The Alphabet Route

Central Railroad of New Jersey


The CNJ was formed by an 1849 consolidation of many smaller railroads. The Elzabethtown (later shortened to Elizabeth, NJ) and Somerville Railroad was incorporated in February 1831. Service began with a horse drawn car in 1836. The first steam powered train ran on January 1, 1839. The line was completed in 1842. In 1847, the Somerville and Easton Railroad was incorporated to build to the Delaware River. In 1849, the S&E was sold to the E&S and the name was changed to "The Central Rail Road Company of New Jersey." The line was completed in 1852. The upper level of the Lehigh Valley Railroad's Easton bridge was completed on September 8, 1855, taking the CNJ to Easton, PA. The South Branch Railroad, controlled by the CNJ, opened July 1, 1864, as a branch from Somerville to Flemington. The CNJ extended this to their new terminal in Jersey City in 1864. The Newark and New York Railroad opened in 1869, providing a direct route between Newark and Jersey City.

In 1871, trackage was added to the antracite fields of Pennsylvania with the Lehigh and Susquehanna Railroad (CNJ's Lehigh and Susquehanna Division by 1873). Routes south to the New Jersey shore were added in 1888 when the CNJ and PRR signed an operating agreement to take joint control of the New York and Long Branch Railroad between Perth Amboy and Bay Head. This connected to the New Jersey Southern at Red Bank. The New Jersey Southern was acquired by the CNJ in a bankruptcy sale in 1879. These acquisitions completed the major routes of the CNJ.

The CNJ leased the Dover and Rockaway Railroad for 990 years on April 26, 1881. The CNJ leased the Ogden Mine Railroad for 999 years on January 1, 1882. In 1883, the CNJ was acquired by the Philadelphia and Reading Railway, though the deal was later canceled. The Reading continued to have a major influence on the CNJ, as they used the CNJ as their New York City area port. The CNJ leased the Hibernia Mine Railroad for 20 years on October 1, 1890 (and renewed the lease once for another 20 years). In late 1917, the following 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, Manufacturer's 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, and West End Railroad. At its peak, CNJ operated 620 miles of trackage, with an extremely high volume of traffic. This earned the CNJ the nickname "Big Little Railroad."

At the height of the steam era (late 1920's), the CNJ operated 529 steam lovomotives. The design most associated with the CNJ was the camelback. The CNJ had over 200 of these with eigth wheel arrangements. The first commercially successful diesel-electric locomotive manufactured by Alco in 1924 was built for the CNJ. However, the CNJ was slow to dieselize, only having 15 diesel switchers on its roster in 1940. In 1929, the CNJ bgan operating its most famous train, The Blue Comet between Jersey City and Atlantic City. The Blue Comet ran until 1941. The 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. Rather than building large 4-8-4 or 4-6-6-4 (plans for both were on CNJ drawing boards), the CNJ purchased diesels for new motive power.

On August 31, 1944, the CNJ emerged from bankruptcy and receivership to again become an independent railroad. In 1945, the CNJ rostered 368 steam and 31 diesel locomotives. On August 5, 1946, the CNJ wished to avoid certain New Jersey taxes and formed the "Central Railroad of Pennsylvania" to oversee operations in PA. Around the same time, the logo was changed to "Jersey Central Lines." The arrangement was struck down by the courts and in 1952, operations were merged back into CNJ's.

In 1961, the CNJ purchased two portions of the dissolving Lehigh and New England Railroad. These became the Lehigh and New England Railway. The CNJ had heavy commuter traffic and short freight hauls throughout its history and was in out of bankruptcy several times. The final was in 1967. In 1972, all Pennsylvania operations ceased, with the Lehigh Valley Railroad taking over the trackage. In 1976, the CNJ was aborbed into Conrail.