Consolidated Edison 59th Street Powerhouse
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The original New York City Subway line was built by the Interborough Rapid Transit Company (IRT) and opened in 1904. This underground transit system required high levels of electrical power and necessitated the building of a huge power generation station.
The 59th Street Powerhouse, better known as the IRT Powerhouse, occupies the entire city block between 11th and 12th avenues and 58th and 59th streets in Manhattan. To power the subway system, it used up to 1,000 tons per day of Hudson River-delivered coal and generated 132,000 horsepower. At the time, it was hailed by an electrician trade magazine as the largest steam-driven power plant in the world.
The IRT Powerhouse powered the subway until 1959, when it was sold to Consolidated Edison. Con Ed today uses the plant to generate steam that is used for heating, cooling, and sterilization in large city buildings that include the Empire State Building and the United Nations.
Although still an active steam-generating plant, it is the exterior of the former IRT Powerhouse that has caught the attention of some New York City residents. The building, designed by a renowned architectural firm that also designed the old Penn Station, has ornate French-Renaissance-style facades made of Roman brick, terra-cotta, and pink granite. There are ongoing efforts to have the architecturally significant building designated as a historical landmark, but Con Ed has opposed such efforts in the past, saying that they would interfere with the plant’s day-to-day operations.
Have you been diagnosed with an asbestos disease after working in a power plant?
- New York Times: The IRT Generating Plant on 59th Street; A Push to Make a Con Ed Steam Plant a Landmark
- IEEE: The Railway Power Stations of New York City