Seatrain Lines

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Seatrain Lines was a shipping company most responsible[citation needed] for the introduction of the standard international intermodal container, most commonly 8 feet (2.4 m) high by 8 feet wide by 40 feet (12 m) long. This ignited an explosion in world trade, though the ups and downs in that trade made it very difficult for companies to ride the business.


Seatrain was initially located in Hoboken, New Jersey, and owned the Hoboken Manufacturers Railroad that connected its facility to other railroads.

In 1932, Seatrain Lines began the innovative practice of hauling rail cars by ship from the Port of New York to Havana, Cuba. Their two ships Seatrain New York and Seatrain Havana were each capable of carrying 100 fully loaded railcars on their four decks.[1] This service continued until the early 1960s when operations to Cuba were discontinued due to rising political tensions. Seatrain tried to shift its ship/rail operations to a New York to Puerto Rico run but this service was severely hampered by the inadequacies of rail transport in Puerto Rico. Following the successful introduction of intermodal container transport by Sea-Land Inc. under Malcom McLean (an unrelated enterprise), Seatrain Lines discontinued the transport of rail cars and utilized the new container technology in its service to Puerto Rico.

Transeastern Associates, a firm created in the early 1950s by Joseph Kahn and Howard Pack, bought Seatrain Lines in 1965 for $8.5 million.[2] At the time of their purchase, Seatrain operated between New York and ports in Savannah, Georgia, Texas City, Texas, New Orleans and Puerto Rico.[3] Transeastern was folded into Seatrain in September 1966. At the time, Seatrain had lost more than $500,000 in a four-month period before the merger, while Transeastern's fleet had netted nearly $7 million in a ten-month period.[4]

Seatrain Shipbuilding[edit]

In 1967, Seatrain Lines announced it would establish a new shipyard inside the former New York Naval Shipyard. Seatrain Lines had no shipbuilding experience but planned to build and charter out 5 VLCC's & 7 container ships for themselves. Seatrain Shipbuilding built 4 VLCC's, 8 barges, 1 Ice Breaker Barge. They started work on the burned out hull of the Sea Witch {Newport News finished} turning it into a chemical tanker.

The Federal Government by way of the Economic Development Administration of the US Department of Commerce advanced Seatrain $5 million in direct loans and guaranteed 90% of $82 million in loans from Chase Manhattan Bank. Seatrain Lines injected $38 million of its own money into the project. The union chosen to represent the shipyard production workers was the United Industrial Workers of North America.[5]

Seatrain built four 220,000-ton Very Large Crude Carriers (supertankers), eight barges, one ice breaker barge and two roll-on/roll-off (Ro-Ro) ferries. One of the Ro-Ro ferries was never finished and was scrapped. Seatrain Shipbuilding also had a contract to rebuild the burned out hull of the Sea Witch into a chemical tanker.[6] January 20, 1975 Seatrain Shipbuilding started to lay off half of its 3,200 workers for an indefinite period of time. A few days later, the rest of the shipbuilders would receive their layoff notices, as well. The mass layoff was due to President Gerald Ford's pocket veto of the cargo preference bill. Twenty of the largest shipyards in the U.S. would experience similar layoffs.

The cargo preference bill would have required over time 20% of all the oil transported into the U.S. be transported on U.S. Flagged Tankers. President Ford called the bill inflationary. The cost of a gallon of gas would slowly rise by 20 cents over a few years. A few weeks later President Ford called for a $4 per barrel tax on imported oil. This would have increased the cost of gas and heating oil by over $1 per gallon. New England complained people would no longer be able to afford heating oil. The $4 tax went nowhere![7]


The key to the revolution was standardized containers, which initially could be stacked five high on board ships. Containerization allowed tremendous cost saving versus break bulk cargo where each piece of cargo had to be loaded and unloaded individually. Malcom McLean conceived the concept of containerization while sitting in his truck at the port waiting for a ship to be unloaded. Simply put, his idea was to separate the truck's "box" from its chassis and wheels.

The containers were relatively large since costs tend to be per container and not per tonne, and the dimensions were initially chosen to suit highway limits and rail bridges and tunnels; container sizes have since grown taller which has created problems with some smaller tunnels.


Seatrain filed for protection on February 11, 1981, under Chapter 11 with the US Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York. Seatrain's creditors filed $800 million in claims but the amount was reduced by negotiation. The final figure was in the area of $515 million. Seatrain's largest unsecured creditors were the pension and welfare fund of the New York Shipping Association-International Longshoremen's Association, the US Economic Development Administration, and Union Carbide Corporation.[8]

In popular culture[edit]

In the 1971 Hawaii Five-O episode "For A Million, Why Not?", the means of transport out of Hawaii for a stolen armored truck was a Seatrain container.


  1. ^ "Seatrain Called Most Unusual Ship Afloat", September 1932, Popular Mechanics cutaway drawing of ship and operations
  2. ^ Hevesi, Dennis. "Howard M. Pack, Shipping Magnate, Dies at 90", The New York Times, December 18, 2008. Accessed December 19, 2008.
  3. ^ Horne, George. "An Innovator Buys Seatrain Lines; Transeastern Begun By a Furrier With a Liberty Ship", The New York Times, May 30, 1965. Accessed December 19, 2008.
  4. ^ Bamberger, Werner. "SEA CARRIER LINES IN CONSOLIDATION; Transeastern Is Absorbed by Seatrain, Ex-Subsidiary", The New York Times, September 9, 1966. Accessed December 19, 2008.
  5. ^ Trezza, Frank J (2007). Brooklyn Steel-Blood Tenacity. Baltimore: PublishAmerica. pp. 12–14. ISBN 978-1-4241-8273-2. 
  6. ^ Trezza, Frank J (2007). Brooklyn Steel-Blood Tenacity. Baltimore: PublishAmerica. pp. 133, 168. ISBN 978-1-4241-8273-2. 
  7. ^ Trezza, Frank J (2007). Brooklyn Steel-Blood Tenacity. Baltimore: PublishAmerica. pp. 84–87. ISBN 978-1-4241-8273-2. 
  8. ^ Trezza, Frank J (2007). Brooklyn Steel-Blood Tenacity. Baltimore: PublishAmerica. p. 161. ISBN 978-1-4241-8273-2. 


  • Mohowski, Robert E. (2012). "Seatrain: Railroad or steamship line?". Classic Trains Magazine (Spring 2011) (Kalmbach) 12 (1): 64–73. 

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