Dual Contracts

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The Dual Contracts, signed on March 19, 1913 and also known as the Dual Subway System, were contracts for the construction and/or rehabilitation and operation of rapid transit lines in the City of New York. The majority of the lines of the present-day New York City Subway were built or reconstructed under these contracts. The contracts were "dual," in that they were signed between the City and two separate private companies (the Interborough Rapid Transit Company and the Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company) who would all work together to make the construction of the Dual Contracts possible.

Before the Contracts, opposition, and support[edit]

In the late 19th century and for most of the 20th century, New York was host to millions of immigrants each year. Many of the immigrants crowded into tenements and other apartment buildings in the inner city. This resulted in overpopulation of the buildings, and congestion of city streets. As living in Manhattan was becoming a hazard, subway lines to the outer boroughs were planned during the early 20th century, after the first subway line was opened.[1] Dispersion would result in the expansion and development of the boroughs, and would help prepare New York for the millions of immigrants that were to come in the following years.

Some opposed the Dual Contracts as they thought that the company owners and city officials were just looking for another way to produce personal revenue.[2] However, reformists like George McAneny and Charles Hughes would not have it any other way than to see the expansion of the city and the subway. They wanted to see the inner city become less populated and spread the people to the outer boroughs of the city. They planned to expand the city and disperse the people by building subway lines which would hopefully result in new homes being built near the subway lines and the areas surrounding. This would lower population densities in the city and also made as a good reason to help prove the subway expansion as necessary.

The Contracts[edit]

1910 plan for IRT expansion

Contract 3 was signed between the City and the IRT, operator of the original subway line in New York City. Contract 4 was signed between the City and the Municipal Railway Company, a subsidiary of the BRT (later BMT), formed especially for the purpose of contracting with the city for construction of the lines. Contracts 1 and 2 were the original subway contracts between the City and the IRT for the first subway in New York. These contracts predated the Dual Contracts.

Under the terms of Contracts 3 and 4, the city would build new subway and elevated lines, and rehabilitate and expand certain existing elevated lines, and lease them to the private companies for operation. The cost would be borne more-or-less equally by the City and the companies. The City's contribution was in cash raised by bond offerings, while the companies' contributions were variously by supplying cash, facilities and equipment to run the lines.

Queensboro Plaza[edit]

The contract negotiations were long and sometimes acrimonious. For instance, when the IRT was reluctant (if not totally opposed) to the BRT's proposed access to Midtown Manhattan via the Broadway Line, the city and state negotiators immediately offered the BRT all of the lines under proposal - including such obvious IRT tie-ins such as the upper Lexington Avenue Line, and both lines in Queens. The IRT quickly gave in to the 'invasion' of Midtown Manhattan by the BRT.

The assignment of the proposed lines in Queens proved to be an imposition on both companies. Instead of one company enjoying a monopoly in that borough, both proposed lines — a short line to Astoria, and a longer line reaching initially to Corona, and eventually to Flushing — were assigned to both companies, to be operated in what was called "joint service." The lines would start from a huge station called Queensborough Plaza. The IRT would access the station from both the 1907 Steinway Tunnel and an extension of the Second Avenue Elevated from Manhattan over the Queensborough Bridge. The BRT would feed the Queens lines from a new tunnel from 60th Street in Manhattan. Technically the line was under IRT 'ownership', but the BRT/BMT was granted trackage rights in perpetuity, essentially making it theirs also.

The BRT had a big disadvantage, as both Queens lines were built to IRT specifications. This meant that IRT passengers would have a one-seat ride to Manhattan destinations, whereas BRT passengers had to make a change at Queensborough Plaza. This came to be important when service was extended for the 1939 World's Fair, as the IRT was able to offer direct express trains from Manhattan, and the BRT was not. This practice lasted well into the municipal ownership of the lines, and was not ended until 1949. Both companies would share in the revenues from this service. To facilitate this arrangement originally, extra long platforms were constructed along both Queens routes, so separate fare controls/boarding areas could be established. This quickly turned out to be operationally unworkable, so eventually a proportionate formula was worked out. The bonus legacy of this construction was that the IRT was able to operate 11-car trains on this line, and when the BMT took over the Astoria Line, minimal work had to done to accommodate 10-car BMT units.

Several provisions were imposed on the companies, which eventually led to their downfall and consolidation into City ownership in 1940:

  • The fare was limited to five cents, and this led to financial troubles for the two companies after post-World War I inflation.
  • The City had the right to "recapture" any of the lines it built, and run them as its own.
  • The City was to share in the profits.

IRT lines[edit]

The following lines were built under the Dual Contracts for the IRT:

The following lines were rebuilt with extra tracks:

BMT lines[edit]

1924 map of the BMT Dual Contracts lines

All Manhattan and Queens BMT lines were built under the Dual Contracts, as were all subway and some elevated lines in Brooklyn.

Lines and line segments built new[edit]

Grade-separated rights-of-way built to replace surface railroads[edit]

1911 plan, giving all the contracts to the BRT

Existing rights-of-way rehabilitated and expanded[edit]


As reformists predicted the Dual Contracts resulted in city expansion. People moved to the newly built homes along the newly built subway lines. These homes were affordable, about the same cost as the houses in Brooklyn and Manhattan (Derrick 7). The Dual Contracts were the key to dispersion of the city’s congested areas. The Dual Contracts helped lower high population areas and probably helped saves lives as people were no longer living in heavily diseased areas. According to the Federal Census of New York City for 1920 there was a decrease in population in the Manhattan borough decreased from 1910-1920. The census resulted in the following:

  • 1905 State census-1,271,848
  • 1910 United State census-1,269,591
  • 1915 State census-1,085,308
  • 1920 United State census-1,059,589[3]

People were allowed to move to better parts the same cost and could have a better and more comfortable life in the suburbs. They could still commute to work every day as most of the better off city workers who moved to the outer boroughs did (Derrick 7). This also helped the business districts as people could still work. The Dual Contracts as a whole helped shape New York City into what it is today.


  1. ^ Derrick 265
  2. ^ Derrick 6
  3. ^ "Lower Manhattan Lost in Population". The New York Times. New York Times. Retrieved 11/5/2013. 

Further reading[edit]

Peter Derrick. Tunneling to the Future: The Story of the Great Subway Expansion that Saved New York. NYU Press, 2001. ISBN 0814719104

External links[edit]