Raritan River Railroad

As with all great railroads, it starts with a thought. A simple thought of moving freight and passengers from point A to point B in the most economic and inexpensive way. The late 19th century railroad fever sparked the rapid building of railroad line across the country. Some of this line was built wisely, and some was not. Without a doubt, the Raritan River was one of these lines that was wisely built.

The Raritan River Railroad was incorporated in 1888 and was a twelve mile shortline that ran from South Amboy, New Jersey, to New Brunswick, New Jersey. In its early stages it was planned that rails would be laid from South Amboy to Bound Brook NJ. The reasons being for this was that from the perspective of Bound Brook, the Raritan Valley was a natural cut-off to the shore. At Bound Brook the Reading, Lehigh Valley, and Jersey Central railroads had lines, while South Amboy had the New York & Long Branch. Then at New Brunswick was the main line of the mighty Pennsylvania Railroad. This being said, the people who saw such an opportunity in laying rails up the valley had quite a proposition on their hands.

And so, construction started in May 1888 with the laying of 60 pound rail. Later that year the RRRR commenced operation with two 4-4-0 engines and twenty 20- ton gondola cars. By July 4th, 1891, the RRRR's first train left Milltown, and shortly thereafter the line reached New Brunswick. After building 12 miles of mainline track, the railroad decided not to cross the Raritan River to link Bound Brook with New Brunswick. Skipping ahead a few years, the Raritan River had suffered from the Great Depression. With the arrival of World War II, an increase in freight traffic was seen on the railroad. At the wars end the RRRR bought six surplus USRA engines for only $100,000. This meant that the older locomotives could be scrapped. Going into the early 1950's, dieselization was seen on the Raritan. The USRA's were eventually replaced by six EMD SW900 engines. Once going into the 60's and 70's, both parents of the RRRR, the CNJ and the Penn Central were bankrupt, although the Raritan River remained profitable. The Raritan River had its best revenue year in 1979, with operating revenues amounting to $1,968,671.

With the forming of Conrail in April 1976 to take over the fallen eastern railroads, the then-profitable Raritan River was supposed to be included along with their bankrupt parent railroads. The Raritan River then resisted inclusion in Conrail and took court action to prevent its takeover. Sadly, four years later on April 24th, 1980, the Raritan River Railroad merged into the Conrail system after a 92 year independence. Perhaps Conrail could not bear to see a proud and prosperous railroad existing in its midst.

When Conrail took over the old Raritan River mainline was renamed Conrail's Sayreville Secondary and sees a few customers along the line. The Milltown freight station still stands today and there are plans to move it and make it a museum. All six SW900's were renumbered for Conrail and then scrapped in 1984. However, SW900 #4 made it through somehow and is currently working at a power plant in Eddystone, PA. The Raritan River's first boxcar also made it through and is now in full Raritan River colors in Quakertown, PA. Three cabooses also survived being #7, #8, and #10. #10 is currently on tourist trains at the Whippany Railroad museum. #7 is at the Pine Creek Railroad and #8 is in Ivyland, PA, along the tracks for the New Hope and Ivyland.

Rartan River Railroad Historical Society
Video History of the RRRR