Passenger Train Ferries

Last updated 2012, apart from chapters with newer data

The progressive spreading of railways in Great Britain during the 19th century made desirable to keep up connections across bays and straits by train. The first train ferry service in the world was inaugurated to traverse the Firth of Forth in Scotland in 1850. One can say the first ferry was ahead of the time, but already a few years later a train ferry was introduced crossing the Nile.

Denmark (coll. Juergen Klein)

The tonnage of the train ferries grew with their number. The British example set a precedent for other countries. In 1872 a Danish ferry service commenced operation over the Great Belt, in 1903 a joint Danish-German state railway ferry service established a Warnemuende - Gedser connection, and in 1909 a train ferry service Sassnitz - Trelleborg enabled forwarding through-cars between Germany and Sweden. These early steam-ferries suffered from the handicap of having to be turned for departure. The ferry "Schwerin" of the Deutsche Reichsbahn, built in 1926, was the prototype of the roll-on-roll-off ferry, fitted with loading flaps on each end. Special operational technologies have been developed, such as screws and rudders in front and aft, adjustable propellers, lateral bow-thrusters, stabilizers, trim equalizers and rolling dampers. Of special importance is the ability of manoeuvring at any hinged rail-joint on the quay.

The train for Hamburg leaving Stockholm, 1982 (WS)

"Warnemuende" and train 'Neptun' Copenhagen - Berlin, engine MZ, Gedser 1982 (WS)

In 1986 there were only 140 vessels worldwide, 64 of them operating on the seas around Europe (according to La Vie du Rail, Feb. 1995). Outside Europe, the few train ferries which ever existed were employed mainly on cargo services. With the new gigantic bridges being planned, the end of most passenger train ferries came on the agenda.

The Little Belt Bridge, Denmark (WS)

Fehmarnsund bridge, Alpen-Express Copenhagen - Rome, 1978 (WS)

As the subject of this review is sea-going passenger shipping, inland and local train ferries and those ones carrying only cargo or empty rolling-stock are not dealt with here - safe a few examples, interesting by history or geography.

For all the trains in connection with ferries, load down freely:

Special literature:
George Behrend, Gary Buchanan: Night Ferry, Jersey 1985; Jens Bruun-Petersen, John Poulsen, various books,; Friedhelm Ernst, Peter Goette: Die "Vogelfluglinie", Eisenbahn-Kurier Special 53; Chris Elliott: 75 Years of the Night Ferry, 2011,; Friedhelm Ernst, Lok-Magazin 8-10/2009; P. Ransome-Wallis: Train Ferries of Western Europe, Shepperton 1968.

Storstrom bridge, Tirol-Express for Copenhagen, 1982 (WS)

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