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Construction History

North River Ferries before the Tubes, CLICK for larger imageAs late as 1910 no railroad coming from the south or the west had a direct connection to New York City, the largest city in the Western Hemisphere. The terminals of the railroads - whether the giant ones like the Pennsylvania and the Erie or the minor ones like the West Shore and the Susquehanna - stood on the New Jersey shore of the North River, the local name for this stretch of the Hudson. In Jersey City, Hoboken and Weehawken the major railroad companies Hudson Tubes Jersey City Pennsylvania Station built their large passenger stations at the edge of the river which here is close to a mile wide. Numerous ferry routes connected these New Jersey  stations to Manhattan: particularly to 23rd Street, 14th Street, Christopher Street and Lower Manhattan. The map pre-dates the Tubes and gives an approximation of the route of the Tubes' uptown tunnel as "Hudson River Tunnel" as well as the ferry routes the Tubes was to supplement if not supplant. Expand image and then click 1. Construction History to return

In November 1874 the Hudson Tunnel Railroad Company began construction of a tunnel for steam trains. A month later the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad Company had an injunction issued to stop the construction. After much legal wrangling construction was resumed in September 1879 with the intention of building a double tracked single tube tunnel for steam powered trains. Shortly after the main shaft was sunk and construction of the actual tube had begun, however, the decision was made to build two parallel single track tunnels rather than one large one.

The excavations were resumed at the Jersey City shore, approximately half way between the terminals of the Erie Railroad and the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad, and advanced about 1180 feet out under the river. On July 21, 1880 a tunnel explosion and blow out ended the project. 

The number of passengers crossing the river to and from Manhattan, however, was constantly increasing and this gave the impetus to the resumption of construction. As seen in the clickable image to the left, the "Hudson Tunnel" was to free passengers from the inconvenience and danger of the ferries.

In 1888 another start was made. Using almost entirely manual labor, the original tunnel was extended behind aManual construction of Hudson Tubes at 15th Street Jerseu City CLICK TO ENLARGE shield eastwards towards Manhattan and work was begun on a twin tunnel. But a panic and financial crisis turned off the flow of investment from European capitalists and the trans-Hudson tunnels were again abandoned after one tube had reached 3,916 feet from the Jersey City shore and an additional 160 feet from the Manhattan  shore, and the twin tube had reached a length of 570 feet. Expand image and then click 1. Construction History to return  

By 1901 new and successful attempts at financing were made. In February 1902 construction resumed on the tunnels, now designed for electric-powered trains. And  there was also a new and expanded system planned. In addition to the twin tubes already begun, there were to be three additional pairs of tube tunnels:

  • a second set of twin tubes running under the river from Lower Jersey City to Lower Manhattan;
  • a pair of tube tunnels in New Jersey connecting three major railroad terminals in Hoboken and Jersey City; (the Central Railroad of New Jersey/B&O/Reading Terminal was not included in the original plans);
  • a tunnel extension in Manhattan to both Grand Central Terminal and Pennsylvania Station (which was still under construction and which was to replace the Jersey City Pennsylvania Station as the PRR's principal New York station) along with a spur to the just-opened IRT subway.
Additionally there now was to be an above ground segment running westwards from Jersey City to Manhattan Transfer and Newark. 

When the uptown tunnel, each of whose tubes had a diameter of 15 feet 3 inches,  was finally completed, it was a double tube 5,650 feet long between shafts and reached a maximum depth of 97 feet.

On February 25, 1908 the H&M ran its first Tube service through the uptown pair of tunnels (originally begun in 1874) between Hoboken and the temporary end of the line at 19th Street in Manhattan. On July 19, 1909 operations began between Lower Manhattan and Lower Jersey City through the downtown set of tunnels, located about 1 1/4 miles below the first pair. Two weeks later, tube trains began running through the New Jersey tunnels, going from Hoboken under the Erie RR Station to Exchange Place. With the completion of the uptown Manhattan extension to Pennsylvania Station and a westward overland extension to Manhattan Transfer and Newark in 1911, the Hudson & Manhattan Railroad was complete.

(There was also construction on the projected extensions to Grand Central and the IRT Astor Place subway station but these links were never completed. Plans for including the West Shore Railroad Terminal in Weehawken and the Jersey Central Station at the foot of Johnson Avenue in Jersey City remained merely plans. Expand image and then click 1. Construction History to return
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