The steady rise of road vehicles through the mid-twentieth century depleted ‘El’ services. The last passenger coaches ran on the Third Avenue El in 1973, while the final goods train departed on the High Line in 1980.
I explored the history of the elevated railways at both the New York Transit Museum Archives and the High Line Park. The NYTMA housed a wonderful collection of films made between 1930 and 1952. Literal tracking shots in the 1930's films took viewers on a fairground ride through the city. Winding precariously around curved sections of track, the camera offered glimpses of the skyscrapers above and the streets below.
A curiously cinematic perspective was also on offer at the High Line. The park was fully opened to the public in June 2011. The gardens recycle a space once preserved for freight trains; now, pedestrians, rather than passengers, traverse the structure. Much of the old track has been preserved and forms an integral part of the park’s design. The High Line even incorporates an ‘urban theatre’ at the corner of 10th Avenue and 17th Street. Visitors can sit and watch road traffic pass beneath them through screen-like glass panels.
Looking down on the passing vehicles, the elevated railway retains a grandeur that the car cannot emulate.