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New York City Subway

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The completion and achievement of building the New York City subway many years ago has proved to the today world that it is possible to build underground railroads beneath the most populous city in the United States with thousands of skyscrapers and millions of crowded and packed streets. Along with the busy lives of thousands of New Yorkers who ride the subway on the daily basis, it is sometimes difficult to stop and think how the subway was built and what kind of problems had to be faced and solved during its construction.

The corrupt rule of the Democratic Party political machine, Tammany hall in the 1800’s in New York City, had left the city’s streets in very poor shape and traffic congestion, particularly in the Broadway area. Alfred Ely Beach, the inventor and editor of Scientific American wanted to build a subway under Broadway to help reduce the traffic congestion. However, the major object of building the subway was to “provide for the transmission of letters, packages, and merchandise in the cities of New York and Brooklyn and under the North and East Rivers”.

Even though Beach got an idea from the subway that had been recently built in London, he believed that it was inefficient due to the fact that it used steam engines. Using two of his inventions, a hydraulic tunneling machine and a pneumatic subway, Beach proposed a new type of subway that relied on pneumatics. In 1870, Beach had designed a pneumatic (air-driven) system, which he demonstrated at the American Institute Fair in 1867, and he thought it practical for transit operation in underground tunnels.

He applied for a permit from the Tammany Hall city government, but because of the opposition of William Marcy Tweed, the political boss of New York City, Beach was denied and therefore, he found it necessary to construct the experimental subway in secret, in an attempt to show that subterranean transit was viable. Obtaining a charter for a 4-foot pneumatic tube to demonstrate mail delivery, Alfred Ely Beach actually dug an 8-foot bore tunnel 300 feet under Broadway, between Warren and Murray streets.

This tunneling machine operated using a pump. A man worked the pump, and a force of 126 tons against the end of masonry moved the arms attached. The force then corresponded to the earth being removed and that was how the car would start moving. Meanwhile, in order to change the direction of the shield, the cocks in the pipes that were attached to the arms had to be turned. The arms acting upon the opposite side would advance and alter the course of the shield.

Since the soil in which the tunnel was to pass through was of a loose sandy character, stones had to be removed in order to prevent the machine from slowing down. Beach constructed a small car with the capacity of ten passengers. He also built a helix fan in order to freshen the stuffy air in the tunnels. Finally, as efforts were put on the construction of the tunneling machine and the city legislature was to examine the production, the problem rose to where it should be assembled and the location of the stations that would make it easy to build and require somewhat undemanding attempts.

Since the main purpose of building the tunnel was to carry packages, merchandise, and eventually to move workers around, it was obvious that the city would focus the Rapid Transit routes mainly from south to north and vice versa, and that the line would have to expand as practically from one end of the island to the other. In 1895, the city authorized the Rapid Transit Board. This proposal stated that the routes were to extend from Broadway below 34th Street to the Battery, and widen only to 185th Street on the west side of the city and 146th Street on the east.

However, because of the immense cost of construction under Broadway, the Supreme Court passed a law that prohibited this plan. To conform the Court, the Commission proposed the “Elm Street Route” and eventually the Brooklyn Extension, which then made it possible to build routes starting from the City Hall, and Brooklyn Bridge Terminal to Grand Central Plaza at 42nd Street and extend down Broadway to the South of Manhattan Island.

The total length of the line from City Hall to Grand Central Plaza was 13. 50 miles plus 47. 1 miles of single tracks. After the city legislature agreed with the idea of constructing tunnels in various locations, it decided to create three major competing transit agencies. The Interborough Rapid Transit (IRT), which opened in 1904, operated a route from City Hall to Grand Central, and then turned west and then north at Times Square. The Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit (BMT) managed the whole Brooklyn elevated lines. And finally in the 1920’s, The Independent Subway (IND) was formed which was not connected to any of the IRT or BMT lines.

This operator was not private and it began its operation system after the approval of the City’s Board of Transportation. There were generally five types of construction methods: “1) the typical subway near the surface with flat roof and “I” beams for the roof and sides, supported between tracks with steel bulb-angle columns used on about 10. 6 miles or 52. 5 percent of the road; 2) flat roof typical subway of reinforced concrete construction supported between the tracks by steel bulb-angle columns, on the Battery Park loop; 3) concrete lined tunnel used on about 4. miles or 23 percent of the road of which 4. 2 percent was concrete lined open cut work, and the remainder was rock tunnel work; 4) elevated road on steel viaduct used on about 5 miles or 24. 6 percent of the road; 5) cast-iron tubes used under the Harlem and East Rivers. ” The bottom of the typical subway was made of concrete. Each “I” beam column was five feet apart. As a support for the masonry and the columns, vertical concrete arches made from steel were built. Also, between each track, a couple of steel columns were assembled in order to support the beams.

In order to prevent the underground columns from getting destroyed, the roof was covered with a two- to-eight-layers-thick asphalt shield. In front of the waterproofing shield behind the steel columns, there was system of thick ducts with electric cables. The methods of construction varied depending on the time of the construction and the personal views of the constructors at different times. During the construction, however, they often had to face various difficulties such as the networks, the location of gas and water mains, pneumatic tubes, steam pipes, and electric equipments.

The contract for building of the road consisted the following statement: “The railway and its equipment as contemplated by the contract constitute a great public work. All parts of the structure where exposed to public sight shall therefore be designed, constructed, and maintained with a view to the beauty of their appearance, as well as their efficiency. ” According to this statement, one typical standard track was usually constructed using broken stone ballots and hard pine timber crossties. All curves were made out of steel inside the guardrails. The switches were built using the best quality of its time.

However, it might be argued today that the New York City Subway has not experienced the provisions mentioned in this contract. The city officials have not put any effort or time to fix the problems occurring in the railroads such as the “appearance” and possibly “efficiency. Due to the fact that the underground railroads needed so much power in order to operate fast and right, the city decided to build the powerhouse building adjacent to the North River, which was located in the center. The building was placed on the block bordered by West 58th and 59th Street, Eleventh Avenue, and Twelfth Avenue.

The powerhouse building was probably the most powerful powerhouse than any other powerhouses in the world. It could approximately produce not less than 100,000 horsepower. The oil system of the engines of the railroad trains was a very extensive, dispensing, and filtering method. The filtered oil was supplied under pressure from superior storage tanks and was then pumped to the other minor journals. The interesting fact about the oil system was that it could not be disturbed by a break in any one pipe. At almost all local stations, there were platforms located outside of the tracks.

These platforms served as waiting areas for passengers while the train was on its way. There were two island platforms at express stations between the local and express tracks. Local passengers were able to transfer from express trains and express passengers could transfer from local trains by crossing the island platforms without having to pay an extra payment. The station platforms were all lighted by incandescent lamps supplied from the 120 volts wiring paths, while the lighting of the subway sections was separated and powered by incandescent lamps attached in groups of five and connected to the main lighting path, which was 600 volts.

At every railroad car, there were placed a glass-covered box with an emergency hook provided inside. In times of emergency, passengers were able to break the glass box and pull the hook in order for the power to cut off from the contact rails. The subway cars were built in a way that there would always be a lot of seats available for the passengers. There were also seats accessible for the handicapped. The city built ticket booths at every important and often-used station. These booths were made of oak with bronze window grills and fittings.

Different payment methods had been used since the beginning of the foundation of the subway until several years after. These payment methods included tokens, coins, and the typical today metro cards. The price of each fare also changed as the subway riders, workers, and the constructors fought for better work conditions and higher wages. Today, the New York City subway plays a big role on the lives of millions of people who ride the subway daily as a useful means of transportation.

Even though the subway is a very easy and fast way to get around, it does not fully reassure people’s safety and security. In fact, after the tragedy of September 11th, the New York City subway has been a major target for possible terrorist attacks. New Yorkers and thousands of tourists, who recognize the subway as a very helpful tool, have also questioned the efficiency and the neatness of the subway cars. But the real answer has remained unclear by the city officials, who blame this on the low budget of the city.

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