ANSI - American National Standards Institute
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New York City Subway Celebrates 100 Years

New York, Oct 27, 2004

On October 27, 1904, New York City's underground rapid transit system was inaugurated and 150,000 people paid a nickel each to ride the fastest city transportation system in the world. "City Hall to Harlem in 15 minutes!" was the slogan – for a trip that used to take hours. The new line was a welcome change for urban dwellers used to getting around on foot, horseback, crowded horse-drawn streetcars, or steam-powered elevated trains that spewed smoke and cinders onto the streets below. The new system’s four-track design was efficient – enabling both express and local trains to run in each direction – and driven by clean electric power. According to Lawrence G. Reuter, President, MTA New York City Transit, the New York City subway system “stands as one of the 20th Century's outstanding feats of engineering and urban planning.”

Three men were primarily responsible for the construction of the NYC subway: August Belmont, president of the privately owned Interborough Rapid Transit Company; John B. McDonald, the successful bidder for the tunnel contract; and William Barclay Parsons, chief engineer. Parsons advocated the cut-and-cover construction method, which entailed cutting a massive trench to accommodate a typically 55-foot wide and 15-foot high tunnel, rather than drilling and tunneling deep beneath the city. This method could better accommodate New York’s varied topography and geology, that exhibited soft soil in some areas and hard rock in others. Twelve thousand men wielding picks and shovels worked over fourteen years laying rails and building stations, enclosing the trenches with steel beams, adding a shallow layer of fill, and finishing with paving over the tunnel.

Over the past 100 years, the New York City subway has grown from a nine-mile line to a four-borough system consisting of 26 lines and 468 stations. The invention of the electrified third rail, the electric motor regulator, the air brake, and the induction telegraph system by Granville T. Woods made possible the subway as we know it now. In fact, today the subway system is New York City’s largest single user of electricity.

Several standards developing organizations (SDOs) have worked in various areas of rail transit technology, creating standards, guides, and recommended practices to keep riders of the NYC subway – and mass transit systems around the world – moving safely. ANSI member and accredited standards developer IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) has also been active in standards development that has produced a number of standards, including: IEEE 1478, Standard for Environmental Conditions for Transit Rail Car Electronic Equipment, and IEEE 1544, Standard for Transit Communications Interface Profiles for Railcar Basic Operating Unit Interoperability.

Another ANSI member and accredited standards developer, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, holds a Rail Transit Vehicle Standards Committee that covers safety, functional, performance and operability requirements for rail transit vehicles, mechanical systems and components and structural requirements. Rail transit includes conventional subway (rapid) railcars and light rail cars, and excludes freight, commuter, high speed or any other rail vehicles under the jurisdiction of the Federal Railroad Administration.

The Rail Transit Standards Task Force of the American Public Transportation Association has worked with ANSI-accredited SDOs like IEEE and ASME to develop a six-volume Manual of Standards and Recommended Practices for Rail Transit Systems. The manual represents an industry consensus on practices to help rail transit systems achieve a high level of safety for passengers, employees, and the general public.

Today, more than 4.5 million people depend on the NYC subway each business day to reach their destinations, and it is as much an iconic part of New York as it is a practical one. To celebrate the centennial, the New York Metropolitan Transit Authority has organized a series of events and exhibits, including online resources with historical information and images for all to enjoy. For more information, visit