New York hopes for fourth-time lucky as work restarts on new subway line

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You must forgive New Yorkers a little scepticism when the city breaks ground tomorrow on a new underground line that, in theory, will run the length of Manhattan down its east side from the Bronx to the financial district. Some among them have seen it all before - three times, in fact.

Some will still recall a fine September day in 1972 when the then mayor of New York, John Lindsay, and governor Nelson Rockefeller, punctured the pavement with pickaxes at 103 Street and declared that plans for the so-called 2nd Avenue Subway Line were at last resurrected.

It was third-time lucky even then. The line was first approved by the city in 1929 with a budget of $99m, but the Depression soon stopped it in its tracks. A second attempt to bring it to reality, began after the Second World War, also became bogged down in funding realities.

In the Seventies it was the city going bust that halted work but not before sections of the tunnel were completed above 100th Street that have remained sealed ever since. It is into one of these that the current Governor, Eliot Spitzer, will climb with other dignitaries to get things rolling again.

The outlook for the line does seem a little more promising today, not least because the federal government is willing to provide a chunk of the $3.8bn (£1.9bn) that will be required. If all goes well, phase one of the new line should be open by 2013, relieving congestion on the green line beneath Lexington Avenue. The Lexington line accounts for about 40 per cent of all subway riders in the city.

"I sure hope they do it this time, because time is moving on," noted William Ronan, who in 1972 was the the chairman of the Metropolitan Transport Authority, the agency that runs the subways. "There used to be a saying in New York, 'I should live so long'."

With luck the line will offer a few modern conveniences notably missing from New York's 656-mile network, much of which dates to the beginning of the last century. Officials say possible improvements include glass platform barriers similar to those on London's Jubilee Line.