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Thursday, March 1, 2012

3rd Avenue Elevated Line Harlem River Branch

By May 17, 1886, the 3rd Avenue Elevated line, then steam operated, was extended to 129th Street in Manhattan to 133rd Street in the Bronx by crossing the Harlem River.  In November of the same year, the Harlem River Branch from 129th Street  to Willis Avenue in the Bronx opened for service.  This branch ran to a new station near 132nd Street and Willis Avenue and was off the main line and may have been extended for a short distance by the NYNH&H railway to their station on the surface.  It seems that the NYNH&H trains operated to the redesigned 129th Street station in Manhattan.  This service was discontinued by May 11, 1905 according to the New York Division Bulletin article by Bernard Linder.
A few years before on October, 1891, the new Morris Park Race track was open.  This race track was located near Pelham Parkway in the northern Bronx a few miles away from the Willis Avenue Station.  Second Avenue Elevated trains, not shown on my map, may have operated from downtown Manhattan to the Willis Avenue station where passengers transferred to the NYNH&H railroad for special race track trains.  By 1905, race tracks in New York State were put out of business by a change of legislation and this race track, along with the Sheepshead Bay Race Track and the Gravesend Race Track had their business seriously cut.  According to Bernard Linder, even though business fell off in 1905, the IRT elevated trains ran to Willis Avenue until April 15, 1924.  This would mean that this branch was electrified since the last steam train operated to August 16, 1902.
    On the following map, you can see the branch of the 3rd Avenue Elevated branching east to the railroad yard area shown in the 1924 Aerial Photograph overlay.  You can also see the 129th Street Yard and station taking up an entire block between 2nd and 3rd Avenues in Manhattan.  In a very interesting hand written message on the line drawn map, in the insert, it was stated that steam engines were stored in the 132nd Street Yard awaiting sale from 1902 to 1943.  Does the writer refer to the yard at Willis Avenue or the 132nd Street Yard?  From the 1924 aerial photograph, I cannot see the Willis Avenue branchoff from the 3rd Avenue El after the line leaves the bridge and enters the Bronx land area.

More to follow.


  1. I don't think there were ever any through trains from the els (even 129th St) to the New Haven Railroad. (Let me know if you've seen sources to the contrary.) As Joe Brennan notes, the Willis Ave branch was worked by a shuttle from 129th St to Willis Ave, where passengers could transfer to New Haven RR trains. New Haven RR fares were charged on this shuttle, and so it appears in some New Haven timetables, but as far as I know it was always a separate service.
    Willis Ave station was the terminus of many New Haven trains, not just to racetracks (indeed I'd expect racetrack specials would mostly run to Grand Central). Notably it was served by the subsidiary New York, Westchester and Boston Railroad, which ran to White Plains (and later Port Chester) by a route which included what is today the Dyre Ave branch of the 5 train. The Willis Ave elevated shuttle provided a connection from these trains to the elevated. In 1924 a covered walkway (just visible on the photo you link; a better, zoomable version can be seen by clicking on the camera icon here and setting the slider to 1924) was built from Willis Ave station to 133rd St station on the 3rd Ave El's main line, after which the shuttle was eliminated and passengers had to walk to make the transfer. NYW&B service continued until 1937.
    I have created a timeline of maps showing rapid transit service in New York City every five years from 1875 to 2010, which might be of interest.

  2. (I'm Anon256 again, logged in now.)
    As noted in a later post, I was wrong in the first paragraph above, there were in fract through trains from the New Haven RR to 129th until 1905. (This doesn't really impact the timeline maps though, as they only show service every 20 minutes or better and the New Haven service was hourly.)

  3. I found a photo online of the engines parked at 132nd st awaiting sale. I'm sure you'll be interested to see it:

    1. Dear Anonymous:

      Thanks for your submittal. Our 3rd Avenue El fans will be pleased.

      Tramway Null(0)