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Railroads America - The Web Of Rails Around Manhattan Island

( Originally Published 1927 )

Until a comparatively recent date there were no railways through New York City. That great metropolis, with its wonderful harbor, was the terminus for many roads, but through traffic between New England and the South had to make a detour around the city in order to obtain uninterrupted railroad transit.

For many years the railroads coming to New York from the west had their actual railroad terminals on the New Jersey side of the Hudson River and trans-ported passengers and freight to the city by boat. Then the Pennsylvania Railroad constructed a tunnel from New Jersey under the Hudson to New York City and on beneath the city and beneath the East River to Long Island, one of the greatest railroad tunnels in the world. In the city the Pennsylvania built a splendid station for its traffic from the west and from Long Island.

Within the city boundaries there were then the stations of two trunk railroads, that of the Pennsylvania and that of the New York Central, which was shared by the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad. The Pennsylvania had a station for through traffic in two directions, the Grand Central Station was an ordinary terminus. Passengers who wished to make a north and south journey by way of the city had still to break their travel at one station and resume it at the other.

The lack of a connecting link for through trains was a great inconvenience, but the cost and difficulty of joining the two routes was felt to be prohibitive. In 1910, however, the project was taken in hand; the requisite funds were secured and the engineers set to work. The most formidable obstacle was the bridging of the East River ; the best crossing was at what is known as Hell Gate. The engineers must span this gap without hindrance to shipping.

To preserve the proper grade a considerable section of the road was constructed upon arches. Massive walls of concrete were run up, with openings at the base for the streets of the city. The space between the walls was filled in to the level and the roadbed made on top of this embankment.

The first bridge was built over Bronx Kills, a narrow stream that separates Randall's Island from the mainland and forms the connection between the Harlem and the East Rivers. This bridge was constructed with two lifting spans, hinged on a pier in the middle of the stream, where the caissons had to be sunk to a depth of 90 feet below mean low water. These spans —each 175 feet long—could be lifted to an almost vertical position and so occasioned no obstacle to shipping passing underneath.

From this bridge the railroad was carried over a viaduct, the arches of which rose gradually until they attained a considerable height at the next river, the Little Hell Gate channel. This channel was crossed by a bridge with four spans, each of 300 feet, with two tower piers, and with three arched piers in the stream. The next section of the line was a curve of half a mile over a viaduct of steel girders, which brought the railroad to the east side of Ward. Island, at the narrowest point of the East River, the gap called Hell Gate.

Shipping was heavy at this place and the river had to be left clear. To cross from Ward Island to the opposite shore of Long Island was the main problem of the engineers of this road. They accomplished it by building a bridge with a single arch, a span of no less than 1,017 feet, the largest opening ever made in a bridge of this type. A huge tower, 250 feet high, had to be constructed on either bank to support the massive steel fabric that carried four railroad tracks. On account of the strong tides, the velocity of the cur-rent, and the rocky bed of the river at Hell Gate the arch was built on the "overhang" principle, that is, it was constructed simultaneously from each tower and the weight of the projecting sections was counterbalanced by temporary steel backstays behind the towers.

The two halves of the arch met on October 1, 1915.

The deck for the railroad tracks, suspended from the giant span, was set in place, together with the footway for pedestrians on either side, outside the arch. From its foothold on Long Island the road was carried forward over another viaduct of arched concrete piers and another filled concrete embankment to the point where it could make connection with the tracks of the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad and so secure a through rail route from the lines of the Pennsylvania system to those of New England.

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