When people think of the Garden State,
rarely does railroading come to mind...unless they are rail fans or look
out of the plane window while landing at Newark Airport.
However, the state's history and that
of railroads are tightly linked. During the industrial revolution
in the US, most of the manufacturing was in the North East. The
materials to make these products, the products themselves and the fuel
for this industry all evolved along with the railroads.
In addition the to the industrial
reliance on the steel rails, the bulk of the state was agricultural and
nicely centered between the large population centers of the 19th
century. During this era, railroads like the Morris &
Essex, Camden & Amboy
& Somerville formed the
backbone of these first generation railroads.
As the 19th century came to a close,
the population had shifted inland towards the heartland. With this
came a change in the railroad picture. Mergers between to small
lines designed to serve local industry became common place. This
second generation of railroads included those like the Lackawanna,
Pennsylvania, Jersey Central and the others that lasts through half the
As the 20th century progressed, more
and more of the population moved away from the cities. At first,
this was a boon to the long distance passenger train. Trains like
the Broadway Limited, John Wilkes and Phoebe Snow all passed through NJ
as they linked the small towns and big cities. This is the golden
age of Railroading. During this time, most towns of any size had
at least one railroad. Places like Lake Hopatcong, Asbury Park and
Atlantic City were the major vacation stops and they were all served by
This started to turn during the years
leading up to WW II. Already, the car and the highway were
becoming accessible to the general population. Cars drew people
and trucks drew goods. This trend stopped temporarily during WWII,
but almost immediately afterward, people fled the cities, bought cars
and the passenger service suffered.
Mounting losses in passenger
operations to the planes and automobiles caused some rethinking of the
passenger service. A fairly standard approach was used.
First, new trains were put together to entice the people back to the
rails. When this failed, most railroads scaled back operations,
applied to the state for subsides or, like the Lehigh Valley, completely
abandoned passenger service.
This change, along with the traffic
decreasing brought about the third generation of railroads. This
caused the Erie-Lackawanna and Penn-Central to be formed. The
later became a text book example of how quickly a even a large company
can go bankrupt.
All the mergers, decreased physical
plant and subsidized passenger operations did not make any
difference. In 1976, the 6 largest railroads (Erie Lackawanna,
Penn-Central, Jersey Central, Lehigh & Hudson River, Reading and
Lehigh Valley) in New Jersey merged (along with the Michigan-based
Ann Arbor) to form Consolidated Rail Corporation (Conrail).
Conrail and New Jersey Transit turned the railroad
picture in New Jersey around. Conrail eliminated large
portions of track and eventually turned a profit. They then became
the property of the Norfolk & Southern and CSX.
New Jersey Transit has an even tougher job.
They have completely revitalized a decaying passenger
infrastructure. At this time, the NJT rail operations are admired by
both passengers and other state's rail agencies.
What does the future hold? It is tough to
guess. There are talks of expanding passenger service on
long-dormant lines and the traffic situation in New Jersey gets worse
every year. NS & CSX have expanded yard operations and might
even add some double-track in areas that had been removed. Most of
the later comes courtesy of the huge container ships that now dock in