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The Central Railroad of New Jersey

1) The Company:

As with many of the regional railroads, the Central Railroad of New Jersey is tough to give a birthday. The CNJs primary predecessor line, the Elizabethtown & Somerville, was charted in 1831. However, the CNJ was not recognized until 16 years later.

In 1847, the CNJ was formed by buying the E&S at auction. The E&S was reorganized, and the CNJ was born on 02/20/1847. At this point, the mainline extended from Elizabethtown to Bound Brook. To allow the CNJ to continue building west, a new charter was granted: The Somerville & Easton Railroad. The S&E never operated any trains, and was merged in the CNJ on 04/01/1849.

Building continued west from Bound Brook towards Easton. The ROW passed through the towns of Somerville, Raritan, North Branch, White House, Lebanon, Clinton, Clarksville, North Hampton, Asbury, Bethlehem, Bloomsbury, Springtown and finally to Phillipsburg. A look at the list of towns almost exactly equals those that the current Rt 78 and Rt 22 pass through. Phillipsburg was reached in 1852. The eastern terminus was still Elizabethport, where ferry service ran into New York.

Increasing traffic in the 1850's made it clear that the current eastern terminus was not able to meet the current or future needs of the railroad. The CNJ looked towards the Hudson, and decided on choosing some unlikely marshland on which to build its new Jersey City terminal.

In 1864 a bridge was built over the Newark Bay. This was connected to a new terminal built on filled in marshes. In mid-1864 service was started and the Jersey Central was looking very much like the one that existed a century later. The CNJ now had a double-tracked mainline for its entire length.

Over the next several years, the CNJ would add to its trackage primarily by buying smaller railroads:

Longwood Valley Railroad (Flanders-Mt Hope)
Highbridge Railroad (Highbridge-Flanders)
Dover & Rockaway Railroad (Wharton-Rockaway)
Lake Hopatcong Railroad (Lake Hapatcong-Hapatcong Jct.)
South Branch Railroad (Flemington-Somerville)
Ogden Mine Railroad (Ogden Mines-Lake Hopatcong)
Hibernia Mine Railroad (Hibernia Mines-Rockaway)
Newark & New York (Jersey City-Newark)
Wharton & Northern
Mt. Hope Mineral Railroad
Wilkes Barre & Scranton (Wilkes Barre, PA - Scranton, PA)

The most important acquisition of this time was the Lehigh & Susquehanna Railroad in 1871. Up until this point, the CNJ had made most of its money on Anthracite coal. However, it relied 100% on other competing railroads to deliver these black diamonds. With its new trackage from Easton to the coal fields, the CNJ had eliminated this problem.

Next on the shopping list was the New Jersey Southern Railroad. This was a monster of a railroad in terms of total trackage within the state. It extended from Red Bank in the north all the way to Bayside in the south with connections to Atlantic City and Camden. However, the traffic was light and the NJSR defaulted on its notes. The CNJ leased this entire railroad in 1879. Without this acquisition, there would be no Blue Comet of the later years.

The final major partnership was the New York and Long Branch. This railroad was jointly operated by the CNJ and the Pennsylvania. It connected with both of them in South Amboy and extended South along the coast until it reached Bay Head.

The CNJ now looked like this (click for larger image - 600K):

In 1883, the Reading Railroad started its long relationship with the CNJ. In that year, it leased the entire CNJ. In 1884, this deal fell apart when the Reading did not make the money needed to continue this operation. However, it was the start of a relationship that lasted almost a century. Reading passenger trains have always used CNJ facilities in NJ. And the Reading was always a major stock holder in the CNJ. In 1933, the CNJ would come under control of the Reading for good. This would last until Conrail.

In the early part of the 20th century, the CNJ continued to buy small branch lines throughout the NJ iron region. These railroads were once among the most profitable in history and CNJ was banking on even a small fraction of that revenue. Unfortunately, it was even smaller then they expected as the bottom fell out of the NJ mining industry around the turn of the century.

As the CNJ headed deeper into the 20th century, the period of expansion slowed and a period of contraction began. The CNJ did well during both wars and had trouble during the time in between. In 1939, the CNJ filed for its first bankruptcy. World War II helped to restore the needed cash flow and the CNJ marched on.

The CNJ began to dieselize in earnest shortly after the end of WWII. It went to both Baldwin and EMD to find suitable road power. From Baldwin, it purchased the unique Double Enders. From EMD, it purchased the standard F units. This program would continue until 1954, when the last steam engine ran on the CNJ.

During the costly programs needed to replace steam, the CNJ once again fell into bankruptcy in 1947. In 1949, the CNJ was once again in the black. But the company realized that they were in trouble. Small branch lines in PA and NJ were once again being torn up and scrapped. Even the scrap value of the rails was needed.

In the late 1950s, the CNJ was heading down an even steeper path. It had placed cheap BUDD cars on most commuter runs and costs had been cut to the bone. However, commuter operating costs continued to rise and freight revenue continued to decline.

The CNJ began operating some of the lines of the Lehigh & New England in 1961. The L&NE was still making money off of cement and coal, but seeing the writing on the wall decided its time had come.

Finally on 3/22/1967, the CNJ filed for bankruptcy for the final time. It foreshadowed the rest of New Jersey's railroads, but not by much. It then pulled out of Pennsylvania completely in 1972. The CNJ never did recover from this and went rather meekly into the Conrail system in 1976. While most of the passenger services, structures and equipment were picked up by the state.

2) The Equipment

The CNJ operated a fairly standard stable of engines for an Anthracite Railroad. Of course, this means Camelbacks. #592 is one of two preserved Camelbacks and can be seen at the B&O Museum in Baltimore, MD. (Due to the clutter, the only picture I could get looks too distorted because of the wide angle lens)

The CNJ has the honor of being the first railroad in the US to run a diesel electric locomotive. On October 20th, 1925, #1000 was used at the CNJ's Bronx terminal for switching. It can now be seen at the B&O Museum in Baltimore, MD.

The CNJ operated most diesels from EMD, Baldwin, Fairbanks-Morse and Alco. With the execption of the "Baby Faced" baldwins, there was nothing unusual about the diesels.

3) Named Trains

The Blue Comet (Jersey City-Atlantic City)

The Queen of the Valley (Jersey City-Harrisburg, Pa)

The Bullet (Jersey City-Wilkes-Barre, Pa)

The Williamsporter (Jersey City-Williamsport, Pa)

The Mermaid (Scranton, Pa-Sandy Hook)

4) What's Left

This is actually too long a list to mention. Most of the Raritan Valley line of New Jersey transit is the former CNJ main line. Some stations have been destroyed or abandoned, but there is still enough to give a flavor of what the CNJ was.

Of course, the CNJ Terminal in Jersey City at Liberty State park is the finest artifact left behind. This station is only rivaled by the DL&W station a few miles north on the Hudson for the finest station in NJ.

On the other end, a lone CNJ freight depot stands (for sale!) in Scranton, NJ.

5) For More Information

CNJ History NE Rails by Clint Chamberlin

The Central Railroad of New Jersey: 1847-1976

(c) 1999 - Phil Paone