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Staten Island Tablet


Staten Island Railway

By David Paul Gerber


The line once had three branches

Main Line

North Shore

South Beach


 The Staten Island Railway is the lone commuter rail service in the borough of Staten Island.  This service operates 24 hours a day/7 days a week between Tottenville and Saint George along 14 miles and 21 stations from end to end and is double tracked. .  At the St. George terminal, the schedules are coordinated with the arrival and departures of the Staten Island Ferry, most trains arrive 5 to 7 minutes before a boat departs.  Likewise, when a boat is scheduled to arrive, the connecting SIR train departs St. George about 5-7 minutes later as well.  The fleet is comprised of retrofitted R44 cars to conform to FRA regulations and have been in service since they arrived in 1971, replacing 50 year old Baltimore & Ohio railcars . Trains make all local stops (see exceptions on Nassau and Richmond Valley stations below), while there are peak direction trains that skip some stops, all AM and PM rush trains bypass Tompkinsville and Stapleton stations because of the close proximity to St. George terminal.  The Staten Island Railway’s fare structure is unique to most transportation systems as the fares from MetroCards and single ride tickets are collected only when entering or leaving St. George or Ballpark stations.  All other stations have no fare collection, so customers can legally ride the SIR for most of the route, for free.  Before MetroCard was introduced to SIR, the method of fare collections was a collector who was responsible for collecting fares on board trains, at all times. 


The Staten Island Railway’s original name was Staten Island Rapid Transit, and was along from the old Baltimore and Ohio Railroad company that assumed ownership of the RR and inaugurated the first train from Tottenville to Tompkinsville on 7/31/1884.  Most of the original ROW between Clifton and Tottenville actually predates back to the 1850’s.  A year later after the 1884 opening, the greatest extension from Tompkinsville, and the framework for the 1898 consolidation of New York City was achieved with the opening of Saint George station.  Over time in the late 1880’s, the North Shore and South Beach lines were open for business as well as the B&O freight connection to Cranford NJ, via. a bridge over the Arthur Kill.  (The ROW from Arlington Yard and tracks are still active, they pass underneath the Goethals Bridge at the New Jersey end.).  The trains would run from the North Shore line and would either terminate at St. George or continue along the mainline or South Shore branches.   

But misfortunes plagued the B&O Railroad, it was saddled into debt and had to file for bankruptcy.  Eventually sold at auction, the B&O was purchased by CSX railroad in 1899, but survived long enough to operate the railroads and even the old ferry boats to the Whitehall Terminal.  However, a 1901 boating accident changed all that, and 4 years later the City of New York took over the ferry operations in 1905 (Amazingly, the accident claimed only 5 lives).  The B&O now only had to hang on to the SIRT.  Decades later, the roaring 20’s and other forces beyond their control, forced the BRT to merge operations with the BRT’s “Dual Contract” program, and scrap plans for a tunnel connection from the SIRT main line, to the “new” 4th Ave Line in Brooklyn.  The proposed line was to have a double junction from both legs of the SIRT mainline at a point near the present location of Victory Blvd, run as a tunnel to Brooklyn and along 67th Street to 4th Ave.  The bad luck continued with the advent on the 1929 Great Depression, the new age of faster and more efficient GMC Old Look buses replacing the antiquated trolley lines, and the lack of a direct connection in any form from Staten Island to Brooklyn over the decades made things worse.  The Saint George terminal suffered a fire that nearly gutted the entire station on 6/25/1946, a year later the Great Blizzard of 1947 crippled the SIRT for days, since most of the RR was built at grade back then.  The newer and faster buses also put a stranglehold on the B&O in operating the railroad, which the B&O was threatening to end all service in Staten Island.  Ridership continued to be on the decline as bus fares were cheaper than SIR.  Eventually, the city intervened and entered into an agreement with B&O to subsidize the current SIRT line (main line) from Saint George to Tottenville to keep rail service operating.  Service to the North Shore and South Beach branches closed on March 31st, 1953.  Another fire on SIRT property happened on April 5, 1962, this time 7 cars were lost at the Clifton Shop and Yard.  The 1964 opening of the world’s longest suspension bridge (at the time of opening), the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, brought a population explosion to Staten Island within the next 20 years as one of the fastest growing counties in U.S. history.  The automobile would be a mainstay from now on in Staten Island, spurring new construction.  But the SIRT was still struggling with aging equipment and soaring costs.  Finally, the final grade crossings and station at Jefferson Ave in 1966 were eliminated, marking the first time in SIRT history that the entire line was converted from at grade, to grade separated.  In 1971, the MTA took over the SIRT operations from the B&O railroad, and replaced the entire fleet in 1973 with sixty-four retrofitted R44 cars to meet Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) regulations, these cars would replace the B&O SIRT cars that were in service since the 1925 electrification of the 3 lines.  The entire SIR is FRA regulated because of the track connections to freight service to New Jersey.  In the early 1990’s the T in SIRT was dropped by the MTA and NYCT, converting the name from Staten Island Rapid Transit to MTA Staten Island Railway.

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 Last revised 02/26/2011

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