New York and Harlem Railroad

New York and Harlem Railroad
New York and Harlem Railroad
System map
New York and Harlem Railroad (red) and New York Central system (orange) as of 1918
Locale New York
Dates of operation 1832 – 1873 (main line)
1832 – 1896 and 1920–1935 (streetcars)

The New York and Harlem Railroad (now the Metro-North Railroad Harlem Line) was one of the first railroads in the United States, and possibly also the world's first street railway. Designed by John Stephenson, it was opened in stages between 1832 and 1852 between Lower Manhattan to and beyond Harlem. Initially using horses, the line was partially converted to use steam engines and then electricity, using a Julien electric traction car. In 1907 the then leaseholders of line, New York City Railway went into receivership. Following a further receivership in 1932 the New York Railways Corporation converted the line to bus operation. The Murray Hill Tunnel now carries a lane of road traffic, but not the buses.

The line became part of the New York Central Railroad system with trackage rights granted to the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad into Manhattan. It is now part of the Metro-North Railroad system, and the only Manhattan trackage of that system.




An 1847 map of Lower Manhattan; the only railroad in Manhattan at that time was the New York and Harlem Railroad

The company was incorporated on April 25, 1831 as the New York and Harlem Railroad, to link New York City with suburban Harlem.[1] Among the company's founders was John Mason, a wealthy banker and president of Chemical Bank who was among the largest landowners in New York City.

The first section, along the Bowery from Prince Street north to 14th Street, opened on November 26, 1832. After that, the following sections opened:

  • June 10, 1833 - north along Fourth Avenue to 32nd Street
  • May 9, 1834 - north along Fourth Avenue to Yorkville, including the Murray Hill Tunnel
  • October 26, 1837 - north along Fourth Avenue to Harlem, including the Yorkville Tunnel
  • May 4, 1839 - south along the Bowery, Broome Street and Centre Street to City Hall at Centre Street and Park Row
  • September 3, 1842 - north to Williamsbridge
  • December 1, 1844 - north to White Plains
  • June 1, 1847 - north to Croton Falls
  • December 31, 1848 - north to Dover Plains
  • January 19, 1852 - north to Chatham Four Corners with a connection to the Albany and West Stockbridge Railroad, and trackage rights northwest to Albany
  • November 26, 1852 - south along Park Row to Astor House at Park Row and Broadway
  • A freight branch was built to Port Morris, and abandoned late in the 20th century. Parts are still visible.[2]

Between 1847 and 1856, a track was built in Grand Street between Centre Street and the Bowery (along with one block on the Bowery) for northbound trains.[3] Southbound trains continued to use the old route.

In 1864 or 1865, a branch was added for trains between downtown and the East 34th Street Ferry Landing, running along 32nd Street, Lexington Avenue and 34th Street. This was the start of separate horse car service, running between Astor House and the ferry.

Grand Central Depot opened just north of 42nd Street in October 1871, and intercity passenger trains from the north were ended there. (Ironically, by this point, the first of the Manhattan New York subway had opened on Ninth Avenue.) Freight trains continued to operate along the tracks south of Grand Central, as did streetcars (still turning off at 42nd).

Operation and control

Horses were used at first, but this was changed to steam north of 23rd Street.[when?] It was soon bought by Cornelius Vanderbilt.

The New York City Common Council passed an ordinance on December 27, 1854, to take effect in 18 months, barring the NY&H from using steam power south of 42nd Street, due to complaints by persons whose property abutted the right-of-way. Before that, the steam locomotives had run to 32nd Street. When the ordinance took effect, the NY&H had not done anything. After much debate, including an injunction issued preventing the city from enforcing the ordinance, the courts struck down the injunction on July 30, 1858.[4][5]

On July 2, 1870, horse cars started to run not only to the 34th Street Ferry but to 73rd Street via Madison Avenue. These trains ran through the Murray Hill Tunnel and turned west on 42nd before going north on Madison (northbound cars used Vanderbilt Avenue to 44th Street).[6] The line was soon extended to 86th Street and then to Harlem.

On April 1, 1873, the NY&H leased its freight lines to the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad, but the horse car line south of Grand Central remained separate. This eventually became the New York Central Railroad and then part of Penn Central and Conrail. Metro-North Railroad took over the line in 1983.

The first electric streetcar open to passengers in New York City, a Julien electric traction car, was run on September 17, 1888 on the line to 86th Street.[7] The line went back to using horses for a time, but switched to an below-grade third rail (commonly called a "conduit") in 1897. On July 1, 1896, the Metropolitan Street Railway leased the streetcar lines.

Receivership and conversion to bus operation

Abandoned Port Morris Branch

The New York City Railway, which leased the Metropolitan, and hence also these lines, went into receivership on September 24, 1907.[8][9] The receivers returned operation of the Fourth Avenue line back to the Metropolitan Street Railway on July 31, 1908. The lease was terminated on January 31, 1920 with operation was returned to the NY&H.

On October 10, 1932, it was leased again, this time to the New York Railways Corporation, with the right to convert the line to bus operation. The stockholders voted to do this on February 19, 1934.

An approximation of the route is now traveled by MTA New York City Transit's M1 bus. The Murray Hill Tunnel now carries a lane of roadway, but not the buses.


  1. ^ David T. Valentine (1866). A Compilation of the Existing Ferry Leases and Railroad Grants Made by the Corporation of the City of New York, 1866. pp. 345–346. "specifically, the "power to construct a single or double railroad or way from any point on the north bounds of Twenty-third street to any point on the Harlem transport, take, and carry property and persons upon the same by the power and force of steam, of animals, or of any mechanical or other power, or any combination of them..."" 
  2. ^ Port Morris Branch
  3. ^ "Railroad Is King". The New York Times: p. 2. September 24, 1856. Retrieved 2011-09-03. 
  4. ^ "Steam Below Forty-Second Street". The New York Times: p. 8. July 2, 1856. Retrieved 2011-09-03. 
  5. ^ "The Harlem Railroad Company vs. The City and Police Commissioners". The New York Times: p. 4. July 31, 1858. Retrieved 2011-07-09. 
  6. ^ "Madison Avenue Railway". The New York Times: p. 5. July 3, 1870. Retrieved 2011-07-09. 
  7. ^ "New-York's First Electric Car". The New York Times: p. 8. September 18, 1888. Retrieved 2011-07-09. 
  8. ^ Carman, Harry James (1919). The Street Surface Railway Franchises of New York City. Columbia Universitry (Ph.D. thesis). pp. 204–220. 
  9. ^ American Street Railway Investments. 15. New York: Electric Railway Journal; McGraw Publishing Company. 1908. pp. 237–244. 
  • Railroad History Database
  • General News, New York Times December 15, 1863 page 4
  • Our City Railroads, New York Times December 26, 1865 page 8
  • Local News in Brief, New York Times November 1, 1871 page 8
  • Quicker Surface Transit, New York Times December 6, 1896 page 16
  • New York & Harlem Intact for Century, New York Times May 25, 1930 page 39

External links

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