The Baltimore & Ohio Railroad in New JerseyEdward F. Bommer, firstname.lastname@example.org
To most people, it may seem that the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad had a phantom presence in the State of New Jersey. While indeed operating both passenger and freight trains to Jersey City, it chiefly used track owned by the Reading Company from Park Junction in Philadelphia to Bound Brook and the Jersey Central Railroad to terminals at Jersey City. Yet for some 100 years in its advertising, rates and fare schedules, the B&O claimed it terminated at New York City.
The B&O owned and operated a few miles of New Jersey track. Built in the late 1880s, this line ran from Cranford Junction and the CNJ to the Arthur Kill Bridge that connected it to the Staten Island Rapid Transit, controlled by the B&O. The railroad also had some track on Manhattan Island, at its West 26th Street Yard and car float dock. By these points, the B&O indeed reached New York. The how and why of B&O presence in New Jersey and New York City is a story of competitive, corporate obsession that led the railroad into financial ruin by February, 1896 and later, control by the competing Pennsylvania Railroad in the early 1900s.
After reaching Wheeling in western Virginia by December 1852, the B&O made extensive use of other railroads in order to achieve its goals to reach farther west and east. Its policy was to not commit any great amount of its own money wherever possible, but instead enter into operating agreements. B&O presence in New Jersey depended much upon the early work of the Pennsylvania Railroad in the 19th century, as well as that of the Philadelphia & Reading and Jersey Central by the 20th. Getting the B&O into the New York market was a primary goal of President John Garrett and his son Robert, who followed him as president of the road. In so doing, they ran the railroad into bankruptcy.
The Baltimore & Ohio had something of a stake in the New York market as early as 1840, just five years after completing its branch to Washington DC. Back then, one took a series of steamboats and trains, making connections with five railways and three boat transfers to get from New York City to Washington DC. It was the only northern railroad serving the nations capital at the time. Early on, the B&O advertised this complicated set up as a through schedule with tickets.
The trip became easier on its northern end through New Jersey by 1867. The Camden & Amboy and the Philadelphia & Trenton had set up the "Joint Companies," which created a monopoly of railroads and canals in central New Jersey. The New Jersey Rail Road & Transportation Company joined them in an operation that provided through service between New York, via ferry to Jersey City, and Philadelphia. The Joint Companies ultimately absorbed the NJRR&T Co as well by the early 1870s. This line was the route initially used by through B&O trains to Jersey City and New York. It would ultimately become the Pennsylvania Railroads main route through New Jersey after it bought out the lines New Jersey railroad interests.
Getting through New Jersey proved to be the easiest part of improving service to Washington. It would take decades for both the B&O and the Pennsylvania to solve the bottlenecks of getting through Philadelphia and Baltimore. Philadelphia lacked direct rail connections between north and south. This problem remained until the 1880s, when the Pennsylvania Railroad got control of a key junction. Between Philadelphia and Baltimore, both the B&O and PRR made use of the Philadelphia, Wilmington & Baltimore Railroad.
Baltimore had rail connections, but they were not set up for efficient north-south through traffic. The PRR had to tunnel its way under the city in the 1870s to get a faster route through to the south. The B&O used its Pratt Street line between the PW&B station and its own Camden Station. However, the city forbid the use of steam locomotives on its streets. So B&O trains passing through were hauled by horses, one car at a time, along Pratt Street. By the 1870s B&O made this transfer by using a large car ferry. It was replaced by the electrified Howard Street tunnel in May, 1895. Even with these impediments, the B&O boldly advertised its "New York - Washington Air-Line Railway" through service since 1869. It was at that time B&O trains arrived at Jersey City, making changes of locomotives and crews to those of the host railway lines along the way.
The little North Pennsylvania Railroad, part of the Philadelphia & Reading, operated a line between Philadelphia and Bethlehem. In the mid-1870s it began building a new branch toward New York City. This line ran from Jenkintown, 10 miles north of Philadelphia, to the Delaware River and a bridge into New Jersey at Yardley, PA. From that point, an affiliated company named the Delaware and Bound Brook Railway built its line from the river crossing to Bound Brook and a connection with the Central Railroad of New Jersey. The Jersey Central ran from Jersey City westward to Easton, Allentown and Wilkes-Barre PA. This new rail line, named the "Bound Brook Route," broke the railroad monopoly of the Joint Companies and their Pennsylvania-backed service between Philadelphia and New York. However, it was a less competitive line that did not reach Newark or Trenton directly. Yet it found profit from traffic generated by the 1876 Centennial Exposition held at Philadelphia.
From the mid-1860s until 1880, the B&O operated its trains through New Jersey over the heavily trafficked New Jersey line that became Pennsylvania Railroad property. Things came to a head in October, 1880. A B&O train upon which several members of the U.S. Congress were traveling to New York was held up for about six hours in Philadelphia. The Pennsylvania Railroad controlled a one mile section of the Junction Railroad that the B&O had to use to go north into New Jersey. In the law suit that followed, the B&O was free to make other arrangements for its passenger service through Philadelphia.
The B&O immediately arranged for freight trains to use the new "Bound Brook Route" via the Reading and CNJ Passenger service followed a month later. The PRR did not want this to happen, as it would lose control over B&O traffic. Yet both the PRR and B&O had other cards to play and that was for the Philadelphia, Wilmington & Baltimore Railroad. Ultimately the B&O lost its opportunity to purchase the PW&B Confident of his offer for the road, B&O President John Garrett refused to raise the price offered for PW&B stock, feeling that the PRR was in no position to expand.. When the PW&B board refused the B&O bid, the PRR unexpectedly stepped in with a higher offer an bought the line. The B&O had no choice other than build its own line between Baltimore and Philadelphia if it expected to stay in the New York market race. This heavily-built road cost the B&O more than the PRR had paid for the PW&B It ran parallel to the west of the PW&B and was put into operation by 1885. During those five years of B&O construction, the Pennsylvania graciously carried B&O trains over its newly acquired PW&B line - for a fee.
The last step was for the B&O to formalize its 1880 agreement with the Reading and Jersey Central for handling B&O traffic between Philadelphia and New York. A three-way partnership was created, with each railroad responsible for its own portion of the traffic and sharing revenue based on mileage. Completed in July 1886, it remained with few modifications until the B&O (as a part of Chessie Systems) terminated its rail freight service to the New York area in the early 1980s. It was then that Conrail canceled the former Reading/Jersey Central interline tariff routings used by the B&O, closing it out of the New Jersey freight market.
For passenger service, each railroad contributed a proportionate share of rolling stock. Passenger cars were lettered "New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore & Washington" and bore the state crests of New Jersey, Pennsylvania or Maryland, based on ownership either by the Jersey Central, Reading or B&O. Painted a deep shade of Saxony blue, the cars and line were advertised as "The Royal Blue Route" decades before there was a B&O train by the same name. Locomotives were changed at Park Junction from B&O to Reading, and at Bound Brook from Reading to Jersey Central. The Bound Brook engine change was eliminated by the 1900s. To assure fast passenger service along the line, both the Reading and Jersey Central installed track pans in the 1880s and 90s so trains would not have to make water stops along the way. The B&O offered hourly service to Washington along the line, much like the Pennsylvania Railroads "clockers" of the 20th century.
Once this route was set up the B&O secured itself in New York City, its ultimate goal for a terminal. Land was purchased at 26th Street and the Hudson River on Manhattan Island for a small freight yard and car float dock. Yet the B&O needed more area to work within New York, especially for its hope to develop a large volume of freight traffic. Staten Island was chosen through the efforts of Erastus Wiman, a promoter for the Island which at that time was an independent, rural county with relatively cheap land available. Staten Islands east shore was closest to the Atlantic Ocean and had ample space for construction of deep water docks. And, Staten Island already had a railroad - of sorts. With no connection to any outside line and known locally as the "country train" it served several little villages between ferries at Vanderbilts Landing on the east shore and Tottenville, and the extreme southern point. There was also a short rapid transit line that ran north a few miles from Vanderbilts Landing to Tompkinsville, another ferry point. With this package of two related railroads, the B&O also received the ferry service between Staten Island and New York City, as well as a ferry line between Tottenville and Perth Amboy in New Jersey.
As yet, there was no rail link to New Jersey for B&O traffic. Robert Garrett was praised and celebrated in Staten Islands newspapers as "the savior of our little railroad." However, B&O management probably thought otherwise for the expenses it was entailing to make use of this property. To reach a rail connection in New Jersey, B&O money financed a two-track, 610 foot long tunnel through nearly solid rock under the U.S. Lighthouse Service (later, Coast Guard) base at Tompkinsville. A special act of Congress was required for approval before construction could begin. This tunnel opened to a rocky, tide-swept point on Staten Islands extreme northeastern corner.
The area was renamed St. George in honor of a prominent Staten Island attorney. He managed to convince the county Board of Supervisors, the New York State Legislature and the people of the Island that a new, central ferry terminal would be in their best interest. His name was George Law. Erastus Wiman, ever the promoter, had promised him canonization if he succeeded. The fill required to create the rail yard, car float, rapid transit passenger terminal and ferry house at St. George came from foundations being dug for new, tall "sky-scraper" buildings on Manhattan Island at the time, thanks to Mr. Otis, of Yonkers, NY and his invention of the elevator.
For a rail line across Staten Islands north shore to reach New Jersey, rights to a horse car line running along Richmond Terrace were purchased. This road followed the shore line across Staten Island reaching a ferry to Elizabeth, NJ that had been in operation since the mid-1700s. But opposition from property owners caused the B&O to build nearly two miles of rock fill out from shore and along the Kill van Kull for its tracks. A strip of property was secured through the town of Port Richmond, where a number of home and business owners were displaced. At Old Place, on Staten Islands northwestern corner, a farm was purchased and the area renamed "Arlington" by the B&O railroad. A freight yard was built there and all was ready on Staten Island by 1886. However, no rail link to New Jersey or the Jersey Central Railroad had yet been started.
The very first idea was a B&O line directly from Philadelphia to Staten Island. This would be prohibitively expensive. The B&O was acquiring Reading stock, as was the New York Central at the time. A second plan was to build from Bound Brook Junction to Staten Island. However, this would by-pass the Jersey Central, in which the Reading Company was obtaining a controlling interest. In time, the Reading would construct a coal hauling branch from Bound Brook to Port Reading on the Arthur Kill, opposite Staten Islands west shore. The final plan was to build a line east from Cranford on the Jersey Central to the Arthur Kill, through Union County and the communities of Roselle Park and Linden. Incorporated as the Baltimore & New York Railway in October 1888, construction started the following year.
Just over five miles long, it was double-tracked as far as Bantas, a little station that stood about a mile and a half from Cranford Jct. Just east of Cranford, a crossing with the Lehigh Valley and a connection made, named Staten Island Junction. The LV was also under construction at the time. Another junction was built to reach the Pennsylvania at Linden. A precipitous grade lead down and north from the B&NY trestle and fill work to the east side of the PRR main line, where a small interchange yard was built. Nearly a third of this line was built on wood trestle work and bridges, from the grade east of St. Georges Avenue and onward to the Arthur Kill. Some of the wooden trestle work was filled in with cinders as time went by. A two-track, pin-connected truss bridge was built over the PRR mainline at Linden, although the line is single track at that point. The B&NY line then crossed the northwestern corner of Standard Oils Linden Refinery (Esso, now Exxon) with a round-about branch reaching down into the refinery. However, the Jersey Central handled the bulk of rail traffic with Standard Oil.
The B&NY line ended at a 500 center-pier, steam-powered swing bridge across the Arthur Kill. It was the longest of its type in the U.S. when completed late in 1888. Immediately after it was built, both the Lehigh Valley and Pennsylvania railroads brought pressure upon the U.S. War Department for its removal. They declared the new bridge to be a menace to navigation, since both roads handled a large volume of coal barge traffic past Staten Islands Holland Hook, where the bridge was standing. The railroads petitioned to have the bridge torn down and replaced with one of a different design. Ultimately the B&O obtained approval from the U.S. Congress for its bridge, as it spanned a navigable waterway between two states. At long last by March 1890, the B&O line between St. George and Cranford Jct. was open to traffic.
Over on Manhattan Island, the B&O was finishing up its New York project with a car float bridge and small yard at West 26th Street. By early 1890, the yard was in operation. The freight at first was delivered from Jersey City and later from St. George on Staten Island. The B&O revised its operating agreements on freight traffic with the Reading and Jersey Central when the new Cranford Junction line became operational.
Completion of this project was no cause for celebration. By February 1896, the B&O found itself bankrupt. While paying dearly to reach New York, the B&O had neglected its western lines that were now in poor condition. In an attempt to refinance, J. P. Morgan intervened and replaced B&Os top management. By 1900, the B&O was put under the control of the Pennsylvania Railroad, which made a number of improvements to the road. The PRR allowed the newly-developed New Jersey, New York and Staten Island properties to remain intact. For a short while in 1900 the SIRT operated a B&O connection passenger train from St. George to Plainfield, NJ Within a few years the B&O was profitable again and emerged from PRR control as a stronger railroad.
By the 1910s, Staten Island was showing its shortcomings in handling B&O freight. Both Arlington and St. George Yards were choked with cars, many awaiting car float transport to West 26th Street and other connections around the harbor. To ease the load on Staten Island by 1912, the B&O again ran through freight into Jersey City on the Jersey Central. Staten Island would continue to be used as well and developed a heavy coal trade for the B&O. Staten Islands deep water piers never generated traffic of the size experienced along the East and Hudson Rivers except in wartime.
As WW I developed, US railroads were put under the management of the USRA. In April 1918, B&O passenger trains were routed directly into Pennsylvania Station in New York. The move was mandated by the U.S.R.A. to ease the heavy traffic strain on the PRR as the B&O was underutilized. This now made competition with the PRR more equal. The Lehigh Valley also moved to Penn Station in September and remained there until the end of LV passenger service. Previously, the B&O and the LV shared the CNJ Jersey City Terminal with ferry service across the Hudson River to New York City.
To reach Penn Station, the three way 1880 agreement was modified again. The C.N.J would retain B&O freight service as the passenger service bypassed it in the LV.
The B&O managed to extend its agreement to use Pennsylvania Station well into the 1920s, long after the U.S.R.A. was dissolved. To reach Penn Station, B&O passenger trains were routed over the Lehigh Valley from Manville NJ on the Reading to Manhattan Transfer. Reading locomotives were used on B&O passenger trains between Philadelphia and Manhattan Transfer. From there, PRR electric locomotives brought the trains into Penn Station. In exchange for using Penn Station, B&O agreed not to handle any through sleepers from the south, or to points north and east of New York City. B&O rolling stock was serviced at the PRR Sunnyside Yard on Long Island. By 1926, the PRR refused to grant any further extensions to the B&Os use of Penn Station. On August 29 of that year the B&O returned to the CNJ Terminal at Jersey City. Earlier that month, the B&O entered into a new trackage rights contract with the Reading and CNJ Based on a rental fee paid to each road for train mileage plus terminal fees to the CNJ, B&O retained full control of its passenger service to Jersey City. During 1925 and 1926 Staten Islands line saw a few experimental B&O passenger runs made to consider options. However, the long boat ride to Manhattan from Staten Island was not favorable for speed. From this point onward, the B&O resolved that if it could not compete with PRR passenger service on the basis of time to Washington, they would better it with quality.
New President Class Pacific-type locomotives were delivered by the Baldwin Works in 1927. They exceed the specifications and performance of P.R.Rs famous K-4s class engines. These new locomotives allowed for faster running along the line, especially in New Jersey where B&O train speeds reached 90 m.p.h. or more. B&O power now ran directly through to Jersey City, with B&O, Reading and CNJ pooled crews wearing B&O uniforms, making it appear to be a 100% B&O operation. Air conditioning was first introduced on B&O trains out of Jersey City. Special connecting motor coach services were instituted for New York patrons, picking them up at various hotels and B&O ticket offices, then taking them directly to train-side at Jersey City. Experimentation with streamlining was tried in the 1930s, with two light-weight trains. One was all aluminum, the other, Cor-Ten steel. Thus was born the Royal Blue, a daily coach train between New York and Washington and the Columbian, its running mate. Experimental B&O steam locomotives as well as a new Electro-Motive Corporation box-cab road diesel took their places in the CNJ Communipaw Round House. The B&O made every effort to put both innovation and its best foot forward for the New York market.
The light-weight trains were soon deemed unsuitable and sent off to the Alton Route, also under B&O control at that time. At Mount Clare, the ever-frugal B&O turned out a new suit of streamline-styled cars for the Royal Blue, built from 1920s heavy weight coaches. It would be powered (occasionally) with a specially streamlined P-7 locomotive. Later on, Electro-Motive "E" type passenger diesels built by General Motors would be used. The Royal Blue in this form lasted until the termination of all B&O passenger service on April, 26, 1958. B&O western trains to Pittsburgh, Detroit, St. Louis and Chicago would also have a start from New York at the Jersey City terminal. In the height of the post WW II passenger service improvements offered to the public, B&O also provided through sleeping car service to points in Texas and Oklahoma.
Freight, and of course WW II traffic helped pay the bills. It even put the SIRT on a profitable basis for a few years. B&O ran freight trains to Jersey City as well as to Staten Island. By that time, B&O crews could run through without changing at the various junction points. However, B&O crews did not operate into Staten Island. SIRT crews handled all the traffic to and from Cranford Jct. During WW II, the SIRT exclusively handled all east coast military hospital trains. The Stapleton piers were designated for hospital ship docking. New York was the only east coast Port of Call for European Theatre hospital ships. The hospital trains ran through to their inland connections via Cranford Jct. Some stopped at Arlington to transfer wounded servicemen to a large military hospital on Staten Island. Troop movements, POW trains and war materiel as well crossed the Arthur Kill to and from Cranford Jct. and their appointed destinations. This kept the five mile stretch of B&O track in Union County N. J. busy and shiny. In 1944, the B&O conveyed its Baltimore & New York Railway property to the Staten Island Rapid Transit and dissolved the B&NY The SIRT worked this line with its own as well as assigned B&O locomotives since it was opened in 1890.
Before, during WW II and after, there were a number of special trains
beyond the troop movements that were handled by the B&O over its
The very last SIRT special was for Queen Elizabeth II and Prince
Both trains reached the Camp via
On Monday, October 21 at , the 10 car press train left
After WW II, railroads declined in importance, efficiency and traffic. Highway construction aided the decline and the water barriers around New York were making the car float and lighterage business an expensive proposition for the railroads. Equipment was aging across the board for the B&O as well as other lines. On April 26, 1958, the B&O ran its last passenger trains to New York and out of Jersey City. All was typical, full B&O service right to the end. The next day, all B&O rolling stock at Jersey City was assembled into long trains of up to 30 or more passenger and express cars and deadheaded to Baltimore.
In November 1957, an Esso oil tanker collided with the old Arthur Kill bridge, knocking it off its central pivot. With the bridge rendered useless, the B&O immediately transferred all Staten Island freight to Jersey City. Car floats were used to bring Staten Island rail traffic back to St. George. By 1959, a new 558 foot single track vertical lift span replaced the old swing bridge. It is the longest of its type in the U.S. Along with the new bridge, the entire line from Cranford Jct to Arlington Yard was re-laid with new, heavier rail. A three mile branch line was extended from Gulf Port to Travis, along Staten Islands west shore. This was done for unit coal trains coming from West Virginia to service a new Consolidated Edison power plant. Even late in the 1950s, the B&O continued to invest in its New Jersey and Staten Island holdings.
In 1964, the old operating agreement with the Reading and Jersey Central was revised again, to allow pooling of locomotives with the B&O on through freight. Thus, Reading and Jersey Central power could be seen as far south as Potomac Yard in Virginia. But traffic was dying. Major Island industries such as U.S.Gypsum and Proctor & Gamble were turning more to highway truck service and eventually would close their plants. Some traffic remained for B&O operations into the 1970s on Staten Island, and car floats were still reasonably busy. The B&O, again in financial difficulty and facing shrinking freight market shares, became part of Chessie Systems, along with the C&O and Western Maryland in 1963. Chessie System was not a corporate entity but a joint public image developed by the three railroads jointly seeking economies of operation. In 1971, arrangements were completed to sell the Staten Island passenger service to the New York City Transit Authority, while retaining rights to handle freight along the line to Tottenville.
Before that sale could be made final however, the B&O had to complete several miles of grade crossing elimination along the SIRT Tottenville line, This work had been held up since the 1930s in part because of the Depression, World War II and declining finances.
With the establishment of Conrail on April 1, 1976, B&O/Chessie became isolated from its New Jersey and Staten Island properties. B&O/Chessie freight service now ended at Philadelphia, although for several years afterward, competitor Conrail would forward one B&O freight train a day to Cranford Junction, with B&O locomotives run through as well.
In the mean time by 1973, the Jersey Central closed its car float yard at Jersey City. The B&O then moved its car float freight back to St. George on Staten Island. In September 1979, this car float operation was taken over by the New York Dock Railway and was terminated in 1980. The St. George Yard was essentially abandoned, except for servicing a few isolated Staten Island industries still using rail service.
The interline tariff routing arrangement used by B&O/Chessie to reach New Jersey and New York was ended by Conrail in the early 1980s, leaving the line completely out of the New Jersey freight market. In April 1985, the operating rights for the tracks between Cranford Jct to St. George were sold to the Delaware-Otsego Corp. of Cooperstown, NY. The B&O property at West 26th Street in Manhattan was also sold and the car float dock abandoned. This ended all Baltimore & Ohio Railroad presence in New York as well as in New Jersey, just two years before the company itself would pass into history on April 30, 1987.
A story remains to be told for CSX, Corp., the lineal descendant of the B&O. By April 1987, the B&O itself no longer existed. The C&O followed a few months later as CSX Corporation was developed, absorbing a number of other railroads to the South. Staten Islands operation had been reduced to one isolated crew working four or five days a week. By October, 1989, the Delaware-Otsego Corp. embargoed the Staten Island North Shore line between Elm Park and St. George. The track in New Jersey was also put out of use for a while following a fire from a box car standing on a wood trestle near the Exxon Refinery. By 1990, all rail freight service to and from Staten Island ceased.
With the break-up of Conrail in 1998, portions of the lines once run by B&O competitors became a part of CSX. The track between Cranford and Arlington may still have a CSX interest. A high voltage power line had been built over part of the former Baltimore & New York right of way several years before and earns some rental income. The railroad line itself is intact from Cranford to Arlington. CSX also now operates the former Reading, Lehigh Valley and New York Central among other predecessor roads. The Arthur Kill lift bridge and the Arlington Yard are still in existence, as is one-weed grown track leading to St. George.
The New York Port Authority recently announced plans for reopening the old SIRT New Jersey line to freight traffic. A new junction to the former Lehigh Valley would be built, since the CNJ mainline is now a New Jersey Transit operation. Two rail tunnels to Brooklyn are planned; one from Greenville, NJ, the other from Staten Island, so that New England and southern freight can again access and pass through the New York metropolitan area. Its simply a matter of money, just as it was for John and Robert Garrett in the late 1800s, with their determined push to get the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad through to New Jersey and into New York.
By: Edward F. Bommer, April 12, 2001 & July 3, 2004.
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