Dual Contracts

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The original "H" system that predated the contracts

The Dual Contracts, signed on March 19, 1913, also known as the Dual Subway System, were contracts for the construction and/or rehabilitation and operation of rapid transit lines in the City of New York. Most of the lines of the present-day New York City Subway were built or reconstructed under these contracts. The contracts were "dual" in that they were signed between the City and two separate private companies (the Interborough Rapid Transit Company and the Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company), all working together to make the construction of the Dual Contracts possible.


In the late 19th century and for most of the 20th century, New York was host to millions of immigrants each year. Many of the immigrants crowded into tenements and other apartment buildings in the inner city. This resulted in overpopulation of the buildings, and congestion of city streets. Manhattan's population had risen from 516,000 people in 1850 to 2.33 million people just sixty years later.[1] Living in Manhattan was becoming a hazard due to the higher probability of crime and overcrowding, and for the most part, the first subway line only served areas that were already developed.[2] The first subway lines to the outer boroughs were planned during the early 20th century.[3] Dispersion resulted in the expansion and development of the boroughs, and helped prepare New York for the millions of immigrants that came in the following years.

In 1906, Charles Evans Hughes was elected as the governor of New York, and the next year, he created the New York State Public Service Commission (PSC). The PSC was responsible for new rapid transit lines in New York City. Although the PSC had created ambitions plans for the expansion of the city's subway system, they only had $200 million on hand (equivalent to $5,079,000,000 in 2018).[4] In 1911, George McAneny was appointed leader of the Transit Committee of the New York City Board of Estimate, which oversaw the subway expansion plans.[5]

Some opposed the Dual Contracts as they thought that the company owners and city officials were just looking for another way to produce personal revenue.[5] Reformists like Hughes and McAneny would not have it any other way than to see the expansion of the city and the subway. They wanted to see the inner city become less populated and spread the people to the outer boroughs of the city. They planned to expand the city and disperse the people by building subway lines which would hopefully result in new homes being built near the subway lines and the areas surrounding. This would lower population densities in the city and also made as a good reason to help prove the subway expansion as necessary.


Before the Contracts, there was crowding in many of the forms of transportation in the city. The following is a list of annual ridership for each mode of transportation between June 30, 1910, and June 30, 1911:

  • Interborough Rapid Transit Company – subways, elevated roads — 578,154,088
  • Hudson and Manhattan Railroad — 52,756,434
  • Brooklyn Union Elevated Railroad System — 167,371,328
  • East River ferries — 23,460,000
  • Municipal ferry to Staten Island — 10,540,000
  • Hudson River ferries — 91,776,200

In total, 924,058,050 passengers were carried that year over these six modes of transport.[6]

Planned effects

It was expected that, within five years of completion:

When completed the rapid transit facilities of the City will have been more than trebled. During the year ended June 30, 1911, shortly after which the construction of the new system was begun, the existing rapid transit lines carried 798,281,850 passengers. The new Dual System will have a capacity of upwards of [3 billion], although it is not expected that such capacity will be demanded immediately upon the completion of the system. The combined trackage of the existing lines (including 7.1 miles of the Hudson and Manhattan Railroad) amounts to 303 miles of single track. To this will be added by the new lines of the Dual System 334 miles of single track, making a new system with 637 miles of single track. What this will mean to the City may be appreciated by considering how the existing lines will be amplified by the new additions and extensions. The Hudson and Manhattan road, however, is not to be a part of the Dual System.[6]

This system expansion was expected to be as big as, if not bigger, than the proposed Second System expansion put forth by the Independent Subway System in 1929 and 1939.

The Contracts

File:1910 IRT plan.png
1910 plan for IRT expansion

Contracts 1 and 2

Built before the Dual Contracts, the first regularly operated subway in New York City was built by the city and leased to the Interborough Rapid Transit Company (IRT) for operation under city Contracts 1 and 2. Until 1918, when the new "H" system that is still operated - with separate East Side and West Side lines - was placed in service, it consisted of a single trunk line below 96th Street with several northern branches. The system had four tracks between Brooklyn Bridge – City Hall and 96th Street, allowing for local and express service on that portion.

Contract 1 was for the original 28 stations of the subway system that opened on October 27, 1904, from City Hall to 145th Street, as well as for stations opened before 1908 on several IRT extensions. The original system as included in Contract 1 was completed on January 14, 1907, when trains started running across the Harlem Ship Canal on the Broadway Bridge to 225th Street,[7] and the Contract 2 portion was opened to Atlantic Avenue on May 1, 1908.[8]

Contracts 3 and 4

Contract 3 was signed between the City and the IRT, who operated the subway that was built under Contracts 1 and 2. Contract 4 was signed between the City and the Municipal Railway Company, a subsidiary of the BRT (later BMT), formed especially for the purpose of contracting with the city for construction of the lines. Contracts 1 and 2 were the original subway contracts between the City and the IRT for the city's first subway. These contracts predated the Dual Contracts, which were contracts 3 and 4.

Under the terms of Contracts 3 and 4, the city would build new subway and elevated lines, and rehabilitate and expand certain existing elevated lines, and lease them to the private companies for operation. The projected $366 million cost would be borne mostly by the City, which paid $200 million, and the companies would pay the difference.[9] The City's contribution was in cash raised by bond offerings, while the companies' contributions were variously by supplying cash, facilities and equipment to run the lines.

Queensboro Plaza

Queensboro Plaza track plan

The contract negotiations were long and sometimes acrimonious. For instance, when the IRT was reluctant to the BRT’s proposed access to Midtown Manhattan via the Broadway Line, the city and state negotiators immediately offered the BRT all of the lines under proposal. This included lines that would have only been operable using IRT rolling stock dimensions, such as the upper Lexington Avenue Line and both lines in Queens. The IRT quickly gave in to the "invasion" of Midtown Manhattan by the BRT.[10][11]

The assignment of the proposed lines in Queens proved to be an imposition on both companies. Instead of one company enjoying a monopoly in that borough, both proposed lines — a short line to Astoria, and a longer line reaching initially to Corona, and eventually to Flushing — were assigned to both companies, to be operated in what was called “joint service.” The lines would start from a huge station called Queensboro Plaza. The IRT would access the station from both the 1907 Steinway Tunnel and an extension of the Second Avenue Elevated from Manhattan over the Queensboro Bridge. The BRT would feed the Queens lines from the 60th Street Tunnel in Manhattan. Technically the line was under IRT "ownership", but the BRT/BMT was granted trackage rights in perpetuity, essentially making it theirs also.[10][11]

The BRT had a big disadvantage, as both Queens lines were built to IRT specifications. This meant that IRT passengers had a one-seat ride to Manhattan destinations, whereas BRT passengers had to make a change at Queensborough Plaza. This came to be important when service was extended for the 1939 World’s Fair, as the IRT was able to offer direct express trains from Manhattan, and the BRT was not. This practice lasted well into the municipal ownership of the lines, and was not ended until 1949. Both companies shared in the revenues from this service. To facilitate this arrangement originally, extra long platforms were constructed along both Queens routes, so separate fare controls/boarding areas could be established. This quickly turned out to be operationally unworkable, so eventually a proportionate formula was worked out. The bonus legacy of this construction was that the IRT was able to operate 11-car trains on this line, and when the BMT took over the Astoria Line, minimal work had to be done to accommodate 10-car BMT units.[11]


File:Chambers Street BMT 019.JPG
The large Chambers Street station was the BMT's Manhattan hub.
File:Coney Island Stillwell Avenue.jpg
The large Coney Island Terminal in Brooklyn was the BMT's largest terminal outside of Manhattan.
The IRT rebuilt the Steinway Tunnel, originally a trolley tunnel, for subway use.

Several provisions were imposed on the companies, which eventually led to their downfall and consolidation into city ownership in 1940:

  • The fare was limited to five cents; that led to financial troubles for the two companies after post-World War I inflation. The BMT could charge ten cents for fare to Coney Island Terminal, as well as to stations "where such ten cent fare is now allowed, until the time when trains may be operated for continuous trips over wholly connected portions of the railroad" between Coney Island and the Chambers Street station in Manhattan.[12]
  • The City had the right to "recapture" any of the lines it built and run them as its own.[12]
  • The City was to share in the profits.[12]

There were other conditions in regards to specific operations of the lines, as part of a deal between the IRT, the BMT, and the Public Service Commission. Many of the conditions applied all across the dual system. For example:

  • After the Commission finished constructing the line, the company was to operate it, providing its own rolling stock and furnishings.[12]
  • The companies, if they operated lines temporarily, had to operate them as if they were subway extensions. For subway extensions, if a company accepted the extension, it could operate it as part of its system; if not, the company had to pay a significant amount to the city every three months to operate it. This was implemented as part of the Queensboro Plaza trackage-sharing operation.[12]
  • The companies had operate these lines "according to the highest standards of railway operation and with due regard to the safety of the passengers and employees thereof, and of all other persons."[12]
  • Free transfers would be given at stations where needed, such as transfer stations between lines of the IRT and BMT, bus–subway transfer stations, elevated–subway transfer stations, or streetcar–subway transfer stations, according to the Commission's discretion.[12]
  • Freight, mail and express trains could use these companies' tracks if they did not disrupt passenger operations.[12]
  • Advertising was prohibited in stations, railroad tunnels, elevated structures, or other places. Bulletins telling of service changes were allowed.[12]
  • Selling things in the stations was prohibited, except if it needed for the operation of the subway, or if it was a newspaper, periodical, or magazine that the Commission had permitted.[12]
  • Each company was to post their intentions to operate newsstands in the form of proposals to the Commission.[12]

Some conditions applied only to certain parts of the system:

IRT lines

Under the original "H" system, the original line and early extensions built for the IRT are:

The following lines were built under the Dual Contracts for the IRT:[6]

The following lines were rebuilt with extra tracks:[6]

BMT lines

1911 plan, giving all the contracts to the BRT
File:1924 BMT dual contracts map.jpg
1924 map of the BMT Dual Contracts lines

All Manhattan and Queens BMT lines were built under the Dual Contracts, as were all subway and some elevated lines in Brooklyn.[6]

Lines and line segments built new

Grade-separated rights-of-way built to replace surface railroads

Existing rights-of-way rehabilitated and expanded


As reformists predicted the Dual Contracts resulted in city expansion. People moved to the newly built homes along the newly built subway lines. These homes were affordable, about the same cost as the houses in Brooklyn and Manhattan.[9] The Dual Contracts were the key to dispersion of the city’s congested areas. The Dual Contracts helped lower high population areas and probably helped saves lives as people were no longer living in heavily diseased areas. According to the Federal Census of New York City for 1920 the population in Manhattan below 59th Street decreased from 1910 to 1920. The census resulted in the following:

  • 1905 State census: 1,271,848
  • 1910 United States census: 1,269,591
  • 1915 State census: 1,085,308
  • 1920 United States census: 1,059,589[13]

People were allowed to move to better parts the same cost and could have a better and more comfortable life in the suburbs. They could still commute to work every day as most of the better off city workers who moved to the outer boroughs did.[9] This also helped the business districts as people could still work.



  1. Derrick 2001, p. 2.
  2. Derrick 2001, p. 2–3.
  3. Derrick 2001, p. 265.
  4. Derrick 2001, p. 4–5.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Derrick 2001, p. 6.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 "The Dual System of Rapid Transit (1912)". nycsubway.org.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. New York Times, Farthest North in Town by the Interborough, January 14, 1907, page 18
  8. New York Times, Brooklyn Joyful Over New Subway, May 2, 1908, page 1
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 Derrick 2001, p. 7.
  10. 10.0 10.1 Public Service Commission 1913, chapter 1.
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 Rogoff 1960.
  12. 12.00 12.01 12.02 12.03 12.04 12.05 12.06 12.07 12.08 12.09 12.10 12.11 12.12 12.13 "Terms and Conditions of Dual System Contracts". nycsubway.org. Retrieved 16 February 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. "Lower Manhattan Lost in Population". The New York Times. New York Times. Retrieved November 5, 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>


  • Derrick, Peter (2001). Tunneling to the Future: The Story of the Great Subway Expansion that Saved New York. NYU Press. ISBN 0814719104.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • New Subways For New York: The Dual System of Rapid Transit. Public Service Commission. 1913.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Rogoff, David (1960). "The Steinway Tunnels". Electric Railroads (29).<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links