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Inauguration of the Rapid Transit Subway (1904)

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Scientific American · October 29th, 1904 · pp. 297-298.

With the opening of the Rapid Transit Subway, New York City is placed in possession of what is undoubtedly the most complete and up-to-date system of rapid transit to be found in any part of the world. This is due to the fact that it was planned on an ambitious scale, that the engineers were not hampered by any exacting considerations of economy, and that being the latest of the great subway systems to be opened, it has the advantage of the experience that has been gained in London, Budapest, Paris. and Berlin.

To the Scientific American, the auspicious inauguration of this great work is peculiarly gratifying; for from the time that the present plans took practical shape, this journal has been a most earnest advocate of the construction of just such a road as has now been opened. There is also a sentimental interest attaching to the event, in the fact that the very first attempt at the construction of an underground system, and the plans therefor, were due to the initiative of one the Editors and proprietors of this journal. Indeed, several hundred feet of subway was constructed and still exists below Broadway at City Hall Park. That early effort, made in the year 1870, was doomed to failure, mainly because the electric motor had not yet made its appearance, and the public was not educated up to the advantages of subway travel.

On an occasion like the present, with the road actually completed and in successful operation, we are apt to accept the result with but little consideration of the vast amount of patience, technical skill, far-sighted prescience, and unbounded faith, that were necessary on the part of the sponsors of this great engineering and financial undertaking. Acknowledgments are certainly due to the members of the Rapid Transit Commission, with Alexander E. Orr at their head, for the large amount or time that they have given, entirely without compensation, to serving the best interests of the city; to William Barclay Parsons, the Chief Engineer of the Commission, and his staff of assistants, for having shown such good judgment in the planning and carrying out of this great piece of engineering work under conditions that were extremely trying, and in many cases entirely without precedent in their profession; to John B. MacDonald, who provided the plant and vast organization for the execution of the work, and has redeemed his pledge to complete this $35,000,000 contract practically within the contract time; and finally, to August Belmont and his associates, who, at a time when the Rapid Transit commissioners were very doubtful as to whether they could secure a bidder with the courage and the resources necessary for such a great and comparatively untried piece of work, stepped into the breach, and provided the vast sums of money that were called for.

It is gratifying to know that at the very time when these twenty-one miles of additional transit facilities are being opened to the public, the Rapid Transit Commissioners have elaborate plans made for further extensions of the system. The growth of New York city, and the increasing percentage of its inhabitants that use the various systems of transportation, render necessary further extensions of the Subway, in order to cope with the steadily increasing volume of travel. First in order of importance comes the projected line below Lexington Avenue, which will give to the east side of New York facilities similar to those enjoyed by the west side. With this should be named the line beneath Broadway from Forty-second Street to the Post Office; or if that is not deemed advisable, the line down Seventh Avenue, intersecting the new Pennsylvania station at Thirty-third Street. Within two years' time the extension from the City Hall to the Battery, and under the East River to Flatbush Avenue, Brooklyn, will be completed; and in anticipation of this work will be begun at an early date upon the extension of this road by way of Flatbush Avenue to the Ocean Parkway. With these three extensions under way, Greater New York should be in a fair way to keep pace with the increasing traffic of the city for several years to come.

Opening Of The New York Rapid Transit Subway.

On October 27 the Rapid Transit Subway of this city was formally opened with simple but dignified ceremonies that took place in the City Hall. Mr. Alexander E. Orr, representing the Rapid Transit Commission, formally handed over the road to the Mayor, and after a party of invited guests had made a trip over the system, the sale of tickets commenced at seven o'clock in the evening, and the citizens of New York were thus placed in possession of this splendid addition to its traveling facilities.

In our issue of September 10 we gave an illustrated description, dealing with the general features of the road, its route, construction, equipment, and method of operation, and to that article reference is now made for the fuller details which it is not necessary to elaborate here.

In no city of the world is there an underground railroad that can compare in size, capacity, and speed with this. The total length of the line is 24.7 miles, of which 19 miles is underground and 5.7 miles is carried on an elevated structure. It includes 6.7 miles of four-track, 7.4 miles of three-track, and 10.6 miles of two-track road. If we include 5 miles of switches and sidings, there is a total track mileage of 70 miles. The contract was let four years ago for $35,000,000, this being the amount necessary for the construction of the road. The equipment, power station, etc., cost $12,000,000 more, making the total cost $47,000,000.

There are two classes of service, express and local; the former using the two inside tracks, and the latter the two outside tracks of the four-track road. Express trains which will run at a speed of about 25 miles an hour including stops, are made up of eight cars, of which five are motor cars. The local trains, which will have a speed of about 16 miles an hour, including stops, are made up of six cars, four of which are motor cars. The motor cars carry two 200-horse-power motors each, or 400 to the car, or 2,000 for the express trains. On tangents the expresses will attain a maximum speed of about 50 miles an hour. Special precaution has been taken to safeguard the passengers. The wooden cars have steel underbodies, and these will gradually be replaced by all-steel cars, built with a view to rendering them both fireproof and collision proof, the cars being of a modified vestibuled type, with special construction at the ends to prevent telescoping. A block signal system, which includes the latest refinements in the way of automatic stops at the signals, absolutely preventing a train running into a block when the signals are against it, has been installed, and it is likely that the enviable record of the elevated roads in respect or the small number of accidents, will be surpassed on the Subway system.

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Bottom view of one of the New All-Steel Cars.

The present article is devoted more particularly to the great power station, which has been built at Fifty-ninth Street and the North River, the spot being chosen for its central location with regard to the distribution of the current, and because of the facilities afforded for water transportation, and transportation by rail on the New York Central Railroad tracks, which run past the power house. The building occupies an entire block, and measures 200 feet in width by 694 feet in length. It is divided longitudinally by a central wall into two portions. The northern half, 117 feet in width, is known as the operating room, while the southerly half, 83 feet in width, is the boiler house. As will be seen from our accompanying sectional drawing, the operating room or engine house is built with galleries extending the whole length on each side, those on the northerly side containing the electrical apparatus, those on the southerly side being occupied chiefly by the steam-pipe equipment. When the plant is entirely completed, it will contain six sections. Each section, with the exception of the turbine section, consists of twelve boilers, two engines, each connected to a 5,000-kilowatt alternator, together with the necessary condensing and boiler feed equipment, and a chimney, there being six chimneys in all. A novelty in respect of the last named is that they are carried on the steel structure of the building, upon a platform at an elevation of 76 feet above the basement floor. The supporting columns for carrying the chimneys form part of the regular system of columns of the boiler house. The top of each chimney is 225 feet above the gratebars, or 162 feet above the top of the supporting platform, and each weighs 1,200 tons. The obvious advantage of this arrangement is that the brick portion of the chimney extends only from about the level of the roof upward, the interior of the, boiler house being thus entirely free from brickwork, and the space thus saved is available for boilers. This enables the line of boilers to extend continuously through the whole length of the house, and preserves the general symmetry of the installation. Above the boiler house, extending the full length thereof, is a coal bunker capable of holding 18,000 tons of coal. Immediately below the bunkers, and all on the same floor, are the boiler economizers, and below these again are the boilers, which are arranged in two long lines confronting each other, with a central platform between them, from which they are fired. The ashes are dumped by gravity into hoppers, which deliver them to small ash dump cars running on tracks in the basement. The cars are drawn out by a small electric locomotive to the waterfront, where they are dumped into a 1,000-ton bin, to be subsequently disposed of by barge or otherwise.

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Sectional view of the subway power station.

The coal is brought in barges or vessels to a pier on the water front, where it is unloaded by coal-unloading towers, crushed, weighed, and carried by belt conveyors to a system of 30-inch elevating belt-conveyors, by which it is elevated to the top of the boiler house and delivered to a system of 20-inch, horizontal belt-conveyors, for even distribution throughout the bunkers.

The boiler room will ultimately contain seventy-two Babcock & Wilcox boilers, with an aggregate heating surface of 432,576 square feet. They will operate at a working steam pressure of 225 pounds to the square inch. It is ultimately intended to apply superheaters to the whole boiler plant, but before doing so a trial is being made of two well-known makes or superheaters built in this country. Special attention has been paid to the design of the steam piping, and all fittings are made somewhat heavier than is customary in ordinary practice, and they are all of special design. The line and bent pipe is of wrought iron, with loose flanges made of wrought steel rolled at the Krupp works. The engine equipment when all is completed will consist of eleven 7,500-horse-power Allis-Chalmers engines of the same general type as those installed in the 76th Street power station of the elevated road of this city, which have already been described in this journal. As these are capable of working at overload up to 11,000 or 12,000 horse-power, the total horse-power of the plant for traction purposes alone will aggregate say 121,000 horse-power. To this must be added four steam turbines used for electric lighting and two exciter engines, which would bring up the total horsepower for this station to a maximum capacity, when pushed to the utmost, of 132,000.

The main engines are each made up of two component compound engines, driving a common staff, upon which is carried the 5,000-kilowatt generator. The high-pressure cylinders are placed horizontally and the low pressure vertically, each pair connecting to a common crankpin. The high-pressure cylinders are 42 inches in diameter, the low-pressure 86 inches in diameter, and the common stroke is 60 inches. This is for each cylinder, as compared with the Manhattan engines, a reduction in diameter of 2 inches, the stroke being the same and the revolutions per minute, 75, being also similar. The steam pressure of the Rapid Transit Subway engines is 175 pounds, as against 150 pounds for the earlier engines. The low-pressure and the high-pressure piston rods are both 10 inches in diameter, and the crankpin is 20 inches in diameter, an increase of 2 inches over the dimensions of the Manhattan engines. The low-pressure valves are single-ported Corliss, and the high-pressure valves are of the poppet type. At the journals the shaft is 34 inches in diameter, and the length of the journals is 60 inches.

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One of the Engines, Showing the Barometric Condensers.

The guarantees of the engines specify that they must be capable of operating continuously, when indicating 11,000 horse-power, without producing abnormal wear, jar, noise, or other objectionable results. They are to he so proportioned that if desired they can be operated with a steam pressure at the throttle of 200 pounds above atmospheric pressure. They must also operate successfully under 175 pounds pressure, should the temperature of the steam be maintained at the throttle at from 450 to 500 degrees. Finally, the engine must not require more than 12.25 pounds of dry steam per indicated horse-power per hour when indicating 7,500 horse-power at 75 revolutions per minute, with a vacuum of 26 inches at the low-pressure cylinders, with a steam pressure at the throttle of 175 pounds, and with saturated steam at the normal temperature due to its pressure.

The turbo-generators for electric lighting consist of four Westinghouse-Parsons multiple-expansion, parallel-flow turbines, each consisting of two turbines arranged in tandem-compound. The alternators will run at a speed of 1,200 revolutions per minute, and produce current at a pressure of 11,000 volts. Each unit will have a normal output of 1,700 horse-power, and it is guaranteed to operate under 450 degrees of superheat. The guarantee under a full load of 1,250 kilowatts is 13.8 pounds per electrical horse-power hour, which, it will be seen, is considerably lower than the guarantee for the reciprocating engines. There are also two exciter engines of the compound type, direct-connected to 250 kilowatt generators.

In view of the fact that the efficiency of the engines depends so largely on the vacuum, particular care was given to the design of the condensing plant. Each engine is supplied with two Alberger barometric condensing chambers, each attached as closely as possible to its respective low-pressure cylinder. The circulating pumps are vertical, cross-compound, Corliss engines. Their foundations are on the basement floor; but their steam cylinders are above the engine floor and are, therefore, under the eye of the engineer. The normal capacity of each pump is 10,000,000 gallons per day; therefore, the total pumping capacity of the station is 120,000,000 gallons per day.

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The Great Subway Power Station, with Five of the Eleven Engines and Generators In Place. Ultimate Capacity, 132,000 Horse Power.

The 5,000-kilowatt alternators, like the engines, closely resemble those of the Manhattan Railway Company. They deliver 25-cycle alternating three-phase current at a pressure of 11,000 volts. The revolving part is 32 feet in diameter, and it weighs 332,000 pounds. The machines stand 42 feet in height, and the total weight of each is 889,000 pounds. The revolving parts have been constructed with a view to securing ample ability to resist the centrifugal forces which would be set up should the engines, through some accident, run away. The hub of the revolving field is of cast steel, and the rim is connected to the hub by two huge disks of rolled steel. The alternators have forty field poles, and they operate at 75 revolutions per minute. Field magnets form the periphery of the revolving field, the poles and rim of which are built up of steel plates, dovetailed to the driving spider. The armature is carried outside of the field and is stationary.

Current is delivered at 11,000 volts to eight substations, where it is transformed and converted to direct current at a potential of 625 volts, at which it is delivered to the third or contact rails. As explained in our article of September 10, the third rail is protected by a lateral and overhead shield, which should prove fully effective in safeguarding the workmen or passengers from injury.

We take this opportunity to express our indebtedness to Mr. George S. Rice, the Chief Assistant Engineer of the Rapid Transit Commission. for his invariable courtesy and assistance. in the preparation of the many articles that we have published during the construction of the Subway.









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