Float On! Cross-Harbor Rail Freight Gains Support

April 6, 2012 Brooklyn Eagle Staff
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Long-Dormant 65th St. Rail Yard Also in Plan

BROOKLYN – Drive near the West Shore freight rail line on the west side of the Hudson River and you’re likely to see freight trains of 50 cars or more. And if you’re stopped at a grade crossing in New England or the Midwest, you’re likely to have to wait 10 minutes for equally long freight trains to pass before you’re able to proceed.

You won’t see this in the five boroughs of New York, however, because there’s no direct freight rail connection into the city. New York-bound freight trains from New Jersey or points westward must go north to a rail yard near Albany, cross a bridge over the Hudson, then go south. Meanwhile, the city is being choked by truck traffic and the fumes from truck-caused pollution.
In 2005, Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-Brooklyn/Manhattan) procured a $100 million federal grant to study a cross-harbor freight tunnel from southwest Brooklyn to Staten Island or New Jersey. Although political and bureaucratic snafus stalled the project, a study, under the sponsorship of the Port Authority, is finally expected next year, according to Ilan Kayatasky, a spokesman for Nadler.
However, a tunnel is still a long way off. So in the meantime, the Port Authority, with support from Nadler and most of the other members of the city’s congressional delegation, has applied for a $14.48-million grant to expand freight rail car-float, or barge, operations between New Jersey and Brooklyn.
Currently, the Port Authority’s New York New Jersey Rail owns a freight yard in Jersey City, where it connects with several large freight railroads, and a car float facility at 50th Street at Bush Terminal in Sunset Park. The time for a rail barge to be tugged across the river between the two points is about 45 minutes.
The $14.48 million, according to a letter signed by the Congress members as well as U.S. senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, would fund three new low-emissions locomotives for the operation as well as a new rail barge, which would double freight capacity.
The grant request also includes provisions for rehabilitation of facilities at the 65th Street Rail Yard in Sunset Park. The yard’s car-float facilities were rebuilt at a cost of $20 million in 1999. However, they have never been used because of disputes between the now-defunct Cross Harbor Railroad, which until 2006 operated the facilities now owned by New York New Jersey Rail, and the city.
The yard is now used for storing freight cars and for freight interchange between the New York and Atlantic, which operates the Bay Ridge Freight Line, and New York New Jersey Rail, which operates a street-level rail line on First Avenue.
“With appropriate support and funding, [the project] can divert significant amounts of freight away from trucks, the predominant mode of freight transport in the East of Hudson region today, yielding important social and environmental benefits for both New York and New Jersey such as reduced traffic congestion, less wear and tear on area highways, bridges and tunnels, and fewer harmful diesel air emissions,” says the letter.

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