The Crusader was a streamlined express train that ran on a 90.3-mile (145.3 km) route from Philadelphia's Reading Terminal to Jersey City's Communipaw Terminal, with a ferry connection to Lower Manhattan. The Reading Railroad provided this service in partnership with the Central Railroad of New Jersey (CNJ), in which it was the majority owner of capital stock. Trains operated over CNJ tracks for the 30 miles from Jersey City to Bound Brook and over the Reading System for the 60 miles from Bound Brook to Philadelphia. The train was first operated by the Reading Company as the railroad's premier express. A contest was held to find a name for the new train, offering a $250 (US) cash prize to the winner. The Crusader, the entry of Mr. P. W. Silzer of Plainfield, New Jersey, won the prize, selected by a committee of 29 railroad officials from among 6,086 suggestions. The Crusader's first regular run was on December 13, 1937.
The train was scheduled to make two round trips six days a week. (Sundays were reserved for maintenance work.) Built by the Budd Company of Philadelphia, the original Crusader was a five-car stainless-steel streamliner. The train consisted of two stainless-steel coaches, two observation cars and a tavern-dining car. By placing the two round-end observation cars at opposite end of the consist they eliminated the need to turn the train around at the terminals. Thus, only the locomotive had to be turned around at the completion of each trip. Two full coaches bracketed the tavern-dining car which operated in the middle of the train. Also, matching the stainless-steel cars were two streamlined Pacific Steam locomotives. Each locomotive had a specially-built tender (coal car) that wrapped around the observation car directly behind it.
In the early 1950s, the steam engines were replaced with diesel-powered EMD FP7 locomotives. In 1962, the five-car consist of stainless steel cars was sold to the Canadian National Railway and the train then used smooth-sided cars made for the other Philadelphia–Jersey City Reading train: the Wall Street. In 1967, the Aldene Plan went into effect, which closed the Communipaw Terminal and diverted trains to Newark Penn Station, the locomotive-hauled service ended and was replaced by two Budd RDC cars. The trains could not go beyond Newark Penn Station to New York Penn Station because the locomotives are diesel-powered, and the Hudson River Pennsylvania Railroad tunnels cannot take diesel trains. Deteriorating track and additional stops caused the length of the trip to increase from 90 minutes (during its Streamliner days to Jersey City) to 1 hour 50 minutes. Through service from Philadelphia to Newark terminated on July 30, 1981.
This service continued under SEPTA from 1976 until 1981, when SEPTA eliminated diesel-powered trains with the imminent completion of the Center City Commuter Connection. New Jersey Transit, which had taken over former CNJ commuter service, operated one round trip each weekday between Newark and West Trenton. At West Trenton connections were made with SEPTA electric MU trains to Philadelphia. This service ended on December 3, 1982 when the NJ Transit shuttle made its final trip. NJT has explored restoring the service as its own West Trenton Line.
Two of the train's five cars are known to survive. One of the observation cars is in the collection of the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania at Strasburg, Pennsylvania. The other observation was in service as part of the Spirit of Washington Dinner Train in Washington state until 2007, and is now part of the passenger car fleet of Iowa Pacific Holdings.
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- Smith, Douglas N.W. "Train of two countries". Passenger Train Journal, Vol. 19, No. 2, p. 22.
- Holton, James L. The Reading Railroad: History of a Coal Age Empire, Vol. II: The Twentieth Century. Laurys Station, PA: Garrigues House, Publishers, p. 170.
- Smith, Douglas N.W. Op. cit., Vol. 19, No. 2, p. 26.
- Ibid., p. 23.
- Mike Frassinelli, "The Star-Ledger," "NJ Transit unveils first dual-mode locomotive in North America," May 11, 2011
- Reading Company In Color Volume 1 by Jeremy F. Plant
- Ibid., p. 27.