The Southern Division Main Line starts at Red Bank and runs south to Bridgeton Junction. Ocean County was officially placed on the railroad map in 1861 when Bergen Iron Works (present-day Lakewood) was established as a station by the Raritan & Delaware Bay Railroad. Shortly thereafter, the line became under the control of the New Jersey Southern Railroad. On December 15, 1888, the Central Railroad of New Jersey acquired the line. It was not until about twenty years later that Lakewood became a resort town, offering fresh pine air. By 1883, nine hotels and several estates soon called Lakewood their home as the trains brought vacationers to Lakewood for large social parties. Each hotel would have a horse-drawn cab and porters awaiting their guests. By 1894, the premier train along the line was the Lakewood Special, a winter only train. For example, on Washington's Birthday in 1895, the rail traffic necessitated fifty-two parlor cars from the CNJ. Jay Gould built an estate in Lakewood, which is now Georgian Court College. John Rockefeller did as well, his former estate now the present day Ocean County Park.
While Lakewood was the social scene in Ocean County, Lakehurst was the braun. For service along the line, the Raritan & Delaware Bay Railroad Company built a roundhouse and turntable for locomotives as well as a water tower. A steam heating plant was built in addition to a five track storage yard. Locomotives in need of maintenance were serviced at Lakehurst. Little changed during the life of the Lakehurst shops. In the winter of 1913-1914 the CNJ installed semaphore block signals between Red Bank and Lakehurst, while manual block signals remained west of Lakehurst. In 1929, a new telephone system was installed along the line, replacing a telegraph system. (These concrete phone booths which can still be seen along the line, were still used Conrail was formed.) When the Depression occurred, the effects were immediately felt in Lakehurst. The roundhouse and turntable were removed in the winter of 1929-1930, the same year the Blue Comet service began. (The Blue Comet will be discussed in another section.) The steam heating plant was removed in 1931 and the yard trackage was reduced to two tracks in 1935. All locomotive work was then completed at the Elizabethport Shops. However, all Lakewood/Lakehurst local service remained the same throughout the 1930s. Lakehurst was put into the spotlight in 1936, when the Hindenburg made its Trans-Atlantic stop at the naval base. (The Jersey Central provided trains for those wishing to see the airship.) Unfortunately, that spotlight faded away a year later when, on May 6, 1937, the Hindenburg burned while landing and the era of zeppelins died as well. That same year, the Pine Tree Inn was torn down. Lakehurst never fully recovered.
By the late 1940s, passenger revenue began to drop system wide. Although the CNJ was quick to dieselize, passenger levels still continued to plummet. All across America, families were buying cars and traveling on new and improved highway systems. In an interesting twist of fate, the Jersey Central helped enable these super-highways to be built by bringing construction sand needed for those projects from the South Lakewood sand pits. These sand extras were powered by either a Consolidation or a Mikado. By April 1, 1952, all weekday commuter service was discontinued along the Main Line. Upon the arrival of diesels, GP-7s were the primary power for weekend passenger trains while Alco RS-3s handled most freight assignments. Fairbanks Morse Trainmasters were used on both passenger and freight assignments. However, before dieselization completely occurred, former Blue Comet G3 Pacifics could be found heading Saturday passenger trains from Jersey City to Lakehurst. The steam era on the Southern Main Line ended on April 25, 1953. Weekend passenger service on the Main Line was terminated in 1957. At that point, the Main Line was now a freight only line. Freight service was generally provided six days per week to and from Bridgeton Junction. In August 1960, Glidden Company opened a site three and a half miles west of South Lakewood which shipped 20 cars of ilmenite per week to Baltimore until the early 1980s, when deposits where exhausted. By the mid-60s, the Jersey Central had lost all RPO service along the line.
On October 17, 1966, at Chatsworth, another derailment occurred on the main line. Five local youths reversed a siding switch resulting in both locomotives and a lot of cars derailing. H16-44s 1514 and 1516 were scrapped as the CNJ did not have the monetary funds to fix both units. June 25, 1967 saw a steam excursion on the line. Iron Horse Enterprises sponsored an Elizabethport-Bridgeton run behind a Canadian Pacific 4-6-2 locomotive. The event was well attended.
By the end of the
1960s, the Main Line was deteriorating. Spikes worked themselves
loose in the rotting ties and the 100-pound rail could not hold the 100-ton
hoppers (which were newly leased) and they derailed at times. The
Jersey Central did not have the funds for basic maintenance or personnel.
By 1971, only five station agents remained, including Lakehurst.
However, the B&O and N&W did aide the CNJ in the form of locomotives
and rolling stock, which could be easily recovered if the CNJ did fully
collapse. The CNJ received a fleet of second-hand 70-ton B&O
hoppers. B&O GP-9s and N&W F7 units appeared on CNJ trackage
during 1969 and 1970. These units were used on the Central and Southern
Divisions. However, maintenance problems continued with several grade-crossing
systems out of service, requiring the crews to stop and flag. In
September 1971, the Jersey Central enacted the following speed restrictions
along the Main Line:
Red Bank to Earle Ammunitions Depot 30 m.p.h.
Earle Ammunitions Depot to Whitings 25 m.p.h.
Whitings to Woodmansie 40 m.p.h.
These factors along with new labor laws, changed the run time from Jersey City to Bridgeton to about sixteen hours. Some assistance did arrive in 1972 . When the Jersey Central pulled out of Pennsylvania, the motive power assigned to that division (SD35s and SD40s) was transferred to the Southern Division Main Line. These locomotives were MUed with older motive power and had no problems handling the trains. The older motive power (GP-7s and Alco RS-3s) were assigned to local service on the Main Line and Barnegat Branch. Cab Control systems were installed on the SD35 and SD40 locomotives, but crews assigned to the older equipment (RS-3s and GP-7s) had to phone in for their orders. Two sand companies opened along the line during this time. American Smelting & Refining opened in 1972 near Lakehurst and Hollander Sand Associates opened in 1973 near Woodmansie. These were handled by the sand extras. By now, the B&O was under partial control of the C&O. The C&O and N&W were planning a merger and the CNJ was considered for inclusion in the merger plans. However, the ICC revered its approval decision on the C&O/N&W plan. Both railroads as well as the B&O informed the CNJ that they would no longer be able to aide the struggling railroad. This accelerated the CNJ's woes.
The last passenger
train (to this date) was the CNJ's Railroad Enthusiasts' Special from Elizabeth
to Toms River on March 5, 1972. (Jersey City Terminal was closed
with the implementation of the Aldene Plan.) The motive power for
the special was RDC's 556 and 551. Ironically, the train constantly
lost time due to a malfunctioning air compressor. During 1972, Houdaille
was shipping 4,000 tons of sand per day, and the CNJ had difficulties obtaining
enough empty hoppers to meet the demand. By 1973, all Red Bank to
Toms River local freight was handled two or three times per week.
Very little traffic moved south of Ciba Geigy on the Barnegat Branch.
The spring of 1974 saw the sand extras running seven days per week to accommodate
the needs of the Meadowlands Complex. All available motive power
was used for the sand extras.
By now it was clear that something had to be done to save Northeastern railroading. Several ideas were put together but the final solution was Conrail. In the mid 1970s sand (construction and glass) was the major shipment item for the CNJ and it was that same sand that kept the Southern Maine Line running. The question remained: Would the sand continue to run for Conrail or had time run out on the Southern? Track work completed during 1974-1975 on the Southern Main Line will be discussed in the Effects of Conrail page.