Under a highway in the Bronx, one might find this curious set of seemingly abandoned railroad cars. These aren't just any railroad cars though.
These two cars were part of a 'work train', tasked with repairing railroad tracks. Such equipment isn't uncommon on railroads, but these two are unique in a variety of ways.
First up, they are painted for 'Canadian National' - a railroad that doesn't come close to NYC. The boxcar is a very old, modified 40 foot boxcar (modern boxcars are far longer these days). One end has been equipped with a doorway. While the car was empty, it is labeled 'Welding Car' on the side - which of course explains it's role as a enclosed, rolling welding shed.
The second car is the one that really brings the mystery on. It is a camp car. Camp cars are much like cabooses - most railroads have gotten rid of them. Where Cabooses were used for train crew comfort, camp cars were used as mobile hotels for track workers doing repairs in remote areas. Nearly every major railroad in the United States has stopped using camp cars though. The living conditions inside these cars were just plain awful - a 'miserable' existence, with up to 8 guys packed into a camp car living in tiny bunks, with a single bathroom. The rooms within these cars are small - significantly smaller than your average jail cell. They have tiny windows, if they have windows at all. Most railroads simply put their track workers up in hotels nearby. Even a budget hotel is far more humane than a camp car.
The only railroad to still use camp cars is Norfolk Southern (NS). The trackworkers union has battled them over living conditions - releasing this video documenting the living conditions. (NS, of course, responded with this propaganda video).
Eventually the FRA put some regulations around camp car living conditions. Norfolk Southern has modified their camp cars to be significantly more humane, though the entire concept has been rejected by all other railroads. (Norfolk Southern, obviously, is not a railroad that treats it's employees well - they used to go so far as to have fake toilets on locomotives).
All of this is a digression though: What is this camp car doing in the very non-remote Bronx?
The answer seems to be that it (and the box car) were bought by a contractor doing work for NYC area commuter railroads. The camp car was littered with 'New Jersey Transit' contractor manuals, NYC subway maps, and disgustingly dirty LIRR raincoats. In the bedrooms, bottled water from Canadian National was still to be found, unopened, along with paperwork suggesting that Canadian national sold these cars in the mid 1990s. They were sighted near the seacaucus transfer station when it was being built, and up by waldwick NY, where NJ Transit and Metro North have a commuter line. One could guess that it was used by a contractor perhaps as a break room / office for workers who never actually lived on the cars. Perhaps they ended up in the Bronx as part of some contractor job within Grand Central Station (much work equipment for grand central, along with its trash - is moved out to the Bronx).
Whatever the reasons, the future of these abandoned railroad cars from a largely forgotten era is as uncertain as my musings on how they ended up here. I suspect they'll be cut up for scrap metal within the coming months or years.