Tom’s Raritan River
History and Current State
History and Current State of the Raritan
The Raritan River
Rail Road was built during the end of the peak of
the railroad building fever in the late 1880’s.
The goal was to go from South Amboy to Bound Brook, a goal that was
Construction was started in Sayreville
in 1888 with 60lb rail, with a few trains running by the end of that same
year. The line first started out in Sayreville,
NJ with a connection with the Pennsylvania Railroad
over Suchs’ Sand and Clay siding. It then headed west to Parlin and South River and headed east at the same time towards South
Eventually the line was finished east from Sayreville
to South Amboy where they were able to connect with the CNJ over the New York
& Long Branch. This allowed them to
abandon the first connection with the PRR over Suchs’
siding, where they actually had to pay the land owner for each car load
moved! They eventually built a new PRR
connection in South Amboy. The line
eventually made it from Milltown to New
Brunswick in 1891, where freight and passenger
stations needed to be built.
In 1888, the Raritan River Rail
Road was started with two 4-4-0 Engines (No.1 and No.2) and
Twenty 20 Ton Gondola cars. These small
cars were used by Suchs and Crossmans
to move the sand and clays of the areas.
As the line was progressing West towards New
Brunswick, the first two branch lines was built. In 1890 (even before the line was completed
to New Brunswick), the 2.1 mile Sayreville Branch was completed to access the
Sayre and Fisher Brick Yards near the mouth of the river, and about 1 mile of
the Serviss Branch in East Brunswick was started in
1891, to help access some sand and clays that were also needed by Sayre and
Fisher. At this same time, with new branch
lines and freight to be moved, new cars and engines were needed. The third locomotive (No.3) was
purchased in 1890 for this purpose, and shortly after, another small set of
freight cars were ordered. These cars
were larger than the first set, there were fourteen 30 ton cars ordered this
time. The Raritan
River Rail Road was up and running!
By July 4th,
1891 the first train left Milltown, and shortly after the line had
reached as far as New Brunswick,
and it was decided at this point not to continue across New
Brunswick, across the Raritan
River, and into Bound Brook. This was mostly unproductive, undeveloped land
anyway, and most likely would have caused them to go to far into debt, then
into receivership, then bought out by someone bigger. As it happened, the 12 miles from South Amboy
to New Brunswick would be some of
the most profitable trackage at the time in the
entire state of NJ, affording the RRRR a long and prosperous little life. Almost right away, the Meyer Rubber Company in
Milltown was ready to get freight from the Raritan
River Rail Road.
There wasn’t much change in the first 10 years of the Raritan River’s
history. From 1888 to 1898, the line had
its 3 engines, and 34 freight cars, 6 passenger cars, 12 miles of main line,
and two branch lines. Passenger service
continued to improve, and new customers were added every once in a while, but
no much changed. In 1896, the Meyer Rubber Company in Milltown shut down. For a while it seemed like the little Raritan
would just fold up, or get absorbed by someone bigger. Things didn’t look so good in the early years.
After the line was built, both the Pennsylvania RR and the
Central Railroad of New Jersey started to buy up stock. In the end, the Central
owned 60%, and the PRR owned 40%. Both companies
wanted a stake in the profitable little line and fought hard for
ownership. Even though the RRRR was
owned by both parents, operations were still local, and for the most part, the
RRRR was left to do as it pleased. The
RRRR had an office in South Amboy on John
The 1890’s was spent upgrading tracks, building stations,
upgrading infrastructure. They acquired
a number of smaller engines, continually adding to the roster as traffic
increased. The first customers on the
line were the brick companies, the clay and sand pits of Crossman’s and Such’s. In fact,
Crossman’s in Sayreville got so big; they had
their own narrow gauge lines running in the pits to bring the sands and clays
to the connections with the RRRR.
In the next 10 years though, the little Raritan River
Railroad would almost double in size!
The 1900’s saw the second branch line extended, the Serviss Branch was increased from 1 to 4 miles. This line ran from the RRRR main in East
Brunswick, headed north, and curved back south towards South
River again. In fact, the
terminus of the Serviss Branch was just 1 mile from
the RRRR’s South River Station. This branch was built to service the many
sand and clay pits that were opening along the area. Even a small brick yard was located at the
end of this branch at Reid Street. During this same period, the current Sanford
Street terminus in New Brunswick was finished, with elaborate brick
passenger and freight stations. As we
had seen before, the addition of a branch line caused the need for more cars
and more engines. Two more engines were
purchased to help with the increase in freight.
Engines No.4 and No.5 were
added to the roster in 1899 and 1900. A
small batch of larger cars were ordered, five 40 ton cars, possibly just for
use on the Serviss Branch!
In about 1901, the first number 3 engine was replaced with a
second, more powerful number 3.
In 1905 the South River Branch was built, 2 miles south from
the South River station.
Once again, a new branch line fostered the purchase of a new engine. Engine No.6 was
added to the roster in 1905, probably just to serve this growing area!
At this point in 1905, in 7 short years, the little Raritan River
with her 6 engines was now double the size from their 1898 infrastructure of
just 3 engines.
In around 1907, both engines No.1 and No.2 were traded up
for more powerful engines, both new engines numbered the same as the ones they
Freight traffic was also growing in leaps and bounds
requiring even larger gondolas. The Raritan
River ordered forty-four 50
ton cars in 1910 making the total cars owned to be 83 cars! By 1910, it was
recorded that they also still owned only 6 passenger cars. Passenger service was never really that
important of a revenue generator, it was the freight business that made them
really profitable in the early years.
The 1910’s saw the Milltown area become the site of the
Michelin Tire Company, known as the countries largest tire complex. This company had over 2000 employees in a town
that didn’t have many more residents than that.
Many people of the town worked for Michelin, including all the little
service industries that supported the company and the people. Many of the workers were directly from France. Tons of raw materials and finished products
rolled in and out of Milltown.
For a great little story I wrote about the Milltown Freight
Station for the Boro of Milltown, click HERE. History of
the Milltown Freight Station
By this point, the locomotive roster was growing out of
control. The 1910’s was spent ramping up
for the World War I
rush. Engine number 7 was added to the
list in 1912, engine number 8 added in 1914, with numbers 9 and 10 added in
Passenger traffic was also growing rapidly so the RRRR
purchased 12 passenger
cars and 2 combine
cars from the Lackawanna RR in 1915.
By 1915, the Raritan River
had almost doubled in size since 1905, now having almost 10 locomotives on the
roster. By 1917, there would be a total
of 15 engines on
During 1917, the Gillespie Branch was built into an isolated
wooded area, to access the T Gillespie Powder Works. With Gillespie, DuPont, and Hercules all
making munitions for World War 1, it was a very busy time on the RRRR, and
operations were strained to the max. At
its peak, DuPont was supplying four 50 ton cars per day of weapons and/or
I saw a huge increase in traffic.
There were ammunition plants all along the line, and the RRRR was busy
moving people and raw materials in, and weapons out. Another 2 Lackawanna
passenger cars were also quickly added in 1917.
Passenger traffic reached an all time high, with a total 22
daily passenger with 7 special trains just on Sunday in 1918! Add this to all the freight traffic, and this
was probably the busiest time of the RRRR.
Some of the munitions plants were so isolated; the Raritan River
ran dedicated passenger trains right into the complex as there was no practical
way to access the property!
By 1917 at the peak
of WWI, the Raritan
River had 15 Engines and 16
passenger cars, as well as about 83 freight cars. How they survived with the original shops and
small round house at the foot of Catherine
Street is beyond me. A line that was born with 3 engines, doubled
by 1910 to be 6, was now running 15 engines per day, moving 9000 passengers per
day, with untold amounts of freight and war materials. It was amazing they could do it as well and
efficiently as they did.
After the war, things quickly slowed down, and engine number
8 was retired.
Right after the war in 1919, a new 12 stall round house and
shops were built near Stevens Avenue. It was quite ambitious for such a small short
line, but easy to see where it was needed, with 15 engines all needing resting
The 1920’s saw a slow down in freight and passengers, and
the Raritan River adjusted as needed. A post war recession, with increased
competition from buses, cars, and trucks started to take its effect. Customers came and went, and the line was
rehabilitated as needed. In 1924,
Moody’s lists the Raritan as only having 50
Freight cars; 44 50Ts and 6 40Ts. All
the 30 and 20 ton cars had been scrapped by now. By 1925 just 6 of the 14 Lackawanna RR
passenger cars still existed. 1927-28 saw a huge wreck on the RRRR involving locomotive #11. The mid 1920’s had engines No.3, No.4, and
No.6 all scrapped. The Milltown spur was
built in 1925 to access a sand and clay pit.
By the late 1920’s, engines No.1 and No.2 were also scrapped. By the end of 1929, the Raritan River
Railroad had just 8 working engines.
The 1930’s opened with disastrous results. The Great Depression
technically started in 1929, but it wasn’t until the 1930’s that the damage was
felt. The Michelin Tire Company closed
up in early 1930, devastating the small town of Milltown.
Most of the sand and Clay pits also shut down during these times, and
service on the Serviss Branch was almost non-existant. Revenue
traffic fell quickly to 50% of what it was on the RRRR. Passenger trains were getting smaller and
smaller. By 1930, there were only 4 daily trains, down
in 1917. By the mid 30’s the RRRR
had only two ex-Lackawanna RR passenger coach left out of 14. By the mid 1930’s the last 2 original 4 wheeled cabooses
were scrapped. The engines were getting
older, times were tough, but the RRRR held on, down sized, and ran the tightest
ship they could. Engine No.7 was
scrapped in 1933; engine No.12 was scrapped in 1937.
By 1937 though, things were changing for the Raritan River
railroad, if not turning around. In a
lot of ways it was the end of an era, as well as the beginning of some new
things for the line. The multitude of
Sand, Clay, and Brick industries that literally helped make the Raritan River a
success were all virtually gone at this point
But Crossman’s and Whitheads’ did survive, and
were starting to grow again. About half
of the 50 ton gondola freight cars purchased in 1910 and used to service these
industries were scrapped by 1937.
In 1937 the shops and were getting a much needed overhaul as
new Electric engines were being purchased to replace the failing steam
generators. The last Combination
Passenger car, No.22, was also scrapped in 1937. This would leave the Raritan River Railroad
with just one passenger
car, No.27. The last car, number 27, had its last run in 1938 when all
passenger service was abandoned. This
also allowed the RRRR to close down passenger stations, and consolidate the
The Raritan was also planning
to re-align the ROW near Crossmans to eliminate a
dangerous curve and give the Crossmans company access
to the clays underneath the ROW. The
first two Lackawanna Cabooses appeared on the line in 1937 and were numbered No.5 and No.6.
For more interesting facts regarding the year 1937, please
read this fascinating analysis A
Moment in Time: 1937 on the Raritan
In 1938, a new engine appeared on the line, the first time
in almost 23 years! The last engine
purchases were in 1916 during WWI, almost 22 years earlier. By now, increases in freight necessitated the
purchase of another engine. The engine
was called number 8, after the one that was scrapped in 1919.
The 1940’s brought World War II, and its associated increase in fright traffic. Another
Engine was added to the line in 1941, named No.7 after the one that was
scrapped in 1937. The rest of the
engines were getting very old by now, but this worked out really well, for just
after WWII, the RRRR was in a position to purchase 6 surplus USRA Engines for
the cheap price of $100,000. It was a
bargain, even in those days. This
allowed them to retire the older engines and plan for the future. In 1947, locomotive
No.15 was involved in a wreck
at the PRR connection, and scrapped on the spot.
The 1950’s brought some new color to the RRRR, as the
remaining ex-USRA engines were replaced with six EMD SW900
engines. The retirement of steam
also meant that the round house could be closed, saving tons of money. 1956 saw the abandonment of the Serviss Branch after being unused for almost a decade, and
that branch was ripped up that year. The
New Jersey Turnpike needed hundreds of tons of dirt to be moved, and the RRRR
was there to do it. With Crossmanns’ help, they built a small loop track in Crossmans pits and moved hundreds of cars of sand. The
fresh ponds spur in Milltown was also ripped up. Traffic was good, new industries replaced the
older ones, large companies like National Lead, DuPont, Hercules, Personal Products (Johnson & Johnson)
kept the RRRR on their toes.
The 1960’s saw the line getting older and smaller. The industrial base of the East Coast was
moving away, and this affected the RRRR like all the other railroads. By 1964, all Less-Car-Load (LCL) freight was
abandoned, and agents in the freight stations closed. By now most coal traffic was gone, and that
also hurt tonnage a lot. The Raritan
River had acquired a burnt out N&W
Boxcar after the insurance company wrote it off, and rebuilt it for local
non-interchange service. Boxcar 100
would be used by online customers to move freight back and forth between on-line
For more information on this special car, click here: www.RaritanRiver-RR.com/BoxCar100.htm
For most, the late 60’s and early 70’s was pretty much the
end for Railroading on the East Coast.
With both parents of the RRRR being bankrupted, the CNJ, and the PC
(PRR&NYC), the Raritan River
was on their own. But the Raritan
River was not bankrupt, in fact
they continued to add customers and make money!
A major industrial complex named Highview was
built in East Brunswick with many spurs and industries now
being connected. The old Serviss Branch was re-laid for 2 miles and re-named the East
Brunswick branch now with a few customers, including Continental
Bakery which received many cars of flower.
Sunshine Biscuit opened at the end of the Gillespie Branch, and they too
needed flower! The South River Branch
was upgraded, as well as the trackage in New
Brunswick, as a new customer now wanted to have a
rail-to-truck transfer there. The old
Michelin Tire complex was rented and a few cars were needed every now and
then. The Raritan
River seeing a source of revenue
with per diem rates as high as they were, leased 100 fifty
foot box cars in 1975.
In 1979 the Raritan
River had about 30 active
1979 Revenue Received/Forwarded from top Customers
National Lead – Phoenix Branch 30%
Hercules – Parlin 16%
Sunshine Biscuit - Gillespie
Continental Baking – EB
C&E – New Brunswick 8%
Fibe (Personal Products) 7%
Personal Products –
H&F - Milltown 5%
NJ Steel – Phoenix Branch 3%
Squibb – New Brunswick 3%
Premium Plastics – Milltown 2%
Dupont – Parlin 2%
The Raritan River
had their most profitable year in 1979, with operating revenues amounting to $1,968,671. That’s almost 2 million dollars!
The Raritan knew that customer
service was key to their success. They bent over backwards and did everything
they could for a customer. They would move cars when ever asked. They even kept
low traffic and poor revenue branch lines open (South River Branch) for the sporadic
shipper. They were also fortunate in
1979 to still have such long time customers like Dupont and Hercules
(Formally Smokeless Powder Company) which go back to the early days of the 1910s. The Personal Products and related Cel Fibe companies occupy the
parent company’s Johnson and Johnson plant from the 1930s. Sunshine Biscuit keeps the Gillespie branch
alive, just as Continental Baking kept the East Brunswick
branch active. This allowed a number of
small and infrequent shippers to hang onto these branches when normally the
railroad would be forced to abandon the line.
C&E rents the former New Brunswick Passenger Station, making the run
to New Brunswick worth all the
When the government first created Conrail in April 1976 to
take over the failing Railroads on the East Coast, the Raritan
River was supposed to be included. They were profitable indeed, but not
independent, as they were owned by bankrupt parents! Now they were owned by Conrail! The RRRR went to court, and they fought hard.
To read a fascinating story about the Raritan’s
fight to stay out of Conrail click HERE:
Needless to say, the fight gave the little Raritan River 4 more
years, almost to the day. On April 24th, 1980 the
Raritan River Railroad merged into the Conrail system. Not because they were bankrupt, but because
Conrail needed the profitable traffic on the 12 miles they had.
Immediately, the wooden and outdated steel cabooses were
sold, and replaced with steel Conrail
Cabooses. The remaining 97 leased
fifty foot box cars were re-numbered for Conrail and sent away. The single forty foot box car was numbered for Conrail
and lost. The six EMD SW900s were re-numbered for
Conrail and did switch the line for a few years, but were all very poorly
maintained, and by 1984, eventually all were scrapped. Most union employees were assimilated into
the Conrail System. The clerical and
managerial staff were all let go. Of the 56 employees on the payroll, 30 would
be offered jobs with Conrail, 26 would not.
Conrail quickly closed the shops in South Amboy, with the
engines now left idling in Parlin, to the discomfort of the neighbors. The interchange in South Amboy for the PRR
was immediately closed in 1976. Now in
1980 Conrail wanted to close the connection with the NY&LB. So a few years later, Conrail extended the
Gillespie Branch to cross Bordentown Avenue
and connect directly with Browns Yard.
This allowed them to then abandon the South Amboy connection with the
ex-CNJ NY&LB connection. The line was then cut back to the Phoenix Spur,
which still receives freight today in the form of steel scraps. The South River Branch, which was still being
sporadically used, was quickly severed and abandoned in the early 80’s. The abandoned
engine shop eventually burned
down to the ground in 1983.
The late 80’s or early 90’s saw the New
Brunswick station demolished, as well as the Parlin
Station a few years earlier. The
Milltown spur to the old Michelin Tire Complex has been severed from the
Mainline, but still remains crossing Main Street (and has been re-laid after
repaving) In fact, the entire Milltown
spur, as well as the Michelin Complex is on the NJ Register of Historic Places. The RRRR Mainline currently terminates just
past Milltown, past the Lawrence brook trestle, at
Silverline Windows in North
In the 80’s and the 90’s some of the largest customers
finally stopped shipping. From my
estimates, 83% of their 1979 total revenue has been lost. Dupont no longer receives freight, their
track now disconnected from the main.
National Lead, at one time the Raritan Rivers largest customer, is today
demolished and listed a super fund site.
Hercules is still connected, but only receives the occasional box
car. Both Sunshine Biscuit and
Continental Baking are shut down. The
Gillespie Branch now only survives since it connects the main to Conrail’s
Browns Yard. The East
Brunswick branch is still connected, and a few customers are still
connected, but none are receiving freight.
C&E just got screwed by Conrail, period. As you recall, C&E was leasing the old New
Brunswick Passenger Station and brining in 8% of the Raritan
revenue. They were investing and
preparing for a larger Rail-to-Truck transfer facility in the Raritan
River New Brunswick facilities. NJ Department
of Transportation and New Brunswick were all on board and supportive of the
measure which would have required upgrades to the 80lb rails that still lined
the main from Milltown and all around the New Brunswick depot. The Raritan was just
about to start the upgrade when Conrail took over and said no. No they won’t upgrade the tracks,
no they won’t upgrade the infrastructure, no they won’t honor the agreements
made before them, and yes, they plan to abandon most of New
entire complex was eventually demolished and the wye
area in New Brunswick was
abandoned, sold, and has currently been redeveloped with townhouses
By the late 90’s Squibb was the last customer in New
Brunswick, but they too stopped getting tank
cars. Eventually Personal Products (Johnson
and Johnson) pulled out of their Milltown plant, which they shipped and
received freight successfully for almost half a century. Although a few years later a new shipper, Silverline Windows, now occupies the plant and receives
many covered hoppers of plastic pellets.
Today, under CSX and Norfolk
Southern, not much has changed since the Conrail cut backs. The old RRRR line still has 6 or so customers
keeping the line active. Steel, bricks,
and plastic, and the occasional box car can be spotted. A new customer has been added recently in Sayreville, AmeriSteel. Trains might still run daily from Browns
Here is the current customer list as of Summer
MP 1.0 Geradu Steel- load scrap
inbounds/ Load re-bar outbounds.
MP 4.6 Hercules Chemical Co.
MP 5.5 AmeriSteel- Rebar
(unrelated to Geradu)
MP 5.7 Riverside Supply- Brick
MP 9.4 Mauser- Plastic
MP 11.2 Silverline Windows-
Following East to West along the Mainline:
Geradu Steel is on the eastern end of the old
Phoenix Spur and still receiving steel. This
plant is probably one of the older Steel companies that used to be there.
Hercules Chemical Co
is one of the original shippers from the 1910s!
The original name was Smokeless Powder Company, which was also related
to DuPont. It is a shame that DuPont no
longer needs freight by rail, as they were also once a huge shipper and too,
are still located in the same area along the ROW, right next to Hercules.
Ameri-Steel is a new customer, hooked up in Sayreville
sometime in the last 2 years, now receiving steel.
In the 2005, it is interesting to note that bricks are still
shipped on the line to Riverside Supply,
as that was one of the earliest commodities moved in the railroads’ early
had a huge complex at the end of the Sayreville Branch, and in 1913 was
producing 178 million bricks per year!
The South River
is here and very old. Built in 1910, it
is one of the few manual swing bridges still in use in NJ today. Conrail made no secret that the maintenance
on the bridge was costly. I expect one
big storm, and enough damage to the bridge, and CSX and NS will follow and not
repair the bridge for just the two customers beyond it.
is the only company left in the East Brunswick Highview
complex still receiving freight. The East Brunswick spur is still connected to the main, but
receives no freight. It is sad to note
that out of almost a dozen spurs in East Brunswick,
only one still receives freight.
On the western end, Silverline Windows
still receives 5-10 cars of plastic pellets per week. Trains usually run twice a week to Silverline.
Four cars are known to exist! In 2004 I found the long lost RRRR Caboose #8
Caboose #10 sits in Port Murray, NJ awaiting restoration, while Caboose
#7 sits at Alaire
State Park and is used as
the office for the Pine Creek RR. And
the long lost Boxcar 100; is now found at Quakertown,
PA at the East Penn RY.
The only remaining station is in Milltown; still proudly
displaying its original sign: “Raritan River Railroad – Freight Station”. The RRRR logo can still be seen through the
rust on the Manual Swing
Bridge in South River.
Long Live the Raritan
Fine Sites Dedicated to the Raritan River Railroad
Here is an entire forum dedicated to
discussions of the RRRR!