Last revised: December 4, 2023
By: Adam Burns
New Jersey's railroading history is amazingly diverse and very much worth further study if one is interested in the subject. The state's earliest was the Camden & Amboy, which opened its initial segment in 1832.
From a travel perspective, New Jersey was home to a near endless list of well-known streamliners and other trains which passed through the state on their way to New York City. Only the Pennsylvania and New York Central railroads served Manhattan directly as all others were forced to use one of the many terminals situated at the Hudson River waterfront. From that point, passengers boarded ferries to reach the downtown area.
Some of the well-known trains serving, or operating through, New Jersey included the Blue Comet, National Limited, Capitol Limited, Crusader, Black Diamond, Asa Packer, John Wilkes, Columbian, and many others. These came in a wide variety of colors from grey and blue, Cornell Red, and stainless steel.
All provided full dining service with their trains. The B&O, for instance, offered the following during the 1960s; potted Swiss steak, stuffed French fried shrimp, broiled sirloin steak, roasted young turkey, and it famous "Help Yourself" salad bowl. And this was only part of the menu...
Unfortunately, no heritage railroad in the state currently offers a true, dining experience by train like one could have enjoyed aboard the previously-mentioned trains. However, a few do have some type of snacks or drinks available during their trips, which will be briefly highlighted below.
The Black River & Western offers trips behind an authentic steam locomotive courtesy of Black River & Western 2-8-0 #60 (built as Great Western Railway of Colorado #60 in 1937 by American Locomotive).
They do not offer a dedicated dinner train or any type of food service aboard their trips. However, there is a Winery Train hosted where patrons are taken to a vineyard located in nearby Finesville, New Jersey to sample their wines.
The railroad is based in Ringoes with excursions departing from the town's restored depot. The history of BR&W is an interesting one; it was incorporated in 1961 as a railfan endeavor to begin hosting public excursions.
In 1964 the group had worked out an agreement to operate over part of the Pennsylvania Railroad's Flemington Branch between Flemington and Lambertville. In 1970 the BR&W fully acquired the line from a then struggling Penn Central and eventually launched freight service in conjunction with hosting passenger trains.
By the late 1990s the railroad was in serious danger of being abandoned due to poor track conditions. In 2001 the Black River Railroad Historic Trust was formed to restore operations and has been working to reactivate the entire line since that time. Trains currently run between Flemington, Ringoes, and Bowne.
The Delaware River Railroad Excursions are based in Phillipsburg, operated by the New York Susquehanna & Western Technical & Historical Society. The excursions are hosted over short line freight carrier, Black River and Western Railroad.
The trips run 15 miles along the Delaware River. There are several different events, from the standard "River Train" which lasts about 1 1/2 hours, to the popular "Winery Train" where adults can ride out and visit the local Villa Milagro Vineyards. While the "Winery Train" does not offer food service, adults can sample Villa Milagro's products.
The Delaware River Railroad Excursions have grown into a popular attraction for the Phillipsburg region, witnessing around 100,000 passengers annually.
This excursion launched in 2022 and is a division of SMS Rail Lines, a short line freight carrier which has served New Jersey since 1994. From a historical standpoint, the operation utilizes about 16 miles of restored ex-Pennsylvania-Reading Seashore Lines trackage between Swedesboro, Woodstown, and Mannington. The railroad is currently offering 32-mile round trips with some trains.
The PRSL was once a very busy, commuter railroad, owned jointly by the Pennsylvania and Reading systems. Its network linked Philadelphia with points throughout southern New Jersey, including Atlantic City, Bay Head, Cape May, Ocean City, and many other surrounding communities.
The Woodstown Central does not currently offer food service aboard its train. However, they do run a "Brew To Brew" special for adults, and 11-mile round trip that visits two local breweries, the Swedesboro Brewing Company in Swedesboro and Farmers & Bankers Brewery in Woodstown.