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Roosevelt Island Tramway
Type Aerial tramway
Status Operational
Locale Manhattan, New York
Termini Upper East Side (west)
Roosevelt Island (east)
Stations 2
Opened May 17, 1976[1]
Operator(s) Roosevelt Island Operating Corp.
Character Elevated
Line length 3,100 ft (940 m)
Electrification Electric motor powering cable bullwheel
Operating speed 16 mph (26 km/h)
Highest elevation 250 ft (76 m)

The Roosevelt Island Tramway is an aerial tramway in New York City that spans the East River and connects Roosevelt Island to Manhattan. Prior to the completion of the Mississippi Aerial River Transit in May 1984 and the Portland Aerial Tram in December 2006, it was the only commuter aerial tramway in North America.[2][3] Since March 1, 2010, the tram has been closed for a modernization program that is expected to complete in six months.

Over 26 million passengers have used the tram since it began operation in 1976. Each cabin has a capacity of up to 125 people and makes approximately 115 trips per day. The tram moves at about 16 mph (26 km/h) and travels 3,100 feet (940 m) in 4.5 minutes. At its peak it climbs to 250 feet (76 m) above the East River as it follows its route on the north side of the Queensboro Bridge, providing views of the East Side of midtown Manhattan. Two cabins make the run at fifteen minute intervals from 6:00 a.m. to 2:30 a.m. (3:30 a.m. on weekends) and continuously during rush hours. It is one of the few forms of mass transit in New York City not run by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, but uses that system's MetroCard.

The tram is operated by Interfac on behalf of the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation of the State of New York, a state public benefit corporation created in 1984 to run services on the island.



Tram car descending into Manhattan above the Queensboro Bridge

Roosevelt Island had been connected to Manhattan by a trolley line that crossed over the Queensboro Bridge from its opening in 1909. Trolleys to and from Queens stopped in the middle of the bridge to meet an elevator, which then took passengers down to the island. As the only connection to the rest of the city from the island, the trolley remained in service until April 7, 1957, long after most other trolley service had been dismantled in the city, and was the last trolley line in New York State.[4] At that time, a bridge to Queens was completed, requiring a roundabout trip to reach Manhattan.

Beginning in the mid-1970s, Roosevelt Island was redeveloped to accommodate low- to mid-income housing projects, necessitating the construction of a new public transit connection to the city. The trolley tracks had deteriorated too much to be usable and the planned subway connection to the island had not yet been completed. The tramway was built in 1976 by the Swiss company Von Roll as a temporary transportation solution to the island. As the subway project fell further behind schedule, the "Tram" became more popular and was converted into a permanent facility. The subway connection to the island was finally completed in 1989.

The tram was the last holdout for the use of tokens in the New York City transit system. Initially, it used a special token, later the standard one for subways and buses. Although tokens were phased out in favor of the MetroCard by 2003, the tram would not start accepting MetroCards until March 1, 2004. The fare is the same as that on the subways: U.S. $2.25 for a one-way trip.

During the 2005 New York City transit strike, the tramway was one of the few intra-city public transportation systems still in operation.

On April 18, 2006, at about 5:22 p.m. EDT, two trams were stuck over the East River for seven hours because of mechanical problems, trapping 69 people. Rescue baskets capable of holding up to 15 people were sent up to the stranded cable cars at 10:55 p.m., with children and elderly going first, and each rescue taking about 20 minutes. These baskets also carried supplies to the trams, such as blankets, baby formula, and food, for the remaining passengers.[5] Passengers on the Roosevelt Island–bound tram were rescued by about 2:55 a.m. on April 19, while those on the Manhattan-bound tram were not rescued until 4:07 a.m.[6]

Two tram cars passing each other above Manhattan

The April 2006 incident was the second time in eight months that the tram system lost power. On September 2, 2005, more than 80 people were trapped on the tram for over 90 minutes. After that incident, state inspectors cited the Roosevelt Island Tramway for not having an operational diesel backup, or MG set system. The State Department of Labor said the system did not pass electrical inspection and could not run when the April 18 power outage took place.

The tramway suspended operations after the April 2006 incident, reopening on September 1, 2006. The tram's backup electrical systems were refurbished, and "in case of an emergency, each car now is equipped with blankets, water, food, and a toilet with a privacy curtain. Car attendants will carry cell phones with their radios."[7]

One change to the cars has been very controversial among island residents. As part of the new paint job, the logo on the cars was changed from "The Roosevelt Island Tram" to "RIOC" (short for Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation).

On March 1, 2010, the tramway was closed as part of a $25 million project to upgrade and modernize the system. With the help of the French company Poma, all components will be replaced except for the three tower bases.[8][9] Among the improvements, the new tram cables and cars will be allowed to operate independently of each other in a "dual-haul" system. Prior to this, the cars had to travel at the same time, which presented maintenance and emergency response issues.[10][11] The old cabins may be preserved on Roosevelt Island and/or a museum.[10] The tramway is expected to reopen in six months.[11]

Accessibility and transfers

Roosevelt Island Tramway - Manhattan Entrance

The tram is handicapped accessible. Bicycles are permitted on the tram.

In Manhattan, the entrance to the system is at Tram Plaza, 60th Street and 2nd Avenue. The closest New York City Subway station is the complex at Lexington Avenue/59th Street (N R W trains) on the BMT Broadway Line and 59th Street (4 5 6 <6> trains) on the IRT Lexington Avenue Line. Lexington Avenue – 53rd Street (E V trains) on the IND Queens Boulevard Line and Lexington Avenue – 63rd Street (F trains) on the IND 63rd Street Line are also nearby.

On Roosevelt Island, the "Red Bus" meets the tram and offers transportation around the island for 25 cents. During the tramway reconstruction, the Red Bus is extended to Queens Plaza and the Manhattan side of the Queensboro Bridge.[12] The public Q102 bus also provides transportation on the island and to Queens and Manhattan. The Roosevelt Island (F train) subway station is located north of the tramway entrance.

Media references

The tramway was featured prominently in a climactic battle in the 2002 film Spider-Man, in which the Green Goblin throws Mary Jane off of the Queensboro Bridge and Spider Man must choose between saving her or passengers on the Roosevelt Island Tramway. The Spider-Man film was not the first appearance of the tramway; The House on the Edge of the Park (1980) shows the tram at 6:07 minutes into the film as how it appeared in the late 1970s. The Sylvester Stallone thriller Nighthawks (1981) depicted the tramway as a terrorist target where United Nations delegates were taken hostage. It was used in the opening credits of City Slickers (1991). In the 1994 film Léon (The Professional) it can be seen when Natalie Portman's character, Mathilda, is traveling on it alone. It also appeared in the 2005 horror movie Dark Water. In the comic Kingdom Come, the climactic battle of Volume 1 takes place on and around a similar system in downtown Metropolis.

The tram also figured prominently in the Universal Studios Florida theme park attraction Kongfrontation, which opened in 1990 but was removed in 2002. The ride consisted of passengers boarding a recreation of a Roosevelt Island tram where they promptly came face-to-face with King Kong. The recreation did take certain liberties with regard to accuracy; the real trams, for example, do not have seats (though they do have benches at either end).

The fate of the tramway was shown in episode 4 of the first season of Life After People: The Series.

See also


  1. ^ Ferretti, Fred (May 18, 1976). "Aerial Tram Ride to Roosevelt Island Is Opened With a Splash on O'Dwyer". The New York Times: p. 69. Retrieved 2010-02-20. 
  2. ^ The Mississippi Aerial River Transit was a gondola lift system not an aerial tramway system.
  3. ^ Cohen, Billie (January 15, 2008). "Roosevelt Island Tram". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-08-17. 
  4. ^ Phillips, McCandlish (April 7, 1957). "City's Last Trolley at End of Line; Buses Will Replace 49-Year Route on Queensboro Span". The New York Times: p. 1. Retrieved 2008-08-17. 
  5. ^ AP News, April 18, 2006, 10:44 p.m. (ET)
  6. ^ Barron, James (April 20, 2006). "Options Were Limited After a Power Surge". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-02-20. 
  7. ^ AP News, September 1, 2006, 6:52AM (ET)
  8. ^ Blaustein, Michael; Namako, Tom (2010-02-26). "Hangin' on for a tramway revamp: Roosevelt ride closing for rehab". The New York Post. Retrieved 2010-03-02. 
  9. ^ Traina, Meredith (2010-02-28). "Roosevelt Island Tram Suspended For Major Modernization". WPIX.,0,2280436.story. Retrieved 2010-03-02. 
  10. ^ a b Clark, Roger (2010-03-01). "Roosevelt Island Tram Shuts Down For Renovation". NY1. Retrieved 2010-03-02. 
  11. ^ a b Kilgannon, Corey (2010-02-28). "Open & Shut: Chronicle of a Changing City". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-03-02. 
  12. ^ "Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation Queens/Manhattan Red Shuttle Bus Service Schedule". Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation. Retrieved 2010-03-02. 

External links

Coordinates: 40°45′27″N 73°57′20″W / 40.7575°N 73.95556°W / 40.7575; -73.95556



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