By Raanan Geberer
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Very little freight is shipped by rail to New York City because there is no direct rail connection across the Hudson River to mainland America.
Those freight trains that do arrive from points west must proceed up the West Shore Line to Selkirk, N.Y., 145 miles north of New York City, where there's a bridge to cross, then travel back down.
What rail enthusiasts desire — a cross-harbor freight tunnel from Brooklyn to Staten Island or New Jersey — is certainly years in the future, and may never be built.
Meanwhile, another development occurred this week that many people thought would never happen — the re-opening of the long-unused 65th Street Railyard in Bay Ridge. This will surely cross-harbor rail freight, although on a modest scale.
The railyard, once used by the now-defunct New Haven Railroad, was acquired by the city in 1981 and rebuilt in 1999 for a reported cost of $20 million.
Although its float bridges have been periodically tested and kept in good working order, it has been unused for most of the time because of a legal battle between the city and the Cross Harbor Railroad, which ran a street-level freight line on Second Avenue in Sunset Park that fed into the yard.
Until the mid-2000s, the yard was leased as a storage facility by the New York and Atlantic Railroad, which still operates the Bay Ridge Freight Line to Eastern Long Island. Afterward, it became a haven for the homeless until community activists were able to get a fence constructed there.
The Cross Harbor is now defunct and has been replaced by New York-New Jersey Rail, administered by the Port Authority, which has invested $118 million into modernizing the car-float operation. This allowed the city to put the freight operation into service, beginning on Wednesday.
The 65th Street facility has space for two freight trains coming in on barges from the Greenville Yard in Jersey City, which is also run by New York-New Jersey Rail. The railroad's other float-barge facility at 51st Street in Bush Terminal, which it has used until now, can only handle one, shorter freight train.
Chris Valens, spokesman for the Port Authority, said there are no current plans to close the 51st Street facility.
Don Hutton, president of New York New Jersey Rail, told The New York Times that his goal is to haul 23,000 rail cars a year by 2017, up from 1,600 rail cars now.
The yard also serves as an interchange between New York-New Jersey and the Bay Ridge Freight Line, allowing freight cars from New Jersey to proceed to Eastern Long Island.