The New York and Long Branch is probably one of the more easier lines to document that ran through Ocean County. Aside from the discontinuing of freight service south of Red Bank and some stations, the NY&LB is almost the same as it was when it started. Of course, New Jersey Transit has replaced the CNJ and PRR, thus we only have one railroad to watch instead of two. This line has seem some very impressive and popular locomotives including CNJ Camelbacks and Baldwin "double ender" diesels while the PRR had their K4 Pacifics and GG1s (which terminated at South Amboy). Though the NY&LB has much history to it, we will focus on changes that effected Ocean County.
The first substantial addition to the CNJ after the lease of the Lehigh and Susquehanna, was the construction of the NY&LB to provide service to the growing resort areas along the Jersey shore. Efforts for rail service began in 1870 as the New York & Long Branch began construction of the rail line. The railroad finally came into the northeastern part of Ocean County on July 3, 1880, when the Jersey Central crossed the Manasquan River and arrived in Point Pleasant Beach. As the terminus of the line, the CNJ built a roundhouse and turntable to house the engines. The fist station was built in 1880 for Point Pleasant Beach and lasted until 1902. A new station was built in 1903 on the western side of the tracks. By 1881, the Pennsylvania Railroad was showing interest in the New York & Long Branch. On January 3, 1882, an agreement was made between the CNJ, PRR, New Jersey Southern, and NY&LB acknowledging the independence of the NY&LB. This agreement opened the doors and allowed the PRR to serve the line. One of the stipulations was that the entire line be double tracked and extended to Bay Head Junction. Trackwork to Bay Head was completed on April 1, 1882. Also in 1882, the PRR completed work on its Camden to Seaside Park line over the Barnegat Bay, linking to the NY&LB at Bay Head Junction. The stage was now set for travelers to easily access the area that is now referred to as the Jersey Shore. The Matawan Journal reported that real estate values in Point Pleasant Beach rose 300% after the railroads came.
Some changes occurred on the NY&LB on the physical plant. The Manasquan River bridge was worked on twice. In 1912, a lift span was built, allowing faster opening and closings for marine traffic in the river with anticipation of the opening of the Manasquan Inlet. In 1917, a new trestle was completed and parts of the river were filled in (much to many fishermans' dismay), thus reducing maintenance costs to the CNJ and PRR as the entire span was no longer a trestle. In 1918, Bay Head Yard opened and most engine facilities were moved to Bay Head Junction. (The yard in Point Pleasant Beach remained open until October 4, 1930.) Another railroad came to Point Pleasant in 1915. The Trenton, Lakewood and Seacoast Railway issued stock to build a line from Point Pleasant to Trenton. Trackwork reached the Point Pleasant-Bricktown border before the company folded in 1923. (For those familiar with Point Pleasant, the power alley between Herbertsville Road and Route 88 roughly follows the intended path of the railroad.) Finally, the Point Pleasant-Bay Head Ice & Coal Company went into business and became a major supplier of coal for homes in the area.
The depression years were marked by cooperation between the CNJ and PRR, resulting in the consolidation of their schedules. In the Fall of 1929, the PRR bought half of the NY&LB, making it a co-owner with the CNJ. As mentioned earlier, the engine facility at Point Pleasant Beach was closed on October 4, 1930. Bay Head Yard now assumed full responsibility of all locomotive maintenance. A loop had been installed in the yard to allow the turning around of all trains. By the 1930s, both railroads had trains named for the NY&LB. The CNJ's included the Shore Special, Newarker, Bayshore Special and Essex Special. The PRR's trains included Jersey Coaster, Commuter, Broker, Merchant, Banker, Skipper, Resorter, and Early Bird. Many of these names would remain until the advent of Conrail in 1976. The CNJ had also considered terminating their trains in Sea Girt at the National Guard complex to avoid maintenance costs of the Manasquan River bridge. The idea was to put the burden on the PRR for all maintenance costs, plus the CNJ only ran two miles south of the river. Fortunately, this plan was never implemented. As passenger service began to decrease on Blue Comet service, the G3 Pacifics would pull CNJ trains on the NY&LB.
While the railroads ran equal passenger trains, the CNJ dominated on freight. In February 1941, the Dale Yacht Basin opened in Bay Head, south of the train yard along the PRR line to Seaside Park. The PRR built a spur for the boat basin and delivered many boxcars of boats to them. This run was done via Seaside Park. Unfortunately, for the PRR, the Dale Boat Basin was growing so rapidly, that the owners built a new facility on the Beaver Dam Creek in 1947 and closed their Bay Head operations. There was a lumber yard on Osborne Avenue in Bay Head and Point Pleasant-Bay Head Ice & Coal Company as the freight customers in Ocean County.
The CNJ was the first of the two railroads to use diesel locomotives, proudly advertising so in the late 1940s. Obviously, steam was not replaced overnight and for many years, steam and diesel rode side by side for both railroads. In July, 1945 the CNJ purchased six "double ender" diesels from Baldwin Locomotive Works. The idea behind these diesels was the fact that they did not require to be turned around, just like the PRR's GG1s. Other early CNJ diesel purchases included Alco RS-1s and Fairbanks-Morse Trainmasters. The Trainmasters were capable of pulling a fourteen car train with one locomotive. The PRR was not as fortunate as the CNJ with their dieselization of the NY&LB. The first diesels from the PRR, arriving in April 1956, were Alco PA and Baldwin BP20 "Sharknose" units. These locomotives were assigned to the NY&LB as other PRR passenger markets dried up. The PAs and BP20s were not designed for commuter service, but for long distance rail travel. As a result, they frequently had problems with the constant stops and starts of commuter duties. The PRR soon discovered that these locomotives had to be paired with another locomotive. It took either two diesels or one steam and one diesel to do the job of one K4. Many rail photographers were very pleased during this time to see PRR K4s leading either the Alco PA or Baldwin BP20 diesel. (Compare that to the CNJ Trainmasters!) Shortly thereafter, the PRR started using EMD E7 units, which were capable of the NY&LB schedule. Yes, Bay Head Yard was a melting pot of various locomotives during the 1950s.
The CNJ had their "Farewell to Steam" on April 23, 1954. A "Farewell to Steam" excursion was held by the New Jersey Chapter of the National Railroad Historical Society on July 11, 1954. The run, from Bay Head to Jersey City, covered the NY&LB, the Freehold Branch, and the Bayshore Branch (Matawan to Atlantic Highlands). CNJ Camelback 774 had the honors of running the train. The event was extremely popular.
The PRR held their "Farewell to Steam" on October 20, 1957. An excursion was sponsored by Branford Electric Railway Association. K4 612 was the locomotive chosen for the run, which covered the NY&LB and the Freehold and Jamesburg Agricultural Railroad (Manasquan to Freehold to Jamesburg). As with the CNJ excursion, the PRR's was also extremely popular as many people from all walks of life made their way trackside to say farewell to the CNJ and PRR steam locomotives.
Okay, so both railroads dieselized from 1945-1957, but what about the old heavyweight coaches? From 1950 to 1956, the PRR refurbished their entire fleet, with new seating, light improvements, and the addition of air-conditioning. This made the commute more enjoyable, especially during the warm summer months. In addition, the PRR added Refreshment cars onto their trains during this time. Unfortunately, the CNJ did not refurbish their passenger cars and the old heavyweights continued service. The spur in Point Pleasant Beach for the roundhouse still still used by the CNJ to store extra passenger cars up through the 1950s.
By the 1960s, both railroads were suffering from economic woes. Maintenance was deferred, rolling stock repairs were delayed, and stations were neglected. More and more commuters began to desert the trains. One of the biggest blows to the NY&LB, especially to Ocean County, was the demolition of the Point Pleasant Beach train station in October 1966. To add to the woes of the CNJ and PRR, the State of New Jersey reconstructed Route 35 to make it a four-lane highway. Richmond Avenue became two-lane Route 35 South. Cincinnati Avenue became two-lane Route 35 North. The station, built in 1903, was "in the way" for the road project and was torn down. Neither the PRR or the CNJ were in any financial position to build a new one, so Point Pleasant Beach was left without a station. On a positive note, PRR EMD E7 locomotives replaced the Alco and Baldwin locomotives. By the mid 1960s, the PRR began to prepare for its merger with long time arch-rival New York Central, with the renumbering of their locomotives.
On April 30, 1967, the Aldene Plan went into effect and all NY&LB trains ran from Bay Head to Newark. Earlier that same year, the CNJ entered bankruptcy. The future of commuter rail service heavily laid on the success of the Aldene Plan. In 1968, the CNJ received thirteen EMD GP40P locomotives (courtesy of the C&O and NJDOT) to replace the Trainmasters. These locomotives, specifically designed for passenger service, were the last new CNJ locomotives. On February 1, 1968, the PRR & NYC officially merged, forming the Penn Central. The PRR Tuscan Red and Brunswick Green locomotives were gone, replaced with Penn Central's black color scheme and "worm and noodle" lettering. Commuter clubs, particularly with the PRR, continued to have their own cars in the Penn Central era. In November 1968, voters approved a bond issue to extend electrification of the line from South Amboy to Bay Head. Transportation consultants were skeptic about the feasibility of the project south of Red Bank due to the high number of grade crossings. Nonetheless, neither the CNJ nor the PC were in any financial position to purse the project.
The decade of the 1970s began with the bankruptcy of the Penn Central. State subsidies kept the CNJ trains running as government officials looked for a solution to the northeast railroad problems. Ridership on the line in 1969 was only 11,100 passengers. Aside from the CNJ GP40P locomotives, the rest of the locomotives and rolling stock were “getting older”. The gasoline crisis in 1973 brought a temporary increase in ridership, but that increase ended when the crisis did. Also around this time, New Jersey Department of Transportation bought some Burlington Northern and Kansas City Southern coaches. Many a passenger car became excess to its owner upon the advent of Amtrak in 1971. These lightweight cars were relatively new and purchased at a cheaper price. The drawback to the cars was the fact that they had doors at only one end, as they were intended for long distance trains, not commuter trains. This resulted in longer loading/unloading of passengers and increased the trains’ running time. The demographics of the NY&LB were presented in a booklet entitled The Rail Commuter-North Jersey Coast Line by the Monmouth County Transportation Coordinating Committee and the Monmouth County Planning Board in November 1974. The March 1974 numbers for Point Pleasant Beach was 332, while Bay Head was 179.
In December 1975, the Blue Comet Nostalgia Train traveled the NY&LB from Raritan Bay to Bay Head. Though the locomotive was not of either CNJ or PRR heritage, the train was highly successful. Pulled by a Florida East Coast Pacific, number 148, and was accompanied by CNJ coaches and observation car 1178. One of the many passengers on the train was Tom Snyder, who was taping for the NBC Tomorrow show. The excursion also made the cover of the August 1976 Trains magazine. It was the first steam locomotive in Bay Head Yard since PRR 612 and the last one since. The steam excursion was the last big event in the CNJ/PC era as Conrail loomed five months away. (See Effects of Conrail for more on the NY&LB.)
locmotive approaching Bay Head
Photos of Bay Head Yard circa December 1975 (courtesy of Bob Vogel)
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