Construction History

North River Ferries before the Tubes, CLICK for larger imageAs late as 1910 no railroad coming from the south or the west had a direct connection to New York City, the largest city in the Western Hemisphere. The terminals of the railroads - whether the giant ones like the Pennsylvania and the Erie or the minor ones like the West Hudson Tubes Jersey City Pennsylvania StationShore and the Susquehanna - stood on the New Jersey shore of the North River, the local name for this stretch of the Hudson. 

In Jersey City, Hoboken and Weehawken the major railroad companies  built their large passenger stations at the edge of the river which here is close to a Exchange Place Pennsylvania Railroad Terminal Jersey City Montgomery Street Sidemile wide. Numerous ferry routes connected these New Jersey  stations to Manhattan: particularly to 23rd Street, 14th Street, Christopher Street and Lower Manhattan. The map pre-dates the Tubes and gives an approximation of the route of the Tubes' uptown tunnel as "Hudson River Tunnel" as well as the ferry routes the Tubes was to supplement if not supplant. Expand image and then click 1. Construction History to return

In November 1874 the Hudson Tunnel Railroad Company under the leadership of DeWitt Haskins began construction of a tunnel for steam trains. A month later the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad Company had an injunction issued to stop the construction. After much legal wrangling construction was resumed in September 1879 with the intention of building a double tracked single tube tunnel for steam powered trains. Shortly after the main shaft was sunk and construction of the actual tube had begun, however, the decision was made to build two parallel single track tunnels rather than one large one.

The excavations were resumed at the Jersey City shore, approximately half way between the terminals of the Erie Railroad and the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad, and advanced about 1180 feet out under the river. After a tunnel explosion on July 21, 1880 and a blow out killing 20 workmen and then a second blowout in 1882  the project ended. 

Although these two accidents were major blows, they apparently were not the cause or at least not the sole cause for the cessation of work. The bigger facto seems to have been the death of the Englishman Trevor Park who was the main financial backer of the project that caused the suspension in 1882. Sources are not entirely clear on what had been accomplished but it appears that the north tunnel  had extended 1,550 feet from Jersey City and the parallel south tunnel had reached 560 feet. There also may have been work from Manhattan extending  70 feet out from the Manhattan shore. 

The number of passengers crossing the river to and from Manhattan, however, was constantly increasing and this gave the impetus to the resumption of construction. As seen in the clickable image to the left, the "Hudson Tunnel" was to free passengers from the inconvenience and danger of the ferries.

In 1888 plans were made for another start and in 1890 an English company was formed with Sir John Fowler and Sir Benjamin Baker as consulting engineers. The intention now was to build two parallel tunnels. Using almost entirely manual labor, the original tunnel now was extended behind aManual construction of Hudson Tubes at 15th Street Jerseu City CLICK TO ENLARGE shield eastwards towards Manhattan and work was begun on a twin tunnel. But a panic and financial crisis turned off the flow of investment from European capitalists and the trans-Hudson tunnels were again abandoned after one tube had reached 3,916 feet from the Jersey City shore and an additional 160 feet from the Manhattan  shore, and its twin [i.e. south] tube had reached a length of 570 feet. Expand image and then click 1. Construction History to return  

By 1901, although public interest in the project was dead,  new and successful attempts at financing were made by William Gibbs McAdoo. In a speech later in his career McAdoo noted that he, as a Southerner, on crossing the North River always noted the damp fog, the cold, the ice, of the North River and it made it obvious to him that the ferries had to be supplemented if not supplanted by a more reliable and comfortable crossing.

A newly organized company, New York and Jersey Tunnel Company, took over the completion of the original [uptown] tunnel and the underground segment to Hoboken; the Hudson Companies began on the construction of the new tunnels and the Hudson and Manhattan Railroad Company was organized to be the operator after the system was built. McAdoo had engaged Charles Jacobs as the system's construction engineer.

In February 1902 construction resumed on the tunnels, now designed for electric-powered trains. And  there was also a new and expanded system planned. In addition to the twin tubes already begun, i.e. the "Hoboken-Morton Tunnels" which upon completion were 5,650 feet in length 97 feet below the river, there were to be three additional pairs of tube tunnels:

  • a second set of twin tubes running under the river from Lower Jersey City to Lower Manhattan, the "Montgomery-Cortlandt Tunnels" 5,976 feet long 92 feet below the river;
  • a pair of tube tunnels in New Jersey connecting three major railroad terminals in Hoboken and Jersey City; (the Central Railroad of New Jersey/B&O/Reading Terminal was not included in the original plans);
  • a tunnel extension in Manhattan to both Grand Central Terminal and Pennsylvania Station (which was still under construction and which was to replace the Jersey City Pennsylvania Station as the PRR's principal New York station) along with a spur to the just-opened IRT subway.
Moreover, there now was to be an above ground segment running westwards from Jersey City to Manhattan Transfer and Newark for connections with the PRR's lines to Chicago, St. Louis and Washington. 

Train headways of 90 seconds for eight car trains were planned. The Tubes' promoters noted that there would now be a major economic gain for New Jersey in residential real estate. Because of the geographic and financial constraints of Manhattan only 16,316 families in Manhattan out of a total of 391,687 families [i.e., less than 5 %] owned their own house. The Tubes with their connections to the commuter railroad  lines would open home owning to tens of thousands of Manhattan workers and would create a residential land boom in  New Jersey.

The original plan was for the Hudson Companies, one of the group of McAdoo's firms involved in building and operating the Tubes, to take over operation of the Jersey City PRR station when Pennsylvania Station in Manhattan went into operation. Under these plans, from c. 1903, PRR traffic to downtown would transfer at Harrison to the Hudson Companies' operations [i.e. the H&M Tubes] and the Hudson Companies were to operate ALL traffic , ferry, train, tube, between Lower Manhattan and Newark.

By the time that Pennsylvania Station in Manhattan did actually open some 10 years later, the plans had been changed. The PRR kept operating to Lower Jersey City and kept running its North River ferries. The route between Summit Avenue/Journal Square and Newark became a joint operation of the H&M and the PRR [see Section 3. Operating History].

The cost of the whole project was estimated at $55 million and turned out to be closer to $60 million [equal to more than $1.3 billion in 2008 dollars.] 

When the uptown tunnel, each of whose tubes had a diameter of 15 feet 3 inches,  was finally completed, it was a double tube 5,650 feet long between shafts and reached a maximum depth of 97 feet.

On January 4, 1908 the first special train ran through the Hudson & Manhattan uptown tunnel from Hoboken to Christopher Street. Then on Saturday, January 25, 1908, there was the formal trial through the southside "Hoboken to 8th Street" tunnel" [as it was called in contemporary accounts]. February 5, 1908 saw the press introduction, leaving 14th Street at 4:30 pm heading to Hoboken.

On February 25, 1908 the H&M ran its first Tubes service through the uptown pair of tunnels (originally begun in 1874) between Hoboken and the temporary end of the line at 19th Street in Manhattan. Using a telegraph connection President Theodore Roosevelt in Washington turned on the power at 3:30 pm [for the beginning of the ceremony the regular power had apparently been turned off and switched over to storage power until the President opened the switch].  Simultaneously, one train started out from 19th Street carrying the New York governor, one train started from Hoboken carrying the New Jersey governor. Finally at midnight on February 25, 1908 the system was opened to the public, again with two trains,  one leaving from 19th Street, one leaving from Hoboken

On June 11, 1908 there was a press run for the extension of the uptown line from 19th to 23rd and on June 15, 1908 the Hudson & Manhattan Tubes opened revenue service on that section but using only one track.

Jut under a year later, on April 4, 1909 Hudson Terminal, the twin 22-story office buildings built over the downtown terminal of the Hudson & Manhattan Railroad, opened at its location on the west side of Church Street between Cortlandt and Fulton Streets. It contained 815,000 square feet of office and was proclaimedthe world's largest office building. On July 19, 1909 operations began between Lower Manhattan and Lower Jersey City through the "Montgomery-Cortlandt Tunnels", located about 1 1/4 miles below the uptown pair of tunnels. Two weeks later, tube trains began running through the New Jersey tunnels, going under what is now Washington Boulevard from Hoboken past the Erie RR Station to Exchange Place. Opening of Hudson Tubes 1908 PATH Trains Hudson & Manhattan RR.

Just as the Tubes were going into service George M. Cohan's "Only 45 Minutes from Broadway" was one of the big hits of the day. The 20 minute North River ferry crossing became a Everybody's On the Way to Jersey Sheet Music Hudson Tubes / PATH trains / H&M RR three minute ride, far closer than Cohan's 45 minutes, as shown in this cartoon playing on that song title from the time of the beginning of service. [The image is from the Paulus Hook / Our Lady of Czestochowa site dealing with life in revived Jersey City]  And in her usual rhyme  Phoebe Snow also celebrated the opening of the Tubes as did Tin Pan Alley. [A view of the actual H&M kiosks, depicted here with some artistic license, can be found in Gallery 1 , Erie Station.]

With the completion of the uptown Manhattan extension to Pennsylvania Station and a westward overland extension to Manhattan Transfer [opened October 1, 1911] and then to Newark-Park Place [November 26, 1911], the Hudson & Manhattan Railroad was complete.

There was also some construction on the projected extension to the IRT Astor Place subway station and on a direct underwater connection from Hudson Terminal to Erie [now Pavonia] - see Section 5. Stations; in addition, although there was no direct construction involved, the cGrand Central Plans with Hudson Tubes PATH trains H&M RRompletion of Grand Central Terminal made provisions for the entry of the Tubes into that station. 

Here for example the sketch plans for Grand Central Terminal show the Hudson and Manhattan Rail Road and the "McAdoo Tunnels" on the second Grand Central Terminal Hudson Tube plans PATH trains H&M RRunderground level [to the right], below its own concourse and the East Side IRT and  above the "Belmont Tube"/ Steinway Tunnels [later the IRT  Queensboro line]. None of these links, however, was ever completed.

Plans for including the West Shore Railroad Terminal in Weehawken and the Jersey Central Station at the foot of Johnson Avenue in Jersey City remained merely plans. Expand image and then click 1. Construction History to return

Still, the Hudson Tubes as they were, were a engineering marvel of the day: the first transportation tunnel under a major river, pre-dating both those of the New York Subway system and the Pennsylvania Railroad's entry into Manhattan.

© B Klapouchy 1987-2008

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