by Kevin Walsh

I was in DUMBO in Brooklyn on the first hot day of the year in the spring in 2017 and happened upon this photo shoot on Plymouth Street. Many newcomers to the area mistake the tracks in the street for old disused trolley tracks; however, in the trolley days, the nearest lines ran on Sands, Prospect and High Streets a few blocks to the south. In the 19th and 20th Centuries DUMBO was almost entirely given over to warehousing and manufacturing (except for the small Vinegar Hill neighborhood on the eastern end) trolley lines never troubled it north of Sands Street.

One clue that these were never trolley lines is that several pairs run on sidewalks and into buildings. These tracks belonged to the Jay Street Connecting Railroad, one of the shortest rail lines in Brooklyn. It was originally constructed (beginning in 1904) by the Arbuckle Brothers, who imported coffee from far-flung regions; it was unloaded from carfloats in the East River (not for nothing are there two streets in DUMBO called Dock and New Dock). Goods were shuttled into warehouses a lofts in the streets of DUMBO via the tracks. The JSCR ran its last load in 1959.

Unfortunately The Department of Transportation, acceding to the wishes of bicyclists, is gradually removing DUMBO’s signature RR tracks and Belgian-blocked streets, in some cases replacing them with flat top brickwork that isn’t fooling anyone. That has already happened on the portion of Plymouth Street seen above that faces Brooklyn Bridge Park.

Other Brooklyn freight RRs were the Cross Harbor, in Sunset Park and Willliamsburg, the South Brooklyn, which ran from Sunset Park to Coney Island and the New York Dock Railway, which ran west of Furman Street in what is now Brooklyn Bridge Park. I featured those railroads in this 2001 FNY page.

As always, “comment…as you see fit.” I earn a small payment when you click on any ad on the site.



KP May 18, 2023 - 12:34 am

My dad worked in a warehouse on Bowne St in Redhook in the 80s & 90s & there were tracks out back there too. I’m not sure if they were just really short ramps to ships or led to other buildings, but they were cool.

John Broda May 18, 2023 - 11:57 am

i always wondered about maintenance of street-running rails (those shown here are obviously and seriously out of alignment). Imagining the JSCR was still running, I guess they’d have to tear up the entire street in order to realign/ replace the rails…

William Mangahas May 19, 2023 - 5:29 pm

Those tracks aren’t as bad as the photo portrays. An image photographed in the telephoto mode compresses the image thus exaggerating the rails as wavy.

Paul Konstam May 18, 2023 - 3:35 pm

Why don’t they just reuse the old Belgian block?

chris May 19, 2023 - 5:13 am

Belgian Block uncool.A tire doesnt have full contact with the road surface.
Particularly dangerous for motorcycles and bicycles.
Accidents often resulting in death and thousands mourned

Bill Tweeddale May 19, 2023 - 1:08 pm

The streets of Amsterdam were paved with “Belgian Block” when I lived there in the 70’s, and there were many, many more bicycles and scooters than in NYC. I don’t recall any problems. Maybe the cyclists knew how to ride safely?

Anonymous May 22, 2023 - 11:07 am

When the Belgian blocks were installed, there were very few cars out there and the tires were like motorcycle
Tires, tall and skinny so the contact patch was ok.

Kenneth Buettner May 19, 2023 - 7:21 am

Maintenance of the right-of-way for these short lines (and there were several between Brooklyn and Queens) was never really a problem because of their short lives. The Jay Street, for example, operated for a maximum of 55 years. The last ten were likely very lightly used. Between the short life of the line and the eventual sparse use, the lines probably remained in decent working order for the duration of their operations. What you see in the photo is the result of another 65 years of wear-and-tear of normal street use. Frankly, I don’t think they look to bad after 120 years!
The old Belgian blocks have real value and will likely be reused, but somewhere else. In their day, they were the best there was. Workmen in hobnail boots trod across them and heavy horse-drawn wagons or chain-drive trucks with solid tires could not damage them. While nostalgic, they are difficult to walk on and impossible for bike riding.

Jonathan Baker May 23, 2023 - 8:23 am

Here’s Phil Goldstein’s page on the Jay Street Connecting Railroad, part of his larger site on industrial railroads across the city:

Main site:

chris May 28, 2023 - 4:57 am

OK,brake real hard with a bicycle on cobblestones and then on asphalt
and see what happens


Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.