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New York City has a half dozen or more major terminals serving practically every railroad in the east. As the largest city in the world and a major center of commerce, transportation and industry, the traffic from, to and through NYCity is staggering.
But the fly in the ointment is water: the Hudson and East Rivers, to be precise, which isolate the metropolitan New York City on Manhattan Island. From the earliest days of railroading, travelers have had to take a ferry across one or both rivers. The dozens of long haul trains that stop here daily, plus the hordes of commuters pouring in and out, make the river ferry services an essential part of both the economic and social life of the City.
When speaking of terminal facilities in the City, one must think of both the river front railroad terminals and the ferry terminals on Manhattan Island. The lower Hudson shores are lined with both:
The West Shore RR was a spoiler road built up the west shore of the Hudson to Albany before being absorbed into the New York Central in 1885. Today it primarily serves the urban areas along the west bank of the Hudson opposite Manhattan. Only commuters and a few minor regional trains are served through the Weehawken terminal although the WS is considered the 5th and 6th main lines for the NYC between the City and Albany.
The New York, Ontario & Western shares the terminal at Weehawken, NJ. NYO&W passenger service has dwindled steadily in this century and virtually ceased when the road entered bankruptcy in the Great Depression. At one time, however, it did have a modest through service from Weehawken to Chicago.
Hoboken, New Jersey, is the terminus of the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western railroad on the Hudson River. The present ferry terminal at Hoboken was built in 1907 to replace an earlier terminal which burned a year before. It features 16 tracks (there is no track set aside for long haul trains, as these are relatively few) and 6 ferry slips. This ferry line provides connections into the City for rail passengers on the upper level and motor vehicles in the lower level.
(below) A busy afternoon on the Hudson as the DL&W ferry "Philadelphia" passes another ferry at the jetty. As with most New York City ferries, the Lackawanna boats are double enders. Note the paired ornate pilot houses: upon docking, the pilot simply walks to the other end of the boat and orders the paddlewheels in reverse. These ferries are driven by side paddlewheels for maximum maneuverability. The "Philadelphia" has two decks (the lower for automobiles or railcars on some boats) which match up comfortably to the two levels of the terminals.
This photo, taken in the 1900s, gives us some idea of the hazards of Hudson River navigation, between the heavy traffic and the often smoggy conditions we see here. That haze over the skyline is coal smoke, which will give you some idea of why the smoke abatement laws of 1903 were passed.
Courtesy C RR of NJ Historical Society
The Jersey Central terminal at Jersey City is the largest and most impressive of the Hudson River rail-ferry terminals. It is shared with the Reading Railroad and the Baltimore & Ohio (which has a controlling interest in the two smaller roads.) This terminal has 20 tracks on two levels, with several of the upper level tracks being reserved for long haul trains. Placed right opposite downtown Manhattan, it was ideally sited for trains up from the South, local and regional service to the Maryland cape country and the long haul services of the Baltimore & Ohio.
Intermediate range service throughout Maryland, New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania are provided as part of the famous combined B&O/RDG/CNJ "Royal Blue" service. In addition, long haul B&O trains from St. Louis and Chicago via Washington were forwarded above Baltimore. (B&O has since withdrawn from the Baltimore to New York trade.)
The arriving B&O trains are third generation removed: above Philadelphia they are forwarded over the Reading railroad to Bound Brook, New Jersey (about half way between Philly and the City), then by the CNJ into Jersey City. Many nominally B&O trains actually start out as a cut of cars forwarded by CNJ, picking up cars en route to take final shape upon departure from Washington D. C.
Actually this photo is somewhat deceptive. The passenger terminal proper is the area from the center of the photo to about half way to the right hand shore. In the foreground we see the maze of terminal throat slip switches, all protected by the huge gantry signal. To the left is the coach yard. Further back are the express and RPO houses next to the terminal and ferry slips themselves.
The rest of this peninsula is taken up by ocean wharfs, their respective warehouses and switching traffic. The strings of hopper cars at lower left (another major B & O commodity) are for the power plant and engine terminal coaling dock.
The Erie Railroad also has a terminal in Jersey City, which they share with the Susquehanna Railroad.
The Pennsylvania Railroad is the third terminal operator Jersey City. This had been the primary access to New York for the PRR, with through service to Philadelphia beginning in 1840 (the trip took 6 hours). After the tunnel was drilled under the Hudson, this has faded in importance and handles only commuter services and regional trains to Atlantic City. It would appear that New York City is closed today, if those signal masts and empty tracks are any indicator.
On the eastern shore of Manhattan, passengers on the Long Island Railroad crossed over the East River to that road's terminal at Long Island City. At it's peak, it handled both extensive commuter service and long haul trains However, with the LI having been absorbed into the PRR, and with the drilling of the tunnels into the City, this ferry has been abandoned.
In an odd traffic movement, through trains from Boston were brought into New Haven's Harlem terminal; from there down the East River, around the tip of Manhattan Island, up the Hudson to Pennsy's Jersey City terminal; and from there on to Washington. With the advent of the the Hell Gate bridge (over a narrow portion of the East River providing access to Sunnyside Yard, LI) and the PRR tunnel complex, this ferry has been abandoned and NH through trains transfer to PRR in the City.
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North East Rails © Clint Chamberlin.