population 23,362,099 (2012)
But even elevated trains ran at only 12 miles per hour; as the city grew outwards the people demanded better. In 1900, the government of the newly unified city put up $35 million in public funds for a 20.9 mile subway system in Manhattan and the Bronx; a three-mile extension to Brooklyn was approved in 1902. The system opened in 1904. With 30 mph express trains, it immediately increased possible communting distances and bringing dense development to the Upper West Side of Manhattan, previously a quiet suburban area. The first major round of subway expansion started in 1913 and added 110 miles to the system, linking it to existing elevated lines in Brooklyn and bringing rapid transit to Queens for the first time. The result was the rapid growth of the city into the outer boroughs. In 1910, half of New York’s population was in Manhattan; in 1940 it was only a quarter.
Meanwhile, a ring of suburbs developed around the city on steam railroad lines. By the 1860s, railroads were selling commutation tickets. From the 1900s through the 1930s, railroads invested huge sums of money on widening lines, elevating them above streets, and electrification. A dedicated subway system got passengers from New Jersey terminals into Manhattan, and the Pennsylvania Railroad built tunnels to get direct access to the island.
By 1940 New York City’s transit system had reached its peak, with a 200-miles subway system (some of which, in the outer bouroughs, was elevated), an additional ___ miles of the separate “el” system, and ____ miles of electric streetcar lines. ____ different commuter railroads served ___ different terminals. But automobile competition hit the railraods hard; ridership began to decline after World War II, and losses mounted. Inside the city, public resentment of the private transit monopolies led to a city takeover of the subway in 1940. By then, with fares kept low by political pressures, the subways were losing money. From the 1930s into the 1970s, more thaan half (check!) of the region’s rail system was abandoned to cut costs.
Today, the area’s rail transit system is in the hands of four government agencies representing three different states. All inherited a well-engineered, lavishly built infrastructure. But that is a curse as well as a blessing: all that infrastructure requires a lot of maintanence. The Metropolitan Transit Authority spent $2.2 billion on subway cars, stations, and track in 2003 — enough to build 50 miles of light rail — without adding a single mile of track or new station. The contraction of the New York Region’s transit is over. But here in the capital of rail transit, there hasn’t been a major new subway line built in 50 years, and the commuter rail system has expanded only slightly since its lowpoint of the 1970s. The story here is one of undoing years of deferred maintenance and improving existing infrastructure to carry ever increasing passenger loads.