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I’m planning a trip back to Sweden, Denmark and Germany to visit some friends and relatives, I am need to make my favourite train trip in the world: the Rødby Harbour (in Denmark) – Puttgarden (in Germany) ferry train. That’s a train that rides on to a boat, and then back off again on the other side. I’m not sure how widely known this oddity of rail transportation is, so I’ve added a few videos I’ve found below the fold. Apparently a bridge is planned across the straight which will end the ferry train in 2018.

What other oddities are you aware of? Bus boats? Put them in the comments.


  1. Nelson says

    There is also a longer train ferry route from Trelleborg, Sweden to Sassnitz, Germany.

    My brother and I took it in 1976 when it was Sassnitz, East Germany. The train continued on to East Berlin, where we changed trains and continued on to Warsaw.

    That was a big time fun trip. One of the highlights was when the train was pulled off the ferry in Sassnitz, it coupled onto a powerful and fast steam locomotive. There were still a lot of mainline steam locomotives in East Germany in 1976.

  2. Sevenless says

    For anyone who’s curious about the texhnology, there’s a rail barge operation right here in Seattle, too, although it’s for freight operations of the Alaska Railroad. The dock is on Harbor Island near the corner of 13th Ave SW and SW Massachusetts St.

  3. dabman says

    Oh man, I remember this one. When I went to Europe for a month after college, I got chicken pox near the end of trip while in Berlin. My last stop was supposed to be Denmark, which I had a flight scheduled, so I dared the train trip despite looking and feeling terrible.

    I had no idea this route boarded a ship. I remember the lights in the train turning off, an announcement in German, and everyone leaving the train car. It looked like we were in a large train tunnel. We took an elevator up a few flights, and I distinctly remember the elevator door opening into a view of the middle of a sea, with dozens of giant wind turbines.

    It took me a while to realize what had happened: a passenger train boarding a ship!?

  4. asdf says

    Ferry trains seem like an inefficient use of service hours because have to pay the driver and tie up the train while the train is waiting for the ferry and sitting on the ferry. The train also takes up a lot of space on the ferry which means you either need a much bigger ferry or have less room for cars alongside.

    If you want something that runs reasonably frequent, simply having the train end at the ferry, with another train waiting on the other side seems better. Having the train go on the ferry says that either:

    A) They place the value of a one-seat ride way above the value of more frequent service. This may be justified if passengers are expected to be carrying large amounts of luggage that would be a pain to move on and off.

    B) The tracks are all single-track anyway, which makes it impossible to run the train frequently enough for the efficiency of not wasting train service hours on the ferry to matter.

    We have a parallel situation here in the from of the 116/118/119 buses that ride the West Seattle->Vashon ferry every weekday.

    While the Germany-Denmark situation might make sense if everyone is carrying huge quantities of luggage or the frequency is already limited by single track, having buses ride the Vashon car ferry every day is a complete waste of money, especially since the downtown->Vashon ferry makes it a classic case of Metro competing with itself.

    Furthermore, buses that operate on Vashon shouldn’t need to deadhead across the ferry to regular bases each day – they should be stored somewhere on Vashon Island itself and only travel to the mainland when they need to get to a real base for servicing, which shouldn’t happen more than once every few months per bus. There is lots of room on Vashon Island to store buses and an obvious place to start would be park-and-ride lots that are mostly empty on nights and weekends when the buses aren’t in service. If vanpool vans can be stored in park-and-ride lots overnight, I see no reason why buses can’t too. And as to the drivers, Vashon routes should simply hire drivers who live on Vashon Island so we don’t need to pay them to take the bus or their car on the ferry every day for them to get to work. Honestly, if Vashon has such a small population that you can’t even find a couple of bus drivers willing to live there, it probably doesn’t warrant bus service at all.

    • PSF says

      WRT to Vashon buses, I bet the ferry system would be against this, as it would bump the numbers of walk on riders.

      Also, it would be uneconomic for cash pay riders to ride bus, then ferry, then bus again. Pass holders would be fine.

      Strange transitish boondoggles – canal boat elevator http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Falkirk_Wheel

      • asdf says

        Why would the ferry system be against it? Such a move would allow the ferries to carry more people (by increasing available car capacity) at no additional cost.

        “Also, it would be uneconomic for cash pay riders to ride bus, then ferry, then bus again. Pass holders would be fine.”

        Passengers who ride this bus still have to pay the walk-on ferry fare anyway. They don’t get out of it just because they’re on the bus. And cash riders wouldn’t have to pay the bus fare twice because Metro still gives and accepts paper transfers.

    • Kyle S. says

      Ferry trains seem like an inefficient use of service hours because have to pay the driver and tie up the train while the train is waiting for the ferry and sitting on the ferry.

      Why couldn’t the engineer turn around and drive the train that just got off the ferry? And have the same system on the other end? In fact, since the train is crossing an international border, that probably makes the solution even better.

    • David L says

      Metro would have to find a way to get fuel and cleaning staff over there. Today, the buses get fueled and cleaned at Central Base, and all Metro needs on Vashon are a few Vashon-based drivers (most of whom have been doing this literally for decades) and a couple of parking spots.

      It’s quite likely cheaper to have an extra 2 buses each way ride the ferry every day than to establish that infrastructure on Vashon.

      • asdf says

        How much infrastructure do you really need? Do buses not run on the same diesel fuel as regular trucks? Can they not full up at the same gas stations on the island that trucks do? Sure, the fuel might cost a little bit more per gallon than at the base, but I doubt the savings would be enough to justify paying the driver for 2 hours every day to sit with the bus on board the ferry.

        In any case, I highly doubt service on Vashon Island needs anywhere near as large vehicles as the 40-foot coaches that roam the rest of the county, so some fuel can potentially be saved by using smaller vehicles on the island. That’s another advantage of using separate buses between Seattle and Vashon – you can use a larger bus where demand is larger and a smaller bus where demand is smaller.

        Cleaning – how often do buses need to be cleaned beyond walking through the isles and picking up trash? Can they be cleaned by a private operator that also cleans the residents’ cars, avoiding the need to set up dedicated infrastructure?

      • David L says

        Right now, buses do run the same fuel as private diesel vehicles, but that was not always true in the past (Metro adopted ULSD well before most private sellers) and may not always be true in the future. Also, Metro saves about 50 cents/gallon compared to retail, an amount which would add up quickly if you were filling up four buses at retail.

        The buses have to be filled after the end of the service day in order to avoid disrupting service (all buses on Vashon are in service pretty much constantly during the day). You need someone to do that. So to avoid a bit of extra pay for drivers you now have to pay someone else, rather than letting the base staff who you are already paying do the job.

        The buses are de-trashed nightly and given any spot cleanings necessary at the same time. They are washed, and the interiors are given a more comprehensive cleaning, every few days. To wash a bus without having staff spend a huge amount of time on the job, you need a bus wash, which is an expensive piece of capital equipment. And Vashon buses need washing often — there are a lot of dirt pullouts and Vashon service gets buses dirty very quickly most of the year. Again, Metro saves a lot of money and bureaucratic complication by rotating buses out daily and having this job done at Central Base.

        Really, Metro has a choice: use the current system, which is very expensive per passenger (more because of the length of the route and low ridership on non-ferry trips than because of the ferry itself), or pull out of Vashon entirely and contract with a private operator to provide some sort of alternative service. Trying to set up a conventional Metro operation on Vashon would be a money sink.

      • asdf says

        I wonder if service on Vashon Island could stand to charge a higher fare compared to regular service. After all, for reasons you mentioned, it’s a lot more expensive to operate. And as long as it costs $15 to take your car on the ferry and as long as parking at the ferry is limited, the number of people willing to pay $5 per ride and the number of people willing to pay $2.50 per ride would likely be about the same.

        That said, there must be a way to get some sort of service there at lower cost than full-scale Metro buses. A much smaller vehicle, similar to those used by hotel courtesy shuttles, would be plenty. Hotel courtesy shuttles can’t possibly cost $125 per hour to operate or very few hotels would be willing to pay that much.

    • Erik G. says

      The only time the train driver has to come aboard is when the service is operated with a DMU as shown above. If, as it has been in the past, the service is operated by loco & cars, then the cars are shunted on to the ferry on one side and shunted off at the other.

      As for “single track” if you mean what you see in these videos, that is for this current generation of ferries on this route only. The other train-ferry routes in the Baltic have multiple tracks as did the previous ferries on this route.

    • Erik G. says

      The previous generation of ferries on this route used to also carry freight trains. These now go via the Great belt bridge and Jutland or v.v. as does the night train from Copenhagen to Germany.

    • nahverkher says

      I took the train from Bielefeld to Puttgarden, then paid the ferry fare and hoped on a dnaish train when I got to rodbyahven. This saves a ton of money. It took about 10 hours to get from Bielefeld to Copenhagen, but is much much cheaper. Nahverkher!

    • RossB says

      It does seem excessive, but I think the big benefit is speed. I think that approach makes sense if the ferry ride is relatively short. The alternative would probably take a while and possibly add a significant amount of time. If the train arrives, the boat would have to wait until everyone got off the train (with their luggage) and got onto the boat. Stragglers could assume that the boat will wait for them. This means that the train would basically be timed so that it got there plenty of time before the boat is scheduled to leave, or the boat waited until all the passengers (even the stragglers got on board). All of that would add significant time (and uncertainty) to the schedule of those riding the train, boat or both.

      For the bus example, I think it is the same thing, but less so. A bus can more quickly disembark (I would assume). My guess is that they just haven’t built the infrastructure to quickly get the people to the right spot for passenger boarding. The bus could drive on, let everybody off, then drive off (before the cars arrive) but generally speaking, the ferries are arriving and leaving all the time (in other words, they don’t sit at the dock at all). Thus, unless they have a good way to get the passengers on board, it would cost some time (not a lot, but some).

      • John Bailo says

        Yes, sorry.

        The new bridge spans Jiaozhou Bay, on the southern coast of China’s Shandong Peninsula in northeastern China. At 26.4 miles long, it beats Louisiana’s Lake Pontchartrain Causeway — the previous world-record holder — by at least 2 miles, according to the Guinness Book of World Records.


        Isn’t that enough to get over Puget Sound?

        Seatle to Bainbridge is 9.2 miles according to Google:


      • phil says

        The bridge was reported by the official state-run television company CCTV to cost CN¥10 billion (US$1.5 billion, GB£900 million). Other sources reported costs as high as CN¥55 billion (US$8.8 billion, GB£5.5 billion).[2]

        The bridge has few users and has been described as China’s “bridge to nowhere”.[15] Built for a projected 30,000 vehicles a day, a year after opening it is only carrying 10,000
        – via Wiki

      • John Bailo says

        So you think a bridge across Puget Sound would have “few users” and be “to nowhere” ?

      • d.p. says

        Bainbridge island: population 23,000. Kitsap County has only 250,000 people in total. Brooklyn this is not.

      • asdf says

        If such a bridge were ever built, within 10 years, the entire Bainbridge Island would forever be converted to sprawl.

        And for transit users, access to the island would likely be worse than it is today. The ferrying running all day every day would be gone and likely replaced by bus service across the bridge with very limited hours. Most likely, such service would have tons of trips during the peak, but off-peak it would run very infrequently, if it ran at all. And I’m not holding my breath about a bike path on this hypothetical 10-mile bridge either. Even the bridge from Copenhagen to Sweeden, also about 10 miles, doesn’t have a bike path. Even if such a bike path did exist, it would take twice as long to get across on a bike as it does to ride the ferry today.

        I’ve been doing the Chilly Hilly ride for several years now and the construction of such a bridge would likely spell the end of it. No option to get there from Seattle with decent bike capacity (except, of course, driving across the bridge in your car). And the roads would be too full of traffic to make biking enjoyable on them anyway.

      • Zed says

        It’s easy to build long causeways, like the one in China, over shallow water, but Elliot Bay and Puget Sound between Seattle and Bainbridge ranges from 300′ deep to nearly 1000′ deep. Plus, haven’t we ruined enough of the area with sprawl?

      • CharlotteRoyal says

        Bainbridge Island is already covered in sprawl. It’s just not the goofy cookie cutter suburban development that you see in places like Lynnwood, Arlington and Marysville.

        BI is sprawl because the elite from Seattle use the island as an escape from the city and have priced others out of the “city-island.” Homes here are expensive, and the average home buyer can’t afford them. Additionally, Bainbridge Island is incorporated and has a population well over 20k!

      • d.p. says


        Not exactly “city-island”.

        But you’re more or less right about the rest. Recent Bainbridge development could best be described as “sprawl light”.

      • Mike Orr says

        Avoiding quarter-acre housing tracts like Lynnwood and Bellevue is why Bainbridgites and Vashonians have opposed bridges for decades. They may have exurban sprawl now but it’s semi-rural, which is what they wanted. They prefer the inconvenience of living according to a limited ferry schedule, over Bellevueization.

    • phil says

      Are you referring to the Hangzhou Bay bridge, the world’s longest sea bridge. It’s in shallow water compared to here, you can see the bottom from the satellite photos. The 17 meter deep shipping lane is a big deal there, allowing a port to be built. In comparison, Lake Washington is an average of 33 meters, with a max. of 65m.

      Elliott Bay is 50 meters just off the shore, dropping to 100m for the bulk of the bay. It goes down to 180m where it meets the Sound. Puget Sound is an average 62 meters.

      Still want to build a bridge?

    • aw says

      There are already two bridges across the sound. You merely have to drive to Tacoma to use them. Coincidentally, like the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, they also have “narrows” in their name.

  5. Gary David says

    The RORO passenger/car ferry from the South Island to the North Island in New Zealand has a special level for trains,but they are freight only. This is a ferry in seas potentially rough enough that all the cars are strapped down as a matter of course.

  6. JR Lander says

    There is a similar ferry train situation crossing the Straights of Messina… from the mainland of Italy to Sicily.

  7. Joseph Pentheroudakis says

    How about ship trackways, used to ferry small ships across narrow strips of land? Check out the entry for the one across the isthmus of Corinth in ancient Greece, which was in operation from 600 BCE to the first century CE. A canal was dug in the late 19th century.


    • Nathanael says

      I suspect they have not thought through the economics. Even with current tech, batteries would probably be more efficient. In ships the weight penalty is really tiny. Maybe this has lower capital cost.

  8. TLjr says

    Before the tunnel was widened and fitted for cars, Whittier was served by a weird mix of Budd railcars and flatcars that ferried cars thru the tunnel. Modifying the tunnel to carry cars ended the passenger shuttle and greatly reduced bike-ped access to Whittier.

    • asdf says

      As far as I can see, there are only three ways to access Whittier that aren’t suicidal:
      – drive your own car through the tunnel
      – drive your own boat to the dock
      – bike to the tunnel portal with a folding bike and try to hitchhike through the tunnel.

  9. says

    100 years ago, Lake Minnetonka in Minnesota had “streetcar boats”. They weren’t streetcars that went on boats, they were boats painted to look like streetcars. The streetcar lines from Minneapolis ended in Excelsior and the boats took you to other points on the lakeshore, and even to an amusement park on an island in the middle.

    One of the original six boats has been restored and is now used to ferry tourists from Wayzata to Excelsior on summer weekends.


  10. Erik G. says

    Actually, the current plans are to build a tunnel across the Ferman Bælt,


    but this is still in doubt because of the cost, and the realization that maybe what should be built is a route more directly serving Berlin,


    given that Germany is no longer divided in two, which was the original basis for creating the Rødby-Puttgarden connection in the first place:


  11. Erik G. says

    The ScandiaRanders/ABB/AdTranz/Bombardier IC3 “Flexiliner” DMU’s length was determined by the former Great-belt ferries, such that two 3-car sets coupled as one departure from Copenhagen could fit inside, and then split to serve different branches in western Denmark.

    The Elsinore- Hälsingborg ferry used to carry trains until the Øresundsbron opened


    And the Great-Belt crossing used to be operated by ferries. (2 of these 3 train ferries are still in service for cars only now on the Gedser-Rostock route and will be until 2015 if you want to check them out, the third is converted to a hospital ship and offers surgeries and treatments to Africans)






    From the last day of train-ferry service on the Great-belt:


    Here is a report on the Dronning (Queen) Ingrid which was converted to the “Africa Mercy”


  12. CharlotteRoyal says

    I reckon that WSDOT will be looking at the system that Denmark and DB are using to allow the train to embark and disembark the ferry, so Link rail designs can be appropriately designed to compensate the ebb and flow of the tides of Lake Washington. Pretty cool.

    I’m rarely in Northern Germany, and have yet to go to the Northern Coast of Germany. I went to Hamburg last year to tour the Airbus A320 factory while visiting my parents in Frankfurt. I took the ICE all the way to Hamburg-Altona. I was bummed we were governed to a lower speed due to snow and ice. …and took the bus to Hamburg-Finkenwerder. (Yes, I do take transit…especially when I travel.)

    • Erik G. says

      “the ebb and flow of the tides of Lake Washington.”

      Um, Lake Washington’s water level is controlled by dams and the locks. What tides?

  13. Kevin McClain says

    New Zealand tends to have single lane bridges where one direction yields to the other direction. Occasionally they combine these with rail bridges. Traffic is really low so it isn’t a problem, but it can be a bit terrifying the first time you encounter one:

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