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WESTWARD HO! The No. 7 Subway Line Extension

Jeffrey Syken

“Thus from the air would be taken wealth…”
William J. Wilgus
- VP in Charge of Construction, New York Central Railroad

With two overarching problems facing the New York Central Railroad in the early 20th Century: steam locomotives in tunnels and insufficient capacity at Grand Central Station, Wilgus - then the Chief Engineer for Construction and Maintenance of Tracks, sought a solution to the twin, formidable problems. The former would be solved by the advent of electric traction which eliminated smoke in tunnels while the latter would take the form of a “Flash of Genius” on the part of Wilgus himself. Since open-ended train sheds would no longer be required, Wilgus conceived a new, two level terminal (upper for long-distance, lower for suburban commuter trains) that could/would replace the entire rail-yard which extended to 56th Street. These tracks could be covered over and the “air rights” above (for fourteen blocks North) sold to real estate developers whose buildings would straddle the tracks below, thus paying back, with significant profit, the enormous cost (estimated to be $35 million).for the construction of the new Grand Central Terminal.

Fast-forward to the early 21st Century when NYC was seeking to win the right to host the 2012 Summer Olympic Games. Key to satisfying the International Olympic Committee’s (IOCs) stringent requirements was an 80K-seat stadium that could host the opening and closing ceremonies. For this, NYC sought to attract the New York Jets football team, whose Meadowlands lease was due to expire, to a new, dual-use Far West-Side stadium built atop the LIRR’s West-Side Yards that would be integral with an expanded and modernized Jacob Javits Convention Center. Alas, for various reasons, the stadium initiative fell through and London was given the honor of hosting the 2012 Olympic Games. However, to NYC’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who was hoping a new stadium would open the underdeveloped Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood to development, a key component of the scheme, if realized, would make that development possible, albeit it in the form of residential and commercial towers built atop a platform over the rail-yards, Named “Hudson Yards,” it would be a development the likes of which NYC had not seen for generations.

That key component was an extension of the No.7 Flushing Line of the NYC subway from its Manhattan terminus at 42nd Street-Times Square to a new terminal station at 11th Avenue and 34th Street - 1.5 miles due West and South, Not only would this be the first new NYC subway station since 1989, it would be wholly financed by NYC through the sale of bonds. Construction began in 2007 using two double-shield TBMs and drill-and-blast/ground-freezing methods for the subterranean excavation. Being self-financed, unfortunately the ever-tightening budget did not allow for the shell of a second station, at 10th Avenue and 41st Street, to be realized with the initial construction. The scheme worked, making the Hudson Yards development one of the great success stories of Mr. Bloomberg’s three terms (12 years) as NYC Mayor. When the “Access to the Region’s Core (ARC) project was terminated by NJ Governor Chris Christie in 2010, one of the alternatives suggested by the Bloomberg Administration was an “Extension of the Extension” – running the No. 7-line under the Hudson to NJ Transit’s Secaucus Junction Station. Not only would this be the first time the NYC subway ventured outside the city limits, it would open NJ commuters to midtown Manhattan with direct connections to eighteen subway lines. With other priorities, the scheme is yet to be realized, but there’s always room for a good idea.

This course includes a multiple-choice quiz at the end, which is designed to enhance the understanding of the course materials.

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