Tugboat and Towboat Types

Railroad Tugs

Railroad Tugboats were built in a variety of sizes and configurations depending on the towing tasks they were intended to handle. The most widely recognized railroad tugboats are those which were build to handle carfloats (barges with railroad tracks on deck) in harbor service. These tugs have a number of distinctive features including high pilothouses for visibility over railroad cars on the carfloats, rather flat sheer with low freeboard forward, and very heavy hull construction to handle the compressive load operating between floats. Many railroad tugs were originally equipped with gasketed dutch doors that allowed leaving the top section open for ventilation when standing alongside a pier, rather than watertight doors. They were also virtually all "day boats", manned in shifts, and fitted with locker rooms for the crew to change from and to street clothes rather than having sleeping quarters. As railroad carfloating was phased out in the 1980s, many railroad tugs ended up in shipdocking service, often with their pilothouses and stacks reduced in height. Some of the larger railroad tugboats were originally designed for coastal coal barge towing at a time when coal was still being widely used in home heating and power generating applications. A number of railroads used their tugs for ship docking work at the company's piers, and a few railroads had tugs that were designed specifically for ship docking.

Above: The New York Central No. 16 was a non-condensing steam tug that operated for many decades in New York Harbor carfloat service. In the 1980s she was rescued from a marine scrapyard and installed in the parking lot of a restaurant at the Bourne Bridge rotary in Bourne, Massachusetts. In 2006 the tug was scrapped by CVS when they bought the property for a new pharmacy. The upper image was taken before the scrapper arrived (Photo by Preston Cook), the lower image shows the result (Photo by Charles Schneider).

Above: The Lehigh Valley Railroad's "Four Aces", built in 1949 by Jakobson Shipyard, parade in this colorized version of a famous railroad publicity shot. Lehigh and Cornell were built with low pilothouse and stack for Harlem River service, Wilkes-Barre and Hazleton are traditional high pilothouse railroad tugs for interchange carfloat service. Following the end of their use in railroad service they all had long subsequent careers with commercial marine towing companies. Cleveland Diesel Division publicity photo courtesy of Electro-Motive Diesel


Above: This view from New York Cross Harbor's tug Cross Harbor I. demonstrates the need for the high pilothouse on railroad tugs used in carfloat service. The Cross Harbor I. was the former New Haven Railroad tug Bumblebee. A silhouette of this vessel as she looked in her NHRR days is shown at the bottom of the Tugboat Enthusiasts Society home page. (Photo by Preston Cook)


The tug Reid McAllister is shown underway with the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in the background of this 1980s scene. This vessel is the former Erie Railroad tug Binghamton, with the pilothouse and the stack lowered to make the tug more suitable for ship docking service. (Photo: McAllister Brothers Towing)



An article on noted railroad tug designer Joe Hack appears in the May 2008 issue of Railfan & Railroad Magazine, published by Carstens Publications, Post Office Box 700, Newton, NJ 07860




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