Railroad lines crisscrossing the country move freight, delivering everything from coal to cars. But one rail line running above the streets on Manhattan’s West Side moves your soul, delivering sanctuary amid coneflower and pink evening primrose.
The High Line, a deteriorating elevated rail line turned iconic city park, moves closer to completion with the recent donation of the third and final section of the High Line by CSX Transportation, Inc. The first two sections offer a mile walk along a lush, meadow-like setting from Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District to West 34th Street, between 10th and 11th avenues.
Part 1: A brief history
Trains began chugging through the West Side of Manhattan more than a decade before the start of the Civil War. The trains traveled at grade level alongside pedestrians and horse-drawn wagons on crowded city streets. So many accidents happened that 10th Avenue became known as “Death Avenue.” This led to men on horses — the West Side Cowboys — to ride in front of the trains waving red warning flags.
City, state and New York Central Railroad officials in 1929 agreed to build an elevated railway and eliminate 105 street-level railroad crossings known as the West Side Improvement. Trains began using the High Line in 1934. Factories and warehouses along the way were renovated, moving shipping docks to the upper floors so that raw and manufactured goods could come and go without causing street-level congestion.
As manufacturing in the city declined following World War II, so did train traffic. The southernmost section of the High Line was demolished in the 1960s, and in 1980 three carloads of frozen turkeys were the last freight hauled on the High Line.
Improbable Journey: The story of New York’s High Line
The story of New York’s High Line (part 2 of 5): The challenges
S1: The history of the High Line starting in the 1840s, a bunch of business people in New York came together and planned a railroad. From the 1840s into the early 1900s, it was the primary artery to get people and things, in and out of New York City.
S2: As soon as those tracks got laid, almost from the very beginning in the mid-1800s, there was this problem of the trains traveling at grade level, in a crowded city and the accidents that they caused.
S3: It used to run down on 10th Avenue and it was called Death Avenue, because so many people were run over by the trains.
S1: For a short period of time the New York Central, who began to run the railroad at that point, actually hired people to ride on horses that were called the West Side Cowboys, and they ran out in front of trains with red flags, warning people that the trains were coming.
S2: But in 1929, the city, the state and the New York Central Railroad, came together in an historic agreement, the biggest transportation infrastructure project in New York City, known as the West Side Improvement. What it did basically, was eliminate grade crossings along the west side of Manhattan.
S1: In the early 1930s, the High Line section is completed, from Canal Street up to 34th Street. It was 21 feet above ground. Warehouses in that area were rebuilt, so they could handle freight up at the second or third level.
Announcer: The early bird gets underway, destination New York.
S1: Starting in 1934, it got a new nickname which was the Life Line of New York, because it brought in a lot of food, and a lot of the warehouses were old food warehouses, most famously the Nabisco factory, which is now Chelsea Market.
S2: After World War Two, as manufacturing left New York City, the need for heavy freight rail, really began to diminish. Into the 1960s, you basically had the traffic north of there, begin to just disappear.
S3: In the 1960s, part of it from Clarkson to Bank Street was demolished. Then there was another demolition in 1990, that brought it up to Gansevoort Street, which is where it ends today.