The Roosevelt Island Tramway is an
aerial tramway in New York City that spans the East River and connects
Roosevelt Island to the Upper East Side of 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.
Over 26 million passengers have used the tram since it began operation in 1976.
Each cabin has a capacity of up to 110 people and makes approximately 115 trips
per day. The tram moves at about 17.9 mph and travels 3,100 feet in 3 minutes.
At its peak it climbs to 250 feet above the East River as it follows its route
on the north side of the Ed Koch 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 2:00 a.m. 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 and has
free transfers to that system. The tram is operated by LPOA 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.
History =Early history=
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; it was replaced by buses. 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 beyond repair and the Roosevelt Island
subway station serving the island via the 63rd Street subway connection had
not yet been completed. In 1971, the Urban Development Corporation retained
Lev Zetlin Associates to select and design a transit connection to Roosevelt
Island. James A O’Kon PE led the LZA team in carrying out a feasibility study
and design. Three alternate modes were studied: a ferry, an elevator from the
bridge, and the aerial tramway. The tramway was selected and the system was
designed for bidding. Von Roll was selected to supply and erect the tram
and its equipment. It was opened in July 1976 as a temporary solution for the
island’s commuting needs. As the subway project fell further behind schedule,
the “tram” became more popular and was converted into a permanent facility, and
the tram held a monopoly for service between Roosevelt Island and the rest of
Manhattan until the subway connection to the island was finally completed in
October 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, which was later replaced by the standard variety for subways and
buses. Although tokens were phased out in favor of the MetroCard by 2003, the
tram did not start to accept MetroCards until March 1, 2004. The fare is the
same as that on the buses and subways: U.S. $2.75 for a one-way trip, with free
transfers to the subway and buses. During the 2005 New York City transit
strike, the tramway was one of the few intra-city public transportation systems
still in operation, due to the fact that it is privately operated.
=Breakdowns=On April 18, 2006, at about 5:22 p.m.
EDT, the 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. 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. The April 2006 incident had been 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 Motor-generator 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
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 were replaced except for the three tower bases. Among the
improvements, the new tram cables and cars are now 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. The old cabins may be preserved on Roosevelt
Island and/or a museum. The tramway reopened November 30, 2010,
at 11 a.m. The project was completed in nine months, two months longer than
originally planned. Accessibility and transfers
The tram is wheelchair accessible. Bicycles are permitted on the tram.
In Manhattan, the entrance to the system is at Tram Plaza at 60th Street and
Second Avenue. The closest New York City Subway station is the complex at
Lexington Avenue / 59th Street on the IND Queens Boulevard Line and Lexington
Avenue – 63rd Street on the IND/BMT 63rd Street Lines are also nearby.
On Roosevelt Island, the “Red Bus” route meets the tram and offers transportation
around the island for free. During the tramway reconstruction, the Red Bus was
extended to Queens Plaza and the Manhattan side of the Queensboro Bridge.
The publicly operated Q102 bus also provides transportation on the island.
The Roosevelt Island subway station is located north of the tramway entrance.
In popular culture Film
Gerard Damiano’s film Odyssey, the Ultimate Trip may have been the first
film to feature the tramway, which carries one of the lead female
characters into Manhattan for a modeling interview.
The House on the Edge of the Park shows the tram at 6:07 minutes into the film
as how it appeared in the late 1970s. The Sylvester Stallone thriller
Nighthawks depicted the tramway as a terrorist target where United Nations
delegates were taken hostage. In Brian DePalma’s Scarface the tramway
can be seen in the background as Tony makes a phone call following the aborted
assassination attempt in New York City. It was used in the opening credits of
City Slickers. In the 1994 film Léon: The Professional
it can be seen when Natalie Portman’s character, Mathilda, is traveling on it
alone. The Roosevelt Island Tramway was
featured prominently in a climactic battle in the 2002 film Spider-Man, in
which the Green Goblin throws Mary Jane Watson off the Queensboro Bridge, and
Spider-Man must choose between saving her or passengers on the tramway.
Shooting of this movie caused the Tram to be out of service for weeks.
It also appeared in the 2005 horror movie Dark Water.
The bridge and tram are also featured at the end of the 2013 film Now You See Me.
TV In an episode of the series CSI New
York, it was erroneously referred to as the nation’s only operating tramway.
The projected fate of the tramway was shown in episode 4 of the first season
of Life After People: The Series. The tram was featured in a 2012 episode
of White Collar, with Neal Caffrey leaping from a Manhattan-bound tram to
one going back to Roosevelt Island. In an episode of the series Impractical
Jokers titled “Captain Fatbelly”, Joe’s punishment for losing is standing on top
of one of the tramway cars dressed as a superhero and completing tasks while
dealing with the constantly rocking car. Other
The tram was featured prominently in the Universal Studios Florida theme park
attraction Kongfrontation, which opened in 1990 and closed 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 as the real trams, for example,
do not have seats. The real tram also runs in a straight line, while the ride
trams navigated curves. A virtual version of the tramway is seen
in fictional Liberty City of the Grand Theft Auto gaming series. In Grand Theft
Auto IV the player can ride the cable car between the fictional Colony Island
and Lancet. See also
Lists of crossings of the East River Transportation in New York City
External links Official website
“Roosevelt Island Tram Modernization Project”. RIOC.
Manhattan entrance on Google Maps Street View
Roosevelt Island entrance on Google Maps Street View
Pictorials “Roosevelt Island Tram”. nycsubway.org.
Berne, Laurent. “TPH 110 V Roosevelt Island Tramway”. Remontees Mecaniques.
Technical data and pictures about the new ropeway
“Soaring High Above New York City on an Aerial Tramway”. Greg Goodman. July 29,
2011. Photo essay “Fotografías del teléferico de Roosevelt
Island” [Pictures of the Roosevelt Island tramway]. Guia Turistica de Nueva
York. “Tram”. Kogeto. Panoramic video of tram