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InTransition Magazine : Transportation Planning, Practice & Progress

Archive Edition

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Newark’s Rail-Tied and Ironbound History

By Frank T. Reilly

Newark’s extraordinary rail system dates back to 1834, when the first train arrived on the New Jersey Railroad (NJRR), a predecessor to Amtrak. At that time, the NJRR ran from Newark to Jersey City, where ferryboats crossed the Hudson River to Manhattan. In 1871, the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) took over the NJRR and several other state railroads. A century later, Amtrak took over intercity passenger train operations and in 1983, NJ Transit assumed commuter train operations.

The Newark Public Library

An attendant passes the time during a slow 1951 day at the

Central Railroad of New Jersey's station on Broad Street in

Downtown Newark. The Prudential Center was built on a site

that was long ago used as the station's rail yards.

The rapidly growing railroad business of the 1920s and the need to expand resulted in the PRR building Pennsylvania Station Newark. Nicknamed Penn Station, the Art Deco building immediately became Newark’s hub for trains, street cars and buses when it opened on March 23, 1935, with a grand celebration. The Hudson & Manhattan Railroad (now the PATH) relocated its Newark terminus from Park Place at Military Park to the uppermost level of Penn Station in 1937. The station today serves thousands of commuters and several intercity trains daily, including the fastest train line in North America, Amtrak’s Acela, which operates between Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York City and Boston.

The Prudential Center arena was built on the right-of-way of the now-defunct Central Railroad of New Jersey’s (CRRNJ) Newark & New York Branch. That railroad opened in 1869 and ran between Broad Street in Newark and the Hudson River waterfront terminal in Jersey City, where ferryboats crossed to Manhattan. The Newark Daily Advertiser newspaper heralded the line’s opening as an extraordinary event in the city’s history and compared its importance to the opening of America’s first transcontinental railroad that year, an exceptional exaggeration.

When the CRRNJ was elevated between Penn Station and the vicinity of Route 1 between 1901 and 1904, it built massive iron bridges over the local roads. These prominent iron bridges and tracks are said to have given this section of Newark the nickname the “Ironbound.” (That neighborhood in turn inspired the name of pro soccer’s Ironmen, who play at the arena.) After train service ended, the bridges were sold for scrap and the fill was sold for use in large landfills. Only a few stone bridge abutments remain as a reminder of this once important railroad.

The Newark Public Library

A postcard shows the outside of Penn Station Newark

in its early days. Today, a skywalk protrudes from the

arched area above the left exit, connecting it to a Hilton

across the street.

The arena is built on the site of the CRRNJ passenger train platforms and yards. The parking lot between the arena and McCarter Highway (Route 21) is on the former rail yards and main line where the CRRNJ crossed over the PRR-Amtrak line to the Ironbound section of Newark. Between the arena and Broad Street is the CRRNJ passenger terminal building, opened in 1918. From this station a traveler could board luxurious passenger cars that went directly to seashore towns, Baltimore, Washington, D.C., St. Louis and Chicago.

On the Broad Street side, the station front was rusticated granite with three large doorways and a glass canopy over the sidewalk. Above the canopy were three large arched windows on the second floor. Between them were round cement ornamental details with a railroad motif. Above them reads “Central R.R. of New Jersey” in large letters spanning the width of the building. The ornamentals and wording are still plainly visible today.

Passenger trains of the CRRNJ were transferred to Penn Station in 1967, at which time the station was closed. Freight service continued for a few more years and eventually was abandoned.

Frank T. Reilly is an InTransition Editorial Board member and a New Jersey railroad historian. He has worked in the transportation industry since 1966.

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