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The term railroad apartment describes a lay-out that is analogous to that of a typical (mid-20th century or earlier) passenger train car. Such cars had compartments (typically holding 4–6 passengers) accessed by a narrow hallway running along one side, along their entire length. The analogous apartment has a series of rooms that are accessed from a hallway that runs the length of the apartment from the front to the back door. This usage is most common in New York City, San Francisco, and their surrounding areas. Railroad apartments are common in tenement or even modern apartment buildings, and are sometimes found in subdivided brownstones.
Sometimes confused with a shotgun house, which is just a series of rooms connected directly, with no hallway, railroad apartments do typically have hallways. However, rooms may also connect directly, such as with panel doors that connect the living room to the dining room.
Railroad apartments first made an appearance in New York City in the mid-19th century, and were designed to provide a solution to urban overcrowding. Many early railroad apartments were extremely narrow, and most buildings were five or six stories high. Few early buildings had internal sanitation, and bathrooms emptied raw sewage into the back yard. In some cases, one family would take up residence in each room, with the hallway providing communal space.
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