Black River and Western Railroad
The Black River & Western Railroad was started by William Whitehead in Oldwick, New Jersey, in the late 1950s. A portion of the defunct Rockaway Valley Railroad went through his back yard. He and his sons started collecting rolling stock and an engine. They began laying tracks but then the expansion of I-78 halted their dream of building a railroad at that location. They moved their equipment to the Chester Hill branch of the Central Railroad of New Jersey with the hope of starting a railroad there. The section of railroad they were scouting soon became landlocked by the construction of I-80.
The Black River & Western Railroad (BR&W) was incorporated in 1961. The railroad's name is derived from the Black River, a river in Chester, and the direction that the river flows. The cars were moved to Flemington, New Jersey, and the search for a place to start their tourist train was continued. A leasing arrangement was created with the Pennsylvania Railroad. The PRR allowed a tourist train to operate from Flemington to Lambertville on the original Flemington Branch. The BR&W paid $5,000 a year and rehabilitated the railroad. [The PRR operated freight service on the line during this period.]
Steam engine #60 pulled the first trip out of Flemington on May 16, 1965, and Weekend and holiday schedules were devised. On March 16, 1970, the Black River & Western Railroad took over the ownership and operations of the entire Flemington/Lambertville line, purchasing it from the Penn Central. With the acquisition of the railroad right of way and its freight operations on top of the existing tourist passenger service, a true shortline railroad was born. Their base of operations was, and still is, out of Ringoes NJ, which is on the Flemington - Lambertville Section. Freight interchange after the 1970 purchase was made with the PRR/Penn Central at Lambertville and the CNJ in Flemington.
On the fateful day of April 1, 1976 Conrail took over Penn Central and other neighboring railroads. Freight trains ran along the Delaware River until its last day on November 12, 1978. Conrail abandoned the line after that day from Milford to Trenton. The BR&W purchased one mile of trackage into Lambertville that was a portion of the part of that mainline that was abandoned. Sadly, trackage didn't stay and was removed by Conrail from Trenton North to Lambertville. BR&W owned the tracks in Lambertville; so, Conrail continued destroying the tracks above Lambertville to Milford. The years of removal were mid-1979, 1980, and mid-1981. After the destruction of Bel Del (the line from Trenton to Belvedere), Lambertville's only major rail connection was at Three Bridges past Flemington.
On April 1, 1976, the "Central Branch", which runs from Flemington to Three Bridges, was purchased from the Central Railroad of New Jersey (CNJ), moving the BR&W interchange point to Three Bridges, which the BR&W maintains today.
Train service from Ringoes, South (RR West) to Lambertville, ceased in 1998 due to several factors. The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) demoted the poor trackage to "excepted", which prohibited the operation of passenger trains over the line. In addition, a quarry at the end of the line in Lambertville had already cancelled their contract with the BR&W, which ended all freight service over this portion. As the tourist trains generated little income, and with no freight revenue to make needed repairs, all service on this portion was ultimately discontinued. Currently, freight and passenger service continues on the line from Ringoes, North (RR East) to Flemington and Three Bridges.
In 2001, a separate non-profit entity known as the Black River Railroad Historic Trust, was formed to take over the tourist trains on the line. The Trust owns one diesel locomotive and some of the passenger cars used on the trains. Up until 2011, the Trust paid fees for the use of other coaches; the Trust currently leases those coaches, steam engine #60, and other diesels from the railroad, depending on the season. In addition to the leased #60, the BRRHT runs a privately owned diesel locomotive for most of its excursions.
At the end of 2014, the BR&W announced that it is working on reactivating excursion service along what is now called the Alexauken Division of the BR&W, along the Alexauken Creek. The first two miles of service, from Ringoes to a point two miles South at what is called Bowne Station (at Bowne Station Road), is slated to start sometime in 2016. However, it remains to be seen whether or not the BR&W will fully restore service to the Alexauken Division all the way back to Lambertville.
Sources (for above and Further information): www.blackriverrailroad.com