The Central Railroad of New Jersey, The Big Little Railroad

The Central Railroad of New Jersey has gone by a number of different names from CRRNJ and CNJ to Jersey Central and the aforementioned. Regardless of its many names the CNJ was a New Jersey institution for years although it was only regional in operation and was, at its peak, only 711 miles in length. The Jersey Central served much of New Jersey along with northwestern Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, and Washington D.C. via a partnership with the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. The demise of the CNJ was the result of a number of factors including a region too saturated with railroads, stiff government regulation, and markets already served by more efficient competitors (such as the Penn Central). However, for all of these setbacks it did not help that the railroad was taxed so stiffly by the State of New Jersey that this also ultimately led to the railroad’s bankruptcy and inclusion into Conrail in 1976.  

Two Jersey Central GP7s, #1525 and #1529, adorned in the road's Red Baron livery, hustle an evening commuter train through Plainfield, New Jersey as they pass under the massive signal tower during June of 1976.

The Jersey Central has its beginnings dating back to 1831 with the chartering of the Elizabethtown and Somerville Railroad to connect Elizabeth with Somerville, New Jersey. The creation of the CNJ was a result of the E&S merging with the Somerville and Easton Railroad, a railroad chartered in 1847 to connect west to Easton from the connection point at Somerville, and the railroad was born on February 11th, 1849 (the result of the E&S purchasing the S&E). Like most of the now-classic fallen flags, the CNJ expanded and grew through a combination of new construction and take over of other, smaller lines.  

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At its peak the Central Railroad of New Jersey connected to points including Wilkes-Barre, Reading (via the Reading Railroad), Allentown, and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Washington D.C. via the B&O; southern New Jersey; and the New York City Tri-State area by virtue of a grand terminal, which set along the banks of the mighty Hudson River from downtown Manhattan at Jersey City, known as the Jersey City Terminal. Following the turn of the century in 1901 the Reading Railroad took control of the CNJ, which lasted until 1976 and Conrail. The railroad itself was built predominantly to haul anthracite coal from western Pennsylvania coalfields although it did have a range of merchandise and commuter traffic from the New Jersey, Tri-State, and Philadelphia regions.  For more history and reading on the Jersey Central please click here.  

(For a more detailed map [1941] of the Jersey Central please click here.)

While the railroad was successful during its early years, following the fallout of anthracite after roughly World War I the CNJ fell on hard times and emerged from bankruptcy a number of times throughout the rest of its life. Its biggest disadvantage was its location and overall size whereby larger competitors stole away potential traffic, and its size left the railroad with short-haul freight, something that is not very profitable.   As the Northeast’s traffic base began to dry up following World War II the result of this proved critical to the region’s largest railroads. By the 1960s companies such as the Pennsylvania Railroad, New York Central Railroad, Reading Railroad, Lehigh Valley Railroad, Erie-Lackawanna, CNJ, and others were facing destitution; there were simply too many railroads and not enough traffic.

Two CNJ RS3s receive some light maintenance at the Elizabethport, New Jersey yard during the early Conrail era on June 23, 1977.

Roads like the Reading, LV, and CNJ were hit especially hard as they all relied heavily on anthracite, which was no longer profitable as demand had almost completely disappeared.   While the Jersey Central had friendly connections with both the Reading and B&O (later the result of the B&O owning a controlling interest in the Reading) there simply was not enough traffic to keep the railroad away from the red ink. Coupled with a commuter service and state taxes that were simply bringing the railroad to its knees, it comes as no surprise that the CNJ entered its final bankruptcy in 1967.  In a last ditch attempt to cut the flow of red ink the CNJ embargoed all lines in Pennsylvania in 1972, which were picked up by the Lehigh Valley.

An example of the Jersey Central's early livery, now worn by Norfolk Southern heritage unit SD70ACe #1071. The locomotive is seen here during the Class I's 30th Anniversary celebration at the North Carolina Transportation Museum on July 3, 2012.

In the end nothing worked for the CNJ and the railroad, which boasted perhaps the most patriotic of all railroad logos, the Lady Liberty and the railroad she represented quietly disappeared into Conrail on April 1, 1976.  The Jersey Central was, of course, a small railroad in comparison to most other classic fallen flags. However, for her small size she boasted a number of achievements and feats including the first commercially successful diesel locomotive, an impressive four-track Newark Bay Bridge connecting Elizabethport and Bayonne, The Blue Comet (the CNJ's most successful and famous passenger train connecting Jersey City with Atlantic City), and a four track main line that stretched from Jersey City to Raritan, New Jersey.  For further reading on the CNJ please click here.

Diesel Locomotive Roster

The American Locomotive Company

Model Type Road Number Date Built Quantity
RS31540-1555, 1700-17091950-195326

The Baldwin Locomotive Works

Model Type Road Number Date Built Quantity
DR-4-4-1500 (Babyface)70-791947-194810
DR-4-4-1500 (Babyface)K, L, M, R, S (Bs)1947-19485
DRX-6-4-2000 (Duel Cabs)2000-20051946-19486

Two CNJ 4-6-2 Pacifics refill their tenders under the coaling tower at the Jersey City Terminal on December 13, 1948.

The Electro-Motive Corporation/Electro-Motive Division

Model Type Road Number Date Built Quantity

Fairbanks Morse

Model Type Road Number Date Built Quantity
H24-66 (Train Master)2401-24131954-195613

General Electric/Ingersoll-Rand

Model Type Road Number Date Built Quantity
Boxcab 60T100019251

The Jersey Central's only notable passenger train, the Blue Comet, departs Jersey City Terminal led by 4-6-2 Pacific #832 during December of 1937.

Steam Locomotive Roster

For additional information about the CNJ's steam locomotive roster please click here.

Class Type Wheel Arrangement
B-2 Through B-7Switcher0-6-0
E-1 Through E-4Switcher0-8-0
G-1s Through G-4sPacific4-6-2
I-4s Through I-6asConsolidation2-8-0
K-1, K-1sTwelve-Wheeler4-8-0
L-3s Through L-8sTen-Wheeler4-6-0
M-1s, M-2s, M-2asMikado2-8-2
P-6, P-6sAtlantic4-4-2

Commuter trains pass one another at Bound Brook, New Jersey on a cold December 26, 1976 with each being led by GP7s wearing the road's Coast Guard livery (a different name for the same red and white scheme).

Sadly, the 1970s, State of New Jersey, and politicians were not kind to the Central Railroad of New Jersey. Today its four-track main is but a memory with only sparse sections still in use. The Jersey City Terminal is still standing as a museum but has not seen a train call to her sheds since the controversial Aldene Plan went into effect in 1967, and its massive and impressive Newark Bay Bridge (which should have become a National Historic Landmark and still serving commuters today) is completely gone, torn down in the 1980s (the only remains are a few approach support piers). In the end many see the railroad as cheated and shredded apart by the state and politicians when most of its Tri-State and New Jersey lines could still be serving the public good and relieving nearby highways and interstates of choking amounts of traffic and commuters. Having said that, while the Jersey Central today is but a memory a few of its lines around the Tri-State area continue to serve a number of different commuter operations.

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