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The Brooklyn Grade Crossing Elimination Project

by Bob Diamond

Executive Summary:
At the dawn of the 20th century, the borough of Brooklyn, only two years earlier the City of Brooklyn, was entering its final thrust of initial development. Urban development was rapidly consuming the last bucolic farm land, and the advent of the electric railroad made it feasible.
     Several steam railroads were built from waterfront terminals and the former City Line of Brooklyn south to the resorts and racetracks of Coney Island. Steam power was banned within the Brooklyn City Limits from 1861 to 1879, requiring riders to change from steam trains to horse cars to complete their journeys downtown. During the 1880's elevated railways were built, extending from the Brooklyn Bridge through the downtown area, connecting with the steam roads to Coney Island.
     During the early 1900's, when the "el" lines began to convert to electric traction, a larger rapid transit system was foreseen, providing through service by connecting the elevateds with the electrified steam roads, while also providing improved rail freight service for food, fuel and building materials. At the same time, the Hell Gate Bridge was being planned, which would permit Brooklyn to serve as a rail gateway to New England by connecting elements of the Long Island Rail Road and Manhattan Beach Railway. Brooklyn would also benefit by having direct rail freight access to the midwest and New England.
     The Brooklyn Grade Crossing Elimination Commission was created by the New York State legislature on May 9, 1903 to accompish the goal of providing fully grade separated rights-of-way for the BRT's Brighton Beach Line and the Bay Ridge and Manhattan Beach lines of the LIRR.
     Its work was completed by May 1918. The work was paid for jointly between the City of New York, and the LIRR and BRT, as a public/private partnership.

Major Improvements:
     Brighton Beach Improvement —This steam road was called the Brooklyn, Flatbush and Coney Island RR, popularly called the Brighton line. Its original route encompassed what is now the Franklin Ave shuttle, as well as the “D” line between Prospect Park and Brighton Beach. It was electrified in 1899, when it was connected into the Fulton Street L, permitting service between lower Manhattan and Brighton Beach, the connection with the Fulton Street Line being made a few years prior to this. The work mostly included elevating and depressing the line for the elimination of grade crossings, the construction of steel bridges and the construction of sewers to aid real estate development along the route. The line was also four-tracked between Church and Neptune Avenues. The cost in 1918 dollars was about $1.7 million.
     Bay Ridge Improvement — This was a collection of railroads, comprised of the New York, Bay Ridge and Jamaica RR, the New York and Manhattan Beach Rwy, the Long Island City & Manhattan Beach Rwy, consolidated into the New York, Brooklyn & Manhattan Beach Rwy—now the LIRR. This work was the largest portion of the Commission’s work. It involved improved docks and car float facilities at Bay Ridge to accomodate to greater volume of rail freight traffic, the construction of rail yards for intermodal freight transfer for local delivery, a 4 track tunnel 3,900 feet long and depressing and elevating the line as required, including required bridges. It used 105,000 cubic yards of masonry and 7,500 tons of steel. Over 3,000,000 yards of earth was excavated, 26 miles of main track laid, and over 19 miles of yard track. The cost in 1918 dollars was about $4.5 million.
     Manhattan Beach Section—This work extended from Manhattan Beach Junction (near Ave. I & East 16th St.) south to Manhattan Beach. The work mostly consisted of removing the old line from its roadbed as far east as East 18th St., elevating the line adjacent to the Brighton Line, and providing bridges. This route was never electrified. Cost in 1918 dollars about $650,000.

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About the Author...
Bob Diamond has involved himself in projects which bring the physical reality of Brooklyn History closer to railroad buffs and the general public alike, including the rediscovery, preservation and study of the ancient Atlantic Avenue railroad tunnel on the edge of Brooklyn's downtown.
     Perhaps his most visible work, and the project destined to become even more visible in the future, is the resurrection of operating streetcars on Brooklyn streets. Follow this link for some up-to-date views.

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Last updated January 8, 2000