Steinway Tunnel

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Steinway Tunnel
Track work in the tunnel in October 2011
Line IRT Flushing Line (7 <7> trains)
Location East River between Manhattan and Queens in New York City
Coordinates 40°44′48″N 73°57′48″W / 40.7468°N 73.9633°W / 40.7468; -73.9633Coordinates: 40°44′48″N 73°57′48″W / 40.7468°N 73.9633°W / 40.7468; -73.9633
System New York City Subway
Opened June 13, 1915; 100 years ago (June 13, 1915)[1]
Operator Metropolitan Transportation Authority
Length 1.3 miles (2.1 km)
No. of tracks 2

The Steinway Tunnel carries the 7 <7> trains of the New York City Subway under the East River between 42nd Street in Manhattan and 51st Avenue in Long Island City, Queens, in New York City. It was originally designed and built as an interurban trolley tunnel (hence the narrow loading gauge and height), with stations near the current Hunters Point Avenue and Grand Central stations of the 7 <7> trains. It is named for William Steinway, who was a major promoter of its construction, although he died in 1896 before it was completed.

Initial work[edit]

The first plans to dig a railway tunnel under the East River, date back to the year 1885. On December 22, the East River Tunnel Railroad Company was founded. Its objective was to connect the Long Island Railroad (LIRR)'s tracks in Long Island City and the New York Central & Hudson River Railroad's tracks in the City of New York in the same tunnel. Back then, the New York metropolitan area was cut by large, nearly impassable water areas. In addition, plans to build the Queensboro Bridge were stagnant at the time.[2] However, the East River Tunnel Railroad Company went defunct, and so on July 22, 1887, Walter S. Gurnee and Malcolm W. Niven founded the New York and Long Island Railroad Company (NY&LIRR), and soon began planning for the tunnel.[2]

The tunnel was to begin on the New York side near the Hudson River docks in Manhattan, from there it would go east along 42nd Street to Grand Central and carry straight on under the East River. In Long Island City, one tunnel would go under 5th Street (now 49th Avenue), while another was to be at 4th Street (now 50th Avenue). It would go under Jackson Avenue and finally Thomson Avenue, intersecting LIRR tracks at Hunterspoint Avenue. The total cost of the 5.6-mile (9.0 km) tunnel was to be US$11.7 million.[2] The estimated total cost exceeded the financial capabilities of the company by far. So in July 1891, piano maker William Steinway started to fund the tunnel. In Astoria, Steinway had acquired, in addition to its factory, considerable real estate assets. He became a major shareholder and became the new chairman of the company. The tunnel was thus named after him.[2] Steinway advised the company to utilize electricity to power the tunnels, believing that the construction of the tunnel would increase the value of his properties within the vicinity.[2]

The route was finalized in the City of New York in 1890 and in Long Island City by 1891.[2] Construction was started on June 7, 1892, as a NY&LIRR project,[3] and the bottom of the tunnel shaft was reached in December of the same year.[4] As Steinway was the NY&LIRR's biggest stockholder, the tunnel was named after him.[3] However, soon after the start of construction, there were many complications. The project was difficult due to complex geological formations beneath the river, and there were frequent blowouts and floods. It was curtailed for a little while when five people were killed on December 28, 1892.[5] At the corner of Vernon Boulevard, Jackson Avenue and 50th Avenue, a 85-foot (26 m)-deep shaft was dug, and on December 28, during an attempt to heat frozen dynamite in the shaft, an uncontrolled explosion claimed five dead and twelve injured. Numerous surrounding houses were heavily damaged.[5] Due to high compensation claims, the Company was financially ruined. Trying to raise additional funds, failed because of the stock market crash of 1893.[5] Work was stopped as a result, and it was boarded up. Investors refused to fund the tunnel because they feared that it was unsafe.[6] Until Steinway died in 1896, some attempts were occasionally made to resume construction.[2]

IRT operation[edit]

The project was revived in 1902 with financial support from August Belmont, Jr., who assumed the cost of building the Interborough Rapid Transit Company (IRT) and its plan of equipping and operating the first subway. Surveys and tunnel plans were prepared from scratch by the IRT.[6] Belmont intended to run trolley car service in the tunnel, so he bought the New York and Queens County Railway.[6] It was opened on September 24, 1907, after the city had objected to it multiple times and after several disasters nearly stopped the project.[7] Some demonstration trolley car runs were conducted through the tunnels in 1907; however, Belmont did not have a franchise to operate a transit line.[8] The tunnels, with trolley loops on both the Manhattan and Queens sides, remained idle until Belmont sold them to the city in 1913.[8][9]

Queens portal

The original IRT plan was to resume trolley car operation,[6] but this was rejected in favor of a regular rapid transit train service.[2] The tunnels were measured, and it was found that only minor modifications were needed to allow for third rail installation. The loops and the ramp were unusable by regular subway cars due to the tight 50 feet (15 m) radius of the loops and the steep 6% incline. However, the roadbed did not have to be lowered, nor was special low profile rail required, but the duct banks in the tunnels were replaced.[2][9] Due to disputes, work on making the tunnel suitable for subway service did not commence until the Dual Contracts were signed in 1913. [10] The tunnels were modified to accommodate IRT subway cars in 1914. The first IRT Steinway test train between Grand Central and Vernon Avenue (today's Vernon Boulevard – Jackson Avenue station) ran June 13, 1915,[1] with regularly scheduled service beginning June 22.[11]

When Belmont modified the IRT Flushing Line to extend to Times Square and to Flushing, it was found that the loops could not be used for the extensions.[9] The loops on the Queens side of the tunnel were obliterated in the wake of new construction. The loop on the Manhattan side, however, is intact and currently occupied by maintenance rooms, although the ceiling third rail still exists in the loop.[9] The line from Times Square to Flushing was completed in 1928.[2]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b The New York Times June 13, 1915.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Rogoff 1960.
  3. ^ a b Hood 2004, p. 163.
  4. ^ Hood 2004, p. 164.
  5. ^ a b c Hood 2004, pp. 164-165.
  6. ^ a b c d Hood 2004, p. 165.
  7. ^ Hood 2004, pp. 166-167.
  8. ^ a b Hood 2004, pp. 168.
  9. ^ a b c d LTV Squad 2012.
  10. ^ Hood 2004, p. 173.
  11. ^ The New York Times June 22, 1915.

Further reading[edit]

  • IRT Corona/Flushing Line from
  • Brian J. Cudahy: Under the Sidewalks of New York, the story of the greatest subway system in the world. Fordham University Press, New York 1995 (2.Aufl.), S.62f. ISBN 0-8232-1618-7
  • Erik Baard, Thomas Jackson, Richard Melnick: The East River. Greater Astoria Historical Society. Arcadia Publishing, Charleston 2005. ISBN 0-7385-3787-X