Trains Used To Drive Down The Goddamn Street In New York City

Illustration for article titled Trains Used To Drive Down The Goddamn Street In New York City

Driving in a big city can be tough enough, what with pedestrians darting out everywhere and potholes and taxi drivers that seem to have a death wish. But hey, at least you don't run the risk of getting hit by a giant goddamn train every day.

This isn't a trolley or a grade crossing, either, but rather a real train, coming down a real street. It's like that train in Inception.

For over 80 years, freight trains would rumble down the West Side of Manhattan carrying goods up to the stock yards in Midtown, as shown in the glorious photo up top from the H.A. Dunne Archives (where you can buy prints). In 1929 the tracks were elevated and the High Line was built, ending the practice of trains driving down 10th Avenue and just going around hitting everything in their path. Instead, they rumbled above everyone's heads, just going around rattling and making a bunch of noise before the High Line itself was turned into a pretty neat park.

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In case you were not one of those people who felt like getting hit by a train on your morning commute, a guy with a flag would ride on a horse in front of the train.

That was it. Your entire warning, besides the noise of the train itself, was a guy with a flag. No, not a bell, or a flashing light, or anything that would remotely help in case you had your back turned. A guy, with a flag, called a West Side Cowboy. They looked like this:

Illustration for article titled Trains Used To Drive Down The Goddamn Street In New York City

Now I feel totally safe.

Illustration for article titled Trains Used To Drive Down The Goddamn Street In New York City
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Via CurbedNY.

Photo credits: H.A. Dunn Archive, Friends of the High Line

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DISCUSSION

Slave2anMG

These are New York Central RR trains came down the line that today brings Amtrak trains into Penn Station from the Hudson River line - the Albany trains, Montreal trains, etc. A connection was built that in 1991 put those trains into NYP instead of into Grand Central.

Anyway, the tracks were built in the 1840s and went originally to a freight and passenger terminal at Chambers and Hudson Streets. In 1868 the St Johns Park freight terminal was built as Beach and Varick Streets and the track south of that abandoned. In 1871 the line along the north side of the Harlem River was built which allowed passenger trains to go east then cross the Harlem and get onto the viaduct that's in Park Avenue north of 98th St. At 98th they go into tunnel and stay there to Grand Central. Prior to electrification in the 1910s this wasn't a tunnel as much as it was a semi covered cut to get the smoke/steam out. When Grand Central opened (current building is the 3rd one on the site), the passenger trains to St Johns stopped.

The west side of Manhattan was at one time covered in railroad tracks; apart from the West Side Line of the New York Central *all* the other freight cars came to Manhattan by car float from either NJ or Brooklyn. It was amazing how much marine traffic the railroads generated...and there were at least half a dozen railroads that did it.