TERMINAL RAILROADS &
OF BROOKLYN, QUEENS, STATEN ISLAND, BRONX & MANHATTAN:
NORTH 4TH / FOURTH STREET FREIGHT STATION & RAILROAD
also known as the
STATION (ca. 1885 - ca. 1915)
Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NY
PRR Brooklyn NY
|LIRR 403A photo added
|22 January 2020
|Trackage & Float bridge
Overview & Roster
Sometime around the year 1885 (and perhaps a little earlier), the Pennsylvania Railroad opened their offline terminal along the East River waterfront: the North 4th Street Terminal also known as the North 4th Street Freight Station; which was located in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
Judging from the 1888 Sanborn Fire Map below, this appeared to be a pier station only at first, with the offline rail terminal being constructed at a later date.
From the time of its creation, until about 1914; this facility would be known as the Pennsylvania Railroad Brooklyn Eastern District Station (not to be confused with the independent freight terminal Brooklyn Eastern District Terminal just across the street to the north).
. In my research for this facility, I have yet to come across documents calling this a "terminal", but most other railfans refer to it as such. Instead, it is repeatedly referred to as a "freight station". The subtleness of this may be lost on us at this juncture in time; and quite frankly, I do not know why this is.
This facility would be located directly next to and south of Palmer's Dock, which eventually was to be re-incorporated and renamed the Brooklyn Eastern District Terminal / East River Terminal Railroad in 1906 / 1907).
This Pennsylvania Railroad North Fourth Street Freight Station, was not large in comparison to some of the other Class 1 off line terminals of the day, and only comprised of one square city block (which in actuality was rectangular). The North Fourth Street Freight Station was located between North 4th and North 5 Streets, from Kent Avenue to the East River bulkhead.
This facility was comprised of one freighthouse, and two piers with pier sheds in the early days, later reduced to one pier. We also know from various photographs, there was a float bridge and a small railyard at this location which saw a modest amount of use.
This facility would be sold to the Brooklyn Eastern District Terminal around 1954.
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Property & Facilities
It is believed this location opened for business around 1885. As mentioned above, the 1888 Sanborn Fire Map (seen below) does not reflect any trackage at this location, so it is believed that this location was originally constructed as a pier station only, with the offline railroad freight terminal being constructed a few years later. Please note the trackage seen on North Fifth Street belongs to Palmer's Docks.
1888 Sanborn Fire Map
courtesy of T. Flagg
added 13 June 2008
Just before 1900, when this North Fourth Street Freight Station was deemed inadequate for handling the amount of carfloat traffic destined for Brooklyn, the Pennsylvania Railroad moved most of carfloat traffic to the new "Wallabout Union Freight Station", which opened in June 2, 1900.
(As a side bar, this "Wallabout Union Freight Station" was shared by the Baltimore & Ohio, Lehigh Valley, New York Central and Pennsylvania Railroads. The Erie may also have shared pier space there as well. There was no float bridge at that location, and was a dedicated pier station with freight transferred from the pier sheds directly to or from the freight car while loaded on the carfloat. The Delaware Lackawanna & Western however did have their own private facility the "Wallabout Terminal", with a float bridge and small railyard. The DL&W facility was just two piers north of the Wallabout Union Freight Station.)
More importantly, the North Fourth Street Freight Station would not be not closed when the Wallabout Union Freight Station opened, and remained in service for at least sixty-three more years.
According to the 32nd Annual Report of the Department of Docks and Ferries, the Pennsylvania Railroad repaired its two piers located at North 4th and North 5th Street, between December 3, 1901 and February 28, 1902. Also listed in this document, the PRR constructed a piershed at the foot of the pier located at North 4th Street. Construction began June 23 and was completed on August 8, 1902.
The following image, is a 1905 Sanborn Fire Map. These "Sanborn Maps" are much more accurate in regards to track layout and structure design than the Belcher Hyde and Bromley property maps. Both types of maps however serve their purposes well: Sanborn Fire Maps were used by insurance underwriters in assessing the risks of fire based on the structure construction, fire prevention measures (hoses, water plugs, sprinklers, etc) and the vicinity of the structure to water mains, fire hydrants, etc. Property maps show the dimensions of the properties, structures and lots.
When this map is compared to the 1888 Sanborn Map above, one can see the increased utilization of the property with the addition on the float bridge, team tracks, and freight house.
This map (along with the 1888 version above) was generously provided by Tom Flagg. Please click on the image below to view a large scale high resolution image. As there is no return link back to this page, please use the back arrow on your web browser to return you here.
1905 Sanborn Fire Map - Palmer's Docks & Pennsylvania RR Freight Station (North 4th through North 10th Streets)
courtesy of T. Flagg
(reoriented for north, and image clean up by author)
added 13 June 2009
In 1909, the Pennsylvania Railroad filed a lawsuit contesting and opposing the expansion of the East River Terminal Railroad (BEDT) which intended to expand its trackage south of North 4th Street for the proposed Austin Nichols building and around the Pennsylvania Railroad North Fourth Street Freight Station.
The newspaper article announcing this
lawsuit can be seen here to the right.
Granted, some of these concerns held validity,
as that is exactly what happened.
Evidently, history clearly shows that the Public Service Commission allowed this expansion, as this new East River Terminal Railroad trackage would be in place in 1915 for the opening of the Austin Nichols Building between North 3rd and North 4th Streets on Kent Avenue.
According to the Pennsylvania Railroad Technical & Historical Society archives; in March of 1914, the original name of the North Fourth Street Freight Station, was the "Pennsylvania Railroad Brooklyn Eastern District Station". While it has not been confirmed, it was presumably renamed to the "North Fourth Street Freight Station", so as not to incur any confusion with the Brooklyn Eastern District Terminal.
Upon this authors acquisition of a sixty-two image series of photographs taken by W. R. Harrison from 1918 through 1919 which cataloged the reconstruction of the Brooklyn Eastern District Terminal; we found one image that shows most of the Pennsylvania RR's North 4th Street Freight Station in breathtaking detail. This image shows a small A2a class 0-4-0T steam locomotive waiting patiently on the float bridge lead track, the wood Howe Truss floatbridge and a wood truss gallows lifting frame for the floatbridge, as well as many other fine details of the facility such as: the piershed and headhouse being marked for the Union and the Empire Shipping Lines, a scale and weighmaster on one of the driveways, freight being loaded & unloaded, etc:
August 8, 1918
W. R. Harrison photo
added 20 January 2016
Public Utilities Reports dated 1919, has revealed that "The New York Transfer Company" delivered freight from the North Fourth Street and Wallabout freight stations of the Pennsylvania Railroad Company in Brooklyn to points within that borough and makes deliveries from said Wallabout station to the Brooklyn Navy Yard. This freight business amounted to 3 to 5 per cent of the company's entire business.
The New York Transfer Company (originally organized in 1870) was engaged mainly in the business of transporting baggage to, from, and between railroad terminals, steamship docks, and other points in the four boroughs of Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Queens in New York City. The New York Transfer Company also carried packages and articles other than baggage between points in that city.
The Pennsylvania RR relinquished their presence at this facility in 1954. The following newspaper article is from the New York Times archives and from May 8, 1954 issue.
New York Times - May 8, 1954
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Trackage & Float Bridge
The following article (however short it is) was discovered within the Official Proceedings of September 1900 for the monthly meeting of the Western Railway Club.
The excerpt seen below; followed a slightly longer accounting of the operation at Palmer's Dock one block north. It specifies the design trackage, as well as how the locomotive is used at the Pennsylvania Freight Terminal in Brooklyn:
Official Proceedings of the Western Railway Club - September 1900
added 22 October 2010
Imagine my surprise in reading that this yard had 25 foot radius curves. It is no wonder why an eight foot drawbar was needed on the locomotive!
The image to the right is taken from the Army Corp of Engineers Port Terminal Map 1942 edition:
In this map, Key #250 is the southern pier, #249 is the float bridge, and #248 is the northern pier. As the reader can see, the Pennsylvania facility is surrounded by BEDT trackage.
Prior to 1953, as reflected in that edition of Army Corp of Engineer Port Terminal Map; the southern most pier (#250) would be removed.
An aerial photo of the North Fourth Street Freight Station from 1954 as seen on historicaerials.com; shows carfloats moored to both sides of the northern pier. It appears from the aerial photo, the pier station was engaged in the loading and unloading less than carload (LCL) freight directly to and from the railroad cars while still on the carfloat, without having to take the freight cars themselves off the carfloat.
By the 1965 edition of the Port Terminal Map, it shows the northern piershed still in place and still marked for PRR, but all trackage has been removed from the map.
The Pennsylvania Railroad North Fourth Street Freight Station facility would close sometime in 1964 or 1965, with the Brooklyn Eastern District Terminal purchasing the property, and subsequently leasing it to Independent Scrap Metal, who expanded their operations from their former location at North 11th Street.
The float bridge located at the Pennsylvania Railroad North 4th Street Freight Station, was a wooden Howe Truss type with steel pontoon. The photo of Long Island Rail Road locomotive #403A shows it had an overhead counterbalance gantry as well.
This float bridge was located between the two pier terminals between North 4th and North 5th Streets; and is denoted in the Army Corp of Engineers Port Terminals Map above as Key #249.
The reader should take note, that this Howe Truss float bridge design dates to the mid to late 1800's, and was a popular wood design prior to the "modern" float bridges of steel construction. The Howe Truss float bridge that was located at the Pennsylvania North Fourth Street Freight Station in all likelihood, was the original float bridge installed circa 1890, and the only float bridge to have been located at this facility, having never been replaced or upgraded.
According to Joe Roborecky, retired BEDT engineer (1968-1983); he recalls this Howe Truss float bridge still at the North 4th Street bulkhead well into the late 1960's, albeit in a derelict and sunken state. To the best of our knowledge, it was simply abandoned in place and allowed to rot away. No visible remains of this float bridge can be seen today.
For those interested readers, the restored Howe Truss float bridge (former Baltimore & Ohio RR) located at West 26th Street in Manhattan, is very similar in design to the one used at the Pennsylvania North Fourth Street Freight Station:
Howe Truss Float Bridge - Baltimore & Ohio RR
West 26th Street & West Street - August 2006
photo by author
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Based on the start of operations date for the Brooklyn Eastern District Station / North 4th Street Freight Station, (ca. 1885) it is without question that steam locomotives must have operated at this location until at least 1925 when the Kaufman "anti-smoke" legislation was passed, essentially banning steam locomotive operation in the City of New York; and steam locomotives at North 4th Street operated possibly as late as 1928 when #3905 (internal combustion) was constructed and delivered. You can read more about the Kaufman Act on the main page of this website: Kaufman Act.
The overwhelming problem facing my current research at this time is that the Pennsylvania Railroad, being the "standard railroad" of the world, fielded such a large roster of locomotives conducive of switching operations and of which would be applicable at this facility (i.e: side / saddletank, fuel bunker mounted on locomotive).
I am going to hypothesize that Pennsylvania Railroad did not use a six coupled (0-6-0T) at their Brooklyn location based on the published track radius used here. However, other trunk line / Class 1 railroads (both at online and offline terminals) used 0-6-0T locomotives in Manhattan, so there is a distinct possibility the Pennsylvania Railroad could have used this wheel arrangement in Manhattan as well.
According to "Pennsy Power" by Alvin Staufer; the PRR had 140 "Class A" (0-4-0 wheel arrangement) locomotives on July 1, 1924. Granted, not all Class A locomotives would be of side / saddletank variety, but you can surmise the amount of locomotives that I would have to research just to determine which were and which were not of side / saddletank type!
On top of which, most of the Class A locomotives were used at various roundhouses and service shops throughout the Pennsy system for shifting larger locomotives around, not to mention the docks and wharfs in Philadelphia and the industrial sidings at Frankford Junction Terminal. The mere thought of attempting this research is giving me shudders and I procrastinated indefinitely in performing the research!
This being the case until 2015, left it nearly impossible to
find out exactly which locomotives had indeed operated at the Brooklyn and
Manhattan locations and basically, the only way to learn which steam locomotives
operated at this location would be by locating photographs. Unfortunately,
no photographs of steam locomotives operating at North 4th Street Freight
Station have surfaced to date.
In March of 2015, this author acquired a set of sixty-two photographs taken by W. R. Harrison which recorded the reconstruction of the Brooklyn Eastern District Terminal. One of these images, take from the third or fourth floor of a building on Kent Avenue gives a very nice overall view of the North 4th Street Terminal and Yard (see property chapter above for the image). In it we are able to discern a steam locomotive waiting on the float bridge lead track. To the best of my ability, I have identified this locomotive as a A2a Class 0-4-0T switcher. While the locomotive number is far from legible, it definitely narrows down the possibilities of the type of steam locomotives that were employed at this location:
August 8, 1918 - PRR A2a class 0-4-0T locomotive
W. R. Harrison photo
added 20 January 2016
So, therefore I call upon those Pennsylvania Railroad historians, experts and photo collectors and dealers to assist in this part of research.
As the North 4th Street Freight Station was only one city block, it is pretty much certain that only one locomotive was assigned here at any one time. As the locomotives of that day were small and uncomplicated; if a locomotive needed repairs or servicing, it pretty much took place on location. Only a major rebuild would require a locomotive being taken offsite to a larger back shop or facility.
To give a representative example of the type of locomotive that might be seen in Brooklyn and / or Manhattan; the following three steam locomotive images, are courtesy of North East Rails "Pennsylvania RR Steam Power Roster". Please keep in mind the pictured locomotives have not been confirmed to have operated in Brooklyn or Manhattan locations at this time, but are the locomotives that were most likely to have worked at these two Pennsylvania RR offline terminal locations.
Class A1: (formerly Class Q - 0-4-0T) - unknown location
years built: 1886-1892
quantity built: 8
driver diameter: 44"
North East Rails archives
added 12 March 2010
Class A2a (formerly class Q - 0-4-0T), unknown location
(This class confirmed to have worked North 4th Street Freight Station)
years built: 1887-1891: Altoona, PA
quantity built: 7
driver diameter: 50"
added 12 March 2010
Class A3a: (formerly Class A3 0-4-0T) - Meadows, NJ
years built: 1900-1902 - Altoona, PA
P. W. Prescott photo
collection of G. Mittner collection
added 12 March 2010
Internal Combustion Locomotives
At this time, it is unknown exactly how many other locomotives than those listed below, were assigned to this facility throughout its history.
LIRR #403 A
We know for fact the Pennsylvania Railroad operated at least two small internal combustion locomotives on premises for the switching and drilling carfloats at North 4th Street Freight Station.
From various photos, we also know that locomotives owned by the Long Island Rail Road (a PRR subsidiary) were used at the North 4th Street Freight Station as well. What we do not know, how many other internal combustion locomotives operated here.
The photos from Sam Berliner's website and the archives of Dave Keller show Long Island Rail Road locomotive #403 A. We know these photos were taken prior to and circa 1937.
Locomotive #403 A was originally part of a binary pair; #403 A and #403 B. I have been unable to ascertain if operation required an engineer in each unit, or there was a primitive "m.u." (multiple unit) connection, allowing one engineer to operate both units simultaneously.
According to data compiled by Sam Berliner; #403 A
and #403 B were originally constructed being semi-permanently coupled (via
drawbar) and had no inner buffer beams, draft gear, couplers, steps, and
such. They had to be rebuilt to operate independently and they were probably
separated and modified for independent operation when they were rebuilt in
Bob Levernight adds the following: according to Kirkland's Dawn of the Diesel Age, (p 111); LIRR 403 A-403 B were Westinghouse units built at East Pittsburgh, powered by Beardmore diesel engines, with bodies built by Baldwin. They were equipped with pneumatic throttles which operated both diesel engine's fuel racks. Drawbar connected, but built to accept a conventional MCB coupler. Kirkland also attributes these as the first Multiple Unit (MU) diesel-electric.
For whatever reason(s) the pair were split up into two individual units. Naturally, anyone with information on this is invited to contact me.
While we know #403 A operated at North 4th Street, I have been unable to learn where #403 B operated or whether #403 B was ever assigned to operate at North 4th Street as well.
In viewing the Harold Fagerberg photo dated 1946, we now see the locomotive located at North 4th Street was Pennsylvania Railroad A6 class #3905.
Just a little more information of this locomotive is known, and listed in the roster below. A builders picture of this locomotive can be viewed in the book "Pennsy Power II" on page 212.
#3905 is no stranger to the the offline terminals of New York area, as this locomotive has also been photographed in 1939, working the Pennsylvania Railroad's offline terminal located on the west side of Manhattan, the West 37th Street Freight Terminal.
The following information is combined and courtesy of Sam Berliner's website (with J. F. Campbell information) and Pennsy Power II (A. Staufer & B. Pennybacker);
#3905 eventually completed May 22, 1928. It was equipped with an 8 cylinder solid injection 4 cycle diesel engine built by Bessemenr Gas Engine of Grove City, PA. The engine was rated for 500 hp, and was mated to Westinghousse model 476 generator and model 355 traction motors. However, testing in Altoona Yards proved that the Bessemer engine could not handle the intended tasks, so that engine would be replaced with a Winton model 148 gasoline engine rated at 400 hp, with this change being duplicated to #3906.
Both locomotives retired prior to 1959.
Please take note:
As all of these locomotives operated at terminals within the New York City limits, these locations fell under the jurisdiction of the Kaufman Act. Therefore, it is only logical to conclude that the Pennsylvania Railroad and likewise the LIRR, a PRR subsidiary; constructed #403 A/B, as well as #3905 & #3906 in response to and as a direct result of the Kaufman Act. All three locomotives were constructed shortly after the first (or 1926) deadline of the Kaufman Act, with 403 A/B and #3905 being constructed in 1928 and #3906 following shortly thereafter in 1929.
LIRR 403A - ca. 1940
M. D. McCarter photo
added 22 January 2020
North Fourth Street Freight Station (PRR) Roster
|PRR Altoona Shops
|Baldwin - Westinghouse
|PRR Altoona Shops
|Information courtesy of Steve Lynch's "LIRR",
as well as Art Huneke's "Arrt's Arrchives", and Sam Berliner's websites.
Original LIRR info complied by Sy Reich, 1963. Art Huneke info from Baldwin advertisement.
#403A was a single unit of a binary pair of locomotives. #403A and 403B were designed to be semipermanently coupled together.
Presumably, they were modified to operate independently after rebuilding.
Both units were built by Baldwin Locomotive Works & Westinghouse Electric.
Each unit had one 6 cylinder Westinghouse Beardmore 4 stroke solid injection oil mechanical engine.
|LIRR #403A and 403B (AA4) specifications
|The Sy Reich compilation (on Steve Lynch's
website) states that 403A was scrapped 1944 and 403B scrapped in
The information on Sam Berliner's website, which comes from John Scala; states however that both locomotives were scrapped in 1955.
Information provided by Don Ross (Don's Depot) states that 403A was sold to Iron & Steel Products in September 1945 and was later resold in 1948 to unknown buyer.
Don's website provides an image of 403A at Iron & Steel Products dated 1947; so therefore it is most likely the Sy Reich info is erroneous.
|The following information is courtesy of
Sam Berliner's website and Pennsy Power II (A. Staufer & B.
#3905 was completed Altoona Shops, 5/22/1928.
It was originally equipped with an 8-cylinder solid injection 500 HP Diesel engine (4-cycle) purchased from Bessemer Gas Engine Co of Grove City, PA, and a Westinghouse model 476 generator and 355 traction motors.
Testing in the Altoona yards proved that the Bessemer Diesel engine couldn't handle the intended tasks
so it was replaced with a Winton model 148 gasoline engine rated at 400 HP.
Retired prior to 1959.
|PRR #3905 (A6)
Sam Berliner has a remarkable website on Boxcab Locomotives. Please feel free to visit at:
S. Berliner Boxcab Index
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Being a Pennsylvania Railroad operation, the North Fourth Street Freight Station would have been serviced by Pennsylvania Railroad tugboats, carfloats and lighters; (and possibly Long Island Rail Road tugs and carfloats as well).
Keeping in mind the vast amount of marine equipment that the Pennsylvania Railroad owned and operated, and not knowing if there was equipment specifically assigned to the North 4th Street Freight House (it is very unlikely they did), a Marine Roster on this website would not be beneficial or justified; and therefore will not be forthcoming.
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