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Forty Second Street NY Conduit Streetcars

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Forty Second Street NY Conduit Streetcars
Posted by M636C on Thursday, October 29, 2020 8:36 PM

I often check out a site which publishes historic photographs, many from the Library of Congress. The site, called "Shorpy" today included a photo of streetcars outside the old Grand Central Station in 1905.

This is the photo in question:

https://www.shorpy.com/node/25949?size=_original#caption

What immediately drew my attention was that the streetcars used offset conduit current collection. In the scene linked above there are two conduits side by side, apparently one each for two separate routes. Check out the junction in the foreground.

I'm sure Dave Klepper can explain this, but I'd welcome any other comments.

Also note that none of the three streetcars in the foreground have any trolley poles, nor do they appear ever to have had them. So these cars were dedicated to the routes with the (offset) conduit system.

I'm currently trying to understand the French APS third rail system where the power rail is energised only by the approach of a car, being isolated at all other times.

But to return to the photo in the link. Was the conduit offset for its whole length? Or could the conduit collector move from side to side?

Peter

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Posted by Overmod on Friday, October 30, 2020 12:47 AM

There are pictures of the conduit pickup arrangement in the contemporary trade press and early accounts of electrification methods. They generally did have lateral accommodation.  As I recall most of them were constructed in multiple parts, the 'plow' being attached to the car (with the lateral accommodation being at its top) and the pickup brought up from below and attached in a pit).

What i read of the APS system is that it uses 10 to 11-meter sections of rail, with insulating gaps between.  These are actuated by short-range "radio" so that only the two segments under a car are 'live' at a time.  A description from Alstom is here

https://www.alstom.com/our-solutions/infrastructure/aps-service-proven-catenary-free-tramway-operations

A much more intriguing approach is that used by TramWave, which (fortunately!) appears to have thorough technical explanation on the Web and YouTube.  This uses relatively short 'modules' of integrated contact and ferromagnetic material, arranged into sealed 'channels' in the same general location of the APS rail structure; inside this channel is a magnetic 'belt' lifted by strong permanent magnets in the pickup (which is like an inverted pantograph), this lifting energizing the contact areas of the modules only under the train.  Note that both negative and positive contacts can be alternated in the module faces, which can in theory eliminate the need to use 'earth return' via one or both running rails as in overhead-wire supply.  That approach may also be useful for 'partial recharge' of a battery-based car design.

I still think I prefer the GE stud-contact system as it was described This used intermittent 'point' contacts in the road spanned by a 'shoe' under the car that could touch more than one at a time.  Doing so caused a small current to flow which then closed a relay putting 'traction potential' on just those studs under the car.  To my knowledge GE always used only positive studs with ground return.  There were other safeguards I don't remember offhand.  (Apparently one of the European alternatives used a special grounded shoe to blow fuses in any 'stud's' circuit which failed to disengage when its relay did, excessive traction-current surges apparently tending to weld contractors ***!) but the intermittent contacts seems better than a similar approach using 'current-detecting' apparatus in sequential sections of a third rail, some part of which is exposed beyond the end of a car as appears to be the case in APS.

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Posted by daveklepper on Friday, October 30, 2020 5:58 AM

In answer to your question, two pairs of concuit rails, one trench, two street slots, existed between Park Avenue and Madison Avenue on 42nd Street, one used by Third Avenue RR., later Third Avenue Ry., later Third Avenue Transit 42 Street Crosstown "X" (bus M42  today?) and Broadway & 42nd St. "B," (bus M104 today) and one by New York & Harlem (NY Central System), later, New York Railways under indrect General Motors ownership, 4th & Madison Avenue (bus line M1 today, but using 41st and 40th Streets between Avenues and using 5th instead of Madison southbound.  The New York and Harlem Line was the successor to the original street railway, and for a time steam trains and horse cars shared the tracks on Park Avenue, but when the "new Grand Central Depot" was built, moving the railroad terminal from 29th-30th Street to 42nd Street, the horsecar line was moved from Park Avenue to Madison to provide local service without delaying the steam trains.

Another location where dual conduit existed was between 66th Street and 72nd Street on Broadway, where a NY Railiways subsidiary's 9th and Amsterdam Avenues line (today M11bus, also somewhat changed route for one-way avenues) shared tracks with Third Avenue's "B."

Places where the two systems used the same conuit, the same power rails, on the assumption that usage would balance, included the western side of the southern half of Times Square, and tracks within Columbus Circle.

The plow carriers of all Manhattan streetcars allowed more lateral mortion than the similar truck-boltster-mounted carriers in Washington, DC.  London's were body-mounted and plows could exist the car body at conduit-to-wire changeover.

There is a thread devoted to conduit that should interest you.

 

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Posted by timz on Friday, October 30, 2020 11:28 AM

That curve this side of car 1229 seems impossible -- looks like the gauge is narrowing as you curve thru it. That parallelogram in the very corner of the pic -- can that possibly be a rhombus, as we assume it has to be?

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Posted by Overmod on Friday, October 30, 2020 8:15 PM

timz
That curve this side of car 1229 seems impossible -- looks like the gauge is narrowing as you curve thru it.

There is more: note that one of the two conduit channels stops at the curve (its channel is clearly filled in beyond that point) while the other one staggers irregularly through the pavement, not in a smooth curve, to continue in the center of the diverging routes at lower left.

The narrowing-curve effect has to be the result of an early telephoto lens, compressing the field of view from front to back and perhaps inducing some anamorphic distortion as well.  Note that the conduit-opening and flangeway dimensions also seem to narrow, as would be expected.

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Posted by M636C on Friday, October 30, 2020 8:52 PM

Overmod wrote

What i read of the APS system is that it uses 10 to 11-meter sections of rail, with insulating gaps between.  These are actuated by short-range "radio" so that only the two segments under a car are 'live' at a time.  A description from Alstom is here

https://www.alstom.com/our-solutions/infrastructure/aps-service-proven-catenary-free-tramway-operations

I've found a rather more detailed paper on the Sydney Light Rail system which I'm sure Overmod and Dave Klepper will enjoy...

https://www.engineersaustralia.org.au/sites/default/files/resource-files/2017-01/sydney_light_rail.pdf

In particular, if you can scroll through pages 34 to 43 as they would appear in a Powerpoint presentation you get an animation of the third rail sections as they are energised and grounded as the tram passes,

I particularly liked the diagram of the third rail shoe on page 30...

But there is all the data anyone could need (even if the actual tramcar dimensions are a little blurry when enlarged) of the whole system. It does seem to have all been built to match the plans, even to the colour of the seatcovers in the computer generated image.

Peter

 

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Posted by daveklepper on Saturday, October 31, 2020 1:29 PM

Pictures on the Third Avenue home=made lightweight thread, Park Row was also a location where BY&Harlem and Third Avenue shared the sane conduit.  The track was NY&Harmem's the 1830s, Third Ave horsecars started sharing around 1850, trench and slot for Third Avenue cable around 1884, and Third Avenue power rails around 1896, with NY & Harlem mving from horse to electric a few years later.  Third Avenue was always responsible for maintrnance beginning with their use, but I am not sure who paid for the power used.

For a while both systems were leased to Metropolitan Rys, ending some time before WWI.

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Posted by daveklepper on Tuesday, November 3, 2020 7:42 AM

Will check to see if cable was used on 42nd Street.  Think it went electric direrctly from horsecar.

For the interim:

  8/31/85    125th & 8th to 186th and Amsterdam
12/01/86    125th St from river to river
12/05/93    3rd Ave from 130th to 6th
  2/11/94    3rd Ave line from 6th to Park Row

Note that at 125th and Third, the north-south cables were located below the original east-west ones.

End of cable operation (the following day electric operation began):

  9/10/99    125th Street from river to river and Amsterdam
10/22/99    3rd Ave from 130th to 65th
11/18/99    3rd Ave line from 65th to Park Row (65th to 6th electric and 6th to Park Row horse starting 11/19, 6th to Park Row electric from 11/24

 

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Posted by rcdrye on Tuesday, November 3, 2020 12:36 PM

42nd missed cable, but not by much... Both Metropolitan and Third Avenue systems used double-jaw grips and a duplicate cable system, so a grip could "take rope" from either side.  The Metropolitan also had the most famous "Dead Man's Curve" in the cable railway industry at 14th and Broadway,

The conductor rails for conversion to electric conduit operation were installed under traffic with moving cables.  No reports of any workers getting killed, but it must not have been a pleasant experience.

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Posted by daveklepper on Saturday, November 7, 2020 2:39 PM

Note that in the 1st photo, one can see the 6th Avenue Elevated's 42nd Street Station in the distance.

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Posted by daveklepper on Sunday, November 8, 2020 12:07 PM

The Terminal at 12th Avenue, across from the Weehawken Ferry. laast week iof operation of the 10th Avenue and 42nd Street Crosstown lines.  Broaway-42nd :B: would continue to use 42nd east of Times Square for another month to 1 Jan. 1947.

The scene was quite different before 1936.

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Posted by daveklepper on Monday, November 9, 2020 6:52 AM

Arrangemnents  before 1936.   After 1 jan. 1936, only red streetcar tracks ewmained in use.

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Posted by M636C on Tuesday, November 10, 2020 6:19 PM

Dave,

Thanks for the diagram, it helps to explain the situation.

Shorpy have published another later view of 42nd street...

https://www.shorpy.com/node/25969?size=_original#caption

and another of Broadway, showing a stepless car...

https://www.shorpy.com/node/25966?size=_original#caption

For those unfamiliar with these cars

https://www.shorpy.com/node/25966

provides an illustration of a similar car in Vancouver BC (and recent views of the same scene).

Peter

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Posted by daveklepper on Sunday, May 30, 2021 10:01 AM

I remember the access covers with "TARS," but a photo of mine that i just had  scanned shows 3rd Ave.   Possibly both kinds were in use.

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Posted by Overmod on Sunday, May 30, 2021 10:05 AM

daveklepper
I remember the access covers with "TARS," but a photo of mine that i just had  scanned shows 3rd Ave.   Possibly both kinds were in use.

Note that neither cover fits the opening it sits in.
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Posted by daveklepper on Monday, May 31, 2021 8:17 AM

Needed: space to insert a switch iron to pry it up when access is required.

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Posted by Overmod on Monday, May 31, 2021 10:36 AM

daveklepper
Needed: space to insert a switch iron to pry it up when access is required.

But that is what the hole in the cover (or notch in the edge of a manhole cover) is supposed to be for.  The edges of the cover have to fit the 'collar' reasonably well to keep dirt and tar from accumulating in the gap.

Now if a different tool comes to be used to remove these covers, say one with a flat blade edge, then leaving a 'slot' to knock dirt out of the space and then pry them up would be sensible.

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Posted by daveklepper on Monday, May 31, 2021 10:30 PM

Which is what they did.  And the flat blade of the regular TATS-TARS switch-iron was sufficient.

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Posted by daveklepper on Tuesday, June 1, 2021 3:01 AM

Also to dig out the dirt in seldom-used-switch pointwork.

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Posted by daveklepper on Saturday, July 3, 2021 2:56 PM

View looking west from Third Avenue on 42nd Street in 1908, 6th Ave Elevated in the background:

 

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Posted by MidlandMike on Saturday, July 3, 2021 9:30 PM

Looking at the cars, my guess would be more like 1938.  Was the 42nd Street overpass that took Park Avenue around GCT not built yet?

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Posted by daveklepper on Saturday, July 3, 2021 10:57 PM

The overpass was built in 1936-1937 as part of the conversion of the old New York and Harlem RR tunnel from streetcars to "The Park Avenue Vehicular Tunnel," I believe the whole business a Robert Moses project.   The overpass is not in the photograph.  (Tunnel clearances were (are) restricted deliberately to exclude buses and trucks.)

The 1908 date was on the photograph.

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Posted by WILLIAM O CRAIG on Sunday, July 4, 2021 8:04 AM

The cars in that photo look more like my Dad's 1928 Buick, not his 1938 Dodge.

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Posted by Overmod on Sunday, July 4, 2021 8:47 AM

If the photo date ends in "8" it would likely be 1928, (not '1908' of course).  Note the bus.

If that is the 6th Avenue El, why are there cars on it, why is it a long arch, and why is it right where GCT would be?  Even in 1938 the Sixth Avenue station remained something of a baroque horror

 And it stayed baroque until its demise in 1939...

 

 

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Posted by daveklepper on Sunday, July 4, 2021 10:19 AM

The "Swiss Chalet" style of station architecture that prevailed throughout the Manattan Elevated was not by any means original, but was the result of careful upgrading by the IRT just before WWI, the same upgrading that provided a continuous center express track and the hump express stations on all but the 6th Avenue north-south lines.  The wider avenues, 9th, 3rd, and 2nd, had original double-track lines with a space between the tracks that permitted the installation of the continiuous center track.  The two tracks on 6th Avenue were always adjacent.  Indeed, there were centersidings at points on the other three avenues as some locations, even in the steam days.

The lack of a Swiss Chalet station at the 6th Avenue elevated in the background dates the photograph at least several years before WWI. but after the short 3rd Avenue to Park Avenue one-block shuttle had been removed. 

The original Manhattan Elevated stations were quite primitive in comparison.

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Posted by daveklepper on Sunday, July 4, 2021 10:31 AM

At the time of the photo., west on 42nd Street from 3rd Avernue, the 6th Avenue and 42nd Street station probably resembled this. the 9th Avernue and 42nd Street station at the time of the construction of the 2nd track.

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Posted by Overmod on Sunday, July 4, 2021 10:42 AM

daveklepper
The lack of a Swiss Chalet station at the 6th Avenue elevated in the background dates the photograph at least several years before WWI. but after the short 3rd Avenue to Park Avenue one-block shuttle had been removed. 

Look carefully at the picture again.

6th Avenue and 42nd St in 1879:

That is not measurably different from the pictures I provided of that station in 1938, and as being dismantled, so it was never reduced during that interval to some smaller configuration.  And it was never removed with a long arch being substituted.

Here is a picture of the 6th Avenue station in 1926, two years before the putative date I assigned to your original view.

Note the very distinctive buildings in the background of these pictures.  Note that in the image from "1908" these are measurably further down than the visible bridge... just farther down that we understand the 6th Avenue 'chalet' is behind the visible arch with the cars on it.  If I enlarge the picture to its resolution limit and look carefully, I think I can see some details of the underpinnings of the 6th Avenue station a little further down 42nd... just enough that the visible buildings would be in the correct perspective.

The installation of a free-span arch completely across 42nd St. and its sidewalks was part of the original road 'around' GCT which involved construction of the New York Central building (later the New York General building via some constructive stonecutting in the word 'Central' on the facade, and later still the Helmsley Building) which was dated 1928.  Whether Moses widened and changed that arch to its current form (which might have deeper spandrels) as part of the 'vehicular tunnel' project is an interesting question, but doesn't change that we're looking at a vehicle bridge crossing to GCT.

As I recall, in 1928 there would still be conduit streetcars operating in the Park Avenue tunnel, and would be until 1935 -- that has nothing to do with the ramp across 42nd to the road around Grand Central.  The Moses project extended that.

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Posted by daveklepper on Sunday, July 4, 2021 11:38 AM

 

 

The RR and streetcar tunnel’s mouth was north of 40th Street, witih tracks reaching street level between there and 42nd Street.  The Vehicular tunnel’s mouth is just north of 39th Street, with the road reaching street level just south of 40th Street.   The ramp to the GCT roadways starts on the north side of 40th Street.  So, you are correct, the GCT ramp and overpass did exist during streetcar tunnel days, with the streetcar ramp essenrtially under the GCT roadway ramp.

 

The early Baroque 6th Avenue and 42nd Street  Station does not seem to my eyes to be the same station as the 1938 station.  Too many detail differences, in windows and roof construction.  I may be wrong.  An explanation is that the photo I posted was at the very time of the IRT improvements, and the old Swiss Chalet had been torn down for the replacement.  But the view, if west, must be from Park Avenue, not Third.

However, if you have a better explanation, I’ll gladly learn

 

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Posted by daveklepper on Sunday, July 4, 2021 11:51 AM

The early photo you posted seems to indicate where the IRT Station architects got their "Swiss Chalet" inspiration!

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Posted by Overmod on Sunday, July 4, 2021 12:32 PM

daveklepper
The early Baroque 6th Avenue and 42nd Street  Station does not seem to my eyes to be the same station as the 1938 station.  Too many detail differences, in windows and roof construction.  I may be wrong.  An explanation is that the photo I posted was at the very time of the IRT improvements, and the old Swiss Chalet had been torn down for the replacement.

To me, the mass of the structure, the underframing, the roof height, and the stairs down to the sidewalk on either side, on the side of the station we would have seen from the picture you posted, are all common from 1879 all the way until we see the stairs being disassembled.  

ISTR that architectural changes were made over the years on some of the El stations.  I see different window detail in the 1926 view, but the openings and spacing appear to be very similar.  Perhaps there is documentation on 'style modernization' of some of these stations over the years, either to reduce maintenance or make them more 'modern'.

But very clearly the bridge pictured in your photo is NOT the 6th Avenue El, it's a block or more further east.  And is exactly where a bridge at the end of the ramp up to 'mezzanine level' of GCT would be, and looks exactly like the design of bridge used there.

But the view, if west, must be from Park Avenue, not Third.

The view is from an elevated location, at a 'parking spot' for crosstown cars (see the painted line, and the bystander idly standing in the street?) and I can think of little better a location that would afford such a view than the Third Avenue El structure.  The arch bridge in the distance is exactly where Park Avenue would be, another reason why the view couldn't be taken from there.  And yes, if the view were from Park Avenue you would see the distinctive shape of the 6th Avenue El station (as it existed from 1936 to 1938) squatting in the near distance...

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