Boynton’s Bicycle Railroad

Oct 6, 2023 0 comments

For a brief two years during the 1890s, there was a rail service between Gravesend and Coney Island in Brooklyn, New York. The railway was unusual because the locomotives and the carriages ran on a single set of wheels upon a single rail. To impart stability to this unwieldy setup, a second rail ran overhead engaged by a pair of horizontally opposed wheels. The railroad was called the Boynton Bicycle Railroad, named after Eben Moody Boynton, who invented it.

Maintenance yard of the of the Boynton Bicycle Railroad.

The railroad ran on an abandoned section of an old standard-gauge railway track of the Sea Beach and Brighton Railroad. The track was abandoned by the company formerly operating it as they had secured a more direct route with fewer heavy grades. When the Boynton Company acquired the tracks, it was in poor state, owning to the decay caused by long disuse. It was however, in some respect, well adapted for showing the merits of the Bicycle Railroad, such as the ability to run over high grades and through sharp curves.

Shortly after the railroad debuted, an 1889 article in Science noted that the railroad was “attracting great deal of attention, not only from railroad men, but also from men eminent in engineering, electrical, and scientific circles generally.”

The railroad was capable of running at very high speeds, in excess of fifty miles per hour, with “greater the speed, the smoother they run”, as proclaimed by the company.

In the aforementioned Science article, author writes about his experience of riding the Boynton Bicycle Railroad:

The run over the road was fully up to the expectations of all present, the train gliding along as smoothly, and as free from jar or oscillation, at the highest speed reached as at the slowest. Even when rounding curves of short radius at high speed, where cars are subject to the violent and disagreeable oscillations caused by the difference in level of the rails combined with the centrifugal force due to the swing around the curve, the Boynton car, on its one-rail track, ran as smoothly and steadily as on a tangent. In fact, the only thing to indicate that the car, when rounding a curve, was not running on a straight stretch of track, was the slight incline given the car by the guide-rail overhead to counteract the centrifugal force caused by the rapid motion and curvilinear course of the train.

Despite being favorably reviewed and endorsed by a number of prominent men of science, Boynton’s the idea never made it off Long Island. The company folded just a few years later.

A locomotive of the Boynton Bicycle Railroad.

An imagined elevated section of the railroad running through an urban area.

# The Boynton Bicycle Railroad, Science, 25 Oct 1889
# Boynton bicycle railway system, Boynton bicycle railway system


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