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On the Rail: the Behr Monorail that Never Was

By Amy Lau

Posted on August 6, 2020

Map showing Behr Monorail route, Brooklyn; [1889], Map Collection, B C-[1889?].Fl; Brooklyn Historical Society.

During the first decade of the twentieth century, Fritz Bernard Behr, a British engineer and inventor of a monorail system, created plans to build a monorail line from South Ferry to Surf Avenue in Coney Island.

Behr claimed that express trains on his monorail system would travel between seventy-five and a hundred miles an hour. He also proposed that riders would pay a reasonable three or five cent fare. While Behr had constructed an experimental monorail line in 1886, his monorail system was a new technology not widely used or tested as a mass transit system.

When Behr applied to New York City’s Board of Rapid Transit Railroad Commissioners to authorize the construction of his railway line, it took eighteen months for him to receive contract authorization and his contract came with several conditions. One of these conditions asked Behr to pay a deposit of 25,000 dollars to construct his railway line. After Behr agreed to the terms of the contract, he asked the Board if he would be refunded should his franchise be outbid by another contractor. John H. Starin, the acting chairman of the Board, responded that should Behr lose the bid, he would not receive a refund.

Behr’s situation took a scandalous turn on June 27, 1907 when, according to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, commissioner Starin, announced that he was privately backing a competing railway system. Starin further revealed that two other commissioners, Woodbury Langdon and Charles Stewart Smith, were also backing competing railway systems. Starin’s announcement came out three days before July 1, 1907, the day the Public Service Commission was to be created and the Board was due to dissolve.

Given the conditions of his contract with the Board, Behr decided to wait until its dissolution and reapply for a better contract under the Public Service Commission. The Commission ultimately decided to focus on other contracts based in Manhattan and the Behr monorail line was left in the pile of projects that never became realities.

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“Behr, Fritz Bernard” in Grace’s Guide to British Industrial History. Link.

“Held up Behr Monorail and Financed Another.” Brooklyn Daily Eagle. July 27, 1907. Link.

Map showing Behr Monorail route, Brooklyn; [1889], Map Collection, B C-[1889?].Fl; Brooklyn Historical Society.

“New York City Transit Facts & Figures: 1979,” 1979; Robert F. Wagner Documents Collection; box 060284; folder 11; La Guardia and Wagner Archives; La Guardia Community College, The City University of New York. Link.

“Offers 3-Cent Transit at 100 Miles an Hour.” New York Times. April 20, 1906. Link.

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