Home Staten Island A subway tunnel to Staten Island, 80 years in the making

A subway tunnel to Staten Island, 80 years in the making

by Benjamin Kabak


The only New York City Transit rail line on which I’ve never ridden. (Photo by Chris Slaight / NYCSubway.org)

Yesterday’s discussion of Staten Island got me thinking more about the city’s forgotten borough. Did you know, for instance, that Staten Island nearly seceded from New York City in the early 1990s?

But civil politics are neither here nor there. We here to discuss the subway, and so we shall look at what one City Council member from Brooklyn is proposing: a subway tunnel from Brooklyn to Staten Island.

Say what? The MTA is already working on a rather lengthy tunnel down Second Ave. and a planned expansion westward of the 7 line. No way can they find the resources to build another massive project. Well, Lew Fidler thinks that for the environmental sake of the city, we should consider his plan. The Brooklyn Paper reports:

Here’s an idea whose time has come — again: How about a subway to Staten Island?…

In addition to a transit tunnel, Fidler supported a cross-Harbor freight tunnel and burying the BQE to open up the Sunset Park waterfront to parkland and economic development — both dreams of transit wonks. To pay for it, Fidler would levy a one-third-of-one-percent tax on all employer payrolls in the tri-state region.

“Congestion is a regional problem and requires a regional solution,” he told The Brooklyn Paper. “In order to get off Staten Island, residents have to use one fossil-fueled vehicle or another — car or bus. It’s ridiculous that the fastest-growing borough has no access to the rest of the city.”

In reality, Fidler’s proposal is a red herring, designed to stir up opposition to the congestion fee plan. But his statement, as far-fetched as it may be, brings us back to an era before anyone under the age of 75 was alive and kicking.

Back in the early decades of the Twentieth Century during post-Great War boom times for the City, the operators of the subway — the BRT company — wanted to build a rapid transit tunnel from Brooklyn to Staten Island. I’ll delve into the back story soon; the history told through articles in The New York Times is fascinating to any student of history of the New York City subways. But the short version is here.

The BRT started building the tunnel but entered bankruptcy in the mid-1920s. The city bailed out the subways but wanted no part in the tunnel construction to the then-isolated and very rural Staten Island. The tunnel — extended about 150 feet out in the harbor — has laid dormant under Owl’s Head Park ever since.

This tunnel surely would be a boon to Staten Island. But it’s not happening now, and it probably won’t happen ever. But we can all dream even our motives, like Fidler’s, are less than pure.

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Marsha November 13, 2007 - 9:26 am

But at least Staten Island is getting a vineyard. That’s more than the other four boroughs can say.


Sal June 10, 2009 - 6:19 pm

Yeah because we need a vineyard!
Ill thank them while I’m sitting in traffic on the SIE/Hylan Blvd/Victory Blvd/Richmond Terr/Richmond Road/Amboy Road/Rockland Ave/ Forest Ave…
Bring the Subway to Staten Island

Drew Wallner January 8, 2013 - 11:25 pm

Under 1939 planning for the ‘IND 2nd System’ there were plans to build a “Ft. Hamilton Parkway” Branch Line that was to connect to the system at or near the southern end of the IND’s Ft. Hamilton station on the Crosstown Line.

Details as to any actual connection point were not precisely specified but presumably it would have been just beyond the southern ends of the platforms. Looking south toward Coney Island at that point the ROW turns to its right – directly under the Parkway, before straightening…

This long forgotten proposed Line was to run wholly as subway some 3¾ mi. all under Ft. Hamilton ‘from’ this station to a terminus at 86th Str.- presumably 4-tracks (?) to at least 68th Str.

From the proposed Ft. Hamilton Line there also was to originate an additional branch line (as subway) as 2-tracks westward into Staten Island. This Branch Line was to run from the Parkway under 68th Str. to 5th Av., then under private property to 4th Av. where it would continue beneath Senator Str. and finally under Owl’s Head Park before proceeding below the Narrows (waterway connecting NYC’s Upper & Lower Bays) to roughly St. George, S.I., and merging there with the then SIRR’s 2 main branches (North Shore Line and the Main & South Shore Line.)

[Note: This should not be confused with a much earlier (1912) BRT – later BMT, planning for their own S.I. Branch Line physically connecting from the 4th Av. subway several blocks south of that Line’s 59th Str. station. For this project there were significant bell-mouths constructed below East 65th Str. at 4th Av. to take the Line under 67th Str. running west and then beneath the Park & Narrows.]

Neither the Ft. Hamilton nor the Brooklyn-Staten Island IND Lines ever got beyond the preliminary or ‘wishful thinking’ stage. However, the BMT did build a stretch of tunnel (1923-1925) deep beneath Owl’s Head Park in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. That tunnel is said to extend about 150ft out into the Narrows at one end –and- at the other, to a point near the 67th Str. entrance to the Park. The tunnel is still there today although its condition may not even be known to the MTA! [The NYC Parks Dept. has placed a concrete-slab (chained-down & padlocked) over a tunnel vent and/or access shaft in Owl’s Head Park; that shaft is located roughly 250ft from the southeastern entrance to the Park at Colonial Rd. & 68th Str.]

eric the beehivehairdresser November 13, 2007 - 10:17 am

When I worked in telecommunications, guys in the biz used to talk about a subway tunnel that connected the Broadway N/R/W lines to Staten Island that was never used for transit purposes, but instead used for communications lines out to a teleport hub over there.

If you sit in the first car on a Brooklyn bound R, look out the right side window you can see a tangent to the line, not sure if that’s it or not?

morton March 5, 2009 - 6:47 pm

Yes that it, off 59th, heading south to 95th . as your train leave the station , you feel and see the train turn a bit and straight in out, we can’t see out the front window of the R-46 cars, try to lookout the side window, or get off the train at 59th street, look in the tunnel, “THERE WAS A CRASH IN 1918, THE MALBONE STREET WRECK THAT KILL 97 PEOPLE,NEAR PROSPECT PARK, AND CHANG THE NAME OF THE STREET AND THE COMPANY, (MALBONE STREET, IS EMPIRE BLVD TODAY,)”BRT” IS BMT TODAY, THIS EXPLAIN WHY, THEY STOP THE WORK TO STATENISLAND, “MAYOR HYLAN HATED THE IRT AND THE BRT, BUT HE LOVED THE IND,

LarryV November 13, 2007 - 10:40 am

I don’t know, I find it highly unlikely that an abandoned Brooklyn-SI subway tunnel would be sitting there, used for comm lines instead of transit. Subway tunnels are too expensive to just build and leave alone. Your tangent tunnel is probably the stub tunnel around 59th Street.

realistism November 13, 2007 - 11:12 am

A SI link to the subways is just not realistic. Even if there were the potential ridership to justify the costs would SIers actually take the longer subway route as opposed to just taking a free ferry? Not bloody likely.

Speaking of which, the SI ferry should have a fare. All that fuel costs the city bundles.

Anthony A June 4, 2011 - 1:59 pm

no dumbo. it cant do to that there has to be a one way free to leave the borough. All the other boroughs have it. thats why it was passed in 1997.

AL January 6, 2013 - 9:34 pm

The reason why the Staten Island Ferry is free is because the Verrazano Narrows was supposed to be toll free after the bridge was paid off. Guess what, the toll for the Verrazano Narrows is 13 dollars and the bridge was long paid off! And the ferry might seem free, but even that comes at a price. If you take the train to the ferry (which is free), you have to pay 5 dollars to actually get into the ferry terminal. And if you take your car there is a fee for parking. So Staten Islanders pay more than any of the other boroughs to get into Manhattan and there would be a mob of angry people if the ferry was ever not free not to mention a huge loss in the number of tourists who ride the ferry every year to view NY harbor.

eric the beehivehairdresser November 13, 2007 - 12:54 pm

I forgot to state that the tunnel thingy is just south of Whitehall Street, as Larry says, it could just be a stub tunnel.

Benjamin Kabak November 13, 2007 - 1:01 pm

Huh? There’s no tunnel stub there. I think you’re just seeing the tunnel that leads to the center track at Whitehall St. meeting up with the Montague St. tunnel. The Staten Island tunnel stub is in Brooklyn.

Sal June 10, 2009 - 6:13 pm

There is a stub south of Whitehall on teh R. Not sure what it was but it is there. Ive seen it a hundred times.

Gary November 13, 2007 - 4:34 pm

Short-term, it’s not a priority for me. Long term, it is definitely possible, and should be on the agenda.

Manhattan is not the only destination any more, after all. to get from SI to Brooklyn, it’s either take a car, take a bus or take the ferry into Manhattan, then subway to Brooklyn, if I’m not mistaken.

Anyway, a lot of SIers drive, and something needs to be done to improve transit options to the 5th borough. Lastly, there are plans to create a massive park out on SI, and ultimately, making it accessible by subway (and SIRR) would be good policy.

Bottom line: we need to be investing a hell of a lot more into transit; that means higher state and federal gas taxes, congestion pricing, and for our area specifically, greater contribution by both the city and the state from general revenues.

eric the beehivehairdresser November 13, 2007 - 4:36 pm

Maybe I’m confused as to what the actual definition of a “tunnel stub” is, but there is tunnel opening carved out on the right hand side of the Broadway line just below Whitehall Street, it doesn’t lead very far, and it is completely blocked up with a wall of sorts that is now old and covered in that black subway grime.

The carved out opening and blocked up wall is there, I’ve seen it, it’s roughly ten seconds out of by train south of Whitehall Street station, and if you aren’t in the front of the front car the train will most likely be going too fast for you to see it.

morton March 5, 2009 - 7:32 pm

There was attempt to build to statenisland from white hall street, and there are 2 of the stub end tunnels, those tunnel would have came up into StGeorge, staten island, WOULD HAVE BEEN OF HELL OF SCAREY TUNNEL, LONG LIKE THAT, the other, coming from BKYN, would come up threw Rosebank StatenIsland, switch on to the StatenIsland southBeach services, either to Tottenville or to StGeorge, the car’s that ran there , when new was design to run into the subway of the BMT 4th ave, line , build in 1925, they look like the standards, bit of the Low volt , into them ,these car’s on the once own B&O railroad is called MUE-1 “Multiple Units Electric” Today the R-44 build in 1971 are known as MUE-2 today these car’ in which still being design was to replace the R-44’s with R-179,

David November 13, 2007 - 4:39 pm

I think a subway tunnel to Staten Island would be a good idea although I think it would need to be its own separate line instead of being an addition to a current line. I agree that this won’t be done in our lifetime. I still won’t believe anything about SAS until I actually see it!

Benjamin Kabak November 13, 2007 - 4:41 pm

I still won’t believe anything about SAS until I actually see it!

Journey up to Second Ave. Something’s under construction up there in the mid-90s 🙂

SIKid November 14, 2007 - 10:07 am

SI is definitely like the lost borough of New York, we have had many projects started and then never completed.

We need this subway tunnel to connect us to the rest of the city and to New Jersey would be nice as well. But if they ever do build it they need to do it the right way. Did you ever see these new magnetic high speed rail lines, now that’s what I’m talking about.

New York in general is way behind the rest in the transportation area, they waste time and money repair things that are not worth the upkeep!

I say connect the cities with rail lines its better for everyone and the environment in the long run…
Another thing I would like to add is the famous boardwalk in South Beach and Mid-Land SI, beautiful but not being utilized for us, our children and the borough. They have done very minor upgrades to this area, they should clean up the beach and expand the boardwalk. I tried contacting the city park dept. about maybe investing into the boardwalk and building maybe something that would drive revenues to the borough and bring in more visitors, no feed back. (Note: if anyone has advice on this would be appreciated, also if anyone is interested in investing I’m all ears.)

Chris H November 14, 2007 - 5:51 pm


I am not sure if it would be longer. It takes 8 minutes to go from 95th st to 59th on a R train and 20 minutes on an N to go from 59th st to Canal. Its the same distance as the the bird flies from Grasmere (the closest point) to 95th st as to Saint George. The SI ferry takes 25 minutes and you still need to factor in transfer times.

Todd November 14, 2007 - 10:52 pm

It’s a cool idea, but I’d much rather the SAS be finished before any other plans are even considered.

David November 15, 2007 - 1:16 am

I do recall seeing you post some photos of the construction. I should take you up on that idea & check it out. I still won’t feel safe until I see trains in service. Although it would be nice if it really would become a 4 track trunk & really kick things into high gear!

AlexB November 15, 2007 - 12:06 pm

Although the various transit agencies around the region are attempting to push through a number of high profile, high cost projects that have not yet been financed, the notion of a Staten Island tunnel and the benefits it would bring really puts things into perspective. The region doesn’t need incremental increases in funding, it needs a transit Marchall Plan. There are a lot of people that live in Staten Island and many of them commute to Manhattan. Imagine how much easier people’s lives would be if they could get from Tottenville to Columbus Circle (and everything in between) during rush hour in less that an hour and a half reliably at normal subway fares. Imagine how many express buses could be taken off the road and how much more stress-free the drive over the Verrazano could be. I would guess a tunnel from St. George to the unused tunnel stub in Bay Ridge would cost about 3 or 4 billion. The benefit to the city would be immeasurable. If the Hudson Bergen Light Rail were also extended to St. George via the north shore for another billion, St. George could easily become a regional commercial center, drawing people from Staten Island, south Brooklyn and Bayonne and generating private wealth and taxes for the city that would eventually eclipse the 5 billion these services would cost. The only problem is generating he political will to find the money to make it happen (always the hardest problem.) The D train would run on the Sea Beach line, the M 24 hours a day on the West End Line and the N would be re-routed to the Staten Island Railroad.

20501 November 16, 2007 - 10:00 am

A couple of comments:
1. There is definitely an unused stub tunnel south of Whitehall street. I am skeptical that it was intended for a tunnel to Staten Island. That would have been a five-mile tunnel, much longher than any underwater tunnel built to that time. A more logical use for it would have been an additional tunnel to Brooklyn. The tunnel from Whitehall Street to Montague St has a junction under the river with another pair of track coming from Broad St, so two routes have to share one tunnel. To allow each to be used to full capacity would requirte an additional tunnel.
2. In 1925, the City put out contract drawings for a tunnel between 65th St Bay Ridge and St George. There were two sets of drawings, one for shield tunnelling and one for sunken tube construction. Both called for ultinate development to four tracks, two for transit and two for a railroad. The drawings indicate that shafts at both sides of the Narrows had already been constructed. The railroad connection would probably have connected from SIRT’s North Shore line (and thus to mainline RR’s in New Jersey) to the LIRR Bay Ridge branch (and thus to Long Island and to New England via the Hell Gate Bridge). The transit connection would probably have connected to both the North Shore and Tottenville lines, and was intended to connect to the BMT 4th Ave line at 59th St station. There clearly are headings for this south of 59th St, and the bridge that carries the 4th Ave subway over the LIRR at 65th St has provision for four tracks (2 to 95th St, 2 to StatenIsland). Interestingly, the contract drawing were put out by the Board of Estimate, not by the Board of Transportation/Transit Commission, which put out all the subway construction contracts. For some reason, and I have not researched this, the City did not proceed with this contract. There was no tunnelling done under the Narrows, only the shafts on each side and the BMT turnout. It is possible that the Pennsylvania RR pulled strings to block this project. It would have connected primarily to the SIRT/B&O/CNJ/REading. Even if a connection were also provided to the PRR, the Pennsy would have had to share the use and advantage of the tunnel.
3. Expecting that the tunnel would be built, in 1925, the B&O did do the electrification of the SIRT in a way that was completely compatible with the BMT. The third rail type and location, and the design of the cars were all ready for through operation. In fact, in the 1950’s, after the TA’s massive improvement and fare reductions on the SI buses drew away many of the SIRT’s riders, the TA acutally bought 30 cars from the SIRT, and 25 of these were placed in service on the BMT.

greg the motorman November 19, 2007 - 2:08 am

With the construction on the verrazano and the recent suicide(motorist jumping off the bridge wed 14th 2007) leading to a massive backup on the si expressway..
this idea of a subway connection is NOT a dream!!! In fact it should be priority!!!!
as far as longer to reach manhattan via subway,,this simply is not true….all track work on the 4th avenue subway has been rebuilt (welded rail) manhattan bridge work has been done ..the infrustructure is ready to carry si commuters directly to biz sections in brooklyn and manhattan within 30 minutes…!!! technology has greatly improved to build the tunnel….(tunnel boring machine) infact…to really go green for the environment build the cross harbor tunnel to new jersey to eliminate truck traffic and the poor air quality that goes with it….this problem must be solved by this plan put foward by this politician…this is not a pipe dream…..traffic will only get worse and worse…..pollution as well…!!!! the si borough president along with sen.chuck and hillary are the ones smoking with this waste of time north shore trolly…this will not solve the problem….reactivate the north shore rail to subway and connect to the tunnel to brooklyn as well the line to totenville…and then realign si buses to feed to totenville subway and arlington subway….why is this taking nearly 100 years…..5 years to build the irt by hand….nearly 80 to build the 2nd avenue subway…100+ staten island subway connection..what a pathetic joke….the mainland chinese are building subway lines at a alarming pace.. when theres a will theres a way……!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

det April 19, 2008 - 11:19 am

i have been wishing for that line to be open ever since i started high school in bklyn (only 4 yrs ago). I live in SI and trust me, ppl in SI would greatly appreciate it.it would turn an hour long trek by bus into a 15 min trip by subway.

lenny may February 2, 2009 - 3:18 am

no tunnel, no bridge, and no city. cut the island off again please

joe April 30, 2009 - 12:17 am


where are the tunnels under owls head park

amoretto September 20, 2009 - 3:18 pm

if there ever is a subway link to SI it should be from Manhattan. That’s where most Staten Islanders commute to anyway. Obviously this would be extremely costly, but it’s certainly not impossible. Not when there’s a 40 mile tunnel connecting England and France. It just doesn’t make sense connecting to Brooklyn. Very few Staten Island go to Brooklyn and visa versa.

mike September 20, 2009 - 3:29 pm

The Verrazano bridge wasn’t built to handle rail traffic thanks to Robert Moses.

Steven October 28, 2009 - 1:27 pm

The city will go ahead with the plan when they lose the verrazano. To terrorism or a horrible accident. the port authority is in the process of making another tunnel into Manhattan for trains. This is in addition to the two car tunnels and two train tunnels and bridge already in place. Maybe we would have a better chance with a train to Jersey then to Manhattan. The port authority apparently doesn’t have the constraints that the Mta and city have. Another reason the tunnel won’t be built is because having a monopoly on the verrazano as the only Way on or off via vechicle allows them to charge the outrageous toll they have now.

goon September 13, 2010 - 8:08 am

hey goons, here is a thought………just build elevated tracks on the verazano! you gumps


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