• Governors Island Railroad

  • A general discussion about shortlines, industrials, and military railroads
A general discussion about shortlines, industrials, and military railroads

Moderator: Aa3rt

Here's a picture and some information on the Governors Island Railroad. There was no sign of it left in all the years I was stationed there which was off and on from 1968 - 1993.


  by Phil Hom
It may be noted that the RR existed when it was under control of the US Army as Fort Jay. During my many visits (lunch at the club, commissary, auto hobby shop for oil change, Burger King that served beer, etc) one would not see ANY sign a railroad once existed. I think it would have been on the Brooklyn side where all the docks are at. :D

  by jr
Sorry about the long delay in replying. I don't get on this board very much.

My Dad had a job on Governor's Island for several months in 1943. I asked him about this yesterday, and he said that he saw no sign of a railroad there. However he does caution, that his time there consisted of riding the ferry over, working in an office, and ridng the ferry back - not very much free time to explore. So, it could have existed at some location that was removed from his work. (But, my understanding is that Governor's Island is quite small, isn't it?)

Anyway, I hope that this is of some use.


  by TB Diamond
Was stationed on Governor's Island in 1963. The island is small, but was smaller yet prior to the early 1900s when it was enlarged by fill from tunnel construction for the subway system. Saw no evidence of a rail system on the island when stationed there.

  by Aa3rt
I was stationed on the USCGC Gallatin (WHEC-721) from March 1975-March 1978 which was homeported at Governor's Island at that time. I've walked the island a few times, never saw a trace of a railroad either.

Is there another Governor's Island somewhere? It does appear that the boxcar behind the locomotive in the photo is lettered QMC (Quarter Master Corps?).

I'll ask at the Early Rail group at Yahoo and see if I can come up with anything there.
  by Aa3rt
Well, I made my post at the Early Railroad group-one respondent there directed me to the "small-layout-design" group. I just joined that group, performed a search on "Governors Island" and did get one hit with some interesting info, this was posted just over two years ago, Nov. 16, 2004.

A poster named pprunka had this to say:
I had some time to kill in Manhattan today, so I went to the Main Reference Library to see what I could find about this R.R. There is an absolute paucity of information on this railroad and now I am intrigued.

I found two old books which mention the railroad in passing: "Three Centuries, Three Flags" by ACM Azoy (1957) and "Governors Island-A Military History" by E. B. Smith (1913).

A search of the complete New York Times for the period discloses NO references to the railroad and the EBSCO Periodical Index has nothing either. Curiouser and curioser...

Here's what I found:

1. Smith says the railroad was narrow-gauged, with no specifics as to gauge. He also makes reference to the eight mile total length of track and gives the names of the officers in charge of the railroad.

2. Azoy refers to the "new railroad" built on the island and to the warehouses built to store military material. He also makes reference to the expansion of Governors Island in 1902-1912, which was accomplished by building a levee and filling in the shoals with the material excavated for the building of the NYC Lexington Avenue subway line. In that discussion, he makes reference to the use of "three steam locomotives" to haul material for the project. Since this predates the construction of the GIRR (obviously, as it was built on reclaimd land), was there a prior railroad on the island built just for the reclamation project?

3. None of the records has any new photographs. None of the records makes any mention of the maker of the locomotives and the disposal auction record is silent as to the locomotives as well. Where did they come from? Where did they go?
Supposedly there is someone out there who has a map of the railroad that was offered on a CD. I haven't given up yet and will continue to see what I can dig up.

  by CarterB
According to:

"In 1918, the Army built the Governors Island Railroad, which consisted of 1-¾ miles of track, and three flat cars carrying coal, machinery and supplies from the pier to shops and warehouses."

  by Aa3rt
Well folks, for those of you who have been following this topic, a gentleman named Peter Prunka has posted some information that shows a very different Governors Island from 1918-1922 than those of us who were there in later decades knew.

Link no longer valid: 5/23/2010

Note: You will need Winzip to open these files.

The Governors Island Railroad appears to have been built during WWI. There were warehouses on the northwest shore and through the center of the island. There appears to have been a ferry slip in the general area of what most of us know as "Lima" pier was. Freight cars would have been brought in by ferry (or carfloat or barge), off loaded at the island and then taken to one of the many warehouses.

Also among the photos is a picture of a wooden enginehouse, 52' x 132' that was large enough to accomodate 6 locomotives, probably tank engines. There is also another locomotive photo, this one of locomotive #2, also an 0-4-0T.

The funding for the railroad was approved on June 21, 1918. Recall that WWI ended on Nov. 11, 1918 so it appears that the need for the line greatly diminished about the time it was completed. Four short years later, in 1922, bids were being let by the Quartermaster Corps to demolish most of the warehouses and a goodly portion of the railroad, although it appears that some small section of the line remained in operation until 1931.

For those of us who were there in later years, the landscape of GI was drastically changed. Anyone who even spent time on the athletic fields or the bowling alley was walking the old right of way!
Last edited by Aa3rt on Thu Dec 28, 2006 9:05 am, edited 1 time in total.

  by Aa3rt
Folks, I received an email earlier today informing me that the book Governors Island by Susan L. Glen includes some photos of the GIRR.

You can read more about the book here:

http://www.arcadiapublishing.com/Mercha ... gory_Code=

Art, thanks for the tip on Susan Glen's book. I just ordered a copy; with the holiday discount it came to $16.99 with free shipping. Evidentally Susan is a park ranger on the island; I'll have to go over and visit her. I'll bet it is pretty lonely in GI these days. I have kayaked and motor boated past there a few times recently and it looks like the island is just about deserted now.
  by jr
Art and Group,

While researching another question, I quite literally stumbled upon some information on the Governors Island Rwy:

In January 1941, Plymouth built two locomotives for the U.S. Army for delivery to Governors Island, N.Y.

Model DLB
Serial Nos. 4134 and 4135
Four wheel, Gasoline powered
60 cm gauge
63 HP
8 tons

Their disposition is listed as going to U.S. Army, Ft. Dix, NJ. According to the disposition that I have, "One loco was #13, the other #999". Also, it shows them as "For sale via WAA at Ft. Dix, 2/48"

I believe that 60cm translates to 24" gauge.

One might conclude from this, that the Railway lasted into the postwar years. . .


  by Aa3rt
Warning: Dormant topic being revived!

I just stumbled across this website this morning with some views of the Governors Island railroad from about 90 years ago.

Especially revealing are the aerial photos of the western portion of the island, covered in warehouses that were demolished less than 5 years later as noted in my post from December 6, 2006. Note the bottom photo showing the brick houses on "Officer's Row" that backed up to the golf course.