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.
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.
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
While the Jersey Central had friendly connections with both the Reading
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
The Baldwin Locomotive Works
DRX-6-4-2000 (Duel Cabs)
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
H24-66 (Train Master)
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.
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.