3 Reasons Why Railroad-Style Apartments Are Actually Great (Plus 1 Big Drawback)

updated Aug 29, 2023
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Credit: Courtesy of the Eliasi Team, Compass

There are certain unpleasant things all New Yorkers put up with in exchange for living in the city they love — massive street rats, unbearable traffic, and sky-high rent prices are a few of them. Some might even add unconventional living units, such as railroad-style apartments, to that list.  

What is a railroad-style apartment?

Put simply, railroad-style apartments are homes without hallways, where each room opens into the next in single file fashion, almost like a train car. Funky, right? Originally built in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, they maximized space in narrow and overcrowded tenement buildings. They’re most often found in New York City, as well as some other major cities like Chicago, New Orleans, and Boston. 

What if I told you these types of quirky living quarters are a great option for saving money and living in a unique, open-concept space of your own?

Although railroad-style units can range in size from one-bedroom to three, they’re almost always cheaper than traditional apartments. According to Udi Eliasi, a real estate agent in New York City who recently leased a railroad apartment in the West Village, tenants can save anywhere between 15 to 20 percent on rent living in a railroad apartment compared to a regular one. 

The lower price tag comes with some challenges, but here’s why these perceived problems might actually be something you end up loving about your railroad-style apartment. 

Credit: Courtesy of the Eliasi Team, Compass

The Pros and Cons of Railroad-Style Apartments

Pro: You’re given a layout to get creative with.

“Railroad apartments offer more space for your money, although the space is not as functional,” Eliasi says. That’s because these apartments are much longer than they are wide, living up to their train-themed name.

Occupying such a long and narrow space forces a tenant to get creative — and maybe even a little minimalist. For example, bulky furniture such as a wide couch or desk could hinder the way you get in and out of a room. In this way, railroad units practically force you to opt for sleek and multifunctional designs. 

Railroad apartments are also a great place to incorporate bright and minimal decor, because they typically only have windows on the far ends of the unit. Plus, with less space to work with, you’ve got to pare down your belongings. (Decluttering isn’t so bad — just ask Marie Kondo).

Pro: You’re not paying a premium for all that old-world charm.

“They’re only in the older, pre-war buildings in the city,” says Claudia Lesnaya, a real estate agent in New York City who has sold and leased several railroad-style apartments. “There’s an old charm to these buildings.”

For example, the West Village railroad unit Eliasi recently rented on 49 Jane Street still has some of its original features, such as the moldings, exposed brick walls, and a fireplace. 

Credit: Courtesy of the Eliasi Team, Compass

It’s a perfect example of a railroad-style apartment—but it’s also quite rare because it’s located within a townhouse, and has big windows and high ceilings. Lesnaya believes features like this outweigh the cons of living in an older building with an impractical and narrow layout. 

Indeed, there is something romantic about living in a space so characteristic of the city, but Lesnaya warns against settling in them for the long-run. “Tenants usually stay for just one or two years [in railroad-style apartments],” she says. 

Con: You have zero privacy if you choose to live with roommates.

The lack of dividing walls, hallways, and — in some cases — doors, means there is very little privacy in a railroad apartment. “They’re not good for roommates because you usually have to go through a bedroom to get to other rooms like the bathroom or kitchen,” Eliasi says. 

Pro: You have extra space for a home office or studio.

But what you lose in privacy you gain in space, especially if you choose to live alone. That extra room (which would have been a hallway) can be made into a home office or mini art studio instead.  

The bottom line is, if you’re the type who prefers living on their own, or wants to share a cozy space with their significant other, a railroad apartment could be a lot more affordable than a studio or a loft.