Beach Pneumatic Transit

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Beach Pneumatic Transit
Beach Pneumatic Transit 01.jpg
Sketch of the train car and tunnel
Overview
Type Atmospheric railway
Locale New York City, USA
Termini Warren Street / Broadway
Murray Street / Broadway
Stations 1[1]
Operation
Opening 26 February 1870[2]
Closed 1873[2]
Owner Beach Pneumatic Transit Company
Operator(s) Beach Pneumatic Transit Company
Rolling stock 1 car
Technical
Line length 95 m (0.059 mi)[2]
No. of tracks Single track
Route map
The plan of the Beach Pneumatic Transit station and tunnel.

The Beach Pneumatic Transit was the first attempt to build an underground public transit system in New York City.

History[edit]

In 1869, Alfred Ely Beach and his Beach Pneumatic Transit Company of New York began constructing a pneumatic subway line beneath Broadway. (Beach had earlier demonstrated the basic system at the American Institute Exhibition in 1867.) Funneled through a company he set up, Beach put up $350,000 of his own money to bankroll the project.[3] Built in only 58 days,[2] its single tunnel, 312 feet (95 m) long, 8 feet (2.4 m) in diameter, was completed in 1870 and ran under Broadway from Warren Street to Murray Street.[4]

With no initial political support for his project, he started the project claiming he was building postal tubes. The initial permit was to install a pair of smaller postal tubes below Broadway but was later amended to allow the excavation of a single large tunnel wherein the smaller tubes could reside.[5] The exact location of the tubes was determined during construction by compass and survey as well as verified by driving jointed rods of iron up through the roof of the tunnel to the pavement.[6] The line was built as a demonstration of a pneumatic transit system, open to the public with fares donated to charity. Proceeds of the 25 cent admission went to the Union Home and School for Soldiers' and Sailors' Orphans.[7]

It remained little more than a curiosity, running only a single car on its one-block-long track to a dead-end at its terminus. (Passengers would simply ride out and back, to see what the proposed subway might be like.) During its first two weeks of operation, the Beach Pneumatic Transit sold over 11,000 rides with 400,000 rides provided during its first year of operation.[5][8] Although the public showed initial approval, Beach was delayed in getting permission to expand it due to official obstruction for various reasons (see Alfred Beach article). By the time he finally gained permission in 1873, public and financial support had waned, and the subway was closed down. The final blow to the project was a stock market crash which caused investors to withdraw support. It is unclear that such a system could have been practical for a large-scale subway network.[9][full citation needed]

After the project was shut down, the tunnel entrance was sealed and the station, built in part of the basement of the Rogers Peet Building, was reclaimed for other uses. The entire building was lost to fire in 1898.[10] In 1912, workers excavating for the present-day BMT Broadway Line dug into the old Beach tunnel, where they found the remains of the car and the tunnelling shield used during initial construction. The shield was removed and donated to Cornell University, which has since lost track of its whereabouts.[11] No part of this line remains as the tunnel was completely within the limits of the present day City Hall Station under Broadway. The New York Historical Society commissioned a plaque honoring Alfred E Beach to be placed in the City Hall station.[3][5][full citation needed]

Design[edit]

Aesthetics[edit]

It was designed as a very ornate project. The station was adorned with frescoes and easy chairs. Zirconia lamps revealed the luxurious interior of the station.[12] There were statues and a gold fish pond in the station that people could look at while they waited for their turn to enter the ride.

Technical specs[edit]

The car could hold 22 people[13][full citation needed] and the riders would enter the site at Devlin's Clothing Store, a well known shop, located at 260 Broadway, on the southwest corner of Warren Street.[7][14][15]

The ride was controlled by a 48 short tons (44 t) fan, nicknamed "the Western Tornado", built by "Roots Patent Force Rotary Blowers". When the car reached the end, the baffles on the fan were reversed and the car was pulled back by the suction.[13]

Related development[edit]

The Crystal Palace pneumatic railway was a similar but longer system which operated in 1864 on the grounds of The Crystal Palace in London.[16]

In popular culture[edit]

The 1973 novel The Taking of Pelham One Two Three by Morton Freedgood (under the pen name John Godey) features a character speculating on Beach's tunnel as a possible escape route for four men who have hijacked a subway car and demanded ransom for its passengers. The history of Beach's project is briefly described, but is ultimately unrelated to the criminals' escape plan.

In the 1989 movie Ghostbusters II, it is referred to as the New York Pneumatic Railroad (NYPRR). The film depicts the fictional Van Horne Station beneath the intersection of East 77th Street and First Avenue, where a subterranean river of ectoplasm flows through its tunnels toward the fictional Manhattan Museum of Art. It is interesting to note that the building used for filming the Manhattan Museum of Art's exterior was actually the Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House near Battery Park, which is within a mile of the original Beach Pneumatic Transit's tunnel location.[17]

Neal Schusterman's Young Adult Novel Downsiders makes many references to the Beach Pneumatic Transit.

The novel Faces in the Crowd by William Marshall depicts the abandoned station and tunnel as the headquarters of a criminal plot.

The song Sub-Rosa Subway on the first album by the Canadian rock band Klaatu, titled: 3:47 EST, is about Beach's subway.

The image shown at the top of this page, along with other relevant material such as contemporary local newspaper headlines about the subject, is featured on the New York subway-themed murals of many Subway Restaurants.

The film An American Tail: The Treasure of Manhattan Island involves the main characters Fievel Mouskewitz and Tony Toponi exploring a series of caverns directly beneath one of the abandoned terminals for the Pneumatic Transit system.

The comic book Atomic Robo Volume 6: The Deadly Art of Science[not in citation given] depicts an entire network of pneumatic transit tubes running beneath Manhattan. Constructed in part by Nikola Tesla, the system was shut down for not being built "according to code" and is not part of common public knowledge.

The book Ripper by Stefan Petrucha depicts the headquarters of a secret detective organization in the abandanoned station and tunnel.

The Pneumatic Transit tunnel is featured in the 2014 episode "Wormquake! - Part 1" of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles CGI series.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Most, Doug, The race underground : Boston, New York, and the incredible rivalry that built America’s first subway, First edition, New York : St. Martin’s Press, February 2014.ISBN 9780312591328. Cf. especially the chapter "A Secret Subway" on Beach's pneumatic underground subway in New York City.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 40°42′48″N 74°00′25″W / 40.71332°N 74.00701°W / 40.71332; -74.00701