In September 1976, the American Freedom Train traveled down the NJCL. Unfortunately, Ocean County missed the train as it stopped at Asbury Park. The 4-8-4 steam locomotive was deemed too heavy and the Manasquan Bridge was in poor condition and could not handle the train. The last steam engine in Bay Head Yard (still to this day) was The Blue Comet Nostalgia Train.
By this time, several commuter groups formed to bring awareness as to what was happening on the NJCL. These groups included Irate Shore Commuters, Shore Commuters for On-Time Service, as well as a commuters’ wives club. To make matters worse than they already were, the winter of 1977-1978 was one of the worst on record. The cold weather and heavy snow crippled the E8s. NJDOT required the service of Conrail locomotives to pull the trains while the E8s would provide power for the passenger cars. Due to a mix-up of a canceled train out of Penn Station one afternoon, a southbound train powered by a Conrail GP40, missed its scheduled stop in Middletown as the engineer thought he was making a run of another scheduled train. When the train stopped in Red Bank, infuriated Middletown commuters (and some others) blocked the southbound train from continuing until they were provided service back to Middletown. Since a Conrail locomotive was on the point of the train, the situation received widespread media coverage. News crews packed Bay Head Yard as the train approached, attempting to interview the conductors and engineer. By this time, ridership bottomed out at 8,000.
By December 1977, suggestions were being made to terminate the line at Sea Girt and abandon the rest of the line. The Manasquan River Bridge was in need of costly repairs and NJDOT was questioning the feasibility of repairing the bridge to provide service to just two towns, Point Pleasant Beach and Bay Head. Bay Head Yard would be closed and a new yard would open at the National Guard Armory in Sea Girt. (As you recall, the CNJ had tried this in the beginning of the century, so the PRR would be responsible for the river bridge.) Fortunately, for Ocean County commuters, the state did come up with the necessary funds to repair the bridge, and reduce it to one track. Work began on April 10, 1978 and took four weeks to complete. The trestle is doubled tracked, but the bridge is single track.
In November 1979, voters approved a second bond issue for electrification and new locomotives for the NJCL. Electrification would extend to Matawan, and eventually to Long Branch. Based on their success in servicing Amtrak, NJDOT selected the F40 as their locomotive of choice. Electrification from South Amboy began in April 1981, and was completed to Matawan one year later. In addition, new continuous welded rail was laid on the line, improving track conditions. By this time, the rail spur at the Point Pleasant Beach station had been removed. The former freight station had been moved to the north end of the parking area and ownership was going to Pt. Beach's Department of Sanitation. A trailer was used for the ticket agent and was the “station” for Pt. Beach.
August 1981 saw the signing of the Northeast Rail Service Act, which required Conrail to “remove” itself from commuter service and focus solely on freight service as of December 31, 1982. NJDOT had fourteen months to come up with a plan. Thus concludes Conrail’s passenger information. Further information can be found under the New Jersey Transit page.