THE “23RD STREET EL,” Kips Bay

by Kevin Walsh

In this photo from the 1940 Municipal Archives we’re looking east on East 23rd Street, at #304-310, which are on the right side of the picture. While a number of transit buffs are aware that NYC had elevated trains running up and down 2nd, 3rd, 6th and 9th Avenues, fewer may remember that other streets also “hosted” elevated trains, or rather, were enshrouded by them. In most cases, these short els connected els between avenues, or where short jogs between them.

Here, the 2nd Avenue El is turning at 2nd Avenue and East 23rd Street. The el ran just one block to 1st Avenue, where it ran south via 1st Avenue, Allen, Division Streets to Chatham Square, where it joined the 3rd Avenue el and ran south to the Battery. Of course, the 2nd Avenue El also had a spur that crossed the Queensboro Bridge. Uptown, the 2nd Avenue El ran to East 129th Street, where it crossed over to 3rd Avenue, running up to the Bronx from there. The el was in service from 1878 to 1942, and it ran electrified with a third rail beginning in 1900.

Other Manhattan streets also had brief el runs, such as West 3rd, East 42nd, West 53rd, Division Street (as mentioned) and West 110th. Perhaps I’ll show more of these short el stretches in FNY. Though at the time, people hated the els rattling above and occasionally showering sparks, I feel that NYC’s current transit situation is poorer without them.

Check out the ForgottenBook, take a look at the gift shop, and as always, “comment…as you see fit.”



Andy April 27, 2020 - 9:35 pm

I would argue that Manhattan’s west side els (6th and 9th Avenues) definitely became redundant after the IND subways opened in 1932 and 1940. However, the east side the el in the picture would have been my choice for retention to this day. Its connection to the Queensboro Bridge allowed trains from Flushing to travel to Lower Manhattan without changing along 42nd St. So I would have kept the 2nd Ave line south of the Queensboro Bridge all the way to South Ferry. I spent quite a few years traveling between Main St. Flushing and the first World Trade Center, so I always had to change at some point along 42nd St.

The 2nd Ave. El could have been rebuilt (at obviously high cost) to carry lightweight steel cars (an R39 contract was drawn up for that very purpose, for the remains of the 3rd Ave. Bronx and Myrtle Ave. Brooklyn els). Could have even been extended northward to dive into today’s 2nd Ave. subway. At 63rd St. Obviously none of this will happen, but it’s good to imagine sometimes.

Jeff B. April 27, 2020 - 10:05 pm

East 34th St also had an El. There was a shuttle from the 3rrd Ave El to the LIRR Ferry on the East River. It connected to the 3rd Ave El and had an intermediate station at 2nd Ave. I believe it was taken down in the early 1920’s.

Andy April 28, 2020 - 1:39 pm

LIRR Ferry stopped in 1925. 34th St. El shuttle came down in 1931. Here’s a link to a photo from

Ed Findlay April 29, 2020 - 4:33 am Reply
Chris April 29, 2020 - 1:36 pm

Besides upper Manhattan are their any remnants left of the old Manhattan els? Im always looking but haven’t seen any yet.

Tal Barzilai April 29, 2020 - 11:34 pm

Did any of the NYC Els ever allow for transfers to the others or where all lines separate from each other?

Ed Findlay May 1, 2020 - 3:07 am

There were transfers available to multiple lines at many places where the els crossed or joined together with the “subway” routes, some are visible as entire levels of stations that are closed-off and unused like Gun Hill Road and Myrtle Ave. but others like Queensboro Plaza are subtle and you’d only know that they had connections if you looked at some of the layouts and curves…

Andy May 1, 2020 - 4:33 pm

The Third Avenue El issued a paper transfer at 42nd St. to the #7 Flushing Line at Grand Central, about a block walk to the west. This was done after 1942 when the Second Avenue El service between Queens and Manhattan was terminated (used tracks on Queensboro/59th St. Bridge), and of course ended in May 1955 when the Third Ave. El stopped running south of 149th St. At 149th St. and Third Ave. in The Bronx, there was an escalator connection between the IRT subway and Third Avenue El after 1927, until 1973 when the El was closed. Prior to 1927 it was a paper transfer. Another paper transfer was used from June 1940 until August 1958, between the 9th Ave. El (was renamed Polo Grounds Shuttle after June 1940) and the IND D train at 155th St.-8th Ave. in Manhattan.

Tal Barzilai May 2, 2020 - 5:04 pm

When I asked this question originally, I was referring to just the other els and not the subways or commuter trains.

Joe Brennan May 4, 2020 - 1:12 pm

The Second Avenue El was the last of the four to be opened, 1880, and with lessons learned, it was considered to have the strongest construction. Because of that, and since Third Avenue is just a short block from the subway under Lexington, my vote on which El to close in 1940 as redundant would have been Third Avenue. Apparently property owners along Second Avenue formed an influential coalition that convinced the City to open up their avenue to the sun. The Second Avenue El could have run through to the Bronx Third Avenue El with no new construction.


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