Black River and Western Railroad

Getting lost in the beautiful Hunterdon County countryside, as it stretches out from either side of the right of way of the Black River & Western Railroad is easy. All you have to do is look out the window of the railcar...

The Black River & Western Railroad, which runs from Flemington to Ringoes is a refreshing way for the whole family to see rural Hunterdon County, New Jersey

Winding more than sixteen miles through gently rolling hillsides, from Three Bridges in the north, where it meets the Conrail network, to its southern terminus along the nearby Delaware River just beyond the station in Lambertville, the Black River & Western Railroad carries shoppers and sightseers to and from stops along the railroad's main line. This shortline railroad delights young and old alike with its authentic coaches, vintage diesels, and the haunting sound of the steam whistle echoing throughout the valleys and rolling countryside of Hunterdon County.

The railroad began in 1854 when the Flemington Transportation Company built the line from Flemington south to Lambertville where it met the Pennsylvania Railroad. Eventually, the companies merged. As the Flemington line grew, the Jersey Central Railroad made tracks into Flemington from Somerville. The historic marker that denotes the meeting of these two giant railroads is still implanted in the ground. By 1885, 54 scheduled passenger trains entered and left Flemington each day. Freight traffic was also substantial, generated largely by creameries along the lines which produced up to 6000 gallons of milk a day. Two million peach trees gracing the countryside also made Hunterdon County a primary supplier of peaches for the rest of the world. But by the 1930s, when the last passenger train ran on the PRR, New Jersey's railroad traffic had dwindled. On April 25, 1953, #788, a Camelback Ten-wheeler, carrying 125 people was the last passenger train to run on the CNJ line.

In the early 1960s, the idea of rediscovering the Great American Railroad became a budding plan in the bustling town of Flemington, where a deal was made to operate a tourist line on the still-operating freight rails. Passenger service on May 16, 1965 when New Jersey Governor Richard Hughes cracked a bottle of champagne on the rear driver of Steam Locomotive #60. By 1975, Black River & Western Railroad owned and operated both the freight business and the passenger service from Three Bridges, where it interchanges its freight with the Norfolk Southern to Lambertville. The passenger trains travel between the rural farmlands of Ringoes and historic Flemington weekends from April through December with Thursdays and Fridays added during the months of July and August. Many special events run throughout the year including: The Easter Bunny Express, The Great Train Robbery, Halloween Special, October's Fall Foliage runs, and The Santa Express. Black River also hosts birthday parties, private caboose charters, Wedding trains, corporate meetings and offers group rates.

Black River & Western Railroad is a museum on wheels. The coaches, built in the 1920s, come from the Central Railroad of New Jersey and the Canadian National. There have been extensive renovations throughout the years on the coaches. During the winter of 2001, a dedicated group of volunteers stripped multiple layers of weather beaten paint from the interior walls of CN coach 494. Mahogany wood lay underneath. After sanding the wood, it was stained, varnished, and reinstalled with brass screws. The seats were spruced up by painting them with vinyl paint and by removing the aluminum coverings over the handrails of the seats to expose the original, metal handrails. Luggage racks and heater covers were painted and reinstalled. Walking into the car now is like walking back through time.

Elizabeth Griswold

This story was first published: Summer, 2001
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