Central Railroad of New Jersey

Central Railroad of New Jersey
Reporting mark CNJ
Locale New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania
Dates of operation 1839–March 31, 1976
Successor Conrail (trackage), New Jersey Transit (operations of the Raritan Valley Line)
Track gauge 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) (standard gauge)
Headquarters 148 Liberty Street
New York, New York

The Central Railroad of New Jersey (reporting mark CNJ), commonly known as the Jersey Central Lines or CNJ, was a Class I railroad with origins in the 1830s, lasting until 1976 when it was absorbed into Conrail with the other bankrupt railroads of the Northeastern United States. Its main line ran from Jersey City west through New Jersey to Phillipsburg and across the Delaware River to Easton and Scranton in Pennsylvania. Branches stretched into southern New Jersey to Delaware Bay.

The CNJ was acquired by the Philadelphia and Reading Railway in 1883. Though that was later canceled, the Reading continued to exert major influence over the CNJ, and used it for its New York City terminal.

Liberty State Park in Jersey City, New Jersey, includes the CNJ's Communipaw Terminal.




The Elizabethtown and Somerville Railroad was chartered on February 9, 1831, to build from Elizabeth on the Newark Bay (with a steamboat transfer to New York City) west to Somerville. The line to Plainfield was completed in March 1839, connecting to the New Jersey Rail Road in Elizabeth. Extensions took it west to Dunellen in 1840, just east of Bound Brook in 1841 and to Somerville in 1842.

The Somerville and Easton Railroad was chartered on February 26, 1847, to continue the line west to Easton. The first extension, to Whitehouse, opened in 1848 and was leased to the Elizabethtown and Somerville Railroad. On February 11, 1849, the Elizabethtown and Somerville Railroad bought the Somerville and Easton Railroad, and on February 26 the two companies were consolidated as the Central Railroad of New Jersey.

Map of CNJ and other terminals in New York region ca. 1900

The rest of the line to Phillipsburg opened in 1852, and on September 8, 1855, the upper level of the Lehigh Valley Railroad's Easton Bridge over the Delaware River, taking the CNJ to Easton. At that time, Lehigh Valley coal trains began running over the CNJ to Elizabeth. A similar operation with the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad, joining at Hampton, began May 27, 1856. This required the addition of a third rail to join the broad gauge DL&W onto the standard gauge CNJ.

On December 1, 1859, the CNJ arranged to run over the New Jersey Rail Road to the latter's terminal in Jersey City. That operation began December 19, and included a third rail for DL&W trains.

The South Branch Railroad, controlled by the CNJ, opened July 1, 1864, as a branch from Somerville to Flemington. The CNJ's extension to their new terminal in Jersey City, including the first CRRNJ Newark Bay Bridge, opened on July 29, 1864, with a ferry transfer to Cortlandt Street in New York City, ending operations over the NJRR. On July 23, 1869, the Newark and New York Railroad opened, providing a straight route from downtown Newark to the CNJ's Jersey City terminal.[1] The Newark Branch, running north from Elizabethport to the N&NY in Newark, opened June 7, 1872.


Communipaw Terminal in Jersey City

On October 6, 1873, the CNJ leased the New York and Long Branch Railroad, which was in the process of building from Perth Amboy southeast to Long Branch. At the same time the Perth Amboy and Elizabethport Railroad was building from Elizabethport on the CNJ south to Perth Amboy. Hostilities at the crossing of the Pennsylvania Railroad's Perth Amboy and Woodbridge Railroad in April 1872 led to an injunction against the PRR interfering with the construction. The CNJ bought the PA&E later that year. The full line to Long Branch opened September 7, 1875, and was later extended south, reaching Bay Head in 1881 by acquiring other companies. In 1882 the CNJ and Pennsylvania Railroad agreed to use the line jointly, with trackage rights granted to the PRR over the Perth Amboy and Elizabethport between the Perth Amboy and Woodbridge crossing and its south end at the Raritan River bridge.

The CNJ leased the Dover and Rockaway Railroad for 990 years from April 26, 1881; the Ogden Mine Railroad for 999 years from January 1, 1882; and the Hibernia Mine Railroad for 20 years from October 1, 1890, renewed at least once for another 20 years.

A CNJ camelback locomotive built by Baldwin in the 1920s.
Behind the terminal
Elizabeth station, now a restaurant and bar

In late 1917, the following companies were absorbed into the CNJ:

  • Buena Vista Railroad
  • Carteret and Sewaren Railroad
  • Carteret Extension Railroad
  • Cumberland and Maurice River Railroad
  • Cumberland and Maurice River Extension Railroad
  • Elizabeth Extension Railroad
  • Freehold and 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 and Barnegat Railroad
  • Vineland Railroad
  • Vineland Branch Railway
  • West Side Connecting Railroad
  • West End Railroad

In 1901 the Reading Railroad gained control of the CNJ, which lasted until the creation of Conrail on April 1, 1976.[2]

The first commercially successful diesel-electric locomotive, manufactured by Alco in 1924, was built for the Central Railroad of New Jersey.

In 1929 the CNJ began operating its most famous train, the Blue Comet, from Jersey City to Atlantic City. It ran until 1941.

The Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) authorized the CNJ to acquire the Wharton and Northern Railroad and the Mount Hope Mineral Railroad on February 4, 1930.

The Hibernia Mine Railroad was merged into the CNJ on November 25, 1930.


On June 6, 1935, the ICC authorized the CNJ to abandon the Ogden Mine Railroad.

Concourse at Communipaw Terminal, with tablets, is separated from the abandoned trackage by a fence
Reproduction of a tablet designator for the CNJ Blue Comet
Lafayette Street terminal, Newark

In 1961 the CNJ purchased two portions of the dissolving Lehigh and New England Railroad from the Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company. This became the Lehigh and New England Railway, with two segments - Lansford to Tamaqua, Pennsylvania, connecting coal mines to the Reading Railroad, and Bethlehem to Bath and Martins Creek, Pennsylvania, connecting cement mills to the CNJ and Lehigh Valley Railroad.

Paralleling the Lehigh Valley Railroad from the Hudson River to Scranton, the CNJ was a fierce competitor for anthracite coal and freight traffic. With heavy commuter traffic and short freight hauls, the company was in and out of bankruptcy throughout its history. Another problem the railroad had was simply its overall size, whereby larger competitors tended to take away potential traffic. In 1967, bankruptcy was declared for the last time. In 1972, all Pennsylvania operations ceased and the Lehigh Valley Railroad took over the remaining Pennsylvania trackage. At that time, the CNJ entered into joint freight operations with the Erie Lackawanna, routing trains from Jersey City to Scranton, PA via the CNJ's High Bridge Branch. The fact that the State of New Jersey heavily taxed railroads operating in the state only made matters worse for railroads such as the CNJ. Ultimately, the poor financial position of the CNJ led to the CNJ being conveyed into Conrail on April 1, 1976. In the aftermath of the Conrail merger, New Jersey allowed several former CNJ lines shed by Conrail to be abandoned, most notably much of its four-track main line east of Aldene, NJ (as part of the Aldene Plan starting in 1967) and the impressive Newark Bay Bridge, which was removed in the early 1980s. Some of the former CNJ lines, such as the Raritan Valley Line and the North Jersey Coast Line, however, were retained and are now operated by NJ Transit as commuter lines.

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



  • William George Besler

See also


Further reading

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