History of the Metropolitan Second Ave Elevated Railway
The Second Ave El was the last of the Elevated railways to be built in Manhattan. Revenue operations began on March 1, 1880 and served the East Side of Manhattan for over 62 years. It was not as popular or well known to people outside of New York as the other Manhattan Els. However, it was the gateway to the fabled 'Lower East Side' which teemed with an increasing immigrant population that would provide New York City with a huge consumer populace and produce many civic and business leaders for generations to come. That population would expand upward North on Second Ave and on up into the Bronx as the elevated railway opened up new territory for rapid transit commuters in new neighborhoods. In its final years, the line provided a scenic elevated train ride from Manhattan over the Queensboro Bridge to the 1939-40 Worlds Fair in Flushing Meadows as well as providing an elevated rapid transit link to the Queens communities of Long Island City, Astoria, Corona, Jackson Heights and Flushing.
On Feb 24, 1879, the Metropolitan Elevated Railway Co initiated construction of the line at Division and Allen Streets. Seven months later, the structure was completed to 65th St.
On March 1, 1880 service began from the Chatham Sq South platform to 65th St.
The Manhattan Railway Company completed construction to 127th St.
On Aug 16, 1880, the Northern part of the 2nd Ave El opened for service with stations at 86th, 99th, 111th, 117th, 121st and 127th Streets.
The end of track was at the Harlem River, where a small storage yard and a steam locomotive service facility was built.The project had gone from paper to 7½ miles of line in 18 months.
The line originated at a junction with the 3rd Ave line at Chatham Square. From there, the structure followed Division St turning North onto Allen St which becomes First Avenue at Houston St and on First Ave to 23rd St. The structure curved West at 23rd St and went one block to Second Ave and curved North onto Second Ave and continued North to 127th St Station and the Harlem River. (See the Original Track Map)
The original 2nd Ave El Station at Chatham Square was South of the junction with the 3rd Ave Line and the junction to the City Hall spur. The 3rd Ave Line Chatham Square station was North of the junction. A covered bridge connected the two platforms.
See the Chatham Square Photo Page for historic images of the Station.
The original Stations on Allen St were at Canal, Grand and Rivington Streets.
those on First Ave were at 1st, 8th, 14th and 19th Streets.
The 23rd Street station was on 23rd Street.
The original stations on Second Ave were at 34th, 42nd, 50th, 57th, 65th, 86th, 99th, 111th, 117th, 121st and 127th Streets.
The 34th St Double-deck station was built concurrently with the 3rd Ave El 34th St Ferry Spur.
See the Electrification and Expansion Page for the stations and terminals that were added, replaced or rebuilt.
May 17, 1886 - The Suburban Railway Harlem River Bridge to the Bronx opens
Dec 30, 1900 - The first regularly scheduled electric train ran on the 2nd Ave line.
Oct 1, 1907 - 2nd Ave El service was extended to Freeman St on the Westchester Ave El.
April 1, 1911 - The last new station of the 2nd Ave El was opened at 105th St.
Jan 17, 1916 - The center express track and stations at 14th, 42nd, 86th and 125th St opened with Express trains going to Tremont Ave on the 3rd Ave El or Freeman St via the 150th St connection.
Jan 1, 1917 - The Bergen Ave Cut-off opens for the Freeman St Express in the Bronx
Nov 8, 1923 - The first Multiple-Unit Door Controlled (MUDC) cars, where the conductor operated all the train doors from a central position on the train, went into service on 2nd Ave El.
June 11, 1940, the 2nd Avenue El ceased operations North of 59th St to the 129th St Terminal and the Bronx. The line South of 59th St and operations over the Queensboro Bridge line continued and experienced an upturn in traffic due to the 1939-1940 World's Fair.
June 13, 1942 - The Second Ave El line ceased operations. Elevated Rapid transit service over the Queensboro Bridge ended. The remainder of the line in Manhattan to Chatham Sq was demolished.
The 3rd Ave El trains continued the Bronx Freeman St Express Service until 1948.
The 2nd Ave El shared track with the 3rd Ave El South of Chatham Square to South Ferry. The 2nd Ave El retained the Chatham Sq lower level station platform and a new junction of the 2nd and 3rd Ave El from the upper level was opened just North of the Franklin Sq station in 1917. The 2nd, 3rd, 6th and 9th Ave Els all came together at the South Ferry Terminal. That had to be a very busy terminal. 2nd and 3rd Ave El trains used the East tracks and platforms. The 6th and 9th Ave El trains used the West tracks and platforms. Only non-revenue moves were made on the 'Y' that connected the East and West side Els with a track connection at the platform tracks to complete the 'Y'. There was a 1930's film about a crime at the Aquarium at Battery Park that showed El trains in the background. The 2nd and 3rd Ave El shared the tracks at the 129th St terminal. However, only non-revenue moves were made here. The 3rd Ave El track looped into the 2nd Ave El terminal. The 2nd Ave El track dead-ended at the 3rd Ave El ROW. The bridge and tracks in the Bronx were shared by both Els. Second Ave El Express trains went to Tremont and Fordham Road on the Third Ave El in the Bronx and used the 179th St Yard. Second Ave El trains shared track on the Westchester Ave line before and after the Bergen Cut-off was built, (See Freeman St Express). Operations East of Queensboro Plaza were all on shared track as noted below.
July 23, 1917 - Service to Ditmars Ave, Astoria began over the Queensboro Bridge.
The 57th St double-deck station and the fly-over at 59th St opened.
Jan 17, 1918 - Service began on the Queens Flushing line to Alburtis (104th St) Ave.
It must have been great ride on a 2nd Ave El Express to the Bronx or over the Queensboro Bridge as there were few express stops on the route from the Park Row Terminal to Chatham Sq, 14th St, and then all the way to 42nd St. The Queens trains stopped at 57th St before crossing the bridge to the Plaza. Back then, the 2nd Ave El went to Astoria or Flushing from Queensboro Plaza and shared the tracks with IRT Steinway Tunnel Line and the BMT El cars from the Plaza also. The BMT 60th St Tunnel Line went to Queensboro Plaza also. However, the 10' wide BMT Subway cars could not use the platforms of the Queens lines built to IRT car specifications. That is why the BMT El cars, which were the same width as the IRT cars, operated to and from the Plaza only.
See the Expansion section for more information about the 2nd Ave El in Queens.
Last updated: 04-03-2013
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