high S curve at the NW corner of Central Park.
August 23, 1902 at 96th Street where the New York Central tracks skirted Riverside Park, a northbound train hit two running children, 4 year old William Achnitz of 807 Amsterdam. 7 year old Julia Myers of 72 West Ninety-eighth may get well, doctors said. “The train which did the cruel work was the “Dolly Varden,” of cheerful name but murderous record, and is the sole relic of the hundreds of Hudson River Railroad passenger trains which used to thunder up and down the same roadbed to the old Thirtieth Street Station in the days when the Park Avenue tunnel was still a dream and when their course lay all the way past wooded hills and pasture land, instead of the crowded city which the “Dolly Varden” traverses in these latter days.”..The children had been on the old dock (this is 1902) and heading back…the train was moving slow but they panicked. The policeman road the train to the end of its run at the main line junction at Spuyten Duyvil, and then arrested the engineer, William Laspointe.
Here we are in July 1893 and the West Side Gang made another raid Friday afternoon on the “Dolly Varden” train of the New-York Central Railroad, running between Thirtieth Street station and Spuyten Duyvil. ..half a dozen were caught and are now on Blackwell’s Island serving two months
About 3 o’clock, as the train stopped at a crossing at Eleventh Avenue and Thirty-third…a score of rough young men jump on the train…they annoyed the passengers by singing…they wouldn’t pay a fair, and started abusing the conductor and brakeman, threatening to attack them, they jumped out the windows and ran down the platforms but were apprehended…they had been very obnoxious it reads……they had been very obnoxious it reads…this after the train was stopped by alerted police at 59th Street & 11th, “for a moment there was a lively time on the ‘Dolly Varden'” The article was titled Ruffians Threaten Trainmen
Dolly Varden is a character in Charles Dickens’ novel “Barnaby Rudge” quite flirtatious her favorite attire a green dress with pink polka dots.
A Dolly Varden is also a fish in the Arctic Char family, they are dark with light colored spots…..the Dolly Varden fish was once considered a “trash fish” and a threat to salmon as it was thought the char ate salmon fry and eggs. Bounties were put on the Dolly Vardens. 6 million were killed 1921 to 1940…people were paid by the tails they turned in…Later the US Bureau of Fisheries discovered that most of the tails were from trout and coho salmon…Dolly Vardens coexisted with salmon for thousands of years…the declines were man-made…Dolly Vardens are a distinct species it is now known…they are the exact opposite coloration from trout and salmon who have dark spots on light background bodies, but are protected by US Fish and Wildlife under a “similarity of appearance” provision of the Endangered Species Act because the Dolly Varden resembles the threatened Bull Trout, a threatened species (but it is opposite…oh, never mind…) Dolly Varden= Salvelinus malma
Dolly Varden is a music group from Chicago, “forging roots music that mixes rock and pop and folk and country in a manner that is heavy on the heartfelt and light on the cliched” since 1995, or so it reads, supposedly they have sparked a “veritable alt-country revival” The band is named after the fish, not the Dickens’ character.
Dolly Varden was the name of an early anti-political party movement in the 1800’s, anti-bossism was another of their causes., it was strongest in Nevada. The Dolly Varden mine was discovered in (present Elko County) June 1869. It became one of the richest copper mines in southern Elko County (!)..a drop in prices closed the mine until 1905..by 1927 it was abandoned..it is a ghost town today.
“The West Side Rail Line”
Now when you ride Amtrak into Manhattan from upstate New York, you get to see what’s on the other side of the Spuyten Duyvil bridge. Since passenger service ended around World War I, not many of us had a chance to ride this section of track. The former West Side Freight Line of the New York Central was earmarked by New York State and Amtrak as the vital link in the proposed connection between Albany and Penn Station. The northern 9.7 mile open cut, tunnel and at-grade sections as far as the new Javits Convention Center were rehabilitated for this service. The southern 1.5 mile elevated section wasn’t so lucky. At one point, in the mid-1980’s a private group (West Side Rail Line Development Foundation) wanted to operate it for short line freight and possibly tourists.
The West Side Rail Line began in 1846 when the Hudson River Railroad started construction north from a riverfront depot at Chambers Street. At the end of 1849, the Hudson River Railroad reached Poughkeepsie. The running time was 2 1/2 hours for this 55-mile trip. By 1851 trains were going as far (144 miles) as East Albany (Rensselaer) and connecting with the West. A bridge soon replaced the ferry at Spuyten Duyvil. In 1861, a new passenger terminal at 30th Street and Tenth Avenue was used first by Abraham Lincoln on the way to his inauguration. His funeral train passed that way again in 1865. The line went along the Hudson River from Spuyten Duyvil to 60th Street. It then took Eleventh Avenue to 33rd Street; Tenth Avenue to West Street; south on West Street (along piers) to Canal; then inland to Hudson Street and the block-long St. John’s Terminal. In addition to the yards at 30th Street and 60th Street, there were facilities at 145th St., 41st St., and 17th Street. Because the line traveled over city streets (Tenth, Eleventh and Twelfth Avenues), the city passed an ordinance requiring trains on streets to be preceded by a person on horseback carrying a red flag (nicknamed “Tenth Avenue Cowboys”). Originally, steam was not allowed south of 30th Street. There were horsecar stops at 23rd, 14th, Christopher and West Streets. In addition, crossing watchmen were required on a 24-hour basis. Even so, this railroad route was known as “Death Avenue” because of the high number of fatalities. The steam era saw engines shrouded in sheet-metal car bodies which hid from view and muffled the motion and hissing and clanking of valve and rod, which otherwise would have awed and frightened the horse leading the procession. In 1923, five Shay geared locomotives replaced 0-4-0 and 0-6-0 steam “dummy” locomotives.
Commodore Vanderbilt’s 1869 consolidation of rail lines from New York to Buffalo resulted in most passenger service going in 1871 to his new Grand Central Depot with the West Side Rail Line becoming mostly freight. After the consolidation, suburban passenger service continued until 1917 but only went as far as Peekskill. [NOTE 12/26/2010: Newer information shows; (1) that service extended only to Spuyten Duyvil, where a commuter COULD transfer to trains as far as Peekskill and (2) service may have extended beyond 1917. This paragraph will be amended when a firm conclusion is reached] A new freight house at St. John’s Park (between Laight and Beech Streets) was opened. This terminal replaced the one at Chambers Street. This building had a statue of Commodore Vanderbilt on it which was moved to Grand Central in 1929. This station was built on the site of St. Johns Park which was owned by St. Johns Church on Varick Street (destroyed by the construction of the West Side Subway). The name was kept when a new terminal was built in 1934 because it was familiar to New Yorkers.
The West Side Line was the only freight line directly into Manhattan. By the 1890s, freight stations from Washington Market to Harlem supplied the city with fresh food and transported its manufactured goods to the rest of the nation. There were float docks in the vicinity of the 60th Street and 30th Street yards where car ferries from New Jersey landed. In 1929, between 800 and 900 cars a day in up to 30 to 35 trains went into 60th Street. Less than half of these continued south, mostly at night, in trains with a 30-car maximum. During the day, trains could have 35 cars but could not run during rush hour or on Sunday morning. South of 30th Street, trains could only have 15 cars.
In the 1920s, a city commission was formed to solve the traffic problems between automobiles and trains. The New York Central built a new freight terminal at Spring and Washington Streets (one block north of the Holland Tunnel). This terminal connected to the 30th Street Yards by means of an elevated double track line. This line crossed about 40 intersecting streets on overhead bridges. Tracks between 30th Street and the 60th Street Yards were placed in a cut between Tenth and Eleventh Avenues. City streets are carried over the line on viaducts. The cut contained a three to five track rail line. The tracks through Riverside Park were covered with an artificial tunnel, adding 32 acres of recreation space. The improvement involved the removal of 105 grade crossings and 640 buildings including one church and two schools. Tracks were finally off the streets by 1941.
Heading south from its break with the Hudson Division, the railroad ran between the Hudson River and the Henry Hudson Parkway. It went underneath the approaches to the George Washington bridge which was built in 1932. At 145th Street, the Manhattanville yard on the edge of the river had seven team/freight tracks. The line was elevated from there to about 125th Street. Any tunnels were wide enough for five tracks. The improvement project was built in conjunction with the West Side Highway. Named the Julius Miller Highway in honor of the Manhattan borough president, it originally ran to Rector Street but decay caused everything south of 60th Street to be torn down. The 60th Street yard had car float bridges, industrial sidings, a freight house, a round house, and an electric generating plant. Switches in this yard were hand-thrown. At 41st Street there was a wye as well as a stub track to several slaughter houses. Tracks began fanning out at 37th Street in anticipation of the 30th Street yard. Tenth Avenue was carried over the already-depressed 30th Street yard area on a viaduct. There were 80 yard, team and warehouse tracks in this area. Capacity of the yard was 1350 cars and there was even a Macy’s warehouse supported over the tracks. 233 buildings were demolished to provide space.
The elevated section of the West Side Freight Line ran 1.5 miles south from 34th Street. It encircled the Thirtieth Street Yard and climbed a 1.6% grade in order to have sufficient distance to overcome the difference in elevation between the viaduct and the depressed tracks to the north. The width of the elevated structure varies from 35′ to 57′. Its minimum clearance over city streets is 14′. The viaduct is of steel with concrete floor construction and the tracks are carried on stone ballast except in the former packing house district where, for sanitary purposes, concrete was used. The viaduct’s passage through buildings is a most unusual feature. In the peaked-roof Bell Labs building at Bank Street, it was necessary to support the viaduct on caissons independent of the building in order to eliminate vibrations which might affect instruments. In Greenwich Village, an outdoor mural of the 20th Century Limited hauled by a J3a Hudson, circa 1930, covers the open bays of the rail line as it passes through the West Coast apartment building. The mural was done in 1981 when the former Manhattan Refrigeration Company building on Gansevoort Street was converted to apartments.
In Chelsea, a spur served sidings in the Morgan Parcel Post Building (six tracks and necessary platforms to accommodate 36 cars at one time). A plaque on the wall of the Morgan Station, one of the nation’s largest automated mail facilities, commemorates it as the site of the 1861 passenger station of the Hudson River RR.
The viaduct provided for side tracks right to the door of industries located along the right of way (for instance, Merchants Refrigeration at 16th Street and National Biscuit Company at 18th Street) and passes directly through a number of buildings, several of which were built with this idea in mind. Trackage runs on private right-of-way west of Tenth Avenue then crosses Tenth at 17th Street. It continued alongside Washington Street through Greenwich Village to the terminal. There were frequent facing and trailing crossovers. In later years, much of this trackage was devoted to storing mail cars. St. John’s Freight Terminal, with tracks at second floor, permitted public loading and unloading to be done entirely under cover. It had 730,000 square feet of space and was served by eight tracks. It handled freight in both carload and less than carload quantities, inbound and outbound. It was a principal delivery station for “dairy freight”. This terminal covered three city blocks and was served by 14 freight elevators and three scales. 150 trucks could load or unload on the first floor. The building was three stories high with offices on the third, but could have been extended to twelve stories.
Electrification of the line south to 30th Street was accomplished as part of the 1934 improvements. This accomplished discontinuance of steam operation of trains in the city. While “S” and “T” motors appeared on the line, the main fleet of electric freight locomotives consisted of forty-two class R-2 locomotives, built by ALCO-GE in 1931, which weighed 133 tons and could deliver 3000 horsepower. Switching at 30th Street, 60th Street and on the elevated viaduct was done with diesel electric locomotives. The Central owned forty-one class DES-3 three-power box cab units. When running on third rail trackage, the locomotive could develop 1665 horsepower. The 300-horsepower diesel engine was sufficient for switching. Battery powered operation was suitable only in low horsepower situations. As well as third rail shoes, these locomotives had small pantographs. Many units remained in service until the mid-1950’s. Also used to work the yards at 30th and 60th Streets, were seven heavy steeple cab switchers, designated “Q” motors, which were built in 1926. The third rail was taken out in the 1950s after which RS-3 diesels were used extensively on the line. Freights to and from the mainline were handled frequently by ALCO FAs.
A 1950 employee timetable shows two mail trains originating daily from 30th Street Yard. Milk trains terminated at 60th Street. By 1957, scheduled milk trains had disappeared. No scheduled trains went below 30th Street as this was switching territory only. Speed limit on the viaduct was 10 miles per hour. North to the drawbridge ranged between 30 and 45 MPH. The entire line contained numerous restrictions for both cars and engines.The Great Depression began the decline of freight traffic. There was a surge during World War II but truck competition forced the closing of the Spring Street Terminal in the 1950s and cutting the line back to Leroy Street. When the New York Central RR was merged into the Penn Central, the West Side Freight Line still served the Gansevoort Market and New York’s printing and garment industries. The Central tried many innovations such as the Flexi-Van site at 151st Street for handling of the mails. As trucks captured more business, the line was removed south of Bank Street to allow construction of the West Village housing. In 1991, the line was cut back another five blocks to Gansevoort Street. When the Penn Central went bankrupt, many plans were drawn up to sell its vast West Side real estate holdings. Most of the real estate survived until Conrail took over freight operations in 1976.
In 1979, the 30th Street Yards were sold to the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority for the construction of the Convention Center and the Long Island RR’s West Side Storage Yard. The elevated portion of the line (known as Conrail’s West 30th Street Secondary Track) last saw a train in April, 1980 when three freight cars of frozen turkeys were delivered. Shortly thereafter, the access ramp to the elevated line was removed to allow construction of the Convention Center. When the ramp was rebuilt, service was not restored. In 1982, Conrail abandoned freight service south of 60th Street. The last train on the northern portion of the line before its recent upgrade for Amtrak was in 1983 when the “New York Times” received a load of newsprint. Upgrading the line meant rebuilding the drawbridge built in 1900 when Spuyten Duyvil Creek and the Harlem River were widened to form the Harlem River Ship Canal. Its steam-operated motor had been replaced with an electric one in 1963. It had remained out of service since 1983 when a hit-and-run collision left it in the open position and would have required extensive rehabilitation. This 610-foot bridge consists of three fixed sections – two on the Manhattan side and one on the Bronx side. They are connected by a 290-foot-long center section that pivots on a central tower and rotates almost 65 degrees to open a 100-foot channel on either side. Depending on tides, there is often only five feet of clearance from the water line to the bridge.
Amtrak and New York State spent a great deal of money on the West Side Connector Project by purchasing the line from Metro-North’s Hudson Division at Spuyten Duyvil to 34th Street and rehabilitating one then two tracks to 60 miles-per-hour passenger standards. A Penn Station connection – a tunnel under the new Long Island West Side Storage Yard – was required. Now, all Amtrak trains going to Grand Central Terminal have been rerouted to Penn Station. This provides same-station transfer between upstate and northeast corridor points. The project will cut about 15 minutes from the Albany to New York City trip.
St. John’s Park (above) was abandoned when some of the High Line ROW below Bank St. was sold for housing. But had traffic there dried up by then? Was there any debate over it at the time? The line was only about 20 years old at that time. When St. John’s was in service, there were about 8 tracks running into it– how was it switched? And what kind of stuff was shipped to St. John’s. Also, the line served Nabisco, Armour–when did they stop using the line? And did the RR serve Bell Labs (now Westbeth) whose building it ran through?
Customers on the West Side Freight Line
Customers using sidings included: Spear & Company; R C Williams & Co. (groceries); Merchants Refrigerating Co; National Biscuit; Cudahy Packing Co (meats); Armour & Co (meats); Wilson & Co (meats); Swift & Co (meats); Bell Telephone; Mahattan Refrigerating Co
Customers using the freight terminal included: Borden Co; Colod Corp; Libby,McNeil & Libby; Sealright Corp; Shannon Bros; Magazine Shippers Assn; Universal Carloading & Dist; F W Woolworth; Western Carloading.
New York City Post Office
THE old Pennsylvania Station, built in 1910 from Seventh to Eighth Avenue and 31st to 33rd Street, is still one of New York’s most famous buildings, even though it was destroyed more than 40 years ago. Equally famous is the nearby huge General Post Office. Madison Square Garden with a “Penn Station” in its basement is totally inferior architecturally to either building.
The Pennsylvania Railroad worked hard at getting the General Post Office located nearby Penn Station because revenue from carrying the mail was important. When trains began to run under the Hudson River in 1910, the new General Post Office was still in construction but was ready to handle 250 tons of mail a day with an intricate network of spiral chutes, conveyor belts, elevators, automatic tilting platforms and pneumatic tubes.
This building is famous for the quote on the front: “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.”
There is a huge lobby for patrons and the rest of the building is a lot of offices for postal departments behind old-fashioned wire-and-glass doors. The rear facade of the 1913 building – now covered by a 1935 extension to Ninth Avenue – was the side where trucks picked up and delivered mail, via a street running through the block. The connection to the West Side Freight Line was into the parcel post building.
Renamed in 1982 the James A. Farley Building, the post office is due for major renovations, if plans by the Empire State Development Corporation come through. A general design was set out by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill in 2001: slice the building in half at the middle, restoring the old vehicular opening from 31st to 33rd Street. This would leave the post office in place behind its giant colonnade but create a new midblock entryway for a subgrade station.
The proposed Moynihan Station has been called a “flagship transit facility,” a conversion of the Farley Post Office across the street from Penn Station to a commuting hub with skylights and open-air platforms.
When complete by 2010, Moynihan Station would provide 400,000 square feet of additional space for a new train station as well as hundreds of thousands of square feet for private development. Though the track and platforms at Penn will likely remain the same, LIRR riders will have new street entrances on the west side of Eighth Avenue and mid-block on 31st and 33rd Streets. The station will be easier to navigate, with broad concourses naturally lit by skylights above a high ceiling. It will connect underground to the existing Penn Station.
Citing financial difficulties, Amtrak pulled out of occupying the station and the state is currently negotiating with NJ Transit to be the main tenant. It’s also possible the LIRR could move some of its operations there. Tracks run beneath the building.
The station handles more than 550,000 daily commuters. The current Penn Station, a three-level subterranean complex, was put together after the demolition of the original building in 1963. The LIRR section was renovated 11 years ago at a cost of $190 million.
The West Shore got as close to New York City as across the river in New Jersey. Passengers took a ferry while freight went across the river on car floats. Click on the picture to see more on ferries and car floats.
NYC had two ferry routes to the West Shore Weehawhen terminal. The “regular” route was from the foot of W.42nd St. (also the terminal of the 42nd St. crosstown and 10th Ave. streetcar lines), and one to Cortlandt St., adjacent to the CNJ’s Liberty St. ferry terminal.
Adjacent to the West Shore Ferry at Cortlandt Street Manhattan was the Starrin lines shipping. They had barges full of freight cars in this area but there were no tracks in lower manhattan. These were “station carfloats” — almost like a “floating team track”, they had a (usually sheltered) platform down the middle, where cars could be unloaded and the contents moved onto shore. They were especially common on the Lower W. Side, adjacent to the old Washington Market.
Photos above of the St Johns Park Freight House. These are from a brochure published by the New York Central in 1934 and re-issued by the West Side Rail Line Development Foundation (author was a former member and supporter of this foundation).
St. John’s Park was abandoned when some of the High Line ROW below Bank St. was sold for housing. But had traffic there dried up by then? Was there any debate over it at the time? The line was only about 20 years old at that time. When St. John’s was in service, there were about 8 tracks running into it– how was it switched? And what kind of stuff was shipped to St. John’s. Also, the line served Nabisco, Armour–when did they stop using the line? And did the RR serve Bell Labs (now Westbeth) whose building it ran through?
St. John’s Park Freight House was in service in 1961, and it was out of service in 1964, based on the time-table special instructions.
In October, 1964, the easternmost (south, by geography) overhead clearance was Bell Labs on Washington Street.
St. John’s Park was switched with diesel-electric switching locomotives. When it was first opened, they were the tri-power motors. After those were retired in the 1950’s, the prevaling yard engines in New York City were Alco S-1’s and S-3’s. St. John’s Park Station was a large covered freight house for LCL freight (Less-than-Car Load). It handled all sorts of merchandise in small shipments.
The railroad never served Bell Labs. The building was there first, so the NYC had to design and construct the opening for the tracks with great care to avoid vibrations that would affect the delicate instrumentation used on research projects in the building. They used some very advanced, for the time, isolation bearings to prevent transmission of vibrations from the track to the building.
The “Close Overhead Clearances” in the time-table only shows Tracks 1 and 2 at Bell Labs. If they had a sidetrack, it would have shown as such, because it would have had to be covered. Tracks 1 and 2 were the through tracks between St. John’s Park and West 105th Street. From West 105th St to Spuyten Duyvil the two tracks became actual “Main Tracks” by time-table designation.
Yards on the High Line
All tracks under Riverside Drive were 3rd rail- 3rd rail along both wall tracks thru 72nd down thru the cut and into 33rd and into Morgan Annex. Not on the viaduct past there. Most Yard tracks at 72nd & 33rd were not 3rd rail. But there was 3rd rail into the engine house at 72nd.
In the early 1980s, and south of 61st Street, you got a train up until about 1982 when that portion closed. The “yard full of cars” quickly disappeared, and soon a typical job was a 10-car that might consist of eight newsprint cars mostly from CN but some with CV markings. The other two cars were invariably hoppers and went along for the ride. In the last two years of operation, most of the yard was lifted (that is, the 14 parallel tracks), leaving only three tracks that basically functioned as a run-around with an extra track to facilitate switching of the then sole-customer — the New York Times. Eight loads went in, eight loads went out, and as the switcher put the train back together again to run back north, the forklifts came alive and began moving the heavy rolls on the dock for their trip by truck to (43rd Street?) the old NY Times printing plant.
RS — was near RIVERSIDE CHURCH and was located not too far from the northportal of the tunnel (about 110th Street, maybe?) just beyond the curve. Essentially, this was where tracks 1 and 2 split into five tracks. Apparently, the center track was the “main” track, the two on either side of the “main” were sidings. The letters “RS” were labelled in black and white on the concrete wall on the east side of the tunnel. A large air tank stood vertically, about 12-feet tall. It was last inspected in 1962, according to the stenciling. More specifically, the south end of RS was where five tracks became four — the east-most track ended in a trailing switch (looking north), guarded by a long abandoned and rusted two-light dwarf signal. The four tracks then had a four-track double crossover (not unlike the modern CP-19, as an example). In later Conrail days, only the “center” track was used and a facing crossover was traversed by northbounds to go from the “main” track to the #1 track. By then, the #2 track had been out of service for years. By 1982, the switches for the two tracks closest to the river were largely intact, but the track in both directions were torn up. North of there, only ties could be seen as evidence of there ever having been a third and fourth track there — they ended in the weeds next to the two (main) tracks.
So the five tracks continued down from RS to West 72nd Street — these were “commonly referred to as the upper four” given the four parallel sidings that fed the yards. As the five tracks approached 72nd Street, the split apart under Riverside Park, so that the two eastern-most tracks basically ascended up grade (one going to street grade, the other going back down grade to join the tracks at the West 61Street end via a double-slip) . The two western-most (river side) tracks went towards the engine house, turntable and RR-YMCA and apparently once fed the leads for the piers (long-since torn up and disconnected, to make way for the parallel 14-track yard that replaced the switching leads for the piers). The center (or “main”) track went first to a passing siding that was used a lot in later years, and also fed a five-track double-ended yard that included a scale track. The south throat of this yard ended right under 72nd Street as the throat emerged and connected to the (north) throat of the 14-track yard.
Just south of the 14-track yard (small classification yard?) was a number of team tracks, with pavement between them to facilitate truck transfers, then south of that was a number of freight houses with high-level docks at which boxcars would be spotted for unloading. These fanned out from the five main tracks that ran the east side of the yard, and eventually merged into two tracks that went into the cut and ran down to West 30th Street.
Only the river-side track was in use since the mid seventies, and up until the 1980s there was hundreds of tons of trash and junk, in some places ankle deep and piled high in others that had accumulated over the years. In the early 1980s, Conrail began to spot gondolas on the east track to facilitate trash removal.
This whole cut actually did not exist until the 1930s, and even then in the LATE 1930s. Prior to this, the tracks ran in the street down Tenth Avenue. Along with this came the heavy elevated structure (aka the Highline) that ran south of West 30th Street to St. John’s Park. The latter terminal existed from the time of the Hudson River Railroad, but I can’t quite fathom that it was run at street level by the NYC all those years! There is an excellent article of the “West Side Line Improvement” that has been copied and placed online somewhere…(We also own a copy by virtue of contributing to the West Side Improvement Foundation)
The highline had fully ballasted tracks, and was mostly double-track. In places it ran right through buildings, some of which had a loading dock that was literally on the second floor. Usually a third track would facilitate this. Down at the Nabisco buildings at 14th Street (later became the “Manhattan Industrial Center”) the line was four-tracks wide and this section had tracks set in concrete on half-ties with a trough down the middle, looking like it was from the IND.
It is fascinating to think that most of this line was electrified with third-rail, and the high-line featured tri-mode Ingersall Rand locos that could work from third-rail, battery or from a small diesel-electric generator. The battery power allowed the locos to operate directly inside of buildings without blowing diesel fumes and without the need to run high-voltage third-rail inside the buildings. Since there were many meat-packing plants along this line, some of which had loading docks with large sides of beef hanging trackside, electric power meant that meat would NOT get coated in diesel soot.
From what I understand, the highline was last used in 1980 with a local train departing with “five loads of frozen turkey”, the line south of 61st Street last used in 1982, and the rest of the line abandoned about 1984. It wasn’t until 1991 that the r-o-w was re-used again, this time for Amtrak Empire Corridor trains connecting to Penn Station.
Cowboys On The West Side Freight Line
The Hudson River Line, opened in 1849, was a grand track that ran from New York City up the Hudson River to Albany, built at a cost of $45,316 per mile of track. Below 30th Street, railroad cars drawn by horses funneled goods from the West Side railyards to Spring Street, with stops that today’s subway riders will recognize: 23rd Street, 14th, Christopher.
In 1867, when the horses were replaced by steam engines, both traffic and speed increased. So did the inevitable conflicts arising from a street-level railroad operating in a crowded neighborhood. This lethal mix of industry and humanity earned Tenth Avenue the nickname Death Avenue.
The speedy abatement took half a century. Finally, a deadline was set: If the tracks were not raised above the street by May 1, 1908, the city would seize them. The date came and went, with neither elevation nor condemnation.
The only concession to safety that had ever been made was the recruitment of young men to ride horses one block in front of the trains, waving a red flag by day and a red light by night. These men, a total of 12 often recruited from the countryside, rode the two-mile stretch for more than 80 years starting in 1850.
Finally Mayor Jimmy Walker and Gov. Al Smith stepped in with public money to elevate the tracks. By 1933, 1,000 men had eliminated 105 street-level rail crossings, and when the elevated track was christened in June 1934.
RECAP OF WEST SIDE/NY City RAIL
The former NYC West Side Line (officially the 30th Street Branch) was operated through 1980 by Conrail. Some local jobs for the Hudson, Harlem, and Putnam lines continued to go on duty at 72nd Street Yard until at least 1974 when the yard was closed and property sold to a developer. The line was reactivated in 1991 so that Amtrak trains could access Penn Station via a new tunnel connection at 34th Street. LIRR West Side Yard opened on the site of NYC 30th Street Yard in 1987, connected to Penn Station by a new ramp.
B&O West 26th Street – float operations ended 1973/1974.
LV West 27th Street – Closed prior to 1930.
PRR West 37th Street – Closed 1975.