Everything You Need to Know About Railroad Apartments

By: ROS Team

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Deciding on what type of apartment you should live in can be tricky, especially if you’ll be sharing your living space with family members or friends. That’s where a railroad apartment becomes ideal.  Ever heard of this type of apartment?  No worries–we’ll explain.

1- What is a Railroad Apartment
2- History of Railroad Apartments
3- Pros of Railroad Apartment
4- Cons of Railroad Apartment
5- Where to Find Railroad Apartments
6- FAQs

What is a Railroad Apartment?

A railroad apartment is an apartment that has rooms that are connected to one another without a hallway. Railroad apartments make it possible to enter one room through another. For example, two rooms may be connected by way of a shared bathroom. These apartments come in all sizes, ranging from one bedroom to three or more bedrooms.

What is a Railroad Apartment

Background on Railroad Apartments

Throughout the United States, railroad apartments may be referred to by different names, but the commonality of all of these apartment types is that they have rooms connected in a series.  In New Orleans, for example, railroad apartments are called “shotgun apartments.” In another city, they may be known as “floor-through apartments.”

Most railroad apartments built in NYC were built in the second half of the 19th century. At the time, there were no strict housing regulations, and they were constructed more out of necessity than by intentional architectural design. The primary reason for their construction was to maximize land space when building residential buildings. The idea became more popular as housing demand increased.

Background on Railroad Apartments

Most sociologists don’t like the concept of railroad apartments because they argue that this apartment layout limits one’s privacy. Some even suggest that this layout might have been invented as a way for the working class to practice birth control given the lack of privacy.

Railroad Apartment Pros and Cons


As discussed earlier, railroad apartments have an awkward layout that is not attractive to most tenants. As a result, these apartments tend to be priced lower than standard units.

Another advantage of railroad apartments is the space. Rooms in railroad apartments naturally end up being larger since there are no hallways. This can make a significant difference in a city like NYC where every square foot of space counts.

In addition, most railroad apartments have unique pre-war details, which include fireplaces, pocket doors, and original moldings. These are the features that people are willing to pay a higher price for.


One major disadvantage of living in a railroad apartment is the lack of privacy. People who live in them have to pass through one another’s bedrooms to access areas like the kitchen or bathroom.

Although railroad apartments tend to be more spacious, they tend to lack many of the modern features to which tenants have grown accustomed, like central air conditioning and heating systems. These apartments traditionally are less open and let in less natural light, especially in central rooms. Typically there is also less storage space.

Where to Find Railroad Apartments

Railroad apartments can be found in pre-war apartment multi-family walk-up buildings that were built in the late 19th century. They are common in those areas of Brooklyn that were developed in the 19th century.

Railroad Apartment
Photo Credit: Pexels

Things to Consider When Renting a Railroad Apartment

Before you start searching for a railroad apartment, there are some things to keep in mind. Even though you will get a larger space in these apartments, you will compromise on privacy given the unique layout that often requires occupants to pass through other rooms to get to high-use spaces.  This can become problematic if you are living with friends or family or even if you’re considering getting a roommate.

Railroad apartments can be found in walkup buildings, which means there usually is no elevator access in the buildings–residents will have to resort to using stairs to get to their apartments.


What is the Point of a Railroad Apartment?

The point of a railroad apartment is to create a space that maximizes airflow and natural light while minimizing wasted space. The design typically features a series of rooms that are arranged in a straight line with no hallway, allowing for better circulation and easier access between rooms. It was a popular design choice for urban apartments in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

How do you Arrange a Railroad Apartment?

Arranging a railroad apartment can be challenging due to its long and narrow layout. One common approach is to create designated zones within the space, such as a living area, a dining area, and a bedroom area. Using furniture to divide the space and incorporating multi-functional pieces can also help to maximize the use of the available space.

What is Another Name for a Railroad Apartment?

Another name for a railroad apartment is a “floor-through apartment.” Both terms refer to a long, narrow layout with rooms arranged in a straight line, typically without a hallway.

Final Thoughts

The idea of railroad apartments was to maximize space, and although these apartments are unique, they can be problematic to those who don’t live alone but crave their privacy. However, if you can overcome that hurdle, you may find that a railroad apartment is a great choice for a low-cost, spacious apartment.

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