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Trip Report

NJ Transit Raritan Valley Line
NJ Transit Bergen-Hudson Light Rail - Hoboken - 22nd St. Bayonne

December 22, 2007


I caught the LIRR local from Babylon in Lynbrook at 9:13 a.m.

In Jamaica a diesel-powered train pulled in alongside us on Track 1, but we left on schedule at 9:29 with most of the diesel train's passengers still on the platform, forced to wait another 10 minutes for the next train to Babylon.

My train arrived in NYP on time at 9:51 on Track 16

The main concourse of Penn Station was mobbed with holiday travelers.

In space of 14 minutes six trains departed:

10:00 Amtrak regional to Boston
10:00 Amtrak Acela to Washington
10:05 Amtrak regional to Washington
10:07 NJ Transit to Long Branch
10:11 NJ Transit Midtown Direct to Dover
10:14 NJ Transit to Trenton (my train)

The train consisted of 10 new bi-level cars with an ALP-46 electric locomotive pushing on the rear. This was my first trip on these cars. The bi-levels feature 2-2 seating, interiors in shades of blue and gray and plenty of leg room. The ride is very smooth and quiet.

Leaving Penn Station, the train was crowded. We left on time at 10:14 a.m. After exiting the tunnel in New Jersey we slowed to a crawl as we approach the Meadowlands station.

The NEC was quite busy. We met three eastbound NJ Transit trains between NYP and Newark. Also, we passed the train I would ride to Raritan, which originated at Hoboken. It had a six-car consist of Comet III and Comet V coaches hauled by F40PH 4127.

We arrived in Newark at 9:32 on Track 4. The train to Raritan followed six minutes later on the same track, giving me time to purchase a bottle of seltzer to drink on the trip.

Unlike train from NYP, this train was lightly patronized with only three of six cars open to passengers. I am not a fan of Comet cars, which were built by Bombardier and used on several Northeast commuter railroads. However, one feature I appreciated was the automatic doors for passing between cars; something lacking on Long Island Rail Road coaches.

As we left Newark, I noticed the new Prudential Center arena, where the New Jersey Devils play. It is built on the site of the old CNJ Newark station.

NJ Transit's Raritan Valley line incorporates segment of three RRs that were merged to form Conrail: Penn Central from Newark to Hunter, Lehigh Valley to Aldene and Central RR of New Jersey to Raritan. The route came into existence in 1967, when financially strapped CNJ decided to abandon its Jersey City terminal and connecting ferries to Manhattan.

The route runs by a mix of property uses - residential, commercial, industrial, parkland. It is classic suburban New Jersey. Trains get up to 70 mph on the mostly straight and grade-separated rail line. I noticed only six grade crossing; the first between Dunnellen and Bound Brook. There are still several shippers along the route, and in some locations a third track is in place to provide freight train access to customers' sidings without fouling passenger service.

I last rode between Newark and Raritan in 1973 when CNJ heavyweight coaches were still in use. Since then, NJ Transit has done much to improve it. For starters, there is now a two-track high-speed connector off the Northeast Corridor.

Thanks to NJ Transit's investment, the line also features welded rail and a new signal system mounted on high masts. At the same time, beautiful stone depots have been preserved in Westfield, Netherwood, Plainfield and Raritan.

I prefer, however, the two frame structures with gingerbread trim at Fanwood-Scotch Plains, which were done in a scheme of olive green with maroon trim. I believe the larger of the two is identical to the depot in Red Bank on the North Jersey Coast line.

The Lehigh Valley segment is now part of Norfolk Southern's busy Lehigh Line. It is one of the only lines in metropolitan New York area with both heavy freight and passenger traffic. At both the Union and Roselle Park stations, which have high-level island platforms, there are gauntlet tracks that allow freight trains to keep a safe distance from the platforms.

Both leaving and returning to the Lehigh Line I spotted eastbound freight trains stopped on the other side of the truss bridge over the former CNJ mainline. One had Norfolk Southern power, the other a mixture of roads with a CSX unit in the lead.

In its heyday, the CNJ had a four-track mainline as far as Raritan. Its tracks were used to Bound Brook by trains of the Reading and Baltimore & Ohio railroads, including the Crusader, Wall Street, Capitol Limited, National Limited and Royal Blue. Today, there is a lightly-used single track running east of Aldene and two tracks to Raritan.

Between Aldene and Cranford there is a small yard that used to be used to interchange cars with the Rahway Valley Railroad. Although the Rahway Valley is currently out of service, it is now part of the Morristown & Erie family, which has fixing the line for a return to service.

Cranford, the first stop on the former CNJ features two high-level side platforms. There is space here for two additional tracks, but they were removed long ago. At one time, a shuttle train originated here for service to Bayonne over the Newark Bay drawbridge. The drawbridge is gone and the line through Bayonne is now part of the Hudson-Bergen light rail line I will ride later in the day.

West of Dunnellen, the Norfolk Southern Lehigh Line, which is also used by CSX trains from the south, comes along side. A short (four-car) CSX train with trash containers sped by headed in the opposite direction.

A connector track just west of the Bound Brook station allows freight trains access from the Lehigh Line, which veers off to the south again. There are small, active freight yards here and in Bridgewater.

Bridgewater is a new stop adjacent to the site of the huge American Cynamid plant that was razed several years ago and is now an industrial wasteland. A minor league baseball stadium is located next to the station on the right side of the tracks.

We pull into Raritan about an hour after leaving Newark. The depot, which dates to 1890, sits about 100 feet from the tracks because at one time commuter trains used separate tracks. Just east of the station is a modern, brick switch tower that is now an NJ Transit MOW office.

The 40-minute layover before the return trip gives me ample time to walk into town and grab a cup of coffee. Upon returning to the station, I notice the beautiful depot was showing signs of neglect. It needed paint, a new roof and new glass for one of the upper-level windows.

The consist I rode out in was used for the inbound trip. It came into the station from a yard to the west a few minutes before the 12:18 departure. Around 30 people boarded, more than double the number that detrained from the westbound.

In keeping with NJ Transit practice, only two cars were open when we departed. But, as the train headed east two more cars were opened. Still, it was very crowded until Newark, where almost all passengers got off.

Covering the Lehigh Line segment, we ran on the westbound track, presumably to allow a freight train to use the eastbound line. As we entered the Northeast corridor, we were passed by Amtrak's eastbound Crescent, which would arrive in New York 51 minutes early this day. Our progress was being impeded by the need to cross over two tracks and follow the Crescent into Newark.

After making the Newark stop, I was one of the few passengers who continued onto Hoboken. I moved into the first car. Looking out the open window in the front of the car, I noticed the Crescent stopped ahead, probably because an NJ Transit train was still in the Meadowlands station. Our train took the connecting track onto the Morris & Essex line, but our progress was slow, and it included an unscheduled stop at NJ Transit's Meadowlands Maintenance Complex. Arrival in Hoboken on Track 10 came at 1:39 pm.

After hot dogs and beer at the Rail Head bar, I boarded a light rail train for 22nd Street in Bayonne so I could get some new mileage south of 34th Street. The train was crowded in both directions, with Newport Center, where a shopping mall is located, being the busiest stop.

In Bayonne, the light rail line shares the right of way with a remnant of the CNJ main line used to service petrochemical plants and other local industries. Along the way we passed a 37-car transfer run headed by two CSX ES44DC locomotives.

My trip back home was uneventful. At Hoboken, I caught a PATH train for 33rd Street, which got me back to New York in time to catch the 3:46 Long Beach local back to Lynbrook.

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