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.