1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Railways/Intra-Urban Railway

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Intra-Urban Railways

The great concentration of population in cities during the 19th century brought into existence a class of railways to Development which the name of intra-urban may be applied. Such lines are primarily intended to supply quick means of passenger communication within the limits of cities, and are to be distinguished on the one hand from surface tramways, and on the other from those portions of trunk or other lines which lie within city boundaries, although the latter may incidentally do a local or intra-urban business. Intra-urban railways, as compared with ordinary railways, are characterized by shortness of length, great cost per mile, and by a traffic almost exclusively passenger, the burden of which is enormously heavy. For the purpose of connecting the greatest possible number of points of concentrated travel, the first railways were laid round the boundaries of areas approximately circular, the theory being that the short walk from the circumference of the circle to any point within it would be no serious detention. It has been found, however, in the case of such circular or belt railways, that the time lost in traversing the circle and in walking from the circumference to the centre is so great that the gain in journey speed over a direct surface tramway or omnibus is entirely lost. Later intra-urban railways in nearly every case have been built, so far as possible, on straight lines, radiating from the business centre or point of maximum congestion of travel to the outer limits of the city; and, while not attempting to serve all the population through the agency of the line, make an effort to serve a portion in the best possible manner—that is, with direct transit.

The actual beginning of the construction of intra-urban railways was in 1853, when powers were obtained to build a line, 2¼ m. long, from Edgware Road to King’s Cross, in London, from which beginning the Metropolitan and Metropolitan District railways developed. These railways, which in part are operated jointly, were given a circular location, but the shortcomings of this plan soon became apparent. It was found that there was not sufficient traffic to support them as purely intra-urban lines, and they have since been extended into the outskirts of London to reach the suburban traffic.

The Metropolitan and Metropolitan District railways followed the art of railway building as it existed at the time they were laid out. Wherever possible the lines were constructed in open cutting, to ensure adequate ventilation; and where this was not possible they were built by a method suggestively named “cut and cover.” A trench was first excavated to the proper depth, then the side walls and arched roof of brick were put in place, earth was filled in behind and over the arch, and the surface of the ground restored, either by paving where streets were followed, or by actually being built over with houses where the lines passed under private property. Where the depth to rail-level was too great for cut-and-cover methods, ordinary tunnelling processes were used; and where the trench was too shallow for the arched roof, heavy girders, sometimes of cast iron, bridged it between the side walls, longitudinal arches being turned between them (fig. 30).

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Fig. 30.—Type-Section of Arched Covered Way, Metropolitan District railway, London.

The next development in intra-urban railways was an elevated line in the city of New York. Probably the first suggestion for an elevated railway was made by Colonel Stevens, of Hoboken, New Jersey, as early as 1831, when the whole art of railway construction was in its infancy. He proposed to build an elevated railway on a single line of posts, placed along the curb-line of the street: a suggestion which embodies not only the general plan of an elevated structure, but the most striking feature of it as subsequently built—namely, a railway supported by a single row of columns. The first actual work, however, was not begun till 1870, when the construction of an iron structure on a single row of columns was undertaken. The superiority, so far as the convenience of passengers is concerned, of an elevated over an underground railway, when both are worked by steam locomotives, and the great economy and rapidity of construction, led to the quick development and extension of this general design. By the year 1878 there were four parallel lines in the city of New York, and constructions of the same character had already been projected in Brooklyn and Chicago and, with certain modifications of details, in Berlin. In the year 1894 an elevated railway was built in Liverpool, and in 1900 a similar railway was constructed in Boston, U.S A., and the construction of a new one undertaken in New York. These elevated railways as a rule follow the lines of streets, and are of two general types. One (fig. 31), the earliest form, consisted of a single row of columns supporting two lines of longitudinal girders carrying the rails, the lateral stability of the structure being obtained by anchoring the feet of the columns to their foundations. The other type (fig. 32) has two rows of columns connected at the top by transverse girders, which in turn carry the longitudinal girders that support the railway. In Berlin, on the Stadtbahn—which for a part of its length traverses private property—masonry arches, or earthen embankments between retaining walls, were substituted for the metallic structure wherever possible.

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Fig. 31—Single-Column Elevated Structure


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Fig. 32.—Double-Column Elevated Structure (half-section).

The next great development, marking the third step in the progress of intra-urban railway construction, took place in 1886, when J. H. Greathead (q.v.) began the City & South London railway, extending under the Thames from the Monument to Stockwell, a distance of 3½ m. Its promoters recognized the unsuitability of ordinary steam locomotives for underground railways, and intended to work it by means of a moving cable; but before it was completed, electric traction had developed so far as to be available for use on such lines. Electricity, therefore, and not the cable, was installed (fig. 33). In the details of construction the shield was the novelty. In principle it had been invented by Sir Marc I. Brunel for the construction of the original Thames tunnel, and it was afterwards improved by Beach, of New York, and finally developed by Greathead. (For the details of the shield and method of its operation, see Tunnel.) By means of the shield Greathead cut a circular hole at a depth ranging from 40 to 80 ft. below the surface, with an external diameter of 10 ft. 9 in.; this he lined with cast-iron segments bolted together, giving a clear diameter of 10 ft. 2 in. Except at the shafts, which were sunk on proposed station sites, there was no interference with the surface of the streets or with street traffic during construction. Two tunnels were built approximately parallel, each taking a single track. The cross-section of the cars was made to conform approximately to the section of the tunnel, the idea being that each train would act like a piston in a cylinder, expelling in front of it a column of air, to be forced up the station shaft next ahead of the train, and sucking down a similar column through the station shaft just behind. This arrangement was expected to ensure a sufficient change in air to keep such railways properly ventilated, but experience has proved it to be ineffective for the purpose. This method of construction has been used for building other railways in Glasgow and London, and in the latter city alone the “tube railways” of this character have a length of some 40 m. The later examples of these railways have a diameter ranging from 13 to 15 ft.

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Fig. 33.—Section of Tunnel and Electric Locomotive, City & South London railway.


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Fig. 34.—Electric Underground Railway, Budapest.

The fourth step in the development of intra-urban railways was to go to the other extreme from the deep tunnel which Greathead introduced. In 1893 the construction was completed in Budapest of an underground railway with a thin, flat roof, consisting of steel beams set close together, with small longitudinal jack arches between them, the street pavement resting directly on the roof thus formed (fig. 34). The object was to bring the level of the station platforms as close to the surface of the street as the height of the car itself would permit; in the case of Budapest the distance is about 9 ft. This principle of construction has since been followed in the construction of the Boston subway, of the Chemin de Fer Métropolitain in Paris, and of the New York underground railway. The Paris line is built with the standard gauge of 4 ft 8½ in., but its tunnels are designedly made of such a small cross section that ordinary main line stock cannot pass through them.

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Fig. 35.—New York Rapid Transit railway, showing also the tracks and conduits of the electric surface tramway.

The New York underground railway (fig. 35) marks a still further step in advance, in that there are practically two different railways in the same structure. One pair of tracks is used for a local service with stations about one-quarter of a mile apart, following the general plan of operation in vogue on all other intra-urban railways. The other, or central, pair of tracks is for trains making stops at longer distances. Thus there is a differentiation between the long-distance traveller who desires to be carried from one extreme of the city to the other and the short-distance traveller who is going between points at a much less distance.

To sum up, there are of intra-urban railways two distinct classes: the elevated and the underground. The elevated is used where the traffic is so light as not to warrant the expensive underground construction, or where the construction of an elevated line is of no serious detriment to the adjoining property. The underground is used where the congestion of traffic is so great as to demand a railway almost regardless of cost, and where the conditions of surface traffic or of adjoining property are such as to require that the railway shall not obstruct or occupy any ground above the surface.

Underground railways are of three general types: the one of extreme depth, built by tunnelling methods, usually with the shield and without regard to the surface topography, where the stations are put at such depth as to require lifts to carry the passengers from the station platform to the street level. This type has the advantage of economy in first construction, there being the minimum amount of material to be excavated, and no interference during construction with street traffic or subsurface structures; it has, however, the disadvantage of the cost of operation of lifts at the stations. The other extreme type is the shallow construction, where the railway is brought to the minimum distance below the street level. This system has the advantage of the greatest convenience in operation, no lifts being required, since the distance from the street surface to the station platform is about 12 to 15 ft.; it has the disadvantages, however, of necessitating the tearing up of the street surface during construction, and the readjustment of sewer, water, gas and electric mains and other subsurface structures, and of having the gradients partially dependent on the surface topography. The third type is the intermediate one between those two, followed by the Metropolitan and Metropolitan District railways, in London, where the railway has an arched roof, built usually at a sufficient distance below the surface of the street to permit the other subsurface structures to lie in the ground above the crown of the arch, and where the station platforms are from 20 to 30 ft. beneath the surface of the street—a depth not sufficient to warrant the introduction of lifts, but enough to be inconvenient.

In the operation of intra-urban railways, steam locomotives, cables and electricity have severally been tried: the first having Operations.been used in the earlier examples of underground lines and in the various elevated systems in the United States. The fouling of the air that results from the steam-engine, owing to the production of carbonic acid gas and of sulphurous fumes and aqueous vapour, is well known, and its use is now practically abandoned for underground working. The cable is slow; and unless development along new lines of compressed air or some sort of chemical engine takes place, electricity will monopolize the field. Electricity is applied through a separate locomotive attached to the head of the train, or through motor carriages attached either at one end or at both ends of the train, or by putting a motor on every axle and so utilizing the whole weight of the train for traction, all the motors being under a single control at the head of the train, or at any point of the train for emergency. The distance between stations on intra-urban railways is governed by the density of local traffic and the speed desired to be maintained. As a general rule the interval varies from one-quarter to one-half mile; on the express lines of the New York underground the inter-station interval averages about 1½ m. On steam-worked lines the speed of trains is about 11 to 15 m. per hour, according to the distance between stations. Later practice takes advantage of the great increase in power that can be temporarily developed by electric motors during the period of acceleration; this, in proportion to the weight of the train to be hauled, gives results much in advance of those obtained on ordinary steam railways. Since high average speed on a line with frequent stops depends largely on rapidity of acceleration, the tendency in modern equipment is to secure as great an output of power as possible during the accelerating period, with corresponding increase in weight available for adhesion. With a steam locomotive all the power is concentrated in one machine, and therefore the weight on the drivers available for adhesion is limited. With electricity, power can be applied to as many axles in the train as desired, and so the whole weight of the train, with its load, may be utilized if necessary. Sometimes, as on the Central London railway, the acceleration of gravity is also utilized; the different stations stand, as it were, on the top of a hill, so that outgoing trains are aided at the start by having a slope to run down, while incoming ones are checked by the rising gradient they encounter.

The cost of intra-urban railways depends not only on the type of construction, but more especially upon local conditions, Cost.such as the nature of the soil, the presence of subsurface structures, like sewers, water and gas mains, electric conduits, &c.; the necessity of permanent underpinning or temporary supporting of house foundations, the cost of acquiring land passed under or over when street lines are not followed, and, in the case of elevated railways, the cost of acquiring easements of light, air and access, which the courts have held are vested in the abutting property. The cost of building an ordinary two-track elevated railway according to American practice varies from $300,000 to $400,000 a mile, exclusive of equipment, terminals or land damages. The cost of constructing the deep tubular tunnels in London, whose diameter is about 15 ft. exclusive, in like manner, of equipment, terminals or land damages, is about £170,000 to £200,000 a mile. The cost of the Metropolitan and Metropolitan District railways of London varied greatly on account of the variations in construction. The most difficult section—namely, that under Cannon Street—where the abutting buildings had to be underpinned, and a very dense traffic maintained during construction, while a network of sewers and mains was readjusted, cost at the rate of about £1,000,000 a mile. The contract price of the New York underground railway, exclusive of the incidentals above mentioned, was $35,000,000 for 21 m., of which 16 m. are underground and 5 are elevated. The most difficult portion of the road, 4½ m. of four-track line, cost $15,000,000. (W. B. P.)