The High Line was built in the 1930s, as part of a massive public-private infrastructure project called the West Side Improvement. It lifted freight traffic 30 feet in the air, removing dangerous trains from the streets of Manhattan’s largest industrial district. No trains have run on the High Line since 1980. Friends of the High Line, a community-based non-profit group, formed in 1999 when the historic structure was under threat of demolition.
1847: The City of New York authorizes street-level railroad tracks down Manhattan’s West Side.
1851 – 1929: So many accidents occur between freight trains and street-level traffic that 10th Avenue becomes known as Death Avenue. For safety, men on horses, called the West Side Cowboys, ride in front of trains waving red flags.
1929: After years of public debate about the hazard, the City and State of New York and the New York Central Railroad agree on the West Side Improvement Project, which includes the High Line. The entire project is 13 miles long, eliminates 105 street-level railroad crossings, and adds 32 acres to Riverside Park. It costs over $150 million in 1930 dollars—more than $2 billion today.
1934: The High Line opens to trains. It runs from 34th Street to St. John’s Park Terminal, at Spring Street. It is designed to go through the center of blocks, rather than over the avenue, to avoid creating the negative conditions associated with elevated subways. It connects directly to factories and warehouses, allowing trains to roll right inside buildings.
Milk, meat, produce, and raw and manufactured goods come and go without causing street-level traffic.
1950s: Growth of interstate trucking leads to a drop in rail traffic, nationally and on the High Line.
1960s: The southernmost section of the High Line is demolished.
1980: The last train runs on the High Line pulling three carloads of frozen turkeys.
Mid-1980s: A group of property owners lobbies for demolition of the entire structure. Members of this group own land under the High Line that was purchased at prices reflecting the High Line’s easement. Peter Obletz, a Chelsea resident, activist, and railroad enthusiast, challenges demolition efforts in court and tries to re-establish rail service on the Line.
1999: Friends of the High Line is founded by Joshua David and Robert Hammond, residents of the High Line neighborhood, to advocate for the High Line’s preservation and reuse as public open space.
2001 – 2002: The Design Trust for Public Space provides a fellowship for architect Casey Jones to conduct research and outreach for “Reclaiming the High Line,” a planning study jointly produced by the Design Trust and Friends of the High Line, which lays out planning framework for the High Line’s preservation and reuse.
March 2002: Friends of the High Line gains first City support—a City Council resolution advocating for the High Line’s reuse.
October 2002: A study done by Friends of the High Line finds that the High Line project is economically rational: New tax revenues created by the public space will be greater than the costs of construction.
December 2002: The City files with the federal Surface Transportation Board for railbanking, making it City policy to preserve and reuse the High Line.
January – July 2003: An open ideas competition, “Designing the High Line,” solicits proposals for the High Line’s reuse. 720 teams from 36 countries enter. Hundreds of design entries are displayed at Grand Central Terminal.
July 2003: Friends of the High Line and the City jointly testify before the Surface Transportation Board in support of High Line reuse.
March – September 2004: Friends of the High Line and the City of New York conduct a process to select a design team for the High Line. The selected team is James Corner Field Operations, a landscape architecture firm, Diller Scofidio + Renfro, an architecture firm, and experts in horticulture, engineering, security, maintenance, public art, and other disciplines.
September 2004: The State of New York, CSX Transportation, Inc. (the railroad company), and the City of New York jointly file with the Surface Transportation Board to railbank the High Line.
April 2005: An exhibition showcasing the preliminary design by James Corner Field Operations and Diller Scofidio + Renfro opens at the Museum of Modern Art.
June 2005: The Surface Transportation Board issues a Certificate of Interim Trail Use for the High Line, authorizing the City and railroad to conclude railbanking negotiations.
November 2005: The City takes ownership of the High Line from CSX Transportation, Inc., (which donates the structure), and the City and CSX sign a Trail Use Agreement. Taken together, these two actions effectively preserve the High Line south of 30th Street.
April 2006: Groundbreaking is celebrated on the High Line with the lifting of a rail track. The first phase of construction on Section 1 of the High Line begins.
April 2006: Construction begins on Section 1 (Gansevoort Street to 20th Street). Tracks, ballast, and debris are removed, and the tracks are mapped, tagged, and stored (some will be reinstalled in the park landscape). This is followed sandblasting of steel, repairs to concrete and drainage systems, and installation of pigeon deterrents underneath the Line.
2008: Landscape Construction begins on Section 1, with construction and installation of pathways, access points, seating, lighting, and planting.
June 2008: Final designs are released for the High Line’s transformation to a public park.
June 9, 2009: Section 1 (Gansevoort Street to West 20th Street) opens to the public. June 8, 2011: Section 2 (West 20th Street to West 30th Street) will open to the public.