Engineering News, October 17, 1895

Whatever may be the possibilities of train service on the Brooklyn Bridge when the new terminals are fully completed and the gauntleted tracks are laid, the experience already accumulated goes to show that the terminal stations will be found objectionable and unsatisfactory in many ways, and unable to properly provide for the immense crowds which use the bridge railway. The New York station is at present in an unfinished and chaotic state, but even now some serious objections in the proposed permanent arrangement are evident, chief among which is the inconvenience resulting from raising the grade of the platforms so much above that of the old station and above that of the elevated railway station. Formerly there were about 36 steps to climb from Park Row to the bridge station platform, but now this is increased to 56 (unless persons walk nearly the full length of the station to a shorter stairway). This increase is a serious matter to many persons who use the bridge.

The bridge track formerly entered the station on a down grade, but the change in level above referred to is such that it now enters on an up grade with reverse curves, and this arrangement seems almost certain to cause trouble with trains stopped for any reason on the approach near the foot of the grade in wet or slippery weather. The reverse curves prove very trying to the equilibrium of passengers standing in the cars. Of course, the answer made to this is that with trains running at 45 seconds headway, there will be seating capacity for all passengers—a claim, however, which is still to be proved. There is also a dangerously wide space between the station platform and car platform, made worse by the beveling off of the edge of the platform; but this may, perhaps, be changed.

The new Brooklyn station has been in use for a few weeks, and has developed a very faulty arrangement and entire inadequacy of the stairways. The stairways from the platform to the main floor of the station (on the street level below) are in the form of an X, with the result that there is confusion at the landing at the intersection, as some persons wish to continue straight on down, while others wish to turn and go down the other leg of the X. These stairs again are much too narrow, and in the busy hours, when a crowd is massed about the head of the stairs, there is a dangerously narrow margin between the crowd and the edge of the platform. At each end of the platform will be stairways up to the platforms of the Brooklyn Elevated R. R. Between the two openings of the X stairways leading down from the bridge platform are two stairways leading up to the overhead gallery connecting with all the elevated railway stations, and this concentrates the bulk of the crowd from both ends of the train at the middle of the platform, and persons from the head or rear of the train who wish to ascend the stairways have to meet and combat with the crowd at the head of the descending stairways. The crush is even worse than at the old station, and will probably be still worse when trains are discharging passengers on both sides of the platform at intervals of 45 seconds.

In all provision for handling crowds, it should be a fundamental principle to keep the crowd moving in one direction, and to make any branching avenues diverge at the least angle possible. This was practically the case at the old Brooklyn station (except that the head of the train was beyond one of the branching avenues), the main crowd moving straight down the platform; one-half of the width of the end of which had steps to the street and the other half continued on to one of the elevated railway stations, while there were two avenues branching off at right angles, and affording access to the street and to another elevated railway. In the new station, however, the arrangements are such as to set up bewildering and conflicting currents in the crowd, with the additional danger of an island platform.

While the Brooklyn station has no great architectural pretensions, it is in itself a simple and pleasing structure. Its appearance, however, is entirely spoiled by the heterogeneous arrangement of the ugliest and baldest of galleries and stairways, which connect the bridge station with the shanty station of the Kings County Elevated R. R., and are supported by a motley mixture of columns, plate girders and trusses. The elevated station and its connecting galleries are built over the open space (or so called "plaza," which was to be such an attractive feature of the new terminal), between Fulton St. and the bridge station, making a dark and gloomy spot upon which, in wet weather, fall the discolored drippings from the structure. The Brooklyn Elevated R. R. has used a solid floor on its part of the work, and it might have been supposed that the other elevated road would have been required to put in a solid and watertight floor, thus limiting the droppings to the edges of the structure, but instead of this there is an open floor, which is practically as dark as a solid floor, but gives the company no concern as to drainage. Even the small remaining clear space of this "plaza" will probably be invaded by a two and four-track belt for the electric surface cars, and by platforms for these cars. Taken altogether, the Brooklyn station, with its complicated arrangement of stairways, galleries, platforms, etc., offers excellent opportunities for strangers to get lost or to be carried to other places than their intended destinations. The design of the terminal was, of course, complicated by the necessity of taking the two elevated railways into consideration, but the adopted plan does not appear to have solved the problem with any degree of success, especially in view of the great expense incurred.

The question of electric traction for the Brooklyn Bridge is again being revived, and one of the trustees who has recently visited the Westinghouse Electric & Mfg. Co.'s plant at East Pittsburgh, Pa., has been strongly advocating that company's insulated conductor system, noted in our issue of Oct. 10.

The plan proposed is to first test this electric system for switching, for which purpose it is proposed to equip the two end cars of each train with the necessary motors, contact bars, etc.

We are inclined to believe that the adoption of electricity for switching purposes will be practically forced upon the bridge officials in order to handle the trains at the terminals with the 45-second interval, which is proposed when the new gauntleted tracks and terminals are completed. If any of our readers desires to test the question for himself, he can make a large scale copy from the diagram of tracks at the new terminals, published in our issue of Nov. 8, 1894, and by moving upon it pieces of paper representing the trains and the switching locomotives, he will find that only clock-like precision of movement and the utmost celerity of movement at every point will permit the switching of trains on the system proposed. The margin of time is so small that a delay of a few seconds at any point will put the whole system out of joint. If each train can carry its own motive power, however, so that the switching locomotives can be dispensed with, and so that the much quicker start which is possible with electric traction can be made, the problem will be very much simplified, and the proposed 45-second interval may probably be easily reached.

A great advantage of electricity for switching purposes would be that it would dispense with the noise, smoke and smell of the present steam locomotives. We believe that the noise made by these machines might be materially reduced if they were equipped with proper mufflers on the exhaust nozzles, such as have been used for years by builders of light steam motors, but the other objections to the use of the locomotives would still remain; and it is quite probable that the change to electricity for switching purposes would result in a saving in annual operating expenses over the cost of operating the present steam locomotives.

But if electricity were to be adopted for switching the bridge trains, it is manifest that the simplest possible system should be chosen; and why it should be seriously proposed to adopt the new Westinghouse system for this purpose passes comprehension. As our readers are aware, this system is designed for street railways, to dispense with an overhead wire, and it seems to be a very meritorious and promising system for this especial use; but on the bridge railway there are no objections to the use of either an overhead wire or a third rail to supply current to the cars. Such a system can manifestly be made much simpler than the necessarily complicated Westinghouse system; and the simpler an apparatus is, the less liable is it to get out of order. Now, it is a sine qua non that any switching system to be a success on the bridge must get out of order extremely seldom. Interruption to the service must not be permitted, and any complication which tends to make such interruption possible, should be condemned at the outset. We very much doubt, indeed, whether the responsible officials of the Westinghouse Co. would themselves recommend their ingenious and meritorious new system for the peculiar conditions of the bridge service, for such an installation might easily lead to its being unjustly condemned. So far as is at present apparent, the responsibility for the advocacy of this system rests with a single one of the bridge trustees. If this is indeed the case, we may hope that when electric switching is introduced on the bridge, it may be in a form calculated to give permanent satisfaction.

While the use of electricity for switching seems, in the light of present knowledge, to be a desirable improvement, the propulsion of cars by electricity over the whole bridge is an entirely different matter. Every train hauled over the bridge has to be lifted vertically about 70 ft. to reach the center of the span. With the cable railway the cars running down the grade aid in the propulsion of the cars going up the grade, so that so far as the power absorbed in propulsion is concerned, the heavy grades of the bridge are practically eliminated. With electric traction, on the other hand, very heavy motors, consuming a large amount of power, would be required to haul the trains at present speed to the center of the bridge, and then the accumulated power would have to be absorbed by the brakes while running down the steep grade to the terminus.

In the absence of comparative estimates, we should apprehend that the expenditure of power to haul trains up the grade with the electric system would be much greater than the loss in friction of the present cable system. The reduced life of car wheels and brakeshoes consequent upon the increased use of the brakes, which would be necessary with the electric system, would also tend to make its operating expenses higher.

But the question of the comparative safety of the electric and cable systems overshadows in importance all questions of relative economy. With the cable system at present in use, it is possible to run trains at shorter intervals than would be under any other system, because the attachment to the cable keeps the trains evenly spaced, especially in running down the grades. To prevent collisions of trains with each other, two safety factors are always present. First, the cable, and second, the brakes. To substitute electricity for the cable would be to deliberately dispense with one of these factors, and to make the safe spacing of trains a matter dependent upon the skill and good judgment of the motorman. The advocates of electric traction upon the bridge should understand what it is they are proposing. It is to let a heavy train run down a grade a half mile long, and averaging nearly 3 per cent. in steepness, the train being controlled only by the brakes. A train is standing at the foot of this grade, and when the system is in regular operation, will start to move out of the way barely one minute before the train running down the grade arrives. Suppose the standing train is delayed by any one of a dozen possible causes. Suppose the brakes fail on the moving train, or ice and sleet on the rail interfere with their holding power.

Every one familiar with railway operations know that things will not always move with precision. Every piece of machinery is liable to breakage, every trusted employee is liable to error. It would require only minor contingencies, such as are bound to occur more or less frequently in the operation of any railway, to cause a terrible collision, were trains moved over the Brooklyn Bridge at the proposed short interval without the safeguard of the cable.

But it may be said that electric railways are in operation all over the country over grades much steeper than that on the Brooklyn Bridge. That is, indeed, true; and it is also true that not a few serious accidents have occurred on such steep grades, and are bound to continue to occur. Moreover, it must not be forgotten that the handling of a heavy Brooklyn Bridge train on a long grade, and the handling of an ordinary electric car running at street railway speeds have little in common. Nowhere in the world, that we know of, has it ever been attempted to run trains down so long and steep a grade controlled only by the brakes, and with a terminal station at the foot where a train is always standing on the main tracks. We sincerely hope that such an experiment will not be first tried on the Brooklyn Bridge.

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