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Crossing Upper New York Bay by Rail on Water

Framed with the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge and Robbins Reef Lighthouse, New York & Atlantic Railway MP15AC 151 hitches a ride aboard a New York New Jersey Rail car float crossing Upper New York Bay on Wednesday, June 23, 2021. NYNJ Rails’s Marine Rail Division is the only remaining car float operation in New York Harbor, operating between 65th Street Yard in Brooklyn, N.Y., and Greenville Yard in Jersey City, N.J. —Andrew Grahl

Crossing Upper New York Bay by Rail on Water

February 2023By Andrew Grahl and Raymond Mercado/photos as noted

While crossing Upper New York Bay on one of the many passenger ferries available, you might see a strange sight on the water: freight cars. The New York New Jersey Rail (NYNJ) is a short line marine railroad which operates the last car float service in New York Harbor. Car floats are barges loaded with freight cars.

Established in 2006 and owned by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey since 2008, the NYNJ Rail operates daily car float service across Upper New York Bay, from Greenville Yard in Jersey City, N.J., to 65th Street Yard in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, N.Y. The four-mile trip takes 40 minutes to cross New York Harbor, with many spectacular landmarks such as the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island and the New York City skyline in view. The need for a car float exists to connect Brooklyn and Long Island to the national rail network.


ABOVE: NYNJ Rail KLW (Knoxville Locomotive Works) SE10B 5101 and 5103 drill 65th Street Yard in Brooklyn, awaiting an inbound car float, June 23, 2021. This view is legally obtained from the sidewalk along 2nd Avenue between 65th Street and Shore Road.Andrew Grahl

The water passage is part of NYNJ Rail’s Marine Division, which also includes the New York & Atlantic Railway interchange at 65th Street Yard, formerly the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad’s Bay Ridge Yard also served historically by the Long Island Rail Road. In addition, the line has iconic street running along 1st Avenue in Sunset Park in Brooklyn, used to serve customers at the South Brooklyn Marine Terminal, formerly called 39th Street Yard. This includes the inter-change with the South Brooklyn Railway, the freight division of New York City Transit. Across the Bay in New Jersey, and part of the NYNJ Marine Division, NYNJ interchanges the cars floated across the Bay with Conrail Shared Assets in Greenville Yard in Jersey City.

Railfans will remember NYNJ Rail’s predecessor, the Alco-friendly New York Cross Harbor Railroad. In 2006, Mid Atlantic New England Rail, LLC purchased the Cross Harbor operation, and renamed it NYNJ Rail, all prior to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey purchase of NYNJ Rail in 2008. NYNJ Rail’s Port Jersey Rail Division provides switching to various industries and warehouses in the Port Jersey Industrial Complex. In 2010, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey purchased the Port Jersey Railroad Company with 6.2 acres of land and 2.5 miles of track.


ABOVE: Tugboat Marjorie McAllister guides the rail barge to the 65 Street transfer bridge. The tug, built in 1974 Main Iron Works Inc. of Houma, La., is powered by two 16-cylinder EMD engines, the same model that is used on many locomotives.Raymond Mercado

A fleet of three Knoxville Locomotive Works SE10B locomotives 5101-5103 work the Marine Division, while veteran EMDs SW1200 1197 and SW1500 1133 work the NYNJ Port Jersey Rail Division. NYNJ Rail currently uses two new four-track car floats numbered 100 and 200. They were built by Metal Trades, Inc. of Yonges Island, S.C. Each of the new barges is 370-feet long and 59-feet wide and can carry 18, 60-foot cars across New York Harbor, replacing three-track barges while greatly increasing capacity. NYNJ 100 entered service in May 2019. Recently the NYNJ car floats have been using vendor tug boat Marjorie McAllister, built in 1974, to pilot the car float. NYNJ Rail typically has three to four employees working the car float on each side.

NYNJ Rail currently employees 15 employees, 11 crew and 4 staff. NYNJ Rail moved over 10,000 cars in 2021, increasing greatly from just over 4,000 in 2013. Car float traffic was more than 4,000 cars in 2021. “Scrap has been down a bit on the car float since the pandemic, but consumables on both the car float and Port Jersey have been strong,” said Donald B. Hutton, Director, NYNJ Rail.


ABOVE: NYNJ Rail KLW SE10B 5103 and 5101 are photographed shortly after 6:00 a.m. February 28, 2022, leaving the Brooklyn Army Terminal at 1st Avenue and 58th Street. —Andrew Grahl

NYNJ Rail is thriving due to the desire to find new customers and geography. Recently NYNJ added customer D&M Lumber, which will use the South Brooklyn Marine Terminal for transloading shipments and a deal was set to use the 65 Street Yard transloading area for preparation and ship-ment of retired NYCT R-32 subway cars to Frontier Industrial in Ohio for scrapping. Primary commodities on the car float include lumber, paper, building materials, cement, plastic, food products, soybean oil, subway cars and recyclables.

Brooklyn Operations
Typically, NYNJ Rail operates Monday to Friday in early morning to early afternoon. Weather, tides, volume and interchange operations are several factors which determine how many car float trips will operate on any given day. Tides and windspeed are not issues for mainline railroading, but are large factors on a marine railroad. Generally, switching will start between 7:00 and 8:00 a.m. and trains operate until mid afternoon. Weekend work happens sporadically. It is possible during severe weather, car floats will not run…

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This article was posted on: February 7, 2023