RR Navies

Car Ferries

Railroad water ferry operations were found in many areas of North America. These operations ranged from elaborate Lake Michigan overnight ships such as Spartan, Badger, City of Milwaukee and others which were operated by major railroads such as the Chesapeake & Ohio and the Ann Arbor.  These car ferries allowed for railroad car movements that avoided railroad traffic congestion at Chicago, saving  transportation time which resulted in favorable economics for a relatively expensive car ferry operation.  Information on these car  ferries can be found at: www.carferries.com/.  S.S. Badger is still in operation as of June, 2003.

Other railroad ferry operations allowed poorly capitalized railroads to cross rivers without the costs of constructing an expensive bridge.   Such ferry operations eventually disappeared, either because the railroad went out of business or because the railroad became successful enough to build a bridge.  In addition to car ferries, car float operations allowed railroads to cross smaller bodies of water.  In some cases, these float operations brought cars to islands across bodies of water that were relatively calm.  In other cases, the car float operations delivered freight cars to pocket railroads€¯.

Car Float Operations

Such operations were more commonly found in areas with greater population density. As an example, the Brooklyn Eastern District Terminal Railroad of New York City was such a pocket railroad, one with no land connection to other railroads.  Freight cars were brought to the BEDT from other railroads on floating barges pushed by harbor tugs.  The BEDT was located on the East River in the heart of the Brooklyn, an area which had high population density.  So, the construction of a traditional railroad would have been prohibitively expensive, yet the area required the delivery services of a railroad.

Brooklyn East District Terminal Railroad

The BEDT yard was surrounded by expensive real estate, making the construction of a connecting railroad line on land a costly  proposition.  The car float operation allowed industries to operate successfully in an urban environment.  Car floats from various major railroads in New York and New Jersey were brought to the BEDT carrying cars destined for industries in the Brooklyn; note the different numbered slips (one for each railroad) at the top of the drawing. These cars were unloaded at the BEDT yard and then distributed to various industries in the railroad’s service area. In similar fashion, car loads generated from these same industries were then reloaded onto the floats and transferred to other railroads for shipment to any place that had railroad service. As a result of those shipments, the BEDT collected a portion of the freight tariff charges of that shipment since it had originated the car load.  In an ideal situation, a car originated on the BEDT that traveled to Seattle produced a large amount of originating fees for the BEDT yet the costs of originating that car were same as a shipment to nearby New Jersey, a shipment which produced incrementally  lower origination fees.

The locomotives were small since they hauled few cars and traveled short distances.

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