The Blue Comet

The Blue Comet has been referred to as the “Seashore's Finest Train”.  Idealized by CNJ president R.B. White in 1928, this train whisked passengers from Jersey City to Atlantic City in about three hours.  The Blue Comet would take NY&LB trackage to Red Bank, then follow the Southern Division Main Line to Winslow Junction, where it would travel over the Atlantic City Railroad's (Reading Railroad) tracks to Atlantic City.  Three brand new G3 Pacific locomotives were assigned to the train; numbers 831, 832 and 833.  The CNJ totally refurbished sixteen cars for Blue Comet service, inside and out.  Each train consisted of a baggage car, combine-smoker, coaches, and an observation car.  The diner accompanied the early morning trip to Atlantic City and the evening return to Jersey City.  The colors chosen for the Blue Comet were: Packard Blue, which represented the sky; Jersey Cream, for the sandy coastal beaches; Royal Blue, for the sea.  Even the locomotives were painted for Blue Comet service.  The train's lifespan was from 1929 to 1941, but its legacy continues today.

There were three factors behind the creation of the Blue Comet.  First, was to eliminate passenger service south of Winslow Junction, and replace rail service with bus connections.  The second factor was to be able to compete with the PRR for Atlantic City passengers.  Finally, the CNJ wanted to eliminate a costly Pullman parlor car lease, in which the CNJ had a loss ten months of the year.  The Blue Comet would offer extra accommodations at the regular coach fare and have assigned seats so passengers knew exactly where they would sit.  The PRR charged extra for its all parlor car Atlantic City Limited and its New York Limited.  In addition, the PRR charged extra fees for parlor cars on the Nellie Bly.  In addition, the Blue Comet ran on schedule 97% of the time for the first five years.  A billboard was put up on the Routes 33/34 overpass at Collingswood listing the times the train would pass that area.

Initially, the Blue Comet was a huge success.  The first train was on February 21, 1929 as thousands of spectators along the line came to see the new train.  However, as the Depression continued, passenger travel on the line continued to plummet.  On April 30, 1933, the Blue Comet was reduced to one daily round trip as opposed to the two round trips being run prior.  Also that year, the PRR and Reading consolidated their southern New Jersey routes and formed the Pennsylvania-Reading Seashore Line.  An immediate impact was felt on the Blue Comet service.  Prior to the merger, the Blue Comet traveled over the friendly Reading's track from Winslow Junction to Atlantic City.  After the merger, the PRR owned two-thirds of the trackage.  Reports from travelers indicate that Blue Comet information was not readily available at the Atlantic City station.  This had the Blue Comet service at a disadvantage, as PRR Atlantic City-New York information was readily available for passengers heading to points north.

Ocean County stops for the Blue Comet included Lakewood and Lakehurst.  The Lakewood stop was to pick up and drop off passengers as well as Jolly Tar Trail bus service.  The stop at Lakehurst was for people needing a connection for the Barnegat Branch, later replaced by Jolly Tar Trail service during off-peak hours in the early 1930s, and for the locomotives to take on water.  For resident of the more isolated sections of the Pine Barrens, who did not have radios or electricity, the Blue Comet provided local residents with a goodwill gesture.  The Blue Comet crew would drop off newspapers for the residents, allowing them to keep up with the latest news.  Showing their appreciation, the resident would bring baskets of freshly picked berries for the crew.  Indeed, the Blue Comet had a positive effect on the lives of the people who lived near the tracks.

As passenger traffic diminished, the G3 Pacifics were pulled from Blue Comet service and other locomotives pulled the train.  Frequently, one would find Camelback 592 at the point, or other Pacifics.  Pacific 820 was on the point for the only derailment of the Blue Comet.  On August 19, 1939, extraordinarily heavy rains caused a washout at Chatsworth.  Though the crew had been informed of a possible washout and reduced the train's speed, the tracks were under too much sand and water and derailed.  Reports that one hundred people were killed led to a flurry of ambulances from northern parts of the state.  Actually, only forty-nine people were on board, thirty-two of which were injured.  The majority of the injuries were minor, results from the flying wicker chairs in the observation car.  CNJ crews replaced about six hundred feet of damaged track in approximately forty-eight hours.

Eventually, the Depression and the PRR's direct access to New York took the life out of the Blue Comet.  The Blue Comet's last run was on September 27, 1941 from Atlantic City to Jersey City.  The Blue Comet's main competitor, the Nellie Bly, lasted until 1961.

Though many were not fortunate enough to personally experience the Blue Comet, the train will always have a place in our hearts.  Whether it's a relative or friend recounting their trips on the train (as my grandfather has), reading about it in books, or even having a model of the train (such as Lionel's or Rivarossi's) running on your layout, the Blue Comet's legacy will not vanish into the sunset.