The Lincoln Tunnel which connects North Jersey to Midtown Manhattan opened to the public in 1937, but it wasn’t long before the New York Port Authority realized a problem. Police officers needed a way to get past traffic to deal with accidents, breakdowns, and other traffic-stopping incidents inside the tunnel.
If you’ve ever noticed while driving inside one of the three Lincoln Tunnel tubes, there’s a catwalk and in the wall of the catwalk is a rail.
That rail was once used to transport police officers in a bizarre little rail car through the tunnel. That was back in the 1950s and 1960s before much was known about the impact of carbon monoxide on the human body.
Early gas-powered versions of the tunnel car drove on grooved rails embedded in the catwalk and traveled between 10 and 15 miles per hour.
In the late 1950s, when the Port Authority of New York needed a and updated and a new method for emergency response, they contracted with government and military defense contractor and fabricator Lennox out of Columbus, Ohio. Those cars went into service in 1960.
“The need was for a vehicle that would enable a police officer to reach the scene of an accident or breakdown inside the tunnel immediately in order to expedite the clearance of disabled vehicles,” Lennox said of its invention.
The problem was studied by engineers at the Columbus Laboratories of Battelle Memorial Institute. The engineers came up with a prototype narrow gas-powered car that would ride along the catwalk at a speed of 35 miles per hour.
Four cars were built and serviced the tunnel for the next fifty years. The tunnel cars remained in use until 2011.
“Catwalk cars are no longer in use at the Lincoln and Holland Tunnels but, certainly were a novelty back in the day,” Port Authority said. “The first catwalk cars went into operation in the mid-1950s. The catwalk cars were staffed by Port Authority police officers until the function was civilianized. The catwalk cars stayed in service, reportedly, through 2011. Today, Port Authority police officers assigned to both tunnels focus on traffic control, DWI/DUI enforcement, narcotics and firearms interdiction, commercial vehicle inspection, and counter-terrorism patrols.”
Today, the agency relies on a network of video cameras to monitor tunnel traffic and activity.
This account was created from newspaper articles and information provided by NYPA and Lennox. If you have corrections, additions please email firstname.lastname@example.org. Photo by Lennox.