Transactions of the American Society of Civil Engineers, vol. LXVIII, Sept. 1910 / The New York Tunnel Extension of the Pennsylvania Railroad, / The North River Division. Paper No. 1151

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Paper No. 1151



By Charles M. Jacobs, M. Am. Soc. C. E.

These observations are written with the purpose of outlining briefly, as far as the writer was concerned, the evolution of the scheme of bringing the Pennsylvania Railroad and the Long Island Railroad into New York City, and also, as Chief Engineer of the North River Division of the New York Tunnel Extension of the Pennsylvania Railroad, to record in a general way some of the leading features of the work on this division, which is that portion of the work extending from the east line of Ninth Avenue, New York City, to the Hackensack Portal on the westerly side of the Palisades, as an introduction to the papers by the Chief Assistant Engineer and the Resident Engineers describing in detail the work as constructed.

It may be stated that, since shortly after the year 1871, when the Pennsylvania Railroad system was extended to New York Harbor through the lease of the New Jersey Lines, the officers of that company have been desirous of reaching New York City by direct rail connection.

The writer’s first connection with the tunneling of the North River was early in 1890, when he was consulted by the late Austin Corbin, President of the Long Island Railroad Company and the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad Company, as to the feasibility of connecting the Long Island Railroad with the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad (or with the Central Railroad of New Jersey, which was the New York connection of the Reading) by a tunnel from the foot of Atlantic Avenue, Brooklyn, under the Battery and New York City, and directly across the North River to the terminal of the Central Railroad of New Jersey. Surveys, borings, and thorough investigations were made, and the Metropolitan Underground Railroad Company was incorporated in the State of New York to construct this railroad. Mr. Corbin, however, was aware that, in the transportation problem he had in hand, the Central Railroad of New Jersey and the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad were not as important factors as the Pennsylvania Railroad, and, in consequence, he abandoned the scheme for a tunnel to the Central Railroad of New Jersey for a line direct to the Pennsylvania Railroad terminal in Jersey City.

Meantime, the Pennsylvania Railroad Company, as a result of its investigation of the matter, in June, 1891, thought that the most feasible project seemed to be to build tunnels for rapid transit passenger service from its Jersey City Station to the lower part of New York, connecting there with the rapid transit systems of that city, and also extending under New York on the line of Cortlandt Street, with stations and passenger lifts at the main streets and elevated railroads.

The late A. J. Cassatt, then a Director of the Pennsylvania Railroad Company, and previous thereto as General Manager and Vice-President (and later as President) of that company, was deeply interested in obtaining an entrance into New York City, but was not satisfied with the proposed rapid transit passenger tunnels which required the termination of the Pennsylvania Railroad trains at its Jersey City Station. Therefore, upon his request, in September of the same year, another study and report was made by Joseph T. Richards, M. Am. Soc. C. E., then Engineer of Maintenance of Way of the Pennsylvania Railroad, on a route beginning in New York City at 38th Street and Park Avenue on the high ground of Murray Hill, thence crossing the East River on a bridge, and passing around Brooklyn to Bay Ridge, thence under the Lower Bay or Narrows to Staten Island and across to the mainland, reaching the New York Division of the Pennsylvania Railroad at some point between Rahway and Metuchen. Mr. Cassatt also had in mind at that time a connection with the New England Railroad, then independent, but now part of the New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad system, by means of the Long Island Railroad, and a tunnel under the East River, which in later years, as the result of further consideration of the situation, has been covered by the proposed New York Connecting Railroad with a bridge across the East River and over Ward’s and Randall’s Islands.

As a result of these investigations, the late George D. Roberts, who was then President of the Pennsylvania Railroad Company, authorized an expenditure of about $25,000 for soundings to determine the nature of the strata for tunneling under water. These soundings were carefully made by Mr. Richards with a diamond drill, bringing up the actual core of all rock found in crossing the waters of New York Bay from the west to the east side and extending from the Narrows to the Jersey City Station of the Pennsylvania Railroad.

After these investigations had been made, early in 1892, Mr. Roberts expressed himself as being favorable to the undertaking, with the definite limitation that the tunnels must be for small cars doing local suburban business, and for the transfer of Pennsylvania Railroad passengers to and from New York, Brooklyn, and Jersey City, and not in any way to be tunnels for standard steam equipment, the expense for terminals and the prohibited use of coal for fuel in such tunnels not warranting any broader consideration. Under such instructions, the interests of the Pennsylvania Railroad Company for effecting a physical entrance into New York City in that year were turned over to Samuel Rea, M. Am. Soc. C. E., then Assistant to the President of that Company, who has been identified with the investigations, and the progress and construction of this work since that time, Mr. Cassatt also working in conjunction with him on the plans then and since considered by the Pennsylvania Railroad Management.

On October 5th, 1892, Mr. Rea, under special direction of President Roberts, made an extended investigation of the various routes which had then been projected for extending the system into New York City by rail or transport, and reported to Mr. Roberts that, in his opinion, because of the limitation of the tunnel scheme to rapid transit trains and the consequent transfer of passengers and traffic carried in passenger trains, and because of the drawbacks caused by the use of steam locomotives in full-sized tunnels, and the objection to cable traction or any system of transportation which had not then stood the test of years of practical service, the plan of the North River Bridge for reaching New York City and establishing a terminus therein was the best that had been evolved up to that time. The plan provided a direct rail entrance into New York City for all railroads reaching the west side of the Hudson River, and also for the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad, as well as adequate station facilities in that city. This bridge would have had one clear span of 3,100 ft. between pier heads, landing on the New York side at the foot of West 23d Street, and thence the line would have passed diagonally to the terminus at Sixth Avenue and 25th Street. The location of the terminus was subsequently changed to the vicinity of Seventh Avenue and 36th Street. The bridge was designed with three decks: The first or lower deck was to accommodate eight steam railroad tracks; the second was to have six tracks, four of which could be assigned for rapid transit trains operating with electric power, and the other two for steam railroad trains; the third deck, reached by elevators, was to be a promenade extending from anchorage to anchorage. A connection with the Eleventh Avenue tracks of the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad was to bring the trains of that road into the Union Station. The Bridge Company had a Federal charter—granted in 1888—with broad powers. Gustav Lindenthal, M. Am. Soc. C. E., was Chief Engineer, and he and Mr. Rea were corporators and among its early promoters. The Pennsylvania Railroad Management looked with favor on its construction at that time, as subaqueous tunnels, with standard railroad equipment with steam traction, were not regarded as a final or attractive solution of the problem, from the standpoint of the Management, and at a subsequent period the Pennsylvania Railroad Company agreed to use the North River Bridge provided the other roads reaching the west bank of the Hudson River would join. These roads, however, did not avail themselves of the opportunity which in its broadest scope was laid before them in 1900, after the Board of Directors of the Pennsylvania Railroad Company had approved the scheme at the instance of Mr. Cassatt.

The scheme of Mr. Corbin for a subway connection, between Flatbush Avenue and the Jersey City Station of the Pennsylvania Railroad, for local transit, took form in 1892, and, jointly with the Pennsylvania interests, railroad companies were incorporated in the respective States to build a tunnel from under the Jersey City Station, under the Hudson River to Cortlandt Street, New York City, thence under Maiden Lane, the East River, and Pineapple and Fulton Streets, Brooklyn, to a location at or near Flatbush and Atlantic Avenues. On May 9th, 1893, these companies were merged into the Brooklyn, New York and Jersey City Terminal Railroad Company, and estimates and reports on the construction were made ready by the writer in association with Mr. Rea, pending application for the franchises. The panic of 1893, occurring about that time, checked further progress on this scheme, and, before it could be revived again, other important projects for reaching New York City were given consideration.

That part of Mr. Corbin’s plan contemplating a subway under Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn to the present Flatbush Avenue Terminal was not a new idea, as a tunnel had been built in 1845 and operated under a portion of Atlantic Avenue, but later it was filled up. Plate IV, reproduced from a crayon sketch which was the property of the late William H. Baldwin, Jr., is a view of this tunnel.

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, grouped as suggested in Plate V, 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.

During the years 1892-93 Mr. Corbin was convinced that it was necessary 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 between Long Island City and New York City, and he instructed the writer to investigate and report on the feasibility of building a tunnel, along the lines of the East River Gas Tunnels, then nearly completed, between the foot of East 34th Street, New York City, and the Long Island City Station of the Long Island Railroad. 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.

While Mr. Corbin was deeply interested in the down-town river tunnels, the up-town situation was of great importance to the Long Island Railroad, and, having allied himself with Mr. Charles Pratt, they took up generally the franchise owned by Dr. Thomas Rainey for a bridge over Blackwell’s Island. Mr. Corbin became interested with Dr. Rainey in 1894, and the actual construction proceeded on this bridge. The design provided for four railroad tracks, besides highways for tracks, pedestrians, etc., with a terminal station at Third Avenue and 64th Street, New York City, which, under the franchise, was the limit to which the railroad could proceed.

At this period there were two projects for bridging the Hudson or North River: the New York and New Jersey Bridge Company at about 59th Street, and the North River Bridge Company at 23d Street, as hereinbefore described. Several studies were made by the writer, with the idea of making a rail connection between the Long Island “Rainey” bridge and a bridge over the North River. An overhead structure connection was prohibitory, as no franchise could be obtained to cross Fifth Avenue with an overhead structure. Sketches were prepared for a subway construction to connect with the bridges, but a final plan was not worked out.

The failure to carry out the joint undertaking with the Pennsylvania Railroad Company in 1893 led Mr. Corbin to revive the scheme of extending the Long Island Railroad from Flatbush Avenue, Brooklyn, to New York City, therefore consideration was given to a relocation of the route for Mr. Corbin during the early months of 1896, the idea being that the entire up-town outlet for the Long Island Railroad would be by Blackwell’s Island Bridge, and the tunnel project would give the down-town outlet.

At this time a commission had been appointed by the Legislature to investigate the conditions on Atlantic Avenue, Brooklyn, and evolve some scheme for the elimination of grade crossings on that avenue. Early in 1896 plans were prepared and presented to this Commission; first, for a subway from Flatbush Avenue Terminal for the entire distance to the limits of the City of Brooklyn at Eldert’s Lane; second, for a subway from the Flatbush Avenue Terminal to East New York, Manhattan Crossing, the railroad to remain as it previously existed at grade through the 26th Ward of Brooklyn. Each of these schemes contemplated an extension through Brooklyn to New York City at Cortlandt Street and Broadway, and surveys and borings for this work were made across the East River. In the summer of 1896, on the decease of Mr. Corbin, all projects and work were immediately stopped; but, after some months, Mr. W. H. Baldwin, Jr., when elected President of the Long Island Railroad Company, took up actively the reconsideration of the means whereby the Long Island Railroad could reach New York City. After the fullest consideration, he decided that the Blackwell’s Island Bridge was by no means a suitable, adequate, or convenient entry for the Long Island Railroad into New York City, as it involved too great a cost and altogether too rigid a connection; it was also a very inconvenient location, inasmuch as it was cut off from convenient access to the west side of New York City by Central Park.

For the down-town connection, Mr. Baldwin became enthusiastic, but he had in mind, throughout, the all-important necessity for the Long Island Railroad to reach the Pennsylvania Railroad across the North River. At the same time Mr. Baldwin took up energetically the Atlantic Avenue Improvement with the Atlantic Avenue Commission, and, on consideration, decided it was essential that it should extend through the 26th Ward above or below grade. The better plan, of course, was obviously to make it a subway throughout, but, further, the residents of this ward objected to the subway through that section, and that construction would have made any change of the Manhattan Beach Division at Manhattan Crossing very difficult for the future; besides this, the controlling factor was the absolute limitation by the City of Brooklyn of the amount of expenditure therefor in which they would participate, therefore a composite scheme, which is the plan as carried out, was agreed upon, being in part subway and part elevated. This scheme reached a focus early in 1897, and the law constituting the Board for the Atlantic Avenue Improvement was passed, with a provision in the last paragraph of the Act, for the construction of a tunnel from Flatbush Avenue Terminal under Flatbush Avenue and Fulton Street to Pineapple Street, crossing the river to Broadway and Maiden Lane (Cortlandt Street), New York City, and with the understanding that it would be extended beyond the New York State Line to the Pennsylvania Railroad Station in New Jersey. This gave the legal right for the construction of this tunnel, and, on June 20th, 1899, the New York and Long Island Terminal Railroad Company was incorporated for the purpose, Mr. Baldwin being President and J. V. Davies, M. Am. Soc. C. E., Chief Engineer. Application was immediately made to the Boards of Aldermen of Brooklyn and of New York City. The latter acted favorably on the application, but the Board of Aldermen of Brooklyn held the matter up, while the Rapid Transit Commission laid out and promulgated the plan for Contract No. 2 of the Rapid Transit Subway. With the understanding that the Rapid Transit Brooklyn extension would be constructed to the Flatbush Avenue Terminal, Mr. Baldwin withdrew the application for the independent franchise, and agreed to proceed with the Atlantic Avenue Improvement, on the basis of the City proceeding with the Brooklyn extension of the Rapid Transit Subway. This provided for the Long Island Railroad entry down town.

Subsequently, however, it was proved that Mr. Baldwin had not been fully satisfied that this was the proper solution of the matter, for on April 12th, 1901, and upon his recommendation, the Board of Directors of the Long Island Railroad Company took over from the Pennsylvania Railroad Company its entire interests in the old Brooklyn, New York, and Jersey City Terminal Railway Company, thus giving him control of the route from Flatbush Avenue via Maiden Lane and Cortlandt Street to underneath the Jersey City station.

In the early part of 1900 active consideration was being given by the Pennsylvania Railroad and other railroads terminating in New Jersey to the proposed North River Bridge, as hereinbefore stated, and, for the Long Island Railroad, Mr. Baldwin organized a new company to construct a tunnel from the Long Island Railroad at Sunnyside Yard, diving under the streets of Long Island City by two tracks under the East River to the foot of 33d Street and then proceeding under 33d Street as far as Seventh Avenue. A station was to be located at Fourth Avenue below the Rapid Transit Subway Station and also a large Terminal Station at Broadway. For this purpose an option was obtained on the property of the Newbold Lawrence Estate, at Broadway, Sixth Avenue, 33d and 34th Streets, now occupied by Saks’ Store. Mr. Baldwin, however, considered that the amount of the investment ($1,600,000) for that property was too great for this purpose, and allowed the option to expire. The property was sold within a week thereafter to the Morganthau Syndicate for $2,000,000. At this time (May, 1900), the Pennsylvania Railroad obtained a controlling interest in the Long Island Railroad, and thereafter the two schemes became one. Mr. Baldwin and Mr. Rea purchased two 25-ft. lots on 33d Street just east of Broadway for an entrance to the underground station. Plans were also prepared for extending this line from Seventh Avenue northward under Seventh Avenue to 45th Street. The investigation and preliminary work in connection with this project were carried out in the early part of 1900.

Reconsideration was given by Mr. Baldwin to the proposed location of the up-town tunnels, with the idea of connecting the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad by a tunnel between Long Island City (Long Island Railroad Station) and the foot of 42d Street and extending to the Grand Central Station, but nothing further than investigation and the preparation of estimates was done on this.

In the summer of 1901 Mr. Cassatt was in Paris and was advised by Mr. Rea of the opening of the extension of the Orleans Railway to the Quai d’Orsay Station and its successful operation by electric power, also of the possibility of the Pennsylvania Railroad reaching New York City in a similar way (the other trunk lines not having joined in the promotion of the North River Bridge project). He at once examined the new line, and then consulted the writer in London in relation to the possibility of building tunnels under the North River. The writer returned to New York with Mr. Cassatt, and soon thereafter a conference of Mr. Cassatt, Mr. Rea, and Mr. Baldwin with the writer and Mr. Davies was held in the Pennsylvania Railroad Company Office in New York, when Mr. Cassatt outlined the scheme practically as it is now carried out, the only difference being that he also proposed a station on property of the New York and Harlem Railroad Company at 33d Street, which was soon abandoned on account of the grade from the East River, and particularly because of the superior location of the adopted site at Seventh Avenue and 33d Street, this being central between the down-town commercial and financial district and Central Park, which divides New York City. On Mr. Cassatt’s instructions, surveys and investigations were begun in November, 1901, and estimates, drawings, etc., were made. Preliminary estimates were presented to him on November 8th, 1901. Following this, borings were continued, and a plan was presented to Mr. Cassatt for assisting the support of the North River tunnels on piles, if necessary. At the time of the appointment of the Board of Engineers and the general organization of the work, the preliminary investigations and work had been carried to an advanced state.

One result of the determination of the Pennsylvania Railroad Company to extend its lines into New York City and thus move its principal station from Jersey City, was that the down-town local and suburban as well as through business was not provided for properly. Mr. William G. McAdoo, appreciating this opportunity, revived the scheme of an electric subway from Jersey City to New York, originally promoted by Mr. Corbin and associates, but not including the extension via Maiden Lane to Brooklyn, and entered into negotiations with the Pennsylvania Railroad Company to provide for this down-town business by extensions of the tunnel lines of the New York and New Jersey Railroads to Exchange Place, Jersey City, under the Pennsylvania Railroad Station, and thence across the Hudson River to Cortlandt and Church Streets. As a result, the Hudson and Manhattan Railroad Company was organized in 1902, and contracts were made with the Pennsylvania Railroad Company for the sub-surface use of its station in Jersey City, and for the interchange of passenger business at that point between the trains of the Pennsylvania Railroad Company and the tunnel of the Hudson and Manhattan Railroad Company. Later, a further contract was made with the Pennsylvania Railroad Company providing for the construction of the tunnel of the Hudson and Manhattan Railroad Company westward under the tracks of the Pennsylvania Railroad in Jersey City to a junction with the latter at Summit Avenue, at which point can be installed a joint station, and the operation effected of a joint electric train service between Church Street, New York City, and Newark, N. J., the Pennsylvania Railroad tracks between Summit Avenue and Newark to be electrified for that purpose, with a transfer station established east of Newark, at Harrison, at which point the steam and electric locomotives will exchange. By means of this, all down-town passengers will transfer to the electric service at Harrison Station, and thus the Pennsylvania Railroad Company is expected to be relieved of maintaining a separate steam service for passenger traffic to Jersey City and a large down-town station with extensive contingent facilities at that point.

From the foregoing it will be seen that the final decision to extend the Pennsylvania Railroad into and through New York City by a system of tunnels, and erect a large station in that city on a most eligible site, was not reached in a hurried or off-hand manner, but after years of painstaking study and a full and extended investigation of all routes, projects, and schemes, whether originating with the company or suggested by others.

Plate VI is a map of New York City and vicinity on which are shown the various lines contemplated in the evolution of the New York Tunnel Extension of the Pennsylvania Railroad hereinbefore outlined.

The question of tunnels under the North River was an uncertain factor in the larger Pennsylvania Railroad scheme, owing to the nature of the ground composing the river bed in which the tunnels would be constructed.

It is well known that about 35 years ago an attempt was made to construct a tunnel under the North River by using a “Pilot” system under compressed air and forming the tunnels in brick masonry. Owing to the very soft nature of the materials through which it passed, several serious accidents occurred, and the work was abandoned after about 2,000 ft. of tunnel had been constructed. Later, this work was taken up again, when a shield was installed and an additional 1,800 ft. was built with cast-iron segmental lining, but the work was again abandoned, owing principally to financial difficulties while coincidentally before entering a rock reef which presented another serious difficulty in construction. The experience then in the construction of this tunnel led capitalists and engineers to believe that, owing to the very soft nature of the ground, a tunnel could not be built that would be sufficiently stable to withstand the vibration due to heavy traffic, and for this reason tunnels under the North River were not looked upon as practicable. The writer devised a scheme to carry within the tunnel the rolling loads on bridging supported on piers or piles extending from the tunnel invert down to hard material. These would be attached to the tunnel itself or would pass into it independently through sliding joints in the tunnel shell. This scheme gained the confidence of the management, as it was believed that, by adopting such a plan, tunnels could be built in the soft material underlying the Hudson River and remain stable under all conditions of traffic. After thus feeling assured that by this method the tunnels could be made safe beyond question, orders were given to proceed with the great work of the extension into New York of the Pennsylvania and Long Island Railroad systems.

The organization of the engineering staff is shown on the diagram, Fig. 1. In the beginning of 1902 and during the period of making studies, additional borings, and preliminary triangulations, and prior to making the contract plans and specifications, James Forgie, M. Am. Soc. C. E., was appointed Chief Assistant Engineer by the writer. To him all the Resident Engineers and other heads of the Engineering Departments reported.

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