Most New Yorkers probably don’t see freight trains very often. Decades ago, freight rail played a more visible role in the delivery of goods to and from New York City, before mid-century suburbanization and deindustrialization helped bring about the disuse of much of the city’s freight rail infrastructure (and, as a result, gave us the High Line).
The Bushwick Branch is a spur of the Long Island Railroad’s Lower Montauk Branch, and runs from its junction with the latter line in Maspeth, through Ridgewood and its namesake neighborhood of Bushwick, to its terminus in East Williamsburg. The branch carries freight only, and is symbolic of the era when rail was dominant. Though trains are infrequent today, there remains lots of evidence that it was once a much more important artery to the city.
The Newtown Creek is one of the city’s most storied waterways. Once at the center of New York’s industrial economy—carrying more goods than the Mississippi River in 1912—the history of the creek is also a history of urban environmental crisis. Petroleum was the dominant industry along the creek, and pollutants wiped out all natural life from the creek by 1900. Water quality has also been harmed by the creek being part of NYC’s combined sewer-overflow system, which diverts raw sewage into the creek during heavy rain events that overwhelm the sewer system.
Stretching from the East River in Long Island City to Maspeth and East Williamsburg, the creek and its tributaries (“kills”) are crossed by seven bridges, which range from some of the oldest to some of the most modern in the city. The Kosciusko Bridge—where the top row of photos were captured—opened in 2017 and carries the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (and also pedestrians and bikes), replacing a prior bridge of the same name. The Grand Street Bridge, dating from 1902 (and subject of the third row of photos), is a swing bridge, but has not been opened since 2012. Narrower than the road it serves and increasingly difficult to maintain, replacing the bridge has been discussed for years (and may finally be happening).
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