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Thread: Debating Rail-Float Traffic (Again)

  1. #1

    Default Debating

    Last edited by CMANDALA; September 5th, 2005 at 11:50 PM.

  2. #2


    November 14, 2004

    City Is Hoping to Revive Use of Barge Link to Railyard


    The 65th Street Railyard in Brooklyn, with facilities for loading barges.

    It was a plan that looked forward in part by looking back.

    In August 2000, New York City announced that it had taken a long unused freightyard on the Brooklyn waterfront, cleared out the weeds, replaced rusted old equipment and prepared the 33 acres to be an active yard. City officials said that freight could once more be transferred from railroad cars onto trucks there, and that loaded rail cars could be floated from the yard to New Jersey on barges - a method once widespread in New York Harbor but now rare.

    Four years later, the vast 65th Street Railyard in Bay Ridge is little used, with only a single company shipping freight there. The new equipment built to move rail cars on and off barges has never been used.

    The disappointing results show how even a simple municipal project - no tenants had to be evicted, no competing uses for the land defeated - can still founder because of the difficulty of finding the right strategy and picking the right private partner.

    But the city says it has not given up on the yard, which it and the state spent a total of $20 million to rehabilitate.

    "We are evaluating our options for maximizing its use," said Joan McDonald, senior vice president for transportation at the city's Economic Development Corporation.

    A spokeswoman for the agency, Janel Patterson, said the Bloomberg administration was negotiating with a freight railroad, the New York & Atlantic, for it to take over the site and "optimize" its use after the company that the city originally selected to operate it, the Canadian Pacific Railway, could not make a go of it.

    She said the problems at the yard should be seen in the context of the administration's overall effort to improve the Brooklyn waterfront, including recent agreements with cruise lines for building a new terminal there.

    The Bloomberg administration is the latest of several New York City administrations to be involved with the yard, which fell into disuse after a wave of railroad bankruptcies in the 1960's and 70's. The city bought it in 1982 when the Koch administration hoped to restore it as part of an effort to bolster the local freight handling business.

    But the city's financial problems and changes in the rail freight industry put off completion of the project until the Giuliani administration. In its August 2000 announcement that the yard was ready for business, the Giuliani administration invited railroads to submit proposals for operating it under a lease from the city.

    In the announcement, the Economic Development Corporation highlighted the site's capacity for floating freight cars as well as its proximity to manufacturing, commercial and warehousing businesses.

    "For too long we have suffered from over-reliance on trucks to move our freight, with serious consequences to our economic vitality and quality of life," the agency said. "By putting a rail car float system into operation on the Brooklyn waterfront, we could potentially divert approximately two million tons of freight a year from truck to rail and eliminate tons of air pollutants annually."

    In early 2001 the agency selected a bidder, Canadian Pacific, to operate the yard, even though, as a spokesman for the railroad recently said, it had no desire to operate the float system. "We did not want to run it," said the spokeswoman, Denyse Nepveu. "And it was not in our lease that we would." She said Canadian Pacific had wanted the yard for transferring cargo from rail to trucks.

    Though the lease was signed in February 2002, several weeks after the Bloomberg administration took office, the terms had been largely negotiated by the Giuliani administration. Ms. McDonald's Giuliani-era predecessor at the Economic Development Corporation, Seth Kaye, said recently that to the best of his recollection, Canadian Pacific was selected because "it had a superior proposal for generating activity and usage" in the overall yard.

    Ms. Nepveu said that Canadian Pacific's lease "did not prevent" the city, as the yard's owner, from bringing in another company to run a float operation. But Ms. Patterson of the Economic Development Corporation said that because the only float facility on the New Jersey side of the harbor was owned by another company, Canadian Pacific had "to negotiate with them to land there."

    That other company, New York Cross Harbor Railroad, runs the only rail car float business operating in New York Harbor. It floats about 2,200 loaded rail cars a year between Jersey City and its New York base, at a site it leases from the city on 51st Street on the Brooklyn waterfront. That number is a tiny fraction of the more than 100,000 rail cars that were annually transported by barge into and out of New York City from World War II until the 1960's.

    Cross Harbor bid in 2000 to move the Brooklyn end of its float operation to the rehabilitated 65th Street yard because "we can do four and five times as much business" there than with the "antiquated facilities" at 51st Street, said Wayne A. Eastman, Cross Harbor's president. The bid was not accepted.

    By then Cross Harbor's relationship with the city had soured. In 2001, the city moved to evict the company from 51st Street, contending, among other things, that it had illegally buried hazardous material there.

    Cross Harbor has disputed the accusations, and Mr. Eastman said in a recent interview that the issues with the city had arisen under "past management" and that the current one was working to resolve them. In July, a federal appeals court overturned a ruling by a federal regulatory agency, the Surface Transportation Board, that had granted the city's eviction application.

    Inactivity at the float facilities at 65th Street, however, was only part of the problem there. There was also Canadian Pacific's inability to attract long-term business of any kind to the yard, except for a single company, operating there now, which ships bricks.

    "The whole idea when we entered the agreement with Canadian Pacific," said Ms. McDonald of the Economic Development Corporation, "was to have a Class I railroad do a significant amount of marketing to use the yard to its capacity." It was thought, others involved with the yard said, that with its operations and contacts throughout the United States and Canada, Canadian Pacific could identify and attract potential users of the yard more readily than a line with narrower operations.

    Mr. Nepveu of Canadian Pacific said, "We certainly marketed the yard, but it did not bring back the kind of activity we were expecting and was not an asset, as we thought it would be." The railroad and the city agreed to end Canadian Pacific's involvement there in August, six months before its lease was to end.

    Now the Economic Development Corporation is thinking differently about a suitable operator for the yard. New York & Atlantic, with which it is negotiating to replace Canadian Pacific, runs the freight service on the Long Island Rail Road track system and was a subcontractor to Canadian Pacific at 65th Street, handling switching and other activities there.

    "Growing a business in New York City requires local knowledge and understanding of local business needs," Ms. Patterson said. "A smaller railroad with this kind of expertise should be able to fully market the yard for rail services."

    A barge route for rail cars between Brooklyn and New Jersey could cross New York Harbor.

    Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

  3. #3


    It absolutely kills me that people have no vision with respect to this. Am I missing something, or would building a two-track rail tunnel from St. George to the 65th street railyard kill two birds with one stone? That is, you could connect the North Shore and SIRT lines to Brooklyn, and run both freight and passenger rail through it? Then you could turn the SIRT into the M line (which no one takes in Brooklyn anyway), and give Staten Island a direct link to downtown. There must be a reason this doesn't work, because no one has even mentioned it. And the cross harbor study recently favored the Jersey City to Brooklyn link...

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