A blueprint for the East-of-Hudson Region's "Freight Rail Revolution"
Up until now, this website has been describing the many, many problems that have been created, and will only get worse, if New York's East-of-Hudson region remains almost completely reliant on trucking for transporting its freight. We've covered everything from traffic congestion, air quality, infrastructure decay, public health and safety problems, and so much more. In fact, you're probably tired of hearing about all the problems - and we admit we're beginning to sound like a broken record. At the same time, we've also covered the multitude of barriers that make it difficult for freight rail to service the East-of-Hudson market. At this point, you can't deny we haven't firmly established that the Quality of Life in the New York region will only get worse if we don't trade in our trucks for freight railcars, and find a way to overcome the barriers keeping rail out. We absolutely must find alternative freight transportation methods for a livable future - and more freight trains are the answer.
Now comes the fun part. We haven't just been focusing on the problems without envisioning solutions to overcome these problems. Below are the many solutions that Rail New York submits for the consideration of politicians, planners, transportation agencies, and the citizens of regional New York. We can't claim that all of these were "our idea", as many have already been envisioned by other entities. That being said, they are indeed solutions and worth mentioning. Imagine the synergies of all of these solutions combined... imagine, for the first time in modern history, geographic Long Island and the East-of-Hudson region being fully and seamlessly integrated with the national freight rail network.
MTA Must be More Accepting of Freight Trains
A Long Island Rail Road commuter train blasts by a New York & Atlantic Railway freight train in Farmingdale, NY. For better freight logistics efficiency, the LIRR must be more accommodating of freight trains and realize the important role they play on geographic Long Island.
The MTA and two of its primary commuter rail operations: Long Island Rail Road and Metro North, will always place a higher priority on passenger trains than freight trains. This is a fact of life that will never change, and one that shouldn't change. The region's population demands a highly-efficient rail-based mass transit system to get to work, return back home, go to Manhattan for cultural venues, etc. These systems are - and will always remain - dedicated to moving people first.
These commuter systems, however, must also share their tracks with slower and heavier freight trains, which are often viewed as an inconvenience to the passenger operations. As sort of a half-measure, freight train operations have been relegated to a schedule of operating primarily late at night or in the very early morning hours, when most of the population is asleep. Daytime operations occur too, but mainly during "off-peak" hours when passenger operations are light. We must give credit where credit is due: the MTA does grant freight railroads the "trackage rights" to operate on several of its commuter rail networks, and for this we are very grateful. There still remain a plethora of scattered industries all throughout geographic Long Island that were once served by the LIRR itself, before that railroad contracted out its freight operations to the New York & Atlantic Railway. These industries still require rail service, and the MTA realizes that Long Island's economy will benefit if these industries can take advantage of freight rail service.
However, the MTA has recently displayed some hostility towards freight rail; for example, charging industries exorbitant amounts of money simply to install a switch (turnout track) so their building could have a rail siding connecting to the mainline. These kinds of "dis-incentives" are not productive and only make it more difficult for Long Island's dwindling industrial sector to take advantage of freight rail, and for New York & Atlantic to grow its portfolio of customers. The MTA, particularly the LIRR, must appreciate freight rail to a higher degree and find new ways to incentivize the movement of freight rail on its system.
Additionally, the LIRR holds ownership to a number of crumbling and decaying rail lines that are "freight only" (Bushwick Branch, Bay Ridge Branch), or primarily for freight (Lower Montauk Branch). Is it completely beyond the realm of possibility that the cash-strapped MTA could sell these dormant LIRR lines to a freight operator? What use does the MTA have for these lines anyway? Raise some cash, sell these non-passenger branches to a freight operator who has the means to upgrade the lines and promote development along them in partnership with the City of New York and New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC). As "pie in the sky" as this may seem, all parties involved should give serious consideration to this idea. It could very well score a major victory for freight rail on Long Island.
Politicians Need to "Step up to the Plate" and be Advocates of Freight Rail
No matter what level of government you are in, no matter what your party affiliation, and no matter what political office you hold or public agency you work for, anybody who supports projects that will reward their constituency with an increased Quality of Life will come out as winners. All too often, politicians avoid the issue because they've come to accept that freight rail logistics will never be an important part of the East-of-Hudson region's logistics strategy - they've simply thrown in the towel. Other politicians, particularly local representatives, support vocal anti-rail fringe groups who put their neighborhoods above the greater good of the city and region. One could quickly arrive at the conclusion this is simply pandering for votes within their district.
On the other side of the spectrum, any politician who realizes the immense value of freight rail in the region - the politician who aims to grab the high-hanging fruit - is ultimately the strongest candidate for the job. On that note, we give our sincerest thanks and gratitude to Representative Gerald Nadler, who has been an ardent supporter of the Cross Harbor Freight Tunnel. His foresight and willingness to push such a controversial project shows strength of character, true leadership, and a willingness to work purely for altruistic reasons to promote what is indeed the best solution for the region - no matter how unpopular it may be. THAT... is what makes a great politician.
An even stronger political driving force behind the revival of freight rail in the East-of-Hudson region would be for cities, counties, and other forms of municipal government to establish freight rail czars, a designated person or team of people who would work closely with the business community, landowners, railroads, and fellow politicians to orchestrate and finesse the development of rail-served industries in the region, and ultimately a stronger regional reliance on freight rail instead of trucks to transport our commodities. The czar would be the "strong arm" and would unite people, oversee negotiations, and put together comprehensive and feasible economic development packages to further develop the freight rail sector.
Realization that Geographic Long Island Must Conduct its own Warehousing & Distribution Functions
This picture, taken at the Coors Brewery in Golden, CO, shows 8 railroad boxcars simultaneously being loaded with beer for distribution all over the country. These 8 boxcars alone carry the same amount of beer as 32 semi tractor-trailers. Which would you rather have? 8 boxcars in a train crossing the Hell Gate Bridge, or 32 tractor trailers on the Verrazano Narrows or GWB? Also notice that industrial buildings need not be old and blighted, but can be quite modern, clean, and aesthetically pleasing.
Long Island is an island; we don't have to tell you this. An island that, unfortunately, is connected to the mainland United States by four aging (albeit beautiful) suspension bridges that are operating 40% to 100% over their intended capacity, hosting trucks transporting over 93% of the freight for a growing population of nearly 8 million people. These figures just build and build ontop of themselves, making the situation all the more dire... it's like a Jenga tower, eventually one failed piece will make the entire tower fall.
The answer is simple: Instead of importing over 93% of the geographically-isolated island's freight from New Jersey by trucks, why not bring a greater number of highly-efficient freight railcars onto the island itself, allowing Long Island to conduct most of its warehousing and distribution functions on its own? This will take trucks off the bridges and highways, reduce infrastructure wear, and make life so much easier for residents of the East-of-Hudson region. Simply put, given current conditions, geographic Long Island can not continue to be so reliant on New Jersey or other states to distribute and deliver its cargo.
Yet, instead of promoting greater warehousing and distribution functions on the island itself using freight rail as the primary import mode (freight trains enter Long Island using the Hell Gate Bridge), politicians and planners continue to turn their backs on industry in favor of more housing and retail and - in many cases - rezone former industrial neighborhoods into "pretty" apartment homes and shopping centers. As we mentioned earlier, this kind of thinking is simply foolish and incredibly short-sighted. At the same time they are reducing the East-of-Hudson region's ability to conduct its own warehousing and distribution using rail as the primary import mode, they are also increasing the demand for the amount of cargo, freight and commodities that must be imported onto the island using our current logistics strategy - trucks. Is there any long-term vision here? Where is the thinking? Where is the common sense?
Also... more jobs, anyone?
The East-of-Hudson region, particularly geographic Long Island, absolutely must be able to handle its own warehousing and distribution functions using freight rail logistics as the primary import mode, so as to alleviate all of the problems mentioned on this website thus far. This is the entire goal of the freight rail revolution that RNY is fighting for.
Establishment of "Incubator Zones" to Revitalize Blighted Industrial Areas
This picture is looking down the freight-only Bushwick Branch of the Long Island Rail Road. Notice the track is overgrown with weeds, the ROW strewn with litter, graffiti, and decaying industrial buildings as far as the eye can see. If this is what most of New York's industrial areas look like, it's no wonder New Yorkers have a negative view of "industry". It's also no wonder the city attempts to re-zone and gentrify them.
Anyone who has paid attention to local development in New York City and the surrounding area is no doubt familiar with the concept of "Incubator Zones", special delineated areas that promote and spur the creation of businesses and jobs to invest in an area, particularly an under-utilized or "blighted" area of the city. Anchoring these Incubator Zones are usually an institution (such as a school, research center, hospital, etc.) that caters and assists local businesses tied to that respective field in growing their business.
The recent "buzz word" , particularly when it comes to these Incubator Zones, is "high tech". While a laudable effort, we believe there is too much effort being put into high-tech, medical, and research-based Incubator Zones - again, another example of the city turning its back on its decaying industrial sector and solely focusing on service-sector functions.
In a novel idea, Rail New York is advocating for "Freight Rail Incubator Zones". That's right, special areas delineated in industrial areas that will spur redevelopment and job creation, and help customers grow their business through the use of shipping and receiving products by freight rail. Pretty clever, right?
Instead of being anchored by a hospital, university or other institution, the anchor would be a simple rail line, particularly one that has been cleaned up and restored (possibly rebuilt) to modern standards. Other players involved as being "anchors" or "promoters" would be entities such as the New York & Atlantic Railway and the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC). Our first suggestion - we are officially issuing a challenge to New York City - is to establish a "Freight Rail Incubator Zone" along the decaying Bushwick Branch of the Long Island Rail Road, starting from Queens and spanning both sides of the rail line until its terminus in Brooklyn. There is no doubt this area is in shambles, as the picture above illustrates. We need significant investment in this area to clean up our city and increase our usage of freight rail. The industrial buildings on both sides of the rail line are in many cases aging poorly and approaching 100 years old. They've been around for a century, and they are falling apart, covered with graffiti, unkempt, neglected, and simply ugly and blighted. While some businesses occupy these outmoded buildings for cheap rent, they do not take advantage of rail service even though a freight rail line abuts their property - some buildings even have direct rail sidings with warehouse doors that go unused - overgrown with weeds and littered with trash.
Don't get us wrong - all of the "High Tech", "Medical", and "Research" Incubator Zones throughout the city are great and the City of New York should be applauded for its efforts in revitalizing these areas. However, who is going to step forward and promote an industrial, rail-based Incubator Zone along an under-utilized rail line? While admittedly not as "sexy" as "High Tech" Incubator Zones, there is no question that our industrial sector needs re-investment as well. Just look at the above picture of the entrance to the Bushwick Branch. Is this any way to take care of our city - to let it decay and devolve into shambles?
Depending on the success of a Freight Rail-based Incubator Zone, more such zones could be delineated along the Bay Ridge Branch and Lower Montauk Branch as well. Simply put, New York City's industrial sector is in shambles, and in desperate need of help. Let's give the concept of Freight Rail-based Incubator Zones a chance. We have nothing to lose, except traffic congestion and less wear and tear on our infrastructure. This will help New York City dramatically in its attempt to shift away from trucks and towards freight rail logistics. We officially challenge the City of New York to establish a Freight Rail Incubator Zone along the Bushwich Branch.
Tax Incentives for Companies that Receive or Ship Products by Rail
This modern warehouse in Denver receives massive amounts of freight by rail. There are 8 boxcars in this picture, combined carrying a total payload equivalent to 32 semi tractor-trailers. Cities in the East-of-Hudson region, which are struggling to broaden their reliance on rail, must "sweeten the pot" to businesses on the island committed to receiving, warehousing, and distributing cargo on geographic Long Island itself.
We are the first ones to admit that tax incentives, particularly in today's economy, are not very popular with the general public. Many people consider tax breaks or tax incentives as "corporate handouts", "corporate welfare", etc. Any time a city, state, or combination thereof makes headlines in the media for using tax-based mechanisms to keep a business in that city or lure a business from another city into that city (i.e. ongoing battle between New York and New Jersey), there is an automatic backlash among the general public.
Couldn't that money be better used somewhere else? In many instances, the public outcry is based on a very valid point, and in many cases, tax incentives aren't necessary for businesses. What's more, many business actually have threatened to leave cities in a strategy to win these lucrative tax incentives.
We submit to you a whole new approach to the tax incentives strategy - an approach that will no doubt be even more controversial than businesses fishing for tax incentives from a city. In our approach, cities would approach businesses located along rail lines and offer them tax incentives for receiving or shipping freight by rail. Instead of the usual game of businesses often manipulating cities for tax incentives, our approach calls for states, counties and cities to go out of their way and offer tax incentives to companies who initiate freight rail service and continue receiving by rail for a specified period of time.
(This is the part where we duck because you are no doubt throwing tomatoes at us)
Let's face it, tough times call for tough measures, and as we saw previously, the East-of-Hudson region is in a serious bind with increasing traffic, pollution, infrastructure decay, and our over-dependence on trucking. The situation is only getting worse, and "sweetening the pot" by offering a little bit of a financial incentive to companies who switch to rail will actually encourage new freight rail service on geographic Long Island and ultimately improve our Quality of Life.
Granted, we agree the tax incentives game has been abused over and over, but it exists for a reason: if used properly, it can actually help towns, municipalities, counties, and states to improve their economies; that's why they exist in the first place. With an open an unbiased mind, we ask you if it isn't so unreasonable to offer financial incentives to new rail-served industries, whose new logistics strategy will lessen traffic, air pollution, infrastructure decay, and all of the problems we discussed previously. In the end, wouldn't it be worth it? Rail New York would not posit such a controversial idea if we were not absolutely convinced it would be an incredibly useful mechanism for bringing about the freight rail revolution we so desperately need.
Increase Weight Limits on Rail Lines to Allow Heavier Railcars
This modern "Reefer" (Refrigerated) railcar carries fruits, vegetables, and frozen food to the East Coast from western agricultural regions. Cars like these are instrumental in bringing food to market. Unfortunately, this 82' "High Cube" (Excess Height) car has a total weight of 286,000 lbs. This weight exceeds many rail lines and the roadbeds on which the tracks sit upon in may East-of-Hudson locations, particularly on Long Island.
The picture of the refrigerated railcar on the left represents a modern railcar that dwarfs its predecessors from 60 years ago, both in length, height, and weight. The railcar on the left has a weight of 286,000 lbs. when fully loaded - known as a "286K car". With 263,000 lbs. being the ultimate weight limit on all of the LIRR lines, this railcar cannot traverse any part of the LIRR system east of Fresh Pond Yard without being "under-loaded", carrying less cargo in order to reduce its total weight.
We are not going to suggest the Long Island Rail Road rebuild its entire network to allow heavier cars; this is technically impossible and financially unfeasible. While we would like to see the LIRR capable of matching the modern standards of rail lines all throughout North America, we understand the art of compromise and must come to accept that we must live with many parts of the Long Island Rail Road being inadequate for handling today's modern railcars. We get it, and we're not asking for change in this category. The vast majority of modern railcars, all except doublestack container cars, are capable of traversing many parts of the Long Island Rail Road System. The solution to the weight limit issue is compromise: many cars capable of 286K gross capacity must be loaded at less than full capacity so they can meet the weight limits imposed by the LIRR trackwork. They won't be at full loading capacity, but the weight difference is not all that much in the overall scheme of things. We don't expect the LIRR to completely tear up its entire system, and then completely rebuild it, just so certain railcars can come in 23,000 lbs. heavier.
That being said, if a rail-receiving customer on a certain line of the LIRR requests 286K railcars (let's just play hypothetical here), an analysis should be performed to see if the existing trackage is, in fact, capable of handling 286K railcars. The results could very well be surprising, and a decision could be made that it is technically possible to allow 286K cars on certain segments of the LIRR. Put another way, the only possible method that even comes close to a solution regarding weight limits is a re-evaluation of the LIRR trackwork. Perhaps we have some surprises in store for us? Perhaps, after engineering re-evalutation, some lines can host 286K railcars after all.
Address Vertical Clearances and Third-Rail Issues
This bridge in Nebraska was built high enough (and then some) to allow modern double-stack container trains pass underneath. In an effort to bring these types of trains to geographic Long Island, we must rebuild and raise the height of some bridges as part of the rail revolution. At the same time, New York City and the East-of-Hudson region would benefit through modernizing its aging and decaying infrastructure. Look at how many trucks this train removes from the highways! Imagine this in NY!
As we saw earlier, many of the bridges and tunnels on the Long Island Rail Road are incapable of handling today's taller, modern railcars. With clearance heights ranging from 14' 6" to 17' 6" - and the typical doublestack container car as tall as 20' 6" - it would be foolish for us to submit the idea that the LIRR replace every single one of its bridges and tunnels. Not only would this be technically impossible, it would be financially unfeasible.
This same principle applies to the impediment caused by third-rail too. Simply put, there is no solution to this. We can't ask or expect the Long Island Rail Road and Metro North to find alternatives to using third-rail; it's an issue not even worth looking into.
Unfortunately, there are no solutions to the vertical clearance restrictions and third-rail restrictions that are preventing doublestack container cars from entering geographic Long Island and the East-of-Hudson market. We must learn to deal with these impediments... or must we?
That being said, it is absolutely critical that the doublestack container car has access to Long Island, and believe it or not - there actually is a solution after all. What if we told you that the solution to bringing this industry-standard intermodal car to Long Island was as simple as raising the bridge clearances on only one line, and one line only? What's more, this line also *does not* have third-rail, thus it can allow doublestack container railcars. Believe it or not, it's true, and you will see the answer below. Keep reading, because here is where it gets interesting!
The Ultimate Solution: Cross Harbor Freight Tunnel
After extensively analyzing all of the impediments and issues, and after full consideration of all potential solutions, Rail New York has arrived at what we believe to be the most effective solution to the East-of-Hudson region's freight rail logistics woes, a freight tunnel underneath New York Harbor connecting New Jersey to Brooklyn. Notice how this solution closely resembles the original concept from the 2004 "Cross Harbor Freight Tunnel" plan. Why? Because this is the only attainable solution.
For over 100 years and even continuing to this day, railroads, politicians and transportation planning agencies have all been exploring an option for building some form of rail tunnel underneath New York Harbor to connect the mainland United States to geographic Long Island, particularly a New Jersey-Brooklyn routing or a Staten Island-Brooklyn routing (the former always being the most popular alternative). To date, any form of freight rail tunnel establishing a direct link between the mainland United States and geographic Long Island has ever been constructed. Perhaps this is why the East-of-Hudson region's freight logistics picture is in such a bind with its over-reliance on trucks? That's a pretty sure bet.
As technology improves and traffic, pollution, and infrastructure decay continues to take its devastating toll on Long Island, the point will arrive where the "no action" alternative simply won't work, and the tunnel will be built as a reactionary measure only after these problems have been exacerbated beyond the point of acceptability, and only after it is too late. The so-called "Cross Harbor Freight Tunnel" will happen someday, a point nearly everyone agrees on. The only question that remains is "When?"
We believe the time is now. We've already demonstrated the many problems Long Island is grappling with due to the lack of a direct rail connection to the mainland, and the urgency in finding a sweeping solution to alleviate the problems caused by the East-of-Hudson region's over-reliance on trucking is only growing more urgent day by day. Let's head off the problem before it becomes too late, and we're forced to do it only after it becomes too late.
The most recent studies for the urgently needed Cross Harbor Freight Tunnel and its associated rail improvements were performed in the early 2000s and continue to this day. Many agencies have been involved with the study, including the City of New York, the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NCYEDC), the United States Department of Transportation, and the New York City Industrial Development Agency. The sheer number of agencies involved with this study only goes to show how critically important this tunnel project is to the region. In the mid-2000s, the NCYEDC commissioned a study known as the Cross Harbor Freight Movement Major Investment Study. The findings of this study found the best option to be a double-track rail tunnel connecting New Jersey with Brooklyn, reconstruction of the Bay Ridge Branch of the Long Island Rail Road to accommodate double-stack container cars, and the construction of an Intermodal Terminal in Maspeth, Queens. The study's findings revealed what we believe remains the best solution to this day. So why hasn't anything been done?
Unfortunately, the project met a roadblock once the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) was released in 2004. Since then, it has become mired in community opposition and eventually the players involved with the study "rescinded" it to appease the vocal anti-rail NIMBY groups (particularly CURES), who complained about potential noise and pollution in their immediate neighborhood (all the while neglecting the positive regional benefits; the epitome of selfishness). However, groups like CURES ultimately put their own neighborhood above what was in the best interest of the entire region.
The studies remain ongoing, and the tunnel option hasn't been ruled out simply because, at the end of the day, it remains - and will always remain - the only option that will hold any sort of significant impact on the East-of-Hudson's improved logistics strategy. We can go through study after study, year after year, back to the drawing board several times over, debate the issue again, fund a new study, present it to the public, go back to the drawing board yet again, and the Cross Harbor Freight Tunnel will always come out as the "best alternative" for improving the freight rail sector in New York City, Long Island, and the East-of-Hudson region. Indeed, it is the only solution. Token half-measures won't work here; we need a major investment to even have the slightest chance of completely transforming our freight logistics strategy. The Cross Harbor Freight Tunnel will never go away, as it is and will always remain the ultimate answer. Period.
Key Components of a Cross Harbor Freight Tunnel Plan:
The Cross Harbor Freight Tunnel plan is the perfect solution to overcome the drastic issues facing the East-of-Hudson region, and quite honestly, is the only attainable solution given the various impediments to freight rail we saw earlier. Here are the benefits explained, and how they all work together to essentially become the only technically attainable solution:
Why a Cross Harbor Freight Tunnel Plan Works:
Tunnel Details: The tunnel is the first component of the plan to seamlessly integrate geographic Long Island with the national freight rail network. With both a 2000 Major Investment Study (MIS) and a 2004 MIS recommending a preferred alignment connecting Greenville Yard in Jersey City, NJ with 65th Street Yard in Brooklyn, the tunnel is proposed to have sufficient vertical clearance for doublestack intermodal cars, and will not have a third rail. Engineers involved with the 2004 EIS stated the tunnel's length would allow for the use of diesel locomotives provided adequate ventilation is incorporated into the project, meaning no specialized electric locomotives would be required to bring railcars from New Jersey to Brooklyn, a major benefit considering the industry is wholly reliant on diesel locomotive technology. The entire goal is to seamlessly integrate geographic Long Island with the national rail network, both with infrastructure and the ability to accommodate the equipment - both locomotives and railcars - that are standard in the freight rail industry.
The tunnel is closely tied with associated improvements to the Bay Ridge Branch of the Long Island Rail Road and, together, they are concurrently being evaluated as a single project since together they essentially constitute a single rail corridor. Final details regarding the tunnel and Bay Ridge Branch improvements have not been worked out, pending the review of several criteria and issues of concern including: tunnel type; social, economic, and environmental impacts, transportation analyses; land use, zoning and public policy; economic conditions and displacement; cultural resources; visual resources; air quality; energy and greenhouse gases; noise and vibration; natural resources; water resources; contaminated and hazardous materials; indirect and cumulative effects; environmental justice; coastal zone management; and Section 4(f) evaluation. (Cross Harbor Freight Program Draft Scoping Document, Tier 1 Environmental Impact Statement, September 2010, United States Department of Transportation and the Port Authority of NY & NJ. Click Here for link).
Rail New York recommends the tunnel be built to the most modern and current specifications, allowing the passage of any type of railcar - even the emerging 315K cars that are beginning to make their way onto the scene. The tunnel should be double-tracked, allowing greater operational flexibility. Many ideas have been suggested to enhance the tunnel, including route-sharing with vehicles during off-peak hours and/or allowing emergency vehicle access into the tunnel; however, a rail-dedicated tunnel makes the most sense and will not introduce impediments to the scheduling or other interference with freight trains. In whatever form it is built, so long as the tunnel is double-tracked, features no third rail, and has sufficient clearance for doublestack container cars, the Cross Harbor Freight Tunnel will prove to be a tremendous asset to the region. Its positive impacts will be felt during the very first day of its operation. We posit this: If we're going to spend billions of dollars on such an important infrastructure project, it should be built to the utmost standards and designed with the future in mind so as to remain a viable asset for at least a century into the future.
Bay Ridge Branch Reconstruction
The Bay Ridge Branch of the Long Island Rail Road would be the "middle segment" of the three-piece Cross Harbor Freight Tunnel project, the line that would connect the eastern tunnel portal with the Intermodal Terminal. Running through Brooklyn and Queens, the line is currently under-utilized due to a number of reasons, including: difficulties serving customers, complexities getting railcars to and from the line, and decline in freight rail service over time. Once a major freight rail corridor hosting 600,000 railcars per year in its heyday, the Bay Ridge Branch now only carries less than 3,000 railcars per year.
Current conditions on the branch would no doubt give anyone the correct impression that this line is in serious disrepair and under-utilized. Once the backbone of the robust New Haven Railroad - Pennsylvania Railroad interchange operation (the entire reason the Hell Gate Bridge was built), the line has seriously been downgraded and today features only one active track with passing sidings, and has no signals; it is overgrown with weeds. Entirely grade-separated, the Bay Ridge Branch features 44 overhead structures or bridges between East New York and Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. Five of the 44 bridges have clearances of 17' 6" or less, while 30 of the 44 bridges have a clearance of 20' 6" or less (Cross Harbor Freight Program Needs Assessment, September 2010).
Just as is the current situation with the Cross Harbor Freight Tunnel, a review process is underway regarding the future of the Bay Ridge Branch. Rail New York recommends the line be seriously upgraded, double-tracked (to tie seamlessly into the tunnel), feature passing sidings, the roadbed rebuilt to allow 315K gross weight railcars, and all overhead structures and bridges removed, rebuilt and/or "lifted" to a height above 20' 6" so as to allow doublestack railcars to be transported from the tunnel to as far as Fresh Pond Junction. Since this segment of the project is the "middle" segment between the tunnel and the Intermodal Terminal, the line obviously must be able to handle doublestack container trains.
A modern Intermodal Terminal on geographic Long Island would completely transform the East-of-Hudson region's freight logistics strategy, and would single-handedly bring about the "freight rail revolution" we have been advocating for. Although Queens or Brooklyn likely would not be able to host a facility as large as the one shown above, it gives our website viewers an idea of the immense positive potential that introducing intermodal service to geographic Long Island would bring to the region.
The crown jewel of the Cross Harbor Freight Tunnel Plan, in all of the forms it has been (and most likely will continue to be) proposed, has always been the Intermodal Yard on geographic Long Island. For the first time in history, Queens, Brooklyn, Nassau and Suffolk counties will have "land access" to a state-of-the-art, modern facility where truck trailers and containers - arriving from all parts of the country - can be trans-loaded from railcar to truck, with the truck portion representing the final leg in their drayage to the final destination, whether it be a major retail store, grocery chain, or warehousing and distribution facility.
Instead of being dragged over the bridges from New Jersey or using long-haul trucking to transport trailers over America's Interstate Highways, dedicated "Intermodal Trains" will be assembled in major cities such as Chicago, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Houston, Dallas, etc., and loaded with trailers and containers destined to all four counties on geographic Long Island. With a population quickly approaching 8 million people, the demand exists for such trains to enter this largely consumer-based market. Essentially, with the major issue of being an island with limited bridge crossings, we must look at geographic Long Island as a city unto itself. With 8 million people, that makes it bigger than metro areas such as Dallas, Houston and Atlanta - cities which all host several intermodal trains per day from origins and destinations all throughout North America.
Sounds like something to get excited about, right? Why all the opposition to a dynamic facility such as this? The crux of the argument the opposition uses is that any intermodal facility will create noise, pollution and "vibration" in the neighborhood in which it is located. Thus far, Maspeth has been the leading candidate to host such a facility, particularly on the old Phelps Dodge site abutting Newtown Creek along the Lower Montauk Branch of the LIRR. Other options floated around have been the old Pilgrim Hospital site on Long Island, and other places in the mid-section of Long Island. The latter two options will not work, because we face the pesky issue of third-rail again; you will recall third-rail prohibits the use of doublestack intermodal cars widely used in the industry. Clearance issues, as well, would mean only standard flatcars and highway trailers would be the only acceptable intermodal equipment allowed on the island. The goal here is to bring our logistics strategy up to date so we can be fully-compliant with the most modern standards in the industry. No half measures, please!
This is why it is absolutely essential that the Intermodal Terminal be located along the Bay Ridge Branch or Lower Montauk Branch - there is no third-rail, and both branches will be substantially modernized including the raising of bridge and tunnel heights to allow doublestack railcars to pass underneath. Insofar as sighting the facility is concerned, if Maspeth doesn't work, there are a number of other options along both the Bay Ridge and Lower Montauk Branch including New Lots. A quick aerial tour of both rail lines will reveal plenty of sites large enough to locate the Intermodal Terminal. The city mustn't be afraid to use eminent domain to clear room for the facility (as it is currently doing with the Willets Point redevelopment next to Citi Field).
The solution is clear: Geographic Long Island needs an Intermodal Terminal. There simply is no debating this issue.
For the latest news on the Cross Harbor Freight Program, please visit:
The Cross Harbor Freight Program Website at
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Fight for What's Right! Join Rail New York!
It is our sincerest hope that reviewing the content on this website has convinced you that the East-of-Hudson region is facing a major transportation challenge. Not only have we outlined the case, but several reports and studies issued by the city and regional transportation departments have also firmly established this case. If you believe that rail-based solutions are critical in helping to transform the New York region's logistics strategy, we invite you to "Support the Cause" and voice your ardent support for solutions that will bring us there. Joining Rail New York is free, we will never ask for money or donations, and by joining you will become one of thousands of people behind our coalition to voice your support for freight rail solutions on geographic Long Island and the East-of-Hudson region.
There is power in numbers, and our ever-growing roster of supporters will show politicians, policy-makers, and decision-makers that the "silent majority" of people who have signed up to support our cause are standing up for freight rail solutions. That is the entire reason this website exists: to give a voice to the pro-freight rail contingent, a vast number of people who so far do not have a collective group or organization to represent them. Fortunately, that group has arrived. Welcome to Rail New York. It will be a pleasure to have you on board! Click Here to Join Rail New York.