MANHATTAN EL, Manhattanville

by Kevin Walsh

You’re looking at part of Manhattan’s only stretch of elevated train track south of Dyckman Street. For approximately 70 years, between the 1870s and 1940s, the island was chockablock with elevated lines, subways and trolley lines (which drew power from underground electric conduits). However, a combination of political decisions and the rise of the automobile and bus gradually put an end to the els and trolleys.

Most NYC historians mention the 2nd, 3rd, 6th and 9th Avenue els. Those were the main trunk lines, but portions of those els also traveled Pearl Street, the Bowery, Greenwich Street, 1st Avenue, 3rd, 23rd, 34th, 42nd, 53rd and 110th Street, as well as several others. All died out like the tyrannosaur, the dodo and New York Mets contention.

One portion south of Dyckman remains. When engineers were planning the IRT subway in 1900, they had a decision to make at 125th, where Manhattanville becomes a deep valley. Tunnel deeper, at greater expense, or simply bridge the valley? The latter was chosen, and a beautiful arch bridge now spans 125th and Broadway. I’ve shown it a lot on FNY, so here’s a different view of the line, from 135th, where the valley rises and the subway becomes an actual subway again, looking south toward the 125th Street platforms.



Andy October 15, 2013 - 10:36 pm

Great shot. The middle track was built as part of the original 1904 subway but has never been used for any regular express service. Sometimes out of service trains are stored there; other times it is used for rerouting trains due to scheduled or unscheduled maintenance work. When that happens trains run express between 96th and 137th Streets.

Bob Sklar October 21, 2013 - 12:01 pm

I don’t remember where, but I’ve seen a photo of the 135th St. portal under construction. There were originally going to be only two tracks, but the photo showed construction workers moving the wall aside at the last minute to include the third track. It is not possible to use the middle track for expresses in any practical manner. It skips all stations from 103rd thru 145th, with switches near the north end. Then the line has only two tracks from 157th thru Dyckman, then three tracks again skipping everything from 207th thru 238th.

Kiwiwriter October 16, 2013 - 10:34 am

Building that viaduct was actually a brilliant way to deal with getting the IRT across the Manhattanville valley back in 1904, when you consider the entire original New York subway was built by hand…it was unbelievably expensive to tunnel under 125th Street at the time.

The station has had a lot of work done…it’s now accessible by escalator, which is good.

Larry October 16, 2013 - 4:10 pm

Those tracks on the right look warped. Or is that just an illusion.

Jeff B. October 16, 2013 - 11:42 pm

It appears this photo was taken with a telephoto lens – the visible track is ~0.65 miles – so everything is compressed. Barely perceptible curves in the track viewed normally are exaggerated by the telephoto, thus giving the appearance of being warped. For example, the station platform looks rather short – but it’s ~510 feet long.

Bill Mitchell October 17, 2013 - 1:48 pm

The shot was obviously, at least to me, taken with a telephoto lens. Such a lens while making things appear closer tends to distort the depth and exaggerate any deviation from straightness in the rails.

Mark October 17, 2013 - 7:20 am

Stan Fleicher’s “The Subway” has a photo from the same spot taken in 1903 a year before it actually opened. Interesting contrast between two photos taken 110 years apart.

Ryan C October 21, 2013 - 11:21 am

I’ll assume since it’s part of MNR we’re not counting the Park Ave viaduct that runs elevated north of 97th Street before crossing the Harlem River?

Ryan (2) November 11, 2013 - 2:15 pm

What about the aboveground section of the Lenox Avenue Line between 145th and 148th Street?

Steve November 21, 2013 - 1:01 pm

And don’t forget that when the #1 leaves the subway to become an elevated as it heads north, it is still in Manhattan, and even after it crosses Spuyten Duyvil, it is technically still in Manhattan up to W 230 Street!


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