Regular delays, closures, and service changes are a reminder that the New York City Subway is constantly under construction—particularly in a post-Sandy New York—at some point in its network of 842 miles of tracks.
But it’s impossible to compare the minor tweaks to tracks and stations to anything like what the installation of the original subway would’ve looked like at the turn of the 20th century—a project so massive its hard to imagine, even when you look at what they’re doing to dig a giant tunnel for New York’s newest line.
Luckily, we don’t have to, thanks to the digital collections of the Museum of the City of New York of photographs from the original construction of New York City railways. The photographs provide a perspective into a different era of American cities—when planners, politicians, and private rail companies were bold enough to dice up a city in order to improve it, before car companies—just in their infancy—had the clout to block public transit development.
The images are pulled from a photo archive of images of the construction of the Manhattan Railway, an elevated train system, and a subway precursor, from the days when multiple, privately owned lines competed for business on different routes. In 1940, the city bought and began consolidating the two remaining separately owned lines, and soon after established the New York City Transit Authority to operate all public transit.