Train ferry

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
For information on other shipping boats such as this, see Merchant vessel.
Classification yard and two docking train ferries in Detroit, April 1943. A third ferry slip can be seen at the bottom of the photograph.
A train ferry of the RFI the Golfo Aranci harbour (Italy, 1997)

A train ferry is a ship (ferry) designed to carry railway vehicles. Typically, one level of the ship is fitted with railway tracks, and the vessel has a door at the front and/or rear to give access to the wharves. In the United States, train ferries are sometimes referred to as "car ferries", as distinguished from "auto ferries" used to transport automobiles. The wharf (sometimes called a "slip") has a ramp, and a linkspan or "apron", balanced by weights, that connects the railway proper to the ship, allowing for the water level to rise and fall with the tides.

While railway vehicles can be and are shipped on the decks or in the holds of ordinary ships, purpose-built train ferries can be quickly loaded and unloaded by roll-on/roll-off, especially as several vehicles can be loaded or unloaded at once. A train ferry that is a barge is called a car float or rail barge.


The 'Floating Railway', opened in 1850 as the first roll-on roll-off train ferry in the world.

An early train ferry was established as early as 1833 by the Monkland and Kirkintilloch Railway. To extend the line over the Forth and Clyde Canal in Scotland, the company began operating a wagon ferry to transport the rolling stock over the canal.[1] In April 1836, the first railroad car ferry in the U.S., the Susquehanna entered service on the Susquehanna River between Havre de Grace and Perryville, Maryland.[1]

The first modern train ferry, was the Leviathan, built in 1849. The Edinburgh, Leith and Newhaven Railway was formed in 1842 and the company wished to extend the East Coast Main Line further north to Dundee and Aberdeen. As bridge technology was not yet capable enough to provide adequate support for the crossing over the Firth of Forth, which was roughly five miles across, a different solution had to be found, primarily for the transport of goods, where efficiency was key.

The company hired the up-and-coming civil engineer Thomas Bouch who argued for a train ferry with an efficient roll-on roll-off mechanism to maximise the efficiency of the system. Custom-built ferries were to be built, with railway lines and matching harbour facilities at both ends to allow the rolling stock to easily drive on and off the boat.[2] To compensate for the changing tides, adjustable ramps were positioned at the harbours and the gantry structure height was varied by moving it along the slipway. The wagons were loaded on and off with the use of stationary steam engines.[2][3]

Bouch's ferry design. Note the adjustable ramp.

Although others had had similar ideas, it was Bouch who first put them into effect, and did so with an attention to detail (such as design of the ferry slip) which led a subsequent President of the Institution of Civil Engineers[4] to settle any dispute over priority of invention with the observation that “there was little merit in a simple conception of this kind, compared with a work practically carried out in all its details, and brought to perfection.”[5]

The company was persuaded to install this train ferry service for the transportation of goods wagons across the Firth of Forth from Burntisland in Fife to Granton. The ferry itself was built by Thomas Grainger, a partner of the firm Grainger and Miller.[6]

The service commenced on 3 February 1850.[7] It was called "The Floating Railway" [8] and intended as a temporary measure until the railway could build a bridge, but this was not opened until 1890, its construction delayed in part by repercussions from the catastrophic failure of Thomas Bouch's Tay Rail Bridge;[9]

The largest train ferry ever built is the m.v. SKÅNE on the Trelleborg - Rostock route, built in 1998, 200.0 metres long, 29.6 metres wide, with six tracks plus two on an elevator to lower deck, having a total length of track of 1,110 metres ("Fra LILLEBÆLT til SKÅNE").


The Japanese train ferry, Toya Maru, sank during typhoon Marie on 26 September 1954, killing more than a thousand. Four other train ferries, Seikan maru No.11, Kitami Maru, Tokachi Maru and Hidaka Maru also sank on that day; the loss appeared to be of about 1,430 people.

In those days, Japanese train ferries did not have a rear sea-gate, because engineers believed that inrushing water would simply flow out again quickly and would not pose a danger.[citation needed] However, when the frequency of waves bears the wrong relationship to the length of a ship, each wave arrives as the water from the previous wave is trying to leave, causing water to accumulate on the ship. After the accidents, all Japanese train ferries were retrofitted with rear sea-gates and weather forecast technology was greatly promoted.

The Norwegian train ferry, Skagerrak, built in 1965, sank in gale force winds on 7 September 1966, on a journey between Kristiansand, Norway and Hirtshals, Denmark, when the rear sea-gate was destroyed by heavy seas. One person subsequently died of injuries, and six freight cars and a number of automobiles sank to the bottom with the ship.

Loaded train ferry approaches dock in Detroit, Michigan, April 1943.

The Canadian train ferry MV Patrick Morris sank on 20 April 1970, while assisting in a search and rescue operation for a sinking fishing trawler (MFV Enterprise) off the northeast coast of Cape Breton Island. The ferry was trying to maintain position to retrieve a body when its stern gates were overpowered by 30-foot (9 m) waves. It sank within 30 minutes taking several rail cars and 4 crew members, including the Captain, to the bottom of the Cabot Strait. There were 47 survivors.

Train ferries rarely sank because of sea hazards, although they have some weaknesses linked to the very nature of transporting trains "on rail" on a ship.

These weaknesses include:

  • Trains are loaded at a rather high level, making the ship top-heavy.
  • The train deck is difficult to compartmentalise, so that sloshing flood water can destabilise the ship.
  • The sea doors where the trains go in and out are a weakness, even if placed at the rear of the ship.
  • The train carriages need to be strongly secured lest they break away and roll around, particularly on long, open-water routes.

The Ann Arbor Railroad of Michigan developed a system of making cars fast that was adopted by many other lines. Screw jacks were placed on the corners of the railcar and the car was raised slightly to take its weight off of its wheels. Chains and turnbuckles were placed around the car frame and hooked onto the rails and tightened. Clamps were placed behind the wheels on the rails. Deckhands engaged in continual inspection and tightening of the gear during the crossing. This system effectively held the cars in place when the ship encountered rough weather.

Several train ferries—the SS Milwaukee, SS Pere Marquette 18, and SS Marquette & Bessemer No. 2—were lost on the Great Lakes. These losses, though causes remain unconfirmed, were attributed to seas boarding the unprotected stern of the ship and swamping it in a severe storm. As a result, seagates were required on all new ships and required to be retrofitted on older vessels. In addition, two wooden crosslake railroad ferries were burned.

Some accidents occurred at the slip during loading, when stability was a major problem. Train ferries often list when heavy cars are loaded onto a track on one side while the other side is empty. Normal procedure was to load half of a track on one side, all of the track on the other side, and then the rest of the original track. If this procedure was not followed, results could be disastrous. In 1909, the SS Ann Arbor No. 4 capsized in its slip in Manistique, Michigan when a switching crew put eight cars of iron ore on its portside tracks. The crew got off without loss of life, but salvage operations were costly and time-consuming.



Nine train ferries were used between 1907 and 1990 to cross the Paraná river and join the Buenos Aires province (the main state in Argentina) and the Entre Rios province (the entrance to the Mesopotamian region), until new bridges were built over the rivers they crossed. They were the Lucía Carbó (1907), the María Parera (1908), the Mercedes Lacroze (1909) (three ferries that operated between the ports of Zárate and Ibicuy (Entre Rios), crossing the Paraná at the northwest of the Buenos Aires province). Then were added the Roque Saenz Peña (1911) and Ezequiel Ramos Mejía (1913) paddled train ferries at Posadas (crossing the Paraná river in the southwest of the Misiones province, at the north of the country, in the frontier with Paraguay).

Three other train ferries were added later: the Dolores de Urquiza (1926), the Delfina Mitre (1928) and the Carmen Avellaneda (1929) to cover the service in the Zárate-Ibicuy crossing. The María Parera had a collision with the Lucía Carbó at km. 145 of the Paraná river, and it sank in less than 15 minutes on June 30, 1926. Two of the most modern still serve as floating piers in the Zárate region, and one of the first group was sunk during a storm at the Buenos Aires port in the eighties. The two northern paddled ferries still remain at Posadas, and one of them holds a model railway museum inside. All the eight old ferries were built by the A & J Inglis Co. Ltd., in Pointhouse, Glasgow, Scotland for the Entre Rios Railways Co. in Argentina. The ninth ferry, the Tabare, was built in Argentina by Astarsa (ASTilleros ARgentinos S.A.) in 1966 at Astillero Río Santiago Río Santiago Shipyard near to La Plata city. It was the largest train ferry that operated in Argentina, with a deck more than 100 meters long. The Tabaré is still floating, but not operating, at the old south docks of Buenos Aires port, near the Puerto Madero zone.




  • from Balashi Ghat to Bahadurabad Ghat[11] - 1,000 mm (3 ft 3 38 in) gauge.
  • across the Brahmaputra River in Bangladesh - superseded by Jamuna Bridge, 2003; 1,676 mm (5 ft 6 in) and 1,000 mm (3 ft 3 38 in) dual gauge.


  • Train ferry from Peru - 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in) and 1,000 mm (3 ft 3 38 in) gauges at each end.


  • The Varna-Odessa (Ukraine) train ferry line served by 4 boats (13,000 tonnes deadweight (DWT) each, carrying 108 loaded railroad cars) opened in 1978, bypasses a break of gauge. Later, the service was extended to include lines to Poti and Batumi, Georgia. Boats can carry trucks and passengers as well.


A railbarge is a variation of a train ferry that consists of barges pushed by a tug.

In use[edit]

Former car floats[edit]

Former train ferries[edit]


The Lüshun (Dalian) terminal of the Bohai Train Ferry

In use[edit]



Note: all auto and rail ferry services have been suspended between the United States and Cuba due to the ongoing United States embargo against Cuba.


In use[edit]




  • Stockholm - Naantali (1967–75), normal gauge on board, break-of-gauge in Naantali, freight only
  • Travemünde - Hanko (1975–98), normal gauge on board, break-of-gauge in Hanko, freight only
  • Travemünde - Turku (1998–2007), normal gauge on board, break-of-gauge in Turku, freight only
  • Hargshamn (Sweden) - Uusikaupunki (1989–96), normal gauge on board, break-of-gauge in Uusikaupunki, freight only
  • Turku - Stockholm (-2012, see SeaRail), normal gauge on board, break-of-gauge in Turku, freight only


In use[edit]




Former service between India and Sri Lanka. (See Boat mail)


A new train ferry link-span terminal is under construction at Amirabad Special Economic Zone, Mazandaran Province, Iran.


Train ferries were at one time used to cross the Euphrates River at Baghdad.


Train and car ferry between Calabria and Sicily
In use

Both Sicily and Sardinia services are operated by Bluvia that is a subsidiary company of Rete Ferroviaria Italiana. At present the link between Mainland and Sicily has a regular and frequent activity, while the link between Mainland and Sardinia is less frequent and operated basically day by day on the basis of the actual traffic demand.

An unofficial web page about the Italian rail ferries can be found at this link.


In Japanese, a train ferry is called "鉄道連絡船 tetsudō renrakusen", which means literally "railway connection ship". Therefore these ships can not carry railcars necessarily. A ship line that is connected with railways in schedule and fare system is called "tetsudō renrakusen".

Japan Railways would have had train ferries to link up the four main islands before these were replaced by bridges and tunnels. Currently, only one passenger ferry line is operated, though the line does not handle railcars.

In use[edit]

Miyajima Ferry connects Miyajimaguchi and Miyajima, both in Hatsukaichi, Hiroshima. Miyajima pier is on Itsukushima island and there is no railway there. Miyajimaguchi pier is near Miyajimaguchi Station. The ferry is operated by West Japan Railway Company(JR West). Miyajima Ferry carries passengers and automobiles, but have never carried railcars.

Former train ferry[edit]

There were three ferry lines that could load trains. Through operations of passenger trains using train ferries were conducted between December 1948 and 11 May 1955. However the service was canceled when the disasters of Toya Maru (26 September 1954, killed 1,153) and Shiun Maru (11 May 1955, killed 168) occurred. The operator, Japanese National Railways (JNR) considered it was dangerous to allow passengers to stay in a car deck. These three lines were replaced by tunnels and bridges.

  • Seikan Ferry
Seikan Ferry had connected Aomori Station and Hakodate Station, crossed over Tsugaru Strait, which means the ferry had connected Honshū and Hokkaidō. The line was opened on 7 March 1908 by two steamships but these could not load railcars. The first rail barge Shaun Maru started its operation on December, 1914. Shaun Maru was only used for carrying newly built cars that would be used in Hokkaidō, because in those days the railways in Hokkaidō employed Janney couplers but the railways in Honshū employed buffers and chain couplers. After the conversion of couplers in Honshū, a full-scale train ferry Shōhō Maru entered service on April, 1924. On 13 March 1988, Seikan Tunnel was opened and the ferry line was closed. The tunnel and the ferry line was operated simultaneously only on that day. Total 55 ferries (including one rail barge and 41 train ferries) were used.
  • Ukō Ferry
Ukō Ferry had connected Uno station and Takamatsu station, crossed over Seto Inland Sea, which means the ferry had connected Honshū and Shikoku. The ferry line had started service on 12 June 1910, and started carrying railcars on 10 October 1921. On 9 April 1988, Great Seto Bridge was opened and the last train ferry was operated on the previous day. After that, only passenger ships were operated by Shikoku Railway Company(JR Shikoku) on the line but this line was also halted on 21 March 1990, and was formally abandoned on 16 March 1991. Total 26 ferries (including two hovercrafts, two high-speed ships, 17 train ferries) were used.
  • Kammon Ferry
Kammon Ferry had connected Shimonoseki Station and Mojikō Station, crossed over Kanmon Straits, which means the ferry had connected Honshū and Kyūshū. The ferry line had started service on 27 May 1901. The first train ferries in Japan had started operation on 1 October 1911. Passenger ferries used piers at Mojikō station but train ferries used piers at Komorie station. Therefore strictly speaking, the train ferry line was called "Kanshin Ferry" and the passenger ferry was called "Kammon Ferry". After the completion of Kanmon Tunnel on 1 July 1942, the train ferry line was discontinued and the ferries were transferred to Ukō Ferry. However the passenger ferry line was operated until 1 November 1964 for the convenience of nearby residents.

Former passenger ferry[edit]

There were many passenger ferry lines that were classified as "tetsudō renrakusen". Most ferry lines were operated temporarily until a railway line or a bridge was completed.

Chihaku Ferry had connected Hokkaidō and south half of Sakhalin under Japanese administration, and Kanfu Ferry had connected Honshū and Korean Peninsula under Japanese administration.



The Netherlands[edit]

From 1886 to 1936, train ferries sailed between Stavoren and Enkhuizen across the IJsselmeer.

New Zealand[edit]

  • The Interislander runs two train ferries (called rail ferries locally), Arahura and Aratere, across Cook Strait between Wellington and Picton, carrying both road and rail cargo on separate decks. Kaitaki also serves this route, but carries road vehicles only.


  • A temporary ferry was used at the crossing of the Niger River due to delays finding foundations for a bridge.[19]
  • similarly at Makurdi on the River Benue, replaced by a road-rail bridge in 1932.



Encarnacion — Posadas [20]


  • Link with Bolivia across Lake Titicaca. The car float Manco Capac has dual gauge tracks for both Peruvian 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in) standard gauge and Bolivian 1,000 mm (3 ft 3 38 in) meter gauge. There are small stretches of dual gauge trackage at Puno in Peru and Guaqui in Bolivia. Car loading and unloading are done at docks. The British-built steamship Ollanta is no longer maintained, but PeruRail, in charge of the vessel, is trying to develop a tourist project soon.[21]


Black Sea[edit]

Pacific Ocean[edit]

Caspian Sea[edit]

The Caspian Shipping Company (Caspar[dead link]) has 7 train ferries and is building two more.

See Iran.

Baltic Sea[edit]



A ferry, though not necessarily a train ferry, links the 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in) gauge network of Egypt and the 1,067 mm (3 ft 6 in) network of Sudan, across the Nile River.

A ferry used to operate between Juba, Sudan and Pakwach, Uganda, also along the Nile River.


In use[edit]

All are for freight trains (and road vehicles) only, except that there is a nightly passenger train service between Malmö, Sweden and Berlin, Germany over Trelleborg — Sassnitz.


  • Helsingør, Denmark – Helsingborg (1892–2000)
  • Copenhagen, Denmark – Helsingborg (1986–2000), freight only
  • Copenhagen, Denmark – Malmö (1895–1986)
  • Saßnitz, GermanyTrelleborg, (1909–1998)
  • Trelleborg – Gdansk, Poland (1946)
  • Trelleborg – Gdynia, Poland (1947–1950)
  • Trelleborg – Świnoujście, Poland (1948–1953), was supposed to replace the Ystad - Świnoujście service in 2010 again, but that didn't happen
  • Trelleborg – Warnemünde, the GDR (1948–1953)
  • BergkvaraMörbylånga, normal gauge 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in) between 1,067 mm (3 ft 6 in) in Bergkvara and 891 mm in Mörbylånga (1953–1955)
  • KalmarFärjestaden, narrow gauge 891 mm (1957–1962)
  • StockholmNaantali, Finland (1967–1975), normal gauge on board, break-of-gauge in Naantali, freight only
  • Malmö – Travemünde, Germany (from mid 80s until a few years after 2000)
  • Hargshamn (Sweden) - Uusikaupunki (1989–96), normal gauge on board, break-of-gauge in Uusikaupunki, freight only
  • StockholmTurku, Finland (SeaRail, ended 2012, normal gauge 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in))

Never opened[edit]

  • Trelleborg – Travemünde, the ferries were built (Nils Dacke and Robin Hood 1988-89) but the service never opened, as the "Iron Curtain" fell


See Uganda.


  • Bosphorus: Train ferries used to connect the European railway network with main connections from Thessaloniki, Greece and Bucharest, Romania terminating at the Sirkeci Terminal to the Asian network terminating at the Haydarpaşa Terminal. Closure of lines within Istanbul in both sides due to Marmaray project caused these ferry services to become useless since the beginning of 2012. Ferry service between Tekirdağ and Derince replaced this ferry service which started at the end of 2013.[26] The current Marmaray project, to be completed in 2015, will replace partially the ferry connection with an underwater railway tunnel running between the two sides.
  • Black Sea: Ilyichevsk, Ukraine to Derince, Turkey bypasses a break of gauge
  • Black Sea:- Samsun, Turkey to Kavkaz, Russia: Launched in December 2010[27]
  • Lake Van - Tatvan — Van. The Istanbul — Tehran "Trans-Asya-Ekspresi" operates and the Damascus — Tehran passenger train operated from each terminus to the ferry ports. Only the luggage van takes the ferry, the passengers have to change at both ends. The Lake Van ferry is part of the planned Trans-Asian Railway, Istanbul — Singapore. A scheduled freight train runs from Istanbul to Kazakhstan. The train ferry was established to avoid an expensive railroad line along the mountainous southern shore and may be replaced when traffic increases sufficiently; there are reports of financing discussions between the governments of Turkey and Iran. The ferry route is 96 km long while a rail alternative on the north side would be 250 km long in mountainous terrain. There are four ferries each of 16 coach capacity capable of making three trips per day.[28]
Ferry Van approaching Van harbour.
  • Tekirdağ-Derince Ferry: The ferry service had started at the end of 2013 connecting Europe to Asia by rail.[26] The service is given by TCDD where a maritime company is the subcontractor. The ferry is M/F Erdeniz, which used to carry wagons between Eregli and Zonguldak ports. She is now carrying wagons between Tekirdağ Port and Derince Port, İzmit. Ferry has 5 lines which are totally 800 meter long. It can travel between Tekirdağ and Derince in 8 hours.
  • Tekirdağ-Bandırma Ferry: TCDD is constructing another ferry ramp at Bandırma Port and is planning to give ferry service between Tekirdağ and Bandırma ports. This service will connect Agean Region of Turkey to Europe by rail.



  • See Bulgaria, Russia and Turkey entries

United Kingdom[edit]


Proposed but never implemented[edit]

United States[edit]

For international Great Lakes ferries, see Canada.

In use[edit]


Proposed ferries[edit]

The Trans-Asian Railway has proposed a few train ferries:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Marshall, John (1989). The Guinness Railway Book. Enfield: Guinness. ISBN 0-85112-359-7. 
  2. ^ a b "Forth Place". 
  3. ^ Marshall, John (1989). The Guinness Railway Book. Enfield: Guinness. ISBN 0-85112-359-7
  4. ^ George Parker Bidder; not to be confused with the lawyer (his son)who represented Bouch at the Tay Bridge Inquiry
  5. ^ "Memoirs of Deceased Members". Minutes of the Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers. PART 1 63 (01): 301–8. January 1881. ISSN 1753-7843. Retrieved 17 February 2012. 
  6. ^ Shipway, J.S. (2004). Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press.
  7. ^ Subterranea Britannica
  8. ^ "News of the Week". Bathurst Free Press (NSW : 1849 - 1851) (Bathurst, New South Wales: National Library of Australia). 10 August 1850. p. 3. Retrieved 30 May 2013. 
  9. ^ Shipway, J.S. (2004). Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. 
  10. ^ "Azerbaijan to Purchase New Train ferry in May". Trend News Agency (requires subscription). 2008-05-08. Retrieved 2009-12-24. 
  11. ^ News | | TimesDaily | Florence, Alabama (AL)[dead link]
  12. ^ Trains (Magazine) February 2009 p9
  13. ^ "ST. CLAIR RIVER RAILWAY TUNNEL.". Launceston Examiner (Tas. : 1842 - 1899) (Tas.: National Library of Australia). 31 December 1891. p. 3. Retrieved 17 March 2013. 
  14. ^ "Train-ferry project making solid progress". By Xie Chuanjiao (China Daily). Updated: 2006-06-06
  15. ^ Train Ferry across Qiongzhou Strait Launched at Tianjin Xingang Shipbuilding Heavy Industry Co., Ltd[dead link] 2010-10-12
  16. ^ "Train ferry firm on IPO route"
  17. ^ (Chinese) "新长铁路轮渡日运送千余车皮 有效分流沪宁铁路运输压力" Xinhua Sept. 9, 2009
  18. ^ a b "Infrastructure". "Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce". Retrieved 2008-02-09. [dead link]
  19. ^ Nigeria Under British Rule - William N. M. Geary - Google Books
  20. ^
  21. ^ Southern Peru Railroads[dead link]
  22. ^ "Железнодорожные паромы в бывшем СССР (Rail ferries in the former USSR)". Retrieved March 22, 2014.  (Russian)
  23. ^ PLASKE JSC — Rail-Ferry Service
  24. ^ Сахалинская узкоколейная железная дорога (The narrow-gauge railways of Sakhalin)[dead link] (Russian)
  25. ^ Photos of containers in Baku
  26. ^ a b Uysal, Onur. "Wagons On Board: Tekirdag Derince Ferry Departed", Rail Turkey, 11 November 2013
  27. ^ Объем перевозки контейнерных грузов к 2010 году возрастет до 145 миллионов TEU - прогноз FESCO
  28. ^ International Organizations and the Law of the Sea: Documentary Yearbook ... - Google Books
  29. ^ RailwaysAfrica[dead link]
  30. ^ Southern Named Trains
  31. ^ Gordon, William (1910). Our Home Railways 1. London: Frederick Warne and Co. p. 154. 
  32. ^ Searle, Muriel (1982). "Vehicles of Vectis". Lost Lines. Andover, England: Cavendish. p. 76. ISBN 0-904568-41-5. 
  33. ^ Trains May 2010
  34. ^
  35. ^ Chief Wawatam
  36. ^ detroit, mi - Google Maps
  37. ^ Railway Gazette International January 2009, p54

External links[edit]

Media related to Train ferries at Wikimedia Commons