For decades, one of the best ways for moving people and freight to and from New York over land was by rail. As the car, truck, and airplane took over the railroads declined their importance – unlike most of the railroads weren’t cut off by the Hudson River. Today, most of that rail infrastructure is gone, but a surprising amount of it is still existing albeit in a rotting relic state. You may even have seen it preserved in places like Gantry Plaza State Park or Liberty State Park along the shores opposite Manhattan. Or you may have seen it in action with the railcar barges of the New York New Jersey Rail working their way across the harbor or when you take a train from Hoboken Terminal.
This past Sunday, a four-hour tour on a Circle Line boat (going the opposite direction than what boats normally travel) given by the Working Harbor Committee shed some light on that history. The three narrators/railroad experts, Pierce Haviland, Richard Taylor, and John McCluskey tried to fill in some of the gaps missing along the Hudson and East River waterfronts. Some were quite easy to spot, like Hoboken Terminal – the only waterfront passenger railroad terminal still fulfilling its original function. Some were much harder to spot like the rusting remains of piers that welcomed barges filled with railcars floating across the harbor. In some case, you had to use your imagination to picture what was once there.
It was an excellent tour, and there is nothing like being out on the water on a beautiful fall day, natch!