Rahway Valley Railroad
|Locale||Northern New Jersey|
|Dates of operation||1897–1992|
|Track gauge||4 ft 8 1⁄2 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge|
|Headquarters||Kenilworth, New Jersey|
|Rahway Valley Railroad|
The Rahway Valley Railroad (RVRR) was a short-line railroad in the Northeastern United States which connected the Lehigh Valley Railroad in Roselle Park and the Central Railroad of New Jersey in Cranford with the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western in Summit. Operating over a span of 95 years (1897–1992) in Union County, New Jersey, in its prime it was one of the most successful shortline railroads in U.S. history, turning a profit during the Great Depression. During its lifetime, the RVRR was instrumental in the development of Kenilworth (site of its headquarters) as well as Union Township, Springfield and other towns along its route. Later years saw traffic decline; by the mid-1980s the line could no longer afford to purchase liability insurance. The RVRR was foreclosed on and sold to the Delaware Otsego Corporation which did little to revitalize the nearly 90-year-old line. Traffic continued to decline until service ended in 1992, with a single customer remaining.
New York and New Orange Railroad 1897–1901
The predecessor railroad to the RV started in 1897 as the New York and New Orange Railroad. The initial four miles of track ran from Kenilworth, New Jersey, to Aldene, where it connected with the Central Railroad of New Jersey. The railroad was originally created as part of an industrial development project in New Orange (now Kenilworth). The railroad was chartered in June, 1897 by members of the New Orange Industrial Association to serve their factories in New Orange (Now Kenilworth.) In the charter for the railroad the line was given permission to build to Summit, but limited funds prevented this. For the year 1899 the factories in New Orange were shut down, due to an economic recession. The NY&NO only operated passenger trains for this year. The 4-mile NY&NO quickly became unprofitable and soon stopped paying taxes and was sold under foreclosure in 1901 to the hastily organized New Orange Four Junction Railroad.
New Orange Four Junction Railroad 1901–1905
This short-lived railroad was organized by William W. Cole and several partners, who held interests in the New Orange Industrial Association, to take over the foreclosed upon New York and New Orange Railroad. During its entire four years of operation it was mostly a break-even deal for this railroad. In 1903 the NOFJ was contracted by the Pennsylvania Railroad to remove the soil from Tin Kettle Hill for the PRR's approach to its New York City tunnel. The PRR became very interested in this line and helped it to acquire right-of-way to build a line to Summit. The PRR also had plans to extend the railroad south to its line. Surveys for the line to Summit were made in 1902. Due to financial problems in the company the NOFJ never extended to Summit. In July 1904 the Rahway Valley Railroad was chartered to build from Kenilworth to Summit. Mr. Cole, president of the NOFJ became associated with the new line and was soon appointed its president. The NOFJ and Rahway Valley Railroad were consolidated on March 1, 1905.
Rahway Valley Railroad 1904–1986
Louis Keller, a founder of Baltusrol Golf Club, was dissatisfied with the transportation to his golf club over the rough dirt roads that existed in Union County, New Jersey in the early 1900s. He was further frustrated with efforts of the New Orange Industrial Association, and their two railroads the NY&NO and NOFJ, to build a rail line from Kenilworth to Summit. Keller became involved with a project called the "Cross County Railroad" in 1903 in which he invested, but the project went bust. He decided to take matters into his own hands and form the Rahway Valley Railroad on July 18, 1904. Not being experienced in managing and building railroads, Keller became associated with NOFJ President William W. Cole and brought him on as RVRR president, the NOFJ and RVRR were consolidated on March 1, 1905.
Through the efforts of Keller and Cole the line was eventually extended to Summit in 1906, but they were denied access to connect to the Delaware, Lackawanna, and Western Railroad in Summit. Over the next twenty-five years court battles would ensue over this connection before one was finally made in 1931.
In 1909, to lower costs, Keller created a lessee company, the Rahway Valley Company, to lease the entire railroad to, in-order to lower costs. The lessee company was controlled by the Keller family for its entire existence. The Rahway Valley Railroad Company owned all of the track, stations, and other structures, from Roselle Park to Summit, and the Monsanto Branch, but its operations were carried out by the lessee.
In 1914 when World War I started the Rahway Valley Railroad experienced a boom in activity. A gunpowder plant was built by the American Can Co. in 1914 on the Unionbury Branch. A plant only known as the “Fireworks Factory” was also opened on the Unionbury branch by Czarist Russia, and shipped via the RV. A disaster on the Unionbury Branch almost destroyed the Fireworks Factory, and rumors of German spies caused the line to hire armed guards to protect the rails from foreign infiltrators. The American Can Co. provided a string of eight coaches that came from Staten Island via the Staten Island Railway every morning loaded with workers and then transferred to the RV. The Lehigh Valley ran its trains up to Kenilworth for a time to bring in workers, and the CNJ shipped as many as 5,000 arsenal workers a day for three shifts. At its peak the RV carried thousands of workers to the factories around the clock.
In 1918 with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles World War I quickly came to an end, and with it freight traffic severely declined and almost all passenger traffic disappeared. With a lack of traffic the railroad was put into a greatly compromised position. The railroading experience of William W. Cole disappeared with his unexpected death in 1915, his replacement Charles Wittenberg died in 1919. Louis Keller, with nowhere to turn, and with no ability to operate the railroad himself, brought Roger A. Clark and his son George into the company in 1919. Through Roger Clark's ability to attract business on the line the line's financial situation began to turn around.
In 1921, Louis Keller died. The executors of his estate appointed Roger Clark president. His first move was to discontinue passenger service. Since 1918 there were two passenger trains a day that consisted of one passenger coach and locomotive No. 5 which primarily were to cater to Keller's golfing pals, which the Clarks called the "blue chip fellows." Next Clark upgraded the increasingly deteriorating Rahway Valley Railroad locomotive fleet. Nos. 9 & 10 were put out to pasture as unneeded and were eventually scrapped. In 1927 No. 12 was purchased, but deemed to large and retired in 1929. It wasn't until 1929 that Nos. 13 & 14 were purchased that the RVRR completely phased out the older locomotives.
Roger Clark died in 1932 and the Keller estate put his son George A. Clark in the helm of president. Under George Clark the Rahway Valley Railroad made its actual first net profit in many years in 1934. Clark also continued to attract new businesses to locate on the line. An increase in larger industry along the railroad also occurred. But by the early 1950s with the increase of improved highways, trucks began chipping away at the Rahway Valley's business market.
Clark forced himself to dieselize the railroad in 1951 with the purchase of 70-ton locomotive No. 16 from General Electric. For a few years the Rahway Valley interchangeably used steam (#13 & 15) and diesel (#16) power until a second diesel locomotive (#17) was purchased in 1954. No.13 was scrapped and No.15 was put into storage in Kenilworth until it was sold to Steamtown in 1959.
George A. Clark died in his office in the old Kenilworth Station in 1969. His son Robert G. Clark was created president. By the time George Clark died a significant decrease in the traffic on the Rahway Valley Railroad could be seen. With smaller profits came deferred track maintenance and weeds could be seen growing along the line. In the early 1970s came the closing of the line in Maplewood. Bob Clark attempted to attract new business to the line, and was temporarily successful, but his base was still being taken out from under him. He unexpectedly died in 1975.
The Keller estate, still owners of the railroad, appointed experienced railroader Benard Cahill to the presidency. Cahill was able to bring new life to the railroad. He secured grants from the state to update trackage and secured new office space in a former Lehigh Valley passenger coach that he purchased and parked on a siding in Kenilworth, the previous offices in the old Kenilworth Station burned in 1974.
In 1980 passenger trains were again run over the Rahway Valley Railroad, albeit for a week, for the occasion of the U.S. Open being held at the Baltusrol Golf Club. Trains were run between Kenilworth and Baltustol in a push-pull formation by Nos. 16 & 17. The train, sponsored by the Union County Trust Company, used passenger coaches rented from the Cooperstown & Charlotte Valley Railroad in New York.
Despite improvements and revitalization, the formation of Conrail in 1976 put the Rahway Valley Railroad in an awkward situation. Previously having three independent railroads connecting to it, the RVRR now had one railroad connecting to it in three separate places. With Conrail the last train ran to Summit in 1976. No longer using the Summit connection, the RVRR increasingly used the former Lehigh Valley connection and less and less used the former CNJ connection at Aldene. But despite these new predicaments the RVRR under Cahill kept trudging along, increasingly relying on its largest customer, Monsanto Corp. in Kenilworth, as slowly more smaller customers switched to trucks.
Delaware Otsego Corporation 1986–1992
In 1986, the Rahway Valley Railroad was unable to purchase liability insurance. The line was in turn sold to the Delaware Otsego Corporation (DO), which operates the New York, Sushquehanna, and Western. Nos. 16 & 17 were removed from the line in 1989, and put into service in Binghamton, NY. The replacement No. 120 of the NYS&W, an EMD SW9 built by EMD.
The DO did little to revitalize the line. The DO deferred track maintenance and customers became disenchanted with the lines new management and turned to trucks. The DO, also operators of the former Staten Island Rapid Transit Line from Cranford to Linden, began using the Aldene connection which had received less maintenance in years past, so derailments were frequent. In 1988, the now-unused former Lehigh Valley connection was removed. Monsanto Corp. closed and Jaeger Lumber discontinued service in 1991. With virtually no business left to serve the Delaware Otsego Corp. closed the Rahway Valley Railroad along with the Staten Island Rapid Transit line in April 1992, the RVRR having only one customer left.
The Morristown and Erie Railway (M&E) was contracted by the state of New Jersey in 2001 to refurbish and operate the southern portion of the former Rahway Valley Railroad. M&E operations on the southern portion of the former Rahway Valley Railroad commenced in July 2005 and connect to the newly restored Staten Island Railway on Staten Island, New York, and the national rail network via an interchange with Conrail Shared Assets in Cranford.
As of 2010, the funding for the Rahway Valley rebuild by NJDOT are not enough to keep rebuilding. Now most of the line from Roselle Park-Union/Springfield border is cleared of trees and thick brush. New track has been inserted from the Union/Springfield border to the Union Wye (behind Rahway Avenue). All the sidings to the railway's potential future customers were left unconnected to the main line. Also track has been inserted in some parts of Kenilworth. As for the sections past the Union/Springfield border nothing has been done yet through the towns of Springfield or Summit.
As of May 15, 2012, M&E removed all its assets from the railbeds since they did not exercise their option to extent the operating agreement with Union County.
Proposed rail trails
- Union County Park Line rail trail - Two abandoned rails exist in the county. The status of the abandoned railroad between Summit and Cranford is uncertain. The City of Summit and the Summit Park Line Foundation are working on turning the portion of the abandoned railroad from Morris Avenue to Briant Park in Summit into a rail trail that will be approximately one mile long. This rail trail, potentially called the Summit Park Line would provide a greenway to connect several county parks, akin to a Summit High Line. It would create a path directly from Summit, New Jersey to the Arthur Kill in Linden, New Jersey by utilizing the Rahway Valley Railroad and the Staten Island Rapid Transit line. The Summit council applied for a $1 million grant toward thee Park Line project in November 2016. “If Summit is able to complete the project, it might help other parts of the greenway come through,” said Union County Public Relations Coordinator, Sebastian Delia. The Rahway Valley Railroad runs from Summit to Roselle Park. Beginning in Hidden Valley Park, the railroad right-of-way continues by connecting Houdaille Quarry, Briant Park, Meisel Park, Rahway River Parkway, Galloping Hill Golf Course and Black Brook Park. The ending of the railway is on Westfield Avenue in Roselle Park. The Staten Island Rapid Transit runs from Cranford to Staten Island, although the project would only include the section that runs from Cranford to Linden, New Jersey. The possible beginning in Cranford would be a lot adjacent to the railroad right-of-way on South Avenue East. The lot is currently owned by Lehigh Acquisition. The ending of this trail would be in Linden, New Jersey along another empty lot. A boardwalk could be placed over the existing tracks due to the possibility of the line being reactivated.
Accidents on the NY&NO and the RV
- September 1, 1899 – At 1:10 pm a Mr. Theo Harrison of Newark, New Jersey, was driving his horse-drawn wagon on Westfield Avenue when he tried to outrun the oncoming NY&NO locomotive No.1. Mr. Harrison was thrown from the wagon and sustained a minor flesh wound from a broken crosstie on the right leg. He was later reported to be partially paralyzed.
- March 11, 1904 – William H. Harding, a conductor on the New Orange Junction Four Railroad (NY&NO), was fatally injured while coupling cars and died May 13. The accident was a result of carelessness on the part of Mr. Harding.
- 1905 – James Gray, an engineer on the Rahway Valley Railroad, was thrown from the cab of locomotive No.3 while running at full speed. His leg was crushed so badly that it was amputated.
Both from the annual reports of the NY&NO and the RV, can be found on Google.
In 1906 No.3 was wrecked after traveling at a high rate of speed near the Rahway River trestle.
Also in 1906 an accident resulted when a passenger train got loose from the locomotive going up the grade to Summit and plowed into a locomotive in Springfield.
- The History of the RVRR
- The Rahway Valley Railroad
- New Jersey's Streak o' Rust|Trains Magazine Article of October, 1950: By John T. Cunningham
- Rahway Valley Railroad Historical Society
- Archived news articles on the progress of RVRR reactivation
- Great photo gallery
- VERY detailed engine roster
- Union County benefits of the RVRR
- Morristown & Erie reactivation details
- RVRR forum
- Early history of the RVRR
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