Train Ferries - Harwich

The origins of the rail ferry service from Harwich lie in the Great War 1914 - 1918 and the need to be able to move locomotives and rolling stock from the UK into the continental rail networks. No rail ferry service had ever existed prior to the war. The need was met by the design of three train ferries on very utilitarian lines, and the commissioning of adjustable linkspans able to allow the careful alignment of tracks and acceptable gradients for transferring locos and wagons between ship and shore.

TRAIN FERRY No.1, No.2 and No.3 were built on the Tyne and Clyde and completed in November 1917. They were joined in 1918 by No.4, being a former train ferry operating across the St. Lawrence at Quebec. A terminal was established at Richborough on the River Stour below Sandwich, adjacent to a military camp. From there, services ran to Dunkirk, Calais, Dieppe and Boulogne at various times up to 1919, when all four ferries were laid up. No.4 was sold and converted to a tanker for Anglo-Saxon Petroleum (Shell).

In 1922, the GER and the Belgian Government agreed to buy the original three ferries and establish a service between GER's 'home port' of Harwich, and Zeebrugge. This led to Great Eastern Train Ferries Ltd. being established to operate the ferries, while La Société Belgo-Anglaise des Ferry Boats S.A. would control the rolling stock. The linkspans were relocated, the one for Harwich being in the town port rather than at Parkeston Quay, and the service began in 1924. However, it suffered the effects of the recession in the 1930's and Great Eastern Train Ferries Ltd collapsed in 1932, when the LNER took over the service.

The No.2 and No.3 ferries became war losses, leaving only No.1 to survive and be renamed ESSEX FERRY. Hence there was a need to build post-war replacements the first of which, SUFFOLK FERRY, was completed for the LNER in August 1947.

'Out of service' refers to the year the ship left railway operated services with the LNER or BR.

NameTypeIn ServiceOut of Service
Train Ferry No. 1 / Essex Ferry Train ferry 1924 1957
Train Ferry No. 2 Train ferry 1924 1940
Train Ferry No. 3 Train ferry 1924 1940
Suffolk Ferry Train ferry 1947 1981

Related: GER/LNER Ships: Harwich & Lowestoft


Compiled by George Robinson.