Long before intermodal became a transportation buzzword, it was the most cost-effective way for railroad companies to get their cargo to New York City.

Up until the mid-20th century, a fleet of railroad barges, also called car floats, crossed the harbor and Hudson River. Floating boxcars across a couple miles of water saved operators a long loop up the Hudson to rail bridges north of the city.

The growth of trucking and demise of the old regional private railroad companies put an end to that trade. But it has survived in a small way thanks to New York New Jersey Rail LLC, owned and operated by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

NYNJR is ready to step up that service, with delivery this week of the first newbuild rail barge in years: the NYNJR 100, a 370’x59’x14’ car float, the first of two to be built by Metal Trades Inc., Yonges Island, S.C.

The barge can carry as many as 18 rail cars 60' long with a total capacity of 1,298 long tons of freight, and will shuttle between the Greenville Yard in Jersey City, N.J., and the 65th Street Yard in Brooklyn, N.Y.

A 1912 map showing Pennsylvania Railroad barge crossings at New York.

A 1912 map showing Pennsylvania Railroad barge crossings at New York.

A century ago, efficiency was the name of the game when the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad, Pennsylvania Railroad and others operated barge lines from switching yards in Jersey City and Hoboken. There is still that economic incentive for the PANYNJ to move more rail freight by barge, but now there is another: public health.

Growth of the New York-New Jersey port has focused more attention on air pollution, especially diesel particulates from thousands of trucks moving in the region. Doubling rail car float capability, and replacing locomotives with modern Tier 4 compliant engines, is part of the port authority's effort to reduce emissions.

So what was old is new again. One question I have not been able to find the answer for: When was the last time a new rail car barge was delivered in New York?

At Pier 66 Maritime, the museum site founded by the late waterfront advocate John Krevey at Hudson River Park in Manhattan, the seasonal gathering place on the riverfront is home to the historic Frying Pan Shoals lightship and fireboat John J. Harvey. A 326’x40’x10.5’ Lackawanna rail barge built in 1946 is the centerpiece – complete with a caboose. Anyone out there know when the last one was built? Drop me a line at [email protected].


Contributing Editor Kirk Moore was a reporter for the Asbury Park Press for over 30 years before joining WorkBoat in 2015. He wrote several award-winning stories on marine, environmental, coastal and military issues that helped drive federal and state government policy changes. He has also been an editor for WorkBoat’s sister publication, National Fisherman, for over 25 years. Moore was awarded the Online News Association 2011 Knight Award for Public Service for the “Barnegat Bay Under Stress,” 2010 series that led to the New Jersey state government’s restoration plan. He lives in West Creek, N.J.