Central Railroad of New Jersey

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Central Railroad of New Jersey
Jersey Central, Jersey Central Lines or New Jersey Central
Main region(s)New Jersey
Other region(s)New York State
Headquarters148 Liberty Street
New York City, New York, U.S.
Reporting markCNJ
Dates of operation1839 (1839)–1976 (1976)
SuccessorsConrail (freight)
Raritan Valley Line (passenger)
Length693 miles (1,115 kilometres)

The Central Railroad of New Jersey, also known as the Jersey Central, Jersey Central Lines or New Jersey Central (reporting mark CNJ), was a Class I railroad with origins in the 1830s. It was absorbed into Conrail in April 1976 along with several other prominent bankrupt railroads of the Northeastern United States.

The CNJ's main line had a major presence in New Jersey. Most of the main line is now used by the Raritan Valley Line passenger service and trackage from the CNJ main line in Phillipsburg, New Jersey became part of the Lehigh Line under Conrail.


CNJ Liberty Street Ferry Terminal, New York City, ca. 1900

The earliest railroad ancestor of the CNJ was the Elizabethtown & Somerville Railroad, incorporated in 1831 and opened from Elizabethport to Elizabeth, New Jersey in 1836. Horses gave way to steam in 1839, and the railroad was extended west, reaching Somerville at the beginning of 1842. The Somerville & Easton Railroad was incorporated in 1847 and began building westward. In 1849 it purchased the Elizabethtown & Somerville and adopted a new name: Central Railroad Company of New Jersey. The line reached Phillipsburg, on the east bank of the Delaware River, in 1852. It was extended east across Newark Bay to Jersey City in 1864, and it gradually acquired branches to Flemington, Newark, Perth Amboy, Chester, and Wharton.[1]

The New Jersey Southern (NJS) began construction in 1860 at Port Monmouth. The railroad worked its way southwest across lower New Jersey and reached Bayside, on the Delaware River west of Bridgeton, New Jersey in 1871. The NJS came under control of the CNJ in 1879. CNJ's influence briefly extended across the Delaware River in the form of the Baltimore & Delaware Bay Railroad, from Bombay Hook, Delaware, east of Townsend, to Chestertown, Maryland. That line became part of the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) family in 1901.[1]

CNJ's lines in Pennsylvania were built by the Lehigh Coal & Navigation Company as the Lehigh & Susquehanna Railroad (L&S). The main line was completed between Phillipsburg, New Jersey and Wilkes-Barre in 1866. A notable feature of the line was the Ashley Planes, a steep stretch of line (maximum grade was 14.65%) operated by cables driven by stationary engines, which remained in service until after World War II (WWII). CNJ leased the L&S in 1871. The line was extended to Scranton in 1888 by a subsidiary of the L&S, the Wilkes-Barre & Scranton; L&S leased the line upon completion and assigned the lease to the CNJ. The bulk of the traffic on the Pennsylvania lines was anthracite coal, much of it produced by subsidiaries of the railroad, until the Commodities Clause of the Interstate Commerce Act of 1920 forbade railroads to haul freight in which they had an interest.[1]

1915 CNJ ad for service from New York

From 1883 to 1887 the CNJ was leased to and operated by the Philadelphia & Reading Railroad, with which it formed a New York-Philadelphia route. CNJ resumed its own management after reorganization in 1887. In 1901, the Reading Company (RDG), successor to the Philadelphia & Reading, acquired control of the CNJ through purchase of a majority of its stock, and at about the same time Baltimore & Ohio Railroad (B&O) acquired control of the RDG, gaining access to New York over RDG and CNJ rails.[1][2]

In 1929, CNJ inaugurated the Blue Comet, a deluxe coach train operating twice daily between Jersey City and Atlantic City. It was painted blue from the pilot of its 4-6-2 to the rear bulkhead of its observation car, and its refurbished cars offered a level of comfort much higher than the usual day coach of the era. The train was the forerunner of the coach streamliners that blossomed nationwide in the late 1930s and the 1940s. It succumbed to automobile competition in 1941. Also in 1929 CNJ purchased a 30 percent interest in the Raritan River Railroad, a 12-mile (19 km) short line from Perth Amboy to New Brunswick. In 1931 it acquired total ownership of the Wharton & Northern Railroad and a partial interest in the Mount Hope Mineral Railroad from Warren Foundry & Pipe Corporation.[1]

The lines in Pennsylvania were organized as the Central Railroad of Pennsylvania (CRP) in 1946 in an effort to escape taxation by the state of New Jersey. CNJ resumed its own operation of the Pennsylvania lines at the end of 1952. The CRP continued in existence as owner of the Easton & Western, four miles of track in Easton, Pennsylvania.[1]

Revenue freight traffic, in millions of net ton-miles
Year Traffic
1925 2513
1933 1511
1944 3735
1960 1948
1970 1455
Source: ICC annual reports
Revenue passenger traffic, in millions of passenger-miles.
Year Traffic
1925 480
1933 337
1944 480
1960 175
1970 124
Source: ICC annual reports

When the Lehigh & New England Railroad was abandoned in 1961 CNJ acquired a few of its branches and organized them as the Lehigh & New England Railway. In 1963 Lehigh Coal & Navigation sold its railroad properties to the RDG, but the lease to the CNJ continued. In 1965 CNJ and the Lehigh Valley Railroad consolidated their lines along the Lehigh River in Pennsylvania and portions of each railroad's line were abandoned; the anthracite traffic that had supported both railroads had largely disappeared. CNJ operations in Pennsylvania ended March 31, 1972.[1]

CNJ train at Plainfield Station, 1910

CNJ maintained a small carfloat terminal in The Bronx. It was the site of the first successful Class 1 railroad diesel operation. Over the years CNJ maintained an extensive marine operation on New York Bay, including a steamer line to Sandy Hook. CNJ's last marine service, the ferry line between Manhattan and CNJ's rail terminal at Jersey City, made its last run on April 30, 1967. It was also the last day for the terminal itself; the next day CNJ passenger trains began originating and terminating at the PRR station in Newark via the Aldene Connection, where New York passengers could transfer to either PRR or Port Authority Trans-Hudson (PATH) trains.[1]


The years after WWII were not kind to CNJ. Passenger traffic was almost entirely commuter business, requiring great amounts of rolling stock for two short periods five days a week. Three-fourths of CNJ's freight traffic terminated on line — the railroad was essentially a terminal carrier, which meant little profit was made, if any. In addition, heavy[according to whom?] taxes levied by the state of New Jersey ate up much[specify] of CNJ's revenue. The state of New Jersey began subsidizing commuter service in 1964, and the tax situation changed[specify] in 1967.

The merger between the Chesapeake & Ohio and Norfolk & Western railways that was proposed in 1965 to counter the impending PRR-New York Central Railroad merger was to have included CNJ, but the bankruptcy of Penn Central killed that prospect. CNJ drafted elaborate plans for reorganization; they came to naught as neighboring railroads collapsed. Conrail took over freight operations of the CNJ on April 1, 1976; with passenger routes transferred to the New Jersey Department of Transportation including the present New Jersey Transit North Jersey Coast Line and Raritan Valley Line.[1]

CNJ emerged from bankruptcy in 1979 as Central Jersey Industries (later CJI Industries), a corporate shell. It merged with the packaging company Triangle Industries, owned by Nelson Peltz, in 1986.

Main initial corridors[edit]

CNJ had its northeastern terminus at Elizabethport, New Jersey. In 1864 CNJ extended its railroad across the bay into Bayonne, and north to the Jersey City terminus. It had used a succession of bridges over the years, the last being Newark Bay Bridge, demolished in the 1980s.[3]

From Elizabethport, trains went to different corridors. One headed towards Elizabeth and Plainfield and points west and southwest. The second went south towards Perth Amboy and today's North Jersey Coast Line and different southern New Jersey destinations. CNJ operated several trains into Pennsylvania and other points west or south, in association with the RDG. B&O also used CNJ tracks for the final approach to Jersey City.[3][4][5]

Portions still operated[edit]


Predecessor railroads[edit]

  • Buena Vista Railroad
  • Carteret & Sewaren Railroad
  • Carteret Extension Railroad
  • Cumberland & Maurice River Railroad
  • Cumberland & Maurice River Extension Railroad
  • Elizabeth Extension Railroad
  • Freehold & Atlantic Highlands Railroad
  • Lafayette Railroad
  • Manufacturers' Extension Railroad
  • Middle Brook Railroad
  • New Jersey Terminal Railroad
  • New Jersey Southern Railroad
  • Navesink Railroad
  • Passaic River Extension Railroad
  • Raritan North Shore Railroad
  • Sound Shore Railroad
  • Toms River Railroad
  • Toms River & Barnegat Railroad
  • Vineland Railroad
  • Vineland Branch Railway
  • West Side Connecting Railroad
  • West End Railroad

Named passenger trains[edit]

CNJ operated several named trains, most of which were interstate operations:

Several non-CNJ trains operated over CNJ trackage north of Bound Brook, New Jersey to the Jersey City terminal:

Heritage units[edit]

GP40PH-2 4109 enters Maplewood Station

To celebrate its 30th anniversary in 2012, Norfolk Southern painted 20 new locomotives with predecessor schemes. NS #1071, an EMD SD70ACe locomotive, was painted with the CNJ orange and blue.

In 2019, NJ Transit painted locomotive 4109 in a heritage scheme based on that of the CNJ GP40P.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Drury, George H. (1994). The Historical Guide to North American Railroads: Histories, Figures, and Features of more than 160 Railroads Abandoned or Merged since 1930. Waukesha, Wisconsin: Kalmbach Publishing. pp. 56–59. ISBN 0-89024-072-8.
  2. ^ Alecknavage II, Albert (July 6, 2003). "Philly NRHS - Reading Company History". Retrieved 2009-12-06.
  3. ^ a b "Jersey Central: Coal, Commuters, and a Comet" Classic Trains, Winter 2011, archived October 6, 2013, from the original.
  4. ^ Joseph Corso, The Central Railroad of New Jersey http://www.jcrhs.org/cnj.html
  5. ^ "The Central Railroad of New Jersey, The Big Little Railroad" AmericanRails.com http://www.american-rails.com/central-railroad-of-new-jersey.html

Further reading[edit]