The Dual Contracts, 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. The contracts were signed on March 19, 1913, by the Interborough Rapid Transit Company and the Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company. As part of the Dual Contracts, the IRT and BRT would build or upgrade several subway lines in New York City, then operate them for 49 years.
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. Both the IRT and BRT (later Brooklyn–Manhattan Transit Corporation, or BMT) worked 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 in 1910. The population of the entire city had grown from 1.17 million people in 1860 to 3.44 million in 1900 and 4.77 million in 1910. 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. The first subway lines to the outer boroughs were planned during the early 20th century. Dispersion resulted in the expansion and development of the boroughs.
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 ambitious plans for the expansion of the city's subway system, they only had $200 million on hand. 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.
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. 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:
In total, 924,058,050 passengers were carried that year over these six modes of transport.
The New York Times noted that streetcar ridership had increased more than 25 times over between 1860, where there were 50.83 million annual riders, and 1910, where there were 1.531 billion annual riders.
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.
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, and the Contract 2 portion was opened to Atlantic Avenue on May 1, 1908.
The Dual Contracts were signed on March 19, 1913. The contracts bound Interborough Rapid Transit Company and the Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company (BRT; later BMT) to build and operate lines for 49 years. Contract 3 was signed between the City and the IRT. Contract 4 was signed between the City and the Municipal Railway Company, a subsidiary of the BRT, formed especially for the purpose of contracting with the city for construction of the lines.
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 expansions would total 618 miles (995 km) of new trackage across both systems; by comparison, the existing systems had 296 miles (476 km) of tracks. The city's third major rapid transit company, the Hudson & Manhattan Railroad (now PATH), was excluded from the contracts. The projected $337 million cost would be borne mostly by the City, which was to pay $226 million, and the companies would pay the difference. 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.
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.
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 large interchange station, 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.
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 Queensboro 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.
Several provisions were imposed on the companies, which eventually led to their downfall and consolidation into city ownership in 1940:
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:
Some conditions applied only to certain parts of the system:
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:
The following lines were rebuilt with extra tracks:
Some of the IRT lines proposed under the Contracts were not built. Most notably, there were plans to build an IRT line to Marine Park, Brooklyn (at what is now Kings Plaza) under either Utica Avenue, using a brand-new line, or Nostrand Avenue and Flatbush Avenue, using the then-new IRT Nostrand Avenue Line. There were also alternate plans for the Nostrand Avenue Line to continue down Nostrand Avenue to Sheepshead Bay.
All Manhattan and Queens BMT lines were built under the Dual Contracts, as were all subway and some elevated lines in Brooklyn.
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. 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:
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. This also helped the business districts as people could still work.