Car float

A railroad car float or rail barge is an unpowered barge with rail tracks mounted on its deck. It is used to move railroad cars 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.

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

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 1870s, 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] (See Capital Subdivision.)

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 termini 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, Bronx & 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

Tug and Barge at Erie Street
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


Existing operations


The Alaska Railroad provides the Alaska Rail Marine rail barge service from downtown Seattle, Washington to Whittier on the central Alaskan mainland.[36] Additionally, CN Rail provides the Aqua Train rail barge service from Prince Rupert, British Columbia to Whittier.[37]

New York / New Jersey

Bay Ridge Float Dock jeh
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, New York and Greenville Yard in Jersey City, New Jersey.[38]


See also


  1. ^ Lederer, Eugene H. (1945). Port Terminal Operation: Port Terminal Management, Stevedoring, Stowage, Lighterage and Harbor Boats. New York, NY: Cornell Maritime Press. pp. 291–292.
  2. ^ Wolmar, Christian (2012). Engines of War. London: Atlantic Books. p. 49. ISBN 9781848871731.
  3. ^ a b Harwood, Jr., Herbert H. (1979). Impossible Challenge: The Baltimore & Ohio Railroad in Maryland. Baltimore, MD: Barnard, Roberts. ISBN 0-934118-17-5.
  4. ^ Cudahy, Brian J. (2006). Box Boats: How Container Ships Changed the World. New York, NY: Fordham University Press. pp. 45–47. ISBN 0-8232-2568-2.
  5. ^ Flagg, Thomas R. (2000). New York Harbor Railroads in Color, Volume 1. Scotch Plains, NJ: Morning Sun Books. ISBN 1-58248-082-6.
  6. ^ Flagg, Thomas R. (2002). New York Harbor Railroads in Color, Volume 2. Scotch Plains, NJ: Morning Sun Books. ISBN 1-58248-048-6.
  7. ^ Flagg, 2000, pp. 16–23.
  8. ^ Flagg, 2002, pp. 26–29.
  9. ^ Flagg, 2000, pp. 24–33.
  10. ^ Flagg, 2002, pp. 38–39.
  11. ^ Flagg, 2000, pp. 34–45.
  12. ^ Flagg, 2002, pp. 40–51.
  13. ^ Flagg, 2000, pp. 46–55.
  14. ^ Flagg, 2002, pp. 52–57.
  15. ^ Flagg, 2000, pp. 56–61.
  16. ^ Flagg, 2002, pp. 58–63.
  17. ^ Flagg, 2000, pp. 62–65.
  18. ^ Flagg, 2002, pp. 64–67.
  19. ^ Flagg, 2000, pp. 66–83.
  20. ^ Flagg, 2002, pp. 68–93.
  21. ^ Flagg, 2000, pp. 84–91.
  22. ^ Flagg, 2002, pp. 94–97.
  23. ^ Flagg, 2000, pp. 92–101.
  24. ^ Flagg, 2002, pp. 98–109.
  25. ^ Flagg, 2002, pp. 30–37.
  26. ^ Flagg, 2002, pp. 110–116.
  27. ^ Flagg, 2000, pp. 118–125.
  28. ^ Flagg, 2002, pp. 120–127.
  29. ^ Flagg, 2000, pp. 126–127.
  30. ^ Flagg, 2002, p. 118.
  31. ^ Flagg, 2000, pp. 110–117.
  32. ^ Flagg, 2002, p. 119.
  33. ^ a b Flagg, 2002, p. 117.
  34. ^ Sennstrom, Bernard H. (1992). "Erie Railroad's Chicago River Service". The Diamond. 7 (1): 4–10.
  35. ^ The Pere Marquette Marine Fleet, Pere Marquette Historical Society, 10-MAY-2011, accessed July 16, 2012
  36. ^ Alaska Rail Marine Archived December 21, 2013, at the Wayback Machine
  37. ^ Aqua train
  38. ^ "Route Map". New York New Jersey Rail, LLC. Retrieved 2017-06-03.
  39. ^ Trains (Magazine) February 2009 p9

External links

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.

Ahmad Rifaat Pasha

Ahmad Rifaat Pasha (8 December 1825 – 15 May 1858) was a member of the Muhammad Ali dynasty of Egypt. He was heir presumptive to Sa'id Pasha.

However, in 1858, a special train conveying Ahmad Rifaat Pasha was being carried on a car float across the Nile at Kafr el-Zayyat. The train fell off the car float into the river and the prince was drowned.Sa'id outlived Ahmad Rifaat until 1863, when he was succeeded by Isma'il Pasha.

Angola Transfer Company

The Angola Transfer Company, organized in November 1906, was a railroad car float operation that primarily ferried cars of the Louisiana Railway and Navigation Company across the Mississippi River between Angola and Naples, Louisiana. The route was shortened to Angola-Torras in 1928, when a joint highway-rail bridge was built across the Atchafalaya River at Simmesport, and the LR&N took over the Angola Transfer Company's property in 1929, concurrently with its lease to the Louisiana and Arkansas Railway. The L&A took absorbed the LR&N in 1934, and abandoned the car float in 1940 after the Huey P. Long Bridge opened at Baton Rouge.The Angola Ferry used to operate nearby, carrying automobiles across the Mississippi; its west landing is about 2 miles (3.2 km) south of the old Torras landing of the L&A.

Bay Coast Railroad

The Bay Coast Railroad (reporting mark BCR) operated the former Eastern Shore Railroad line from Pocomoke City, Maryland, to Norfolk, Virginia. The Bay Coast Railroad interchanged with the Norfolk Southern Railway at Norfolk, Virginia and the Delmarva Central Railroad at Pocomoke City, Maryland. Following the lease of 162 miles of Norfolk Southern track on the Delmarva peninsula by the Delmarva Central Railroad in December 2016, the interchange changed from NS to the DCR.

Bay Ridge Branch

The Bay Ridge Branch is a rail line owned by the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) and operated by the New York and Atlantic Railway in New York City. It is the longest freight-only line of the LIRR, connecting the Montauk Branch and CSX Transportation's Fremont Secondary (to the Hell Gate Bridge) at Glendale, Queens with the Upper New York Bay at Bay Ridge, Brooklyn.

Car float service provided by New York New Jersey Rail operates between Greenville Yard at Greenville, New Jersey and the 65th Street Yard at the Bay Ridge end of the line.

Eastern Shore Railroad

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

Delmarva had been previously served by the New York, Philadelphia and Norfolk Company (N.Y.P.& N.) led by William Lawrence Scott which ran south down the peninsula to a freight depot, terminal and harbor at the headland point at Cape Charles, Virginia, a town which it founded and laid out in 1883-1884. A ferry barge system then operated crossing the lower Chesapeake Bay to the Norfolk piers. The NYP&N was later absorbed by the Pennsylvania Railroad which dominated the eastern U.S.A. along with the New York Central Railroad and the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad in the first half of the 20th century.

The rail ferry service that was used to span the 26 mile water route across the Chesapeake Bay between Cape Charles, Virginia and Norfolk. Tug boats were contracted to move the two barges (car floats) of 25 and 15 car capacity. This particular car float operation has been in continuous service since April 1885, and is one of only two remaining in the United States (the other being New York New Jersey Rail, LLC).

The Eastern Shore Railroad was taken over in February 2006 by Cassatt Management, LLC., and was operated and renamed as the Bay Coast Railroad. The Bay Coast Railroad operated the line until May 18, 2018. In June 2018, the Delmarva Central Railroad took over the portion between Pocomoke City and Hallwood, Virginia where the remaining customers were located.

Ferry slip

A ferry slip is a specialized docking facility that receives a ferryboat or train ferry. A similar structure called a barge slip receives a barge or car float that is used to carry wheeled vehicles across a body of water.

Often a ferry intended for motor vehicle transport will carry its own adjustable ramp - when elevated it acts as a wave guard and is lowered to a horizontal position at the terminus to meet a permanent road segment that extends under water. In other cases, the ramp is installed at the ferry slip and is called a linkspan or apron. Such a ramp is adjustable to accommodate varying water heights and ferry loadings and to move it out of the way during approach and exit. If railcars are carried by the ferry the apron will have tracks for them.

In some parts of the world, the structures are also known as linkspans and transfer bridges.

Similar structures are used to receive barges, particularly if the barge is for the carriage of railcars.

Fresh Pond Junction

Fresh Pond Junction is a freight yard in the Ridgewood area of Queens, New York City. It is operated by the New York & Atlantic Railway, which serves Long Island, New York using tracks owned by the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR). The yard has been in operation since the early 20th century and is the primary rail freight yard on the island.

Fresh Pond Junction connects to the mainland in two directions:

North via the Hell Gate Bridge and the Oak Point Yard, providing interchanges with the CSX, Canadian Pacific, and Providence and Worcester railroads.

Southwest via the Bay Ridge Branch to the New York New Jersey Rail's car float operation. Barges bring cars to Greenville Yard in New Jersey, where interchange is available to CSX and Norfolk Southern Railway using Conrail's North Jersey Shared Assets Area.The Fresh Pond Junction freight facility comprises two yards, west (5 tracks) and east (9 tracks), both of which parallel the NY&A Montauk Branch. There is also a wye and interchange tracks with the former New York Connecting Railroad line (now CSX Freemont branch) which connects the Oak Point Yard to the Bay Ridge Branch as it passes over the yard. Nearby is Fresh Pond Yard, a separate and unconnected facility of the New York City Subway.

Gantry Plaza State Park

Gantry Plaza State Park is a 12-acre (4.9 ha) state park on the East River in the Hunters Point section of Long Island City, in the New York City borough of Queens. The park is located in a former dockyard and manufacturing district, and includes remnants of facilities from the area's past. The most prominent feature of the park is a collection of gantries with car float transfer bridges, which in turn were served by barges that carried freight railcars between Queens and Manhattan.

Greenville Yard

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.


Guaqui is a railhead and port in Bolivia on Lake Titicaca. A ferry (a car float) connects with the Peruvian railhead and port on Puno.


A linkspan or link-span is a type of drawbridge used mainly in the operation of moving vehicles on and off a RO-RO vessel or ferry, particularly to allow for tidal changes in water level.

Linkspans are usually found at ferry terminals where a vessel uses a combination of ramps either at the stern, bow or side (or a combination of any) to load or unload cars, vans, trucks and buses onto the shore, or alternately at the stern and/or the bow to load or unload railroad cars.

List of boat types

This is a list of boat types. For sailing ships, see: List of sailing boat types.

Michigan Central Railroad

The Michigan Central Railroad (reporting mark MC) was originally incorporated in 1846 to establish rail service between Detroit, Michigan and St. Joseph, Michigan. The railroad later operated in the states of Michigan, Indiana, and Illinois in the United States, and the province of Ontario in Canada. After about 1867 the railroad was controlled by the New York Central Railroad, which later became part of Penn Central and then Conrail. After the 1998 Conrail breakup Norfolk Southern Railway now owns much of the former Michigan Central trackage.

At the end of 1925 MC operated 1871 miles of road and 4139 miles of track; that year it reported 4304 million net ton-miles of revenue freight and 600 million passenger-miles.

New York Central Tugboat 16

New York Central Tugboat 16 was a railroad tugboat built in 1924 for car float service. The vessel operated with the New York Central Railroad from its completion until its retirement in 1969. In 1982, it was moved to dry land at Bourne, Massachusetts, where it remained as a local attraction until it was dismantled in 2006.

New York New Jersey Rail

New York New Jersey Rail, LLC (reporting mark NYNJ) 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.

Since freight trains are not allowed in Amtrak's North River Tunnels, and the Poughkeepsie Bridge was closed in 1974, the ferry is the only freight crossing of the Hudson River south of the Alfred H. Smith Memorial Bridge, 140 miles (230 km) to the north of New York City, in a process known as the Selkirk hurdle.

It is the last remaining car float operation in the Port of New York and New Jersey.

New York and Atlantic Railway

The New York and Atlantic Railway (NY&A) (reporting mark NYA) is a short line railroad formed in 1997 to provide freight service over the tracks of the Long Island Rail Road, a public commuter rail agency which had decided to privatize its freight operations. An affiliate of the Anacostia and Pacific Company, NY&A operates exclusively on Long Island, New York and is connected to the mainland via CSX's line over the Hell Gate Bridge. It also interchanges with New York New Jersey Rail's car float at the 65th Street Yard and US Rail of New York in Yaphank, New York. Its primary freight yard is Fresh Pond Junction in Queens. The NY&A officially took over Long Island Rail Road's freight operations on May 11, 1997. The initial franchise was for 20 years.

Rail freight transportation in New York City and Long Island

From the start of railroading in America through the first half of the 20th century, New York City and Long Island were major areas for rail freight transportation. However, their relative isolation from the mainland United States has always posed problems for rail traffic. Numerous factors over the late 20th century have caused further declines in freight rail traffic. Efforts to reverse this trend are ongoing, but have met with limited success.

The New York and Atlantic Railroad currently operates all rail freight on the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR)'s rights-of-way in Long Island. CSX Transportation also operates within New York City, as do several shortline railroads including a car float across the harbor.

Weehawken Terminal

Weehawken Terminal was the waterfront intermodal terminal on the North River (Hudson 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.

Dry cargo

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