Pier Review

Many of the piers which once poked out into the North River from the Manhattan shore have long ago disappeared and a number have also been converted to purely recreational uses with no maritime functionality at all. However, some continue to serve their original purpose, providing access to ships in the river for passengers or freight.

Piers on the North River are numbered sequentially from south to north. Generally, the number of a pier corresponds to the number of the street it sits at the end of, plus 40, so that, for example, the pier at the end of West 48th is pier 88.

Pier 83 at the foot of 43rd Street is home to the Circle Line cruises, which offer sightseeing trips around the harbor and around the entire island of Manhattan.

Pier 83 today

Pier 86 hosts the Intrepid, a retired World War II era aircraft carrier now serving as an air and space museum.

The Intrepid at Pier 86

Pier 88 is the Port Authority’s cruise ship terminal. The slip was empty today but Norwegian Cruise Lines has been operating trips from there in recent weeks.

Norwegian Getaway at Pier 88 on Saturday

Pier 98 houses the fuel dock for Con Ed’s 59th Street power plant, originally built to generate electricity for the IRT subway but now relegated to producing just steam. The plant mainly burns natural gas but can also use oil, and tanker barges tie up at this pier to unload periodically.

A tanker barge at Con Ed’s Pier 98 this week

Pier 99 is occupied by a Sanitation Department transfer station. Residential paper waste generated in Manhattan is brought here for transfer to barges and brought to a facility in Staten Island run by Pratt Industries for recycling into cardboard packaging. See the recent West Side Rag article for more on what goes on here: https://www.westsiderag.com/2021/12/26/a-visit-to-the-disco-dump-shows-how-the-upper-west-sides-recycled-paper-is-reborn

DSNY scows anchored at Pier 99

Pier 99 is the highest numbered pier on Manhattan. Piers above 59th Street up to 72nd Street were part of the rail yards which used to exist in that area, allowing freight cars to be brought alongside ships being loaded. These piers were identified with letters instead of numbers, to distinguish them. They also differed from standard piers in that they protruded into the river on an angle, so that train tracks could branch onto them (railroads don’t like right angles), as opposed to standard piers which are perpendicular to the shoreline. Most of the railroad piers are gone now, only the wood pilings which once supported them are visible. An exception is Pier I (“eye”) which was the longest pier in the railroad days and has been rebuilt for recreation.

The remains of a railroad pier.

At the foot of West 69th Street on the river sit the remnants of an old New York Central transfer bridge, the only remaining structures of the old railroad yard. The transfer bridge was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2003 in an effort to ensure that it would remain in perpetuity as a historic monument to the former industrial past of Riverside Park South.

The 69th Street Transfer Bridge

The purpose of the transfer bridge was to allow freight cars to be rolled from tracks on land and onto barges. The barges could then be floated across the river to the New Jersey side where a similar mechanism existed to deliver the cars into the New York Central (West Shore Railroad) yards in Weehawken. From there, the cars could move inland through a tunnel in the Palisades which still exists and is used by New Jersey Transit’s Hudson-Bergen Light Rail or they could move along the river to other railroad yards on the Jersey shoreline.

Meanwhile, Wednesday saw light traffic on the river. The Laurie Ann Reinauer and Evelyn Cutler both saw early departures with their empty barges after anchoring overnight.

Evelyn Cutler passes the remnants of a railroad pier heading south

The DEP tankers Port Richmond and North River were both servicing the North River sewage plant, ferrying residual sludge to the Wards Island plant for dewatering.

The DEP’s Port Richmond heads for the North River plant

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