A new chapter in the revival of New York railfreight barge operations is signalled by the investment in a pair of 112.8m x 18m ‘floats’, or ro-ro barges, for the cross-harbour service connecting Jersey City to Brooklyn. Constructed by South Carolina-based builder Metal Trades Inc (MTI), the flat-topped NYNJR 100 and NYNJR 200 can each carry 18 railcars of 18.3m on four tracks, for a maximum load of 2,300tonnes.
The craft are handled by tugs and are replacements for the single, 14-car float hitherto deployed on the three-mile route across Upper New York Bay. Each has a draught of 4.3m.
After years of inactivity, the shuttle barge line was bought from private interests by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey in 2008 and renamed New York New Jersey Rail (NYNJR), which has overseen a significant growth in traffic volume. The route involves a passage time of about 45 minutes and saves a considerable detour for trains, as the Hudson River’s southernmost rail bridge is 140 miles north of New York City at Selkirk.
The railcars handled by NYNJR carry diverse freight, including lumber and building materials, fresh produce and other food products, heating oil, scrap and recycled materials.
The rationale for the port authority’s major investment in the service, the sole remaining element of a once extensive network of metropolitan rail barge routes, is its potential for cutting road congestion and air pollution in port communities, while improving intermodal transport options. Each 18-freight car load is equivalent to 72 articulated trucks that would otherwise have to use the urban highway system.
The two rail barges constitute the largest shipbuilding project undertaken to date by family-owned Metal Trades. The company has been active in the ship repair business for many years and its experience with barge construction began in 1994, through the production of 28 non-powered causeway barges for the US Navy. Prominent in its subsequent output have been double-hull fuel barges, derrick barges and flat-tops.
Using modular build methods for barges, large sub-assemblies are produced in the main fabrication hall, then treated in a dedicated blasting and paint shop, and welded together at the final assembly stage before transfer to a marine railway for launching.Last year, the company built its first tug: a push boat for working a barge between the mainland and an island off North Carolina.