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|Dates of operation||1853–1956|
|Predecessor||Third Avenue Railroad Company|
|Successor||New York City Omnibus Corporation|
|Track gauge||4 ft 8 1⁄2 in (1,435 mm)|
|Headquarters||New York, New York|
The Third Avenue Railway System (TARS), founded 1852, was a streetcar system serving the New York City boroughs of Manhattan and the Bronx along with lower Westchester County. For a brief period of time, TARS also operated the Steinway Lines in Long Island City.
The conversion from streetcar to bus operation came from great pressure applied by New York City's Board of Transportation for a unified bus transportation system across the city. TARS applied for its first bus franchises in 1928. By 1948, all streetcar lines in Manhattan and The Bronx were converted to bus operation. The lines in Westchester County continued to operate, until the Yonkers city lines were shut down in 1952. Third Avenue Railway was purchased by New York City Omnibus Corporation in 1956, and transferred the remaining transit operating franchises to subsidiary Surface Transportation, Inc.
The origins of the Third Avenue Railway System can be traced back to a simple horsecar line operated by the Third Avenue Railroad Company between City Hall and 62nd Street in Manhattan in 1853. By the 1870s, routes had been extended as far north as 129th Street and across the length of 125th Street. At its peak, more than 1700 horses were stabled by the railway to keep up with demand. By 1885, Third Avenue Railroad had opened its first cable car line on Amsterdam Avenue. The 125th Street and Third Avenue lines were converted to cable car operation by 1893. The lines were converted to electric operation in 1899. Because of a ban on overhead trolley wires in Manhattan, streetcars collected power from a conduit in between the rails, by means of a plow, a method also used in Washington, D.C. and London. Some cars were equipped with trolley poles for operation on lines outside Manhattan into the Bronx. In many cases the conduit was run in the former channel occupied by the propulsion cable.
The Third Avenue Railroad expanded in 1898 with the acquisition of the Dry Dock, East Broadway and Battery Railroad and the Forty-Second Street, Manhattanville and St. Nicholas Railroad. Additional properties include the Belt Line Railway Corporation, the Mid-Crosstown Railway, the Brooklyn and North River Railroad (a joint operation with Brooklyn Rapid Transit, New York Railways, and TARS operating streetcars over the Manhattan Bridge), the Kingsbridge Railroad, the Westchester Electric Railroad, and the Yonkers Railroad:
The cost of rapid expansion led to financial problems, and Third Avenue Railroad came under the control of the Metropolitan Street Railway. The 1908 collapse of the Metropolitan Railway send Third Avenue Railroad into foreclosure, with Frederick Wallingford Whitridge named receiver. Third Avenue Railway was chartered in 1910, and acquired the properties of the former Third Avenue Railroad, completing the transaction in 1912. In 1911, the New York City Interborough Railway streetcar lines were purchased from Interborough Rapid Transit, gaining complete control over all streetcar lines in The Bronx. In 1914 the Pelham Park and City Island Railway was acquired from Interborough Rapid Transit, further expanding the railway's reach into The Bronx. This extension was short-lived as the line ceased operation in 1919.
By 1915 Frederick Whitridge was president of the company. Labor unrest caused strikes that disrupted trolley service system-wide, and Whitridge and his policies were under scrutiny. Edward A. Maher succeeded Whitridge, but soon tendered his resignation at the end of 1917. Slaughter W. Huff, former vice president of the Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company, was elected to take over as president of TARS. Huff was an experienced transit executive, working his way through streetcar lines in California, Maryland, and Virginia, before returning to New York City. He was also the longest serving president of TARS.
The Steinway Railway Company was founded in 1892, as part of the development of Steinway Village, a company town located in Queens where Steinway pianos were manufactured. William Steinway died in 1896, and the streetcar lines were sold to the New York and Queens County Railway. A 1922 bankruptcy separated the Steinway Railway from the NY&QC, and Slaughter W. Huff, president of Third Avenue Railway, was named receiver. Equipment was leased from TARS in an effort to improve service, however, declining revenues and a failing physical plant made these attempts futile. By 1938, the streetcar operation had been converted to bus, and the Steinway Railway was sold to the Queensboro Bridge Railway Company and operated as subsidiary Steinway Omnibus. All leases with TARS ended in 1939 when the last of the Steinway lines was converted from streetcar to bus operation. The transit franchises are now operated by MTA Bus Company.
Chartered in 1891, the Westchester Electric Railroad was a subsidiary of the Union Railway, and made up the majority of the local streetcar lines in New Rochelle, Pelham, and Mount Vernon. The Mount Vernon and Eastchester Railway (an 1887 reorganization of the Mount Vernon and East Chester Rail Road founded in 1885) and the New Rochelle Railway and Transit Company (an 1890 reorganization of the New Rochelle and Pelham Railway founded in 1885 and the New Rochelle Street Horse Railroad founded in 1885) were merged into the Westchester Electric in 1893, which in turn was leased to the Union Railway. It came under control of Third Avenue Railway in 1898, the same year the Mount Vernon and New Rochelle operations were electrified. The main carbarn was located at Sanford Boulevard and Garden Avenue in Mount Vernon. A joint trolley terminal operated with the New York and Stamford Railway was located on Mechanic Street in New Rochelle. The company entered receivership in 1908, and emerged in 1912. Most of the local lines had been closed and converted to bus by 1931. Route J (Glen Island) and Route P (Webster Avenue) were converted to bus operation in June 1939. Route A (Main Street-New Rochelle) and Route B (Mount Vernon Railroad Station-229th Street) were the busiest lines and remained in operation until December 17, 1950.
The city of White Plains, the county seat of Westchester, marked TARS northernmost trolley operations. The Tarrytown Electric Co. had proposed a line starting from the New York Central Railroad station at Tarrytown, up Main Street, across Broadway on Nepperhan Road to Altamont Avenue, Rose Hill Avenue, and Benedict Avenue. The New York, Elmsford and White Plains Railway was chartered in 1892, and by June 1897 trolleys were running between White Plains and Glenville. By October of that year, the line was linked with the Tarrytown line, creating a continuous cross-county route to White Plains.. It was purchased by the Union Railway in 1898 and renamed the Tarrytown, White Plains and Mamaroneck Street Railway. This operation was sold to the Third Avenue Railway in June 1900. The railway was sold at foreclosure to Richard Sutro, who set up the Westchester Street Railroad to take over the property. In 1910, control of the streetcar line was transferred to the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad. By the 1920s, both WSR and the New York and Stamford Railway were being managed by New Haven subsidiary New York, Westchester and Boston Railway. By this time the WSR consisted of a single-track line that ran from White Plains to Tarrytown along Tarrytown Road. One branch ran south from White Plains to Eastchester, while another spur ran to Silver Lake. The WSR was sold back to Third Avenue Railway in 1926, and renamed Westchester Street Transportation Company. On November 16, 1929, buses had replaced trolleys completely. The WST was acquired by Fifth Avenue Coach Lines in 1956 when it bought out the remaining TARS operation. In 1969 WST was acquired by Liberty Lines Transit and the transit franchises are now part of Westchester County's Bee-Line Bus System.
Chartered in Westchester County in 1895 as the North Mount Vernon Street Railway, building local streetcar lines connecting Mount Vernon, Pelham, Eastchester, and Tuckahoe. Facing bankruptcy, the company was reorganized as the Interurban Street Railway which then leased Metropolitan Street Railway and renamed itself New York City Railways. The company entered receivership in 1908. Ownership of the franchise was directed by John Johnston Railroad Company until 1912 when lines were conveyed to the New York, Westchester & Connecticut Traction. This line was consolidated into the new Union Railway in 1908, which in turn came under the control of Third Avenue Railway. The NYW&CT was operated by TARS subsidiary Westchester Electric Railroad.
Incorporated in 1896, the Yonkers Railroad Company was the consolidation of the Yonkers Railroad, the North and South Electric Railway, and the Yonkers and Tarrytown Electric Railroad. The line was operated by Third Avenue Railway and consisted of nine routes serving New York State's third largest city.
Litigation over the transit franchises extended streetcar service in Westchester County for years after the Manhattan and Bronx lines were converted. Routes in New Rochelle and Mount Vernon were closed in 1950, leaving only the Yonkers city lines in operation. Lines 5, 6, 8, and 9 were converted to bus on October 25, 1952. On November 1, Line 4 was closed. Lines 1, 2 and 3 followed the next day. On November 9, the streetcar era on TARS came to an end when Line 7 was shut down and converted to bus operation. The transit franchises were transferred to the new Yonkers Transit Corporation, organized by TARS general manager Samuel S. Schreiber. Liberty Lines Transit acquired Yonkers Transit Corporation in 1972, and continues to operate its routes as part of the Bee-Line Bus System.
As early as the 1920s, public officials were advocating for the increase in bus service as the answer to relieving traffic congestion in New York City. The Third Avenue Railway looked to buses in 1920 when the company made an application to operate a bus line on Dyckman Street, Nagle Avenue, and Tenth Avenue north to 207th Street as an extension of its existing trolley line that served Dyckman Ferry.  In 1924 TARS formed the subsidiary Surface Transit Corporation. In Westchester County, the local streetcar lines in New Rochelle were some of the first to be converted to bus operation in 1939. Streetcars had a rocky history in New York City, losing favor by the 1930s. New York City mayor Fiorello LaGuardia did not feel that trolleys were agreeable to the modern image he was trying to portray. Operating franchises for trolleys were not renewed, leaving TARS with no choice but to convert to bus operation. While streamlined PCC trolley cars were introduced in nearby Brooklyn in 1936, TARS did not have the resources to procure new equipment. Instead, older trolleys were rebuilt with new aluminum bodies and reconditioned for extended service. The 138th Street crosstown line in The Bronx was discontinued in 1938.
By 1942 Surface Transportation System was operating one of the world's largest fleets of diesel-powered buses. In 1943, Third Avenue Railway System was renamed Third Avenue Transit System and had taken over direct operation of STS. After years of litigation regarding transit franchises and purchases of stock by board members, Victor McQuistion had taken control of the company by 1946, and implemented a plan to replace the remaining streetcar routes with buses. On November 10, buses replaced trolleys on the busy 59th Street crosstown line in Manhattan.
Third Avenue Transit made national news on March 28, 1947, when diesel bus 1310 and driver William Lawrence Cimillo went missing from its normal route and did not return to the garage. The bus was discovered in Hollywood, Florida, on March 31, when Cimillo sent a telegram back to headquarters in New York requesting cash. He was taken into custody by local police, and blamed mental fatigue for his momentary lapse in judgement. Cimillo and the bus were returned to New York, where the wayward driver was received as a celebrity. Further investigation revealed Cimillo had run up a substantial gambling debt. He was arraigned in Bronx County Court on larceny charges for stealing the bus, but given a suspended sentence. The company gave him a second chance and reinstated him as a driver a month later. The larceny charges were dropped in 1950, and Cimillo continued in his career without any further incident.
In 1948, Samuel S. Schreiber was appointed as general manager of the Third Avenue Transit Corporation. An experienced transit executive, he was hired to implement the orderly conversion of the remaining trolley lines to bus operation. Slowed briefly by wartime restrictions on gasoline and tires, all streetcar lines in Manhattan and the Bronx were converted to bus by the end of 1948. The remaining Mount Vernon and New Rochelle trolley lines followed on December 16, 1950. The last TARS streetcar operation came to an end in November 1952 with the closure of the former Yonkers Railroad lines.
Third Avenue Transit System continued operating its transit franchises through its subsidiary Surface Transportation Corporation after the end of rail service. A partnership between Third Avenue Transit System and New York City Omnibus Corporation created New York Management Ownership Corporation (NYMOC) in 1954. In 1955, parent The Omnibus Corporation sold its stakes in Fifth Avenue Coach Lines and New York City Omnibus to NYMOC. In 1956, New York City Omnibus Corporation bought out the remaining shares of Third Avenue Transit System and gained control of the Surface Transportation Corporation's bus transit routes. Surface Transportation Corporation was dissolved and Third Avenue Transit was renamed Surface Transit, Incorporated. The same year, New York City Omnibus changed its name to Fifth Avenue Coach Lines.
In 1962, all Fifth Avenue Coach Lines routes were taken over by the Manhattan and Bronx Surface Transit Operating Authority following a crippling transit strike. The majority of the transit franchises are now operated by MTA Bus Company. Fifth Avenue Coach Lines continued to own and operate the old TARS subsidiary Westchester Street Transportation Company in White Plains until it was sold to Liberty Lines Transit in 1969. Compensation for the condemnation of its bus routes in New York City was paid in 1970, and Fifth Avenue Coach Lines emerged from receivership in 1971. It was reorganized as the South Bay Corporation in 1973, a privately held investment group.
After the system's abandonment, 42 cars of the largest and newest type, built by TARS itself in 1938–1939 (on Brill trucks), were sold to the operator of the Vienna, Austria, streetcar system, Wiener Stadtwerke Verkehrsbetriebe (now Wiener Linien), for operation there. They were renumbered, designated Vienna type "Z" and fitted with pantographs in place of their trolley poles. They did not use conduit current collection in Vienna. They entered service there in 1949–1950, exclusively on the 17/217/317 single track suburban service to Gross-Enzersdorf. They were too wide to run on double track city lines. They were retired in 1969 when track brakes became mandatory.
A number of cars formerly operated by TARS have been preserved.
The following lines existed in later days:
The following lines operated in The Bronx. The final streetcar lines were converted to bus operation in 1948.
Frederick W. Whitridge, President of the Third Avenue Railway Company, who was blamed by the Public Service Commission for the street car strikes that spread recently from Westchester County to Manhattan, Queens, and Staten Island, returned from Scotland on the American liner New York yesterday in response to urgent messages from the directors of his company.