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.
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.
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.
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.
December 2002: The City files with the federal Surface Transportation Board for railbanking, making it City policy to preserve and reuse the High Line.
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.
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.
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.