New York Central's 1934 West Side Improvement

New St. John's Park Freight Terminal, showing southern end with service driveway and eastern side on Washington Street
New St. John's Park Freight Terminal as it appears looking down on it from east to west, with West Street and Hudson River piers in background
A typical view of the heavy vehicular traffic which, until the construction of the new viaduct, has been subjected daily to delays and hazards in Tenth Avenue as well as other streets.
Another view of the new freight terminal showing, at right, tracks entering on viaduct from the north
An old print of the original St. John's Park Freight Terminal, opened in 1868 on Hudson Street and now to be abandoned.
View of the new viaduct at the southwestern side of the 30th Street Yards. This yard is to be reconstructed and improved.
General view of 30th Street Yard, showing it encircled by new viaduct which loops around this yard. At 35th Street the viaduct will descend into subway extending to 60th Street.
A view of the viaduct looking north from Clarkson Street, with tracks passing through two buildings
New viaduct with its two tracks spreading into eight as they enter St. John's Park Freight Terminal
Aerial view of viaduct crossing West 14th Street and extending southward
Looking down upon the viaduct northward from West 17th Street
A typical section of the new viaduct, showing siding at Spear & Company's warehouse
Huge plant of the Merchants Refrigerating Company and a portion of the viaduct at West 17th Street
An aerial view of the viaduct looking south from the Cudahy Packing Company's building at West 14th Street
Bell Telephone Laboratories Building, at Bethune Street, with tracks piercing the building
Manhattan Refrigerating Company building, which has a private siding directly in the building
National Biscuit Company's plant at West 15th Street, with private siding on viaduct passing through bridge building
R. C. Williams & Co. building at 265 Tenth Avenue, with two cars spotted at the grocery company's private siding
New York Stock Yards Company's building at West 41st Street, in which are handled live stock brought into the city by the New York Central's West Side Line.
At West 14th Street, sidings within the new Cudahy Packing Company's building serve the Cudahy Company Armour & Co. and Wilson & Co.
Swift & Company's new building at West 13th Street, which has private siding on the viaduct
New Morgan Parcel Post building which is served by a spur from the viaduct at West 30th Street
One of the West Side "cowboys" who for 85 years by laws have had to precede every train or locomotive operated on the surface of Tenth Avenue.

This is from a 1934 pamphlet describing improvements in the New York Central's freight distribution system in Manhattan. It closely approximates the original but some of the pictures have been reordered.

New York Central West Side Improvement Pamphlet CoverWest Side Improvement in Brief

The West Side Improvement, when completed will extend southward, 13 miles, from Spuyten Duyvil, where it leaves the New York Central’s main line, down the east bank of the Hudson into the lower part of Manhattan Island terminating at Spring Street, one block north of the Holland Tunnel. It will remove freight trains from surfaces of busy streets over which they have been operated for more than 80 years.

This West Side line is known as the "Life Line of New York." inasmuch as the city, to a considerable extent, depends on the transportation afforded by this line for its food and milk, and for merchandise, express and varied commodities. It is the only all-rail freight line on Manhattan Island.

The initial stage, now completed, carries the line on a viaduct with a minimum clearance of 14 feet over the streets from 30th Street to St. John's Park Freight Terminal. The new viaduct provides for side tracks right to the doors of industries located along the right of way and passes directly through a number of buildings, several of which were built with this idea in mind, thus enabling tenants to receive or ship freight within their own building, eliminating the cost in time and money of trucking. Eventually, much of the right of way, including the 30th and 60th Street yards, is expected to be covered with "air right" commercial structures.

The final step to be undertaken by the railroad is the construction of a subway or cut from 35th Street to 60th Street. Later the tracks thorough Riverside Park will be covered by the city, permitting the use of the park by the public all the way from Riverside Drive to the edge of the Hudson and giving the people of New York 32 acres of additional recreational space. This additional park space, plus the removal of trains from the streets of the congested West Side, in the heart of the commercial and industrial district will constitute a great permanent civic improvement.

St. John's Park Freight Terminal, with tracks at second floor, permits public loading and unloading to be done entirely under cover. The Terminal covers three city blocks and eventually will be extended one block to the south and nine additional stories will be built above its present three stories. These additions will make it the largest commercial structure in New York City.

The Terminal is served by 14 freight elevators and is designed to facilitate the speedy and economical handling of freight. The first floor of the Terminal is recessed so that 150 trucks may load or discharge at one time under cover and within the building line.

Operation will be by electric third rail to 30th Street. Switching in 30th and 60th Street yards and to industries south of 30th Street will be by Diesel electric locomotives.

The Improvement involves the removal of 105 grade crossings, 66 of which will be eliminated by the initial reconstruction.

New York Central West Side Improvement In New York City
With the dedication, June 28, 1934, of the new St. John's Park Freight Terminal of the New York Central Railroad Company, New York City comes within sight of the consummation of the West Side Improvement, one of the greatest projects ever undertaken jointly by public and private interests on Manhattan Island. The completion, in the next few years, of this gigantic undertaking, already foreshadowed by the opening of this huge terminal, will bring about a new era for the industrial West Side.

The West Side Improvement, the only all-rail freight line on Manhattan Island, provides time-and money-saving facilities for manufacturers, merchants, industrialists, and receivers and shippers of all kinds, that are unique, and this in the industrial center of the world's largest city. One of the great engineering achievements in recent years, it will have lasting beneficial and fundamental effects on the life and well-being of the city and its people. Among the benefits that will result may be mentioned the following:

  1. The settlement of several long standing disputes between the railroad company and the city.
  2. The elimination of railroad grade crossings at 105 streets, including the railroad's longitudinal occupation of several important north and south thoroughfares, freeing these avenues and streets from the congestion, hazards and traffic delays that were inevitable with train operation on the surface of the streets.
  3. The discontinuance of steam operation of trains in the City and the substitution of electric operation. This is accomplished by extending the railroad company's existing third rail system southerly to Thirtieth Street. Main line trains south of this point, switching in the Thirtieth and Sixtieth Street Yards, and for industries south of Sixtieth Street will be handled by 36 Diesel electric locomotives.
  4. The development of Riverside Park, the covering of the railroad north of Seventy-Second Street, with an express motor highway, and easy access to 32 acres of additional recreational space for the public.
  5. The improvement of the Railroad Company's freight operation and switching services on its new private right-of-way without interference with street traffic, thus materially aiding in the development of the West Side industrial area. Much of the freight vitally necessary to New York City, particularly milk, meats and other food-stuffs, is hauled over this route, long known as the "Life Line of New York."

The Improvement is the culmination of more than 40 years of planning and negotiations between the City of New York and The New York Central Railroad Company which resulted in an agreement on July 2, 1929, between the City and the Railroad Company. The agreement was based on a report of the West Side Improvement Engineering Committee, appointed by Mayor James J. Walker, which harmonized the re-arrangement of railroad facilities with related public improvements. The Committee consisted of representatives of the Transit Commission, the Board of Transportation, the Board of Estimate and Apportionment, Borough of Manhattan, the Port of New York Authority and the New York Central Railroad Company. The abandonment of this old line and the construction of the new one were approved by the Interstate Commerce Commission.

The Improvement necessitated the abandonment of the old St. John's Park Terminal, opened in 1868 on Hudson Street between Laight and Beech Streets, and the construction of a new freight terminal at the southerly terminus of the new line at Spring Street.

The unusual name, for a freight station-"St. John's Park"-is derived from the fact that the original station bearing this name was located on the site of the old St. John's Park, owned by St. John's Episcopal Church, an ancient land-mark on the east side of Varick Street that was destroyed by the construction of the West Side Subway. The name of the station is so well known to New York Central patrons that it has been continued for the new terminal.

From the new Terminal trains are operated on a two-track elevated structure along a private right-of-way to Thirtieth Street Yard, crossing about 40 intersecting streets on overhead bridges. The Thirtieth Street Yard, ten blocks in area, between Thirtieth and Thirty-Seventh Streets, and the Sixtieth Street Yard, between Fifty-Ninth and Seventy-Ninth Streets and about double the area of the Thirtieth Street Yard, will be re-arranged and improved. Between Thirtieth and Sixtieth Street Yards, the tracks are to be located on a private right-of-way between Tenth and Eleventh Avenues and depressed so as to be carried under the intersecting cross-streets.

Both the Thirtieth and Sixtieth Street Yards, which are among the largest privately owned areas in New York City, will be so reconstructed that ultimately they can be covered with commercial buildings. Above Seventy-Second Street, the railroad follows its former grade and line but will be covered by a steel and concrete roof, thus providing for the motor express highway and making possible the extension of Riverside Park down to the waterfront.

The entire project has involved the removal of 640 buildings of all kinds, including one church and two schools. That portion of the line which is carried below the street level as well as the elevated portion, is expected to be covered and built over with warehouses or manufacturing buildings through the development of the air rights.

The new St. John's Park Freight Terminal is one of the outstanding features of the Improvement. The ultimate station will occupy four blocks between Spring, Clarkson, Washington and West Streets. The initial structure covers the northerly two-thirds of the plot extending from the south side of Charlton Street to Clarkson Street and is about 800 feet long. With its three stories and basement it has a gross floor area of 730,000 square feet and is served by eight tracks having a standing capacity of 150 cars. Eventually, a twelve-story structure, 1260 feet long, with a width varying from 190 to 282 feet, covering all four blocks, is proposed. The final building will have a gross floor area of 3,500,000 square feet and will be served by eight tracks with a standing capacity of 193 cars.

The Terminal is of steel and concrete construction with the exterior of light buff brick with Indiana limestone trim and a base course of granite. The doors and windows are of steel. The Terminal stands on 311 caissons that were carried 60 to 90 feet down to bed rock.

The first floor, at street level, is the freight house proper and has back-up platform space for 127 trucks inside the building; the entire floor, including these truck pockets, is enclosed by motor-operated steel doors along the building line.

The second floor is the track floor and has eight tracks in pits with concrete track floor construction to facilitate cleaning. The track platforms are built with recesses in the edge to permit the handling of container cars. Two refrigerator rooms are provided on this floor for protection of hold-over perishable freight.

Freight office facilities and record storage are provided on the third floor together with facilities for servicing electric trucks. The roof of the building is designed as a future fourth floor and the columns have been built to carry nine additional stories.

Fourteen elevators, two of which are designed to handle trucks, provide service between the street floor and the track floor. A pneumatic tube system connects the freight offices on the third floor with the platforms on the street and track floors. The building is sprinkler equipped throughout and is one of the most completely fireproofed buildings in New York City. At the south end of the building a five-ton hoist is provided to handle heavy and bulky pieces direct from cars on the second floor to trucks in the service driveway on the street level.

The Terminal will handle freight in both carload and less than carload quantities, inbound and outbound, including butter, eggs, cheese and dressed poultry. St. John's Park has been New York's principal delivery station for "dairy freight" for more than half a century

The United States Customs have offices with a corps of inspectors in the building and import freight in bond is promptly forwarded. Inbound freight arriving in bond is cleared expeditiously.

The Viaduct, which leads north from the Terminal, carries two main tracks up to Thirtieth Street, where it turns west and encircles the Thirtieth Street Yard in order to have sufficient distance to overcome the difference in elevation between the Viaduct and the depressed tracks to the north. Ample provision for the construction of future industrial tracks has been made and sidings now built will afford direct service to numerous industries.

The Viaduct is of steel with concrete floor construction and the tracks are carried on stone ballast except in the packing house district between Little West Twelfth and West Fourteenth Streets where, for sanitary purposes, they are of concrete construction. An unusual feature of the Viaduct is its passage through buildings, some of which had to be retained, constructed, or reconstructed. A most interesting example is the Bell Telephone Laboratories Building between Bank and Bethune Streets, where it was necessary to support the Viaduct on caissons independent of the building in order to eliminate vibration, which might affect the precision instruments in the Laboratories Building. From an engineering standpoint, this was one of the most difficult pieces of construction of the Improvement so far completed.

As new buildings are constructed along the right-of-way and the air rights developed, they will have direct delivery to their doors by sidetracks, enabling manufacturers to bring in raw materials and ship out finished products without leaving their own buildings. The elimination of trucking and the consequent saving of time and expense made possible by this unusual facility are expected to have an appreciable effect on the costs of manufacturers and distributors who enjoy this service.

On the northerly side of West Thirtieth Street, a double track spur extends across Tenth Avenue into the new Morgan Parcel Post Building, bounded by West Thirtieth and West Twenty-Ninth Streets, and Ninth and Tenth Avenue. It is expected that approximately 8,000 cars of mail will be received and dispatched annually through this building, which is a six-story and ten-story structure and occupies the site of the original passenger station of the old Hudson River Railroad. Mail will be handled on the second floor, where six tracks and necessary platforms are provided to accommodate 36 cars at one time.

Work will be started soon on the depressed tracks between the Thirtieth and Sixtieth Street Yards and to date arrangements have been made for private sidetracks in this territory for the New York Times and for Sheffield Farms Co. In the Sixtieth Street Yard, which is the main receiving, classification and departure yard for the West Side Line, there has been constructed a new and enlarged milk delivery facility to replace that formerly in the block now occupied by the Morgan Parcel Post Building, a new live poultry layout consisting of platforms and driveways sufficient to handle 26,000,000 chickens and fowl a year and facilities for unloading automobiles.

Between West Sixty-Fourth and West Sixty-Fifth Streets, a building used by the Chrysler Corporation for the storage and servicing of automobiles, is served by a private sidetrack.

With the exception of eliminating the grade crossings at West Seventy-Ninth and West Ninety-Sixth Streets by carrying the streets over the tracks, all of the work in the initial railroad improvement program has been completed north of West Seventy-Second Street. The line has been elevated in the Manhattanville territory, crossing over the streets between St. Clair Place and West One Hundred and Thirty-Fifth Street with three tracks carried on a Viaduct. Sidetracks have been provided on the high level to serve several packing houses in this district.

The freight facilities at Manhattanville have been enlarged and improved to afford adequate team track and driveways and special facilities have been provided for handling milk, automobiles and heavy freight.

The grade crossing at West One Hundred and Fifty-Eighth Street has been eliminated by carrying the street overhead; the tracks have been elevated in the vicinity of Inwood Park, crossing overhead at Dyckman Street.

With train operation over the new downtown Viaduct, one of the picturesque scenes of New York City, the boys on horseback, who under an old ordinance, have had to precede each locomotive or train passing through the street, vanishes from the scene. These West Side "cowboys" and their predecessors, each carrying a red flag giving warning of the approach, at six miles per hour, of the train he precedes, have been riding up and down the West Side of Manhattan since 1849.

The whole improvement necessitated one of the most extensive realty acquisition programs ever undertaken by private interests in New York City. The transactions incident to securing title to the private right-of-way involved about 350 separate parcels in nearly 60 blocks, from Spring Street to Sixtieth Street Yard.

Although work has been in progress on the West Side Improvement since the latter part of 1925, the project as a whole is so gigantic and intricate that it will take several years to complete the remaining stages.

Along the length of the Improvement from Seventy-Second Street to St. John's Park Terminal there are a number of parcels of land, by-products of the Improvement purchases, that are suitable for the location of warehouses, loft buildings, factories, etc., with the opportunity of being served by private sidings, with the convenience, dispatch, economy and freedom from trucking troubles and expenses that they make possible.

The "West Side Line" of the New York Central is about 13 miles in length and extends from a junction with the Main Line at Spuyten Duyvil southerly to the new St. John's Park Freight Station, one of the largest freight stations in the country. Freight stations are also located, on this line, at 130th Street, 60th Street, and 30th Street.

In the territory south of 60th Street the railroad originally was constructed in city streets and followed the route indicated in dashed lines. It is now being relocated on a private right of way, the location of which is indicated by a solid line. Between the 60th Street and 30th Street Yards the railroad will be constructed below street grade, but from 30th Street to the southerly terminus the tracks have been constructed on a steel viaduct, with minimum clearance of 14 feet above the streets. The "loop track" around the 30th Street Yard constitutes the means of connecting the underground section with the elevated tracks without crossing any streets at grade.

Numerous sites adjacent to the New Line are available for the construction of commercial and industrial buildings requiring sidetrack service. A number of companies have already availed themselves of the opportunity to secure sidetrack service, many of the tracks and unloading platforms being constructed within the buildings in such a manner as to afford complete protection from the weather and with no interference from street traffic.

For further particulars, consult Manager, Industrial Department, 466 Lexington Avenue, New York City.