Return Home

    A Century of the PATH Train

February 25, 2008
Hoboken PATH / Hudson Tubes  H&M RR Hoboken_PATH_1998.jpgH oboken PATH, 1998, by Triborough at flickr

One hundred years ago today, the Hudson & Manhattan Railroad opened for business with one mission – to get the passengers to and from the various railroad terminals on the Hudson County New Jersey side of the river to or from Manhattan who would otherwise have to take ferries. To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the PATH, the Port Authority is giving free PATH rides today between 6AM and 11PM. However, the real story of what became the PATH train starts back in the 1870s, so here's a look at the history behind the PATH.

In November 1874, the Hudson Tunnel Railroad Company started a tunnel for steam trains in Jersey City which faced deadly explosions and blowouts before it was abandoned in 1882. The project was started up again by a group of English contractors in 1890, but their on-and-off again efforts foundered due to lack of proper funding. (Sounds sort of like the Second Avenue Subway!)

In 1902, William Gibbs McAdoo and Charles Jacobs took over the project and under their leadership two sets of tunnels under the North River finally were completed in 1908. This gave passengers arriving at the various railroad terminals in Hoboken and Jersey City a reliable way of getting to New York City, something that the ferries at the time didn’t offer. McAdoo set up the Hudson & Manhattan Railroad to operate the trains which started rolling with paying passengers on February 25, 1908.

The original line was similar to today’s operations with two Manhattan end points, 33rd Street and 6th Avenue and Hudson Terminal in Lower Manhattan. Neither of the two original Manhattan stations still exists any more, but more on that later. There were plans to expand the service, to Grand Central Terminal and/or tie it into the IRT Subway, but they never happened. PATH cars to this day have almost identical dimensions to IRT subway cars Any hopes of expanding past 33rd Street were removed when the IND 6th Avenue Subway was built (in part around the existing H&M tracks) and the present terminal was built between 30th and 32nd Streets during the 1930s.

The railroad experienced a downturn in finances by the 1950s and there were calls for some sort of buy out or state take over. It finally came in 1962 with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey taking control on September 1.

John Henderson in the book Gotham Turnstiles recalls the day that the Port Authority took over: … I rode the tubes on the way to work at about 10:00 PM on August 31, 1962 as a customer of the H&M. The next morning at about 8:00 AM I went home a rider on a PATH train and I couldn’t believe what happened. Between midnight and eight and the morning 90% of all reference to the H&M had been obliterated. All the signs on the stations, the cars and even the buttons and insignia on the uniforms had been altered to read PATH. The only thing they couldn’t yet change was the embossing on the columns. That had to be the most maniacal change of identity in the annals of railroading.

IND_H%26M_Tunnels_14th_St.jpgDespite the Port Authority’s maniacal redacting of anything that said Hudson & Manhattan, several references still exist in New York City Subway tile work, most notably in several mosaics at the 14th Street station on the 6th Avenue Subway. There is also an abandoned powerhouse in Jersey City. One other thing that remains a legacy of the H&M that the Port Authority couldn’t change is that PATH is not considered a rapid transit line like the NYC Subway, but instead it is considered a railroad and has to deal with the Federal Railroad Administration’s rules.

And now back to the story of what happened to the original Hudson Terminal. The Port Authority’s takeover of the H&M had a greater influence than you would expect on New York City right up until the present day. Since the Port Authority is a bi-state agency something had to be done to appease New York, since the railroad was mostly in New Jersey. So to make the Empire State happy, the then-in-the-planning-stages World Trade Center would be built in part on the site of the original Hudson Terminal. This appeased the New York side of the Port Authority since it gave them something seen as equal value as part of the deal.

If you don't want to take a free ride on PATH today, you may want to check out NYC Subway Resources for history and photos of both the H&M and PATH. The PA even has an online historic photo album, plus a timeline of milestones. By Toby von Meistersinger in News | Link | Comments (2) | Recommend this! (1)Loading... | * [+] o add to o add to digg o add to yahoo o related at technorati Tags: 100th anniversary, Hudson & Manhattan Railroad, PATH, Port Authority, World Trade Center

Return Home

Fast facts