Car float

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A railroad car float in the Upper New York Bay, 1919. A tugboat (towboat) stack is visible behind the middle car. NYH carfloat.jpg
A railroad car float in the Upper New York Bay, 1919. A tugboat (towboat) stack is visible behind the middle car.
1912 PRR map showing the Greenville Terminal and its car float operations, also the current crossing NY Tunnel Extension & Connections PRR 1912.jpg
1912 PRR map showing the Greenville Terminal and its car float operations, also the current crossing

A railroad car float or rail barge is an unpowered barge with railway tracks mounted on its deck. It is used to move rolling stock across water obstacles, or to locations they could not otherwise go, and is towed by a tugboat or pushed by a towboat. As such, the car float is a specialised form of the lighter, [1] as opposed to a train ferry, which is self-powered.


Historical operations

U.S. East Coast

During the Civil War, Herman Haupt used huge barges fitted with tracks to enable military trains to cross the Rappahannock River in support of the Army of the Potomac. [2]

Beginning in the 1830s, the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad (B&O) operated a car float across the Potomac River, just south of Washington, D.C., between Shepherds Landing on the east shore, and Alexandria, Virginia on the west. The ferry operation ended in 1906. [3] The B&O operated a car float across the Baltimore Inner Harbor until the mid-1890s. It connected trains from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C. and points to the west. The operation ended after the opening of the Baltimore Belt Line in 1895. [3]

The Port of New York and New Jersey had many car float operations, which lost ground to the post-World War II expansion of trucking, but held out until and the rise of containerization in the 1970s. [4]

These car floats operated between the Class 1 railroads terminals on the west bank of Hudson River in Hudson County, New Jersey and the numerous online and offline terminals located in Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, the Bronx, and Manhattan. [5] [6] Class 1 railroads in the New York Harbor area providing car float services were:

As well as the offline terminal railroads:

Car float service was also provided to many pier stations and waterfront warehouse facilities (that did not engage in car floating service personally) by the above-mentioned railroads.

At their peak, the railroads had 3,400 employees operating small fleets totalling 323 car floats, plus 1,094 other barges, towed by 150 tugboats between New Jersey and New York City.

Abandoned float bridges are preserved as part of this history at:

Several other abandoned but unrestored float bridges exist in other locations around New York Harbor. A complete list is available at Surviving Float Bridges of New York Harbor

Freight cars do not run in the East River Tunnels nor the North River Tunnels (under the Hudson River), in part due to inadequate tunnel clearances of the New York Tunnel Extension.

The Bay Coast Railroad formerly operated a 2-barge car float connecting Virginia's Eastern Shore with the city of Norfolk, Virginia across the Chesapeake Bay.

U.S. Midwest

An Erie tugboat and barge on the Chicago River in 1917 Tug and Barge at Erie Street.png
An Erie tugboat and barge on the Chicago River in 1917

Between 1912–1936, the Erie Railroad operated a car float service on the Chicago River in Chicago, Illinois. [34]

U.S. West Coast


Woodfibre, British Columbia Woodf3a.jpg
Woodfibre, British Columbia

Existing operations


The Alaska Railroad provides the Alaska Rail Marine rail barge service from downtown Seattle to Whittier on the central Alaskan mainland. [37] Additionally, CN Rail provides the Aquatrain rail barge service from Prince Rupert, British Columbia to Whittier. [38]

New York / New Jersey

The car float docks at Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, New York. Bay Ridge Float Dock jeh.JPG
The car float docks at Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, New York.

The only remaining car float service in operation in the Port of New York and New Jersey is operated by New York New Jersey Rail. This company, operated by the bi-state government agency Port Authority of New York & New Jersey is the successor to the New York Cross Harbor Railroad. Car float service operates between 65th Street / Bay Ridge Yard in Brooklyn and Greenville Yard in Jersey City, New Jersey. [39]


See also

Related Research Articles

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Timeline of Jersey City, New Jersey-area railroads

For the purposes of this article, the Jersey City area extends North to Edgewater, South to Bayonne and includes Kearny Junction and Harrison but not Newark. Many routes east of Newark are listed here.

Train ferry

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Michigan Central Railroad

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New York New Jersey Rail

New York New Jersey Rail, LLC is a switching and terminal railroad that operates the only car float operation across Upper New York Bay between Jersey City, New Jersey and Brooklyn, New York. Since mid-November 2008, it has been owned by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which acquired it for about $16 million as a step in a process that might see a Cross-Harbor Rail Tunnel completed.

Exchange Place station (Pennsylvania Railroad) Former intermodal terminal in Jersey City, New Jersey

The Pennsylvania Railroad Station was the intermodal passenger terminal for the Pennsylvania Railroad's (PRR) vast holdings on the Hudson River and Upper New York Bay in Jersey City, New Jersey. By the 1920s the station was called Exchange Place. The rail terminal and its ferry slips were the main New York City station for the railroad until the opening in 1910 of New York Pennsylvania Station, made possible by the construction of the North River Tunnels. It was one of the busiest stations in the world for much of the 19th century.

Eastern Shore Railroad

The Eastern Shore Railroad, Inc. was a Class III short-line railroad that began operations in October 1981 on the 96-mile (154 km) former Virginia and Maryland Railroad line on the Delmarva Peninsula. The line ran between Pocomoke City, Maryland, and Norfolk, Virginia, interchanging with the Norfolk Southern Railway at both ends.

Port of New York and New Jersey

The Port of New York and New Jersey is the port district of the New York-Newark metropolitan area, encompassing the region within approximately a 25-mile (40 km) radius of the Statue of Liberty National Monument. It includes the system of navigable waterways in the New York–New Jersey Harbor Estuary, which runs along 650 miles (1,050 km) of shoreline in the vicinity of New York City and northeastern New Jersey, as well as the region's airports and supporting rail and roadway distribution networks. Considered one of the largest natural harbors in the world, the port has become the second busiest port by tonnage in the United States as of 2019, and the busiest on the East Coast.

The Cross-Harbor Rail Tunnel is a proposed freight rail transport tunnel under Upper New York Bay in the Port of New York and New Jersey between northeastern New Jersey and Long Island, including southern and eastern New York City.

Weehawken Terminal Former intermodal terminal in Weehawken, New Jersey

Weehawken Terminal was the waterfront intermodal terminal on the North River in Weehawken, New Jersey for the New York Central Railroad's West Shore Railroad division, whose route travelled along the west shore of the Hudson River. It opened in 1884 and closed in 1959. The complex contained five ferry slips, sixteen passenger train tracks, car float facilities, and extensive yards. The facility was also used by the New York, Ontario and Western Railway. The terminal was one of five passenger railroad terminals that lined the Hudson Waterfront during the 19th and 20th centuries, the others were located at Hoboken, Pavonia, Exchange Place and Communipaw, with Hoboken being the only one still in use.

Selkirk hurdle

The Selkirk Hurdle is the term used by urban planners, railroad employees, politicians, and others to describe the route that must be taken by freight trains traveling between New York City and other points in downstate New York that are east of the Hudson River, and locations in the United States to the south and west. There are no rail freight bridges or tunnels that cross the Hudson River south of Selkirk, which is 10 miles (16 km) south of Albany and the home of Selkirk Yard, a major CSX classification yard. As a result, trains from Long Island and New York City must travel 140 miles (230 km) north to cross at Selkirk before continuing on their way. Advocates claim that this detour and the inefficiencies that result force New York City to rely more heavily on relatively inefficient trucks than most parts of the United States, where freight trains are more common. However, at least for traffic to and from the west, this route was touted for its efficiency as the "Water Level Route" by the New York Central Railroad because trains using it did not have to climb over the Appalachian Mountains, and it is still used by the New York Central's successor, CSX, for traffic to both sides of the Hudson River.

Greenville Yard is a freight rail yard in the Port of New York and New Jersey. It is located on Upper New York Bay in Jersey City, New Jersey adjacent and north of Port Jersey. Originally developed in 1904 by the Pennsylvania Railroad, it was later taken over by Conrail. It has been owned by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey since 2010. It takes its name from the former municipality of Greenville, now part of the city.

Weehawken Port Imperial

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Tugboats in New York City

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Rail freight transportation in New York City and Long Island

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65th Street Yard

The 65th Street Yard, also Bay Ridge Rail Yard, is a rail yard on the Upper New York Bay in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. Equipped with two transfer bridges which allow rail cars to be loaded and unloaded onto car floats, the last of once extensive car float operations in the Port of New York and New Jersey. Located adjacent to the Brooklyn Army Terminal, it provided a major link in the city's rail freight network in the first half of the twentieth century. It was later used as a conventional railroad yard at the end of the LIRR/NY&A Bay Ridge Branch. The new transfer bridges were constructed in 1999, but remained unused until the transfer bridges were activated in July 2012.

Ferries in Michigan

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ExpressRail is a rail facility network of on- or near- dock rail yards supporting intermodal freight transport at the major container terminals of the Port of New York and New Jersey. The development of dockside trackage and railyards for transloading has been overseen by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which works in partnership with other public and private stakeholders. As of 2019, four ExpressRail facilities were in operation, with a total built capacity of 1.5 million lifts.

North Shore Branch Railroad branch in Staten Island, New York

The North Shore Branch is an abandoned branch of the Staten Island Railway in New York City, which operated along Staten Island's North Shore from Saint George to Port Ivory. The line continues into New Jersey via the Arthur Kill Vertical Lift Bridge to Cranford Junction.


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