Tunnel – Marble Hill Cut Off

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Tunnel – Marble Hill Cut Off

Postby chnhrr » Wed Feb 09, 2011 11:05 pm

When the Harlem River was altered in the late 19th Century to better accommodate shipping (i.e. The Harlem Ship Canal), the New York Central took advantage of the revised landmass to construct a cut off and eliminate the hair pin route at Marble Hill in the Bronx. Originally there was a plan to build a tunnel through the rock hill near the river, but it was decided that it would be more efficacious to blast out the rock entirely and possibly use the remnants for fill and shoring along the river. In the first posting, I include a map showing the former route of the old line (in red) and the existing cut off or current way. The second posting shows a cross section of the four track tunnel that never was.
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Re: Tunnel – Marble Hill Cut Off

Postby chnhrr » Wed Feb 09, 2011 11:12 pm

Here is the cross section of the never executed tunnel. Note that the single tunnel would have spanned all four tracks. A photo from the 1930’s in the next posting shows the cut-off and excavated portion of the rock hill.
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Re: Tunnel – Marble Hill Cut Off

Postby chnhrr » Wed Feb 09, 2011 11:20 pm

Here is a view (1930’s) looking northwest at the removed portion of the rock hill that allowed for a more direct passage.
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Re: Tunnel – Marble Hill Cut Off

Postby urrengr2003 » Tue Feb 15, 2011 12:06 pm

Very interesting post. Is there any may to obtain track diagrams of the interlockings at 'DV' & Marble Hill. It would help understand how this segment which was double track was engineered by the carrier to handle traffic from four tracks. It's always interesting to identify parallel routes thru interlocking plants & understand the current of traffic on double tracks.
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Re: Tunnel – Marble Hill Cut Off

Postby H.F.Malone » Tue Feb 15, 2011 12:25 pm

I'm not so sure that photo shows the same spot indicated in the map as "proposed tunnel". The photo shows the view west from the Broadway bridge, at the location just above "SHIP" in the map. This is the present-day location of marble Hill station. The four tracks change to two at the curve in the distance (in the photo) at Signal Station "FH". It may be that the propsed tunnel was to go though that visible rock outcropping north of the four tracks.

The spot shown in the map, the "neck" of rock that sticks out into the river/ship canal, was and is a two-track cut. It had a stub track along the river starting at the south leg of the "DV" wye and ending at the rise of rock along the west side of the cut. That track was known as "Johnson's", after the Johnson Iron Foundry that was nearby (and possibly served by that stub siding). Up above the track/river level, there is a Johnson Avenue in Riverdale.

"FH" was the east end interlocking for the two-track section, and "DV" handled the west end, among all the other signals/switches in the area. "FH" was remoted and control was moved into "DV" in the 1950s.
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Re: Tunnel – Marble Hill Cut Off

Postby H.F.Malone » Tue Feb 15, 2011 12:29 pm

One more thing: At "FH", there was a freight spur that followed the old river bed north and east to the NYCS warehouse/freight station/LCL/team track on 230th St. That was active into the late 1960s, as I recall (I rode a "screen door" NYC transfer caboose on a KD-Yonkers local freight into that spur one afternoon). The whole area has been redeveloped and changed beyond recognition (high school, apt. buildings, etc.).
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Re: Tunnel – Marble Hill Cut Off

Postby timz » Tue Feb 15, 2011 1:39 pm

H.F.Malone wrote:It may be that the propsed tunnel was to go though that visible rock outcropping north of the four tracks.
Presumably the straightaway west from Marble Hill was supposed to continue thru the tunnel, instead of the track curving left as the pic shows.
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Re: Tunnel – Marble Hill Cut Off

Postby chnhrr » Sun Feb 20, 2011 1:15 pm

Yes Malone your right. After I posted that last photo, I thought I had mistakenly showed an area east of the proposed tunnel location. It appears the tunnel would have gone under Johnson Avenue. The map shows the road with a different name in 1906. I marked up the recent satellite view showing a possible route being contemplated by the New York Central, a portion of which would have included the 641 foot long four track tunnel.
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Re: Tunnel – Marble Hill Cut Off

Postby Dieter » Wed Feb 23, 2011 2:19 pm

Isn't it strange that while making such a dramatic change, that a curve wasn't put in place where the JFK Football Field is, with the Central making a bee-line from that point directly to the Hudson, south of Riverdale? I always thought that Spuyten Duyvil and Marble Hill stations were rediculously too close. Their placement must have been politically motivated.

The run would have been shorter, speeds could have been higher. I doubt if ripping through a neighborhood was as much of a concern as the cost of demolition of rock and ROW construction.

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Re: Tunnel – Marble Hill Cut Off

Postby Tommy Meehan » Wed Feb 23, 2011 10:01 pm

If anyone ever gets a chance to browse the William Wilgus papers (he was Central's Vice President Construction, in charge of the electrification work in 1902-1907) at the NY Public Library, the Marble Hill Cutoff is discussed at length in various memos and reports in the collection.

As I recall a major reason for wanting to relocate the line at Marble Hill was to eliminate the grade crossings where the old main line looped through Kingsbridge. Wilgus was determined to eliminate all grade crossings in third-rail territory. The Harlem River Ship Canal construction made it much easier for Central to build the cutoff.

The few minutes lost negotiating the curves at Spuyten Duyvil didn't seem to be a big concern compared to the cost of tunneling which would've been huge. I think Wilgus wote that he thought they should do it -- build a tunnel for the passenger trains -- but fiscally conservative officers were lukewarm about the idea, given the cost. Their reasoning was that for the long distance trains the few minutes saved would've been relatively unimportant. Local ridership would've benefited but even by 1902 the Central was wondering whether the suburban passenger trade was worth it.

I vividly recall reading one memo from Wilgus to William Brown the senior vice president, written about 1904. In it Wilgus wrote, "We don't want the suburban business but what to do about it?" One alternative he suggested was leasing it out to the IRT! (He suggested the IRT could build elevated lines above Central's ROW.) What was really fascinating to me was the clear implication that by 1904 Brown, Wilgus and others in senior management had already been discussing the suburban passenger business in a none too favorable light.

Today's JFK athletic field was actually the site of Central's fairly busy FH freight yard. They also handled a lot of business between the West Side freight line and the Harlem and Putnam Divisions via the wye at the junction at Spuyten Duyvil. So that track layout as it existed may've been considered a necessary evil. Events suggest that at any rate.

I've heard retired NYC railroaders wonder why the track was never realigned. It does make you wonder.
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Re: Tunnel – Marble Hill Cut Off

Postby chnhrr » Wed Jun 29, 2011 10:13 pm

As a follow up. I found this photo of Marble Hill and Harlem River, dated 1902, showing the area prior to the draining of Spuyten Duyvil Creek and installation of the new ship canal and NYC’s four track rail line. You will notice the cofferdam on the left side of the picture which is being placed for the new work.
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Re: Tunnel – Marble Hill Cut Off

Postby Tommy Meehan » Thu Jun 30, 2011 8:09 pm

That is a great photo, very historic. Thanks for finding and posting! But honestly, by 1902 I think the Ship Canal was pretty much finished. Looks like a lot of the new NYC ROW (the part west of the Broadway Bridge) was finished too. And the bridge itself was newly completed I do believe.

One other comment, I have. The area in the right foreground, the mouth of Spuyten Duyvil Creek, was originally mostly cattails and little open water in pre-construction photos I saw in either old Railroad Gazettes or in the Wilgus material at the NY Public Library. I believe the builders of the canal opened it up as a staging area for construction.

Below is a map section of the Kingsbridge-Spuyten Duyvil area in 1886. See how the Harlem River just kinda petered out when it got to the point where today the river (canal) swings to the west?

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Re: Tunnel – Marble Hill Cut Off

Postby chnhrr » Fri Jul 01, 2011 11:45 am

You are correct; I should have stated “prior to the completion of the work at this location”. The official grand opening of the canal was on June 17th, 1895. It would take another 19 years for the remaining portion of the Spuyten Duyvil Creek bed to be filled and Marble Hill connected to the Bronx. Despite the geographical change Marble Hill is still technically part of Manhattan.

On the opening day a ceremonial banquette and fireworks display took place at Oak Point. I guess Oak Point was a more bucolic location at that time in history.
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Re: Tunnel – Marble Hill Cut Off

Postby Tommy Meehan » Fri Jul 01, 2011 11:03 pm

chnhrr wrote:On the opening day a ceremonial banquette and fireworks display took place at Oak Point. I guess Oak Point was a more bucolic location at that time in history.


I read some old archived new stories about the canal and I think Oak Point was chosen since it was the official 'eastern end.'

If nothing else the project proves boondoggles are not new to our era. The canal was planned as a Hudson River-New England short cut as well as for use by ocean-going vessels headed for the Hudson. It was predicted the canal would boost expansion of 'ports' from Yonkers to Albany.

The New York Times once editorialized that given the huge cost of the work and the meager water traffic it attracted, it would've been cheaper for New York to have paid to have cargo trucked from the East River to the Hudson. :)
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