Over the river and through the woods

It’s not easy getting to Lakewood, NJ, by rail these days, but it can still be done;  in fact, it’s done 52 times a year (barring a major weather event) by a Conrail Shared Assets Operations local based out of Sayreville, NJ. With line abandonments prevalent in the past 40 years due to the dwindling freight traffic in central New Jersey, the crew of train SA-31 must travel 6 miles east from Sayreville to South Amboy, where they will then enter the New Jersey Transit North Jersey Coast Line, when time and the numerous commuter trains occupying this important corridor will allow. Upon receiving permission from the NJT dispatcher, SA-31 will then travel south (timetable west) to Red Bank in about 35 minutes time (on a good day), and take the switch at the location of old BANK tower to enter the ex-Central Railroad of New Jersey Southern Division, now known as the Southern Secondary. Although the runaround track in south Lakewood is only 22 miles away, it will take the crew some 2 hours to get there, due to the 10mph speed limit they must endure as a result of track conditions on this little used line.

Here we see the train crossing the Navesink River under the catenary on the NJT ‘Coast Line’, as they enter Red Bank and prepare for the final leg of their journey to Lakewood. Even though Monmouth County is mostly residential in the 21st century, a good amont of the Southern Secondary runs ‘through the woods’ as it heads in a southwesterly direction towards Lakewood. An ex-Penn Central unit (GP38-2, ex-CR 8058, nee-PC 8058, blt 2/73) leads todays edition on yet another beautiful spring day in the northeast. No, 10 miles per hour is probably not fun for the crew, but superb weather should make it a bit more tolerable, as the conductor & engineer head for Ocean County’s largest lumber yard to deliver their train, and then prepare to head back to the friendly confines of Browns Yard.

Image recorded April 5, 2012.

Conrail Shared Assets Operations train SA31 crosses Navesink River Red Bank NJ

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Sometimes a little luck goes a long way

Every photographer knows that proper lighting is essential to a good photo, but situations don’t always develop the way you want them to, expecially outdoors. This is where luck enters into the equation. The train shown here is the regular mid-afternoon Thursday edition of Conrail local freight WPSA-31, or SA-31 for short. The train is pretty predictable, entering the Southern Secondary at Red Bank, NJ, between 2:00 and 4:00pm for the run south to Lakewood. The power is also somewhat predictable, as the origination point, Browns Yard in Sayreville, NJ, only hosts 4 locomotives at a time (three 4-axle units, and one 6-axle unit), so you will see one of the three GP units on this train. Of course, what is not predictable is the weather.

SA-31 left Sayreville under dark, cloudy skies, and chances were slim that conditions would improve in the 90 minutes that it would take the crew to reach the location of this photo in Shrewsbury, NJ. Thankfully, as the weather front moved east, a bit of sun broke through every few minutes, followed by a large cloud, followed by some sun, followed by a cloud. Upon arrival trackside in Shrewsbury, I thought I would have a 50-50 chance of grabbing a sunny shot, so I appealed to the ‘weather gods’ for any assistance that could be provided.

At exactly 2:27pm, somehow, someway, the clouds parted and the low, late Autumn sun shone brightly upon Norfolk Southern 5281, still resplendent in her ‘Conrail Quality’ Dress Blue scheme. NS 5281 is one of the elder locomotives on the roster, originally built for the PennCentral railroad back in February of 1973. Was it fate that sent this veteran locomotive to this lightly used secondary today? Was it good planning on my part to be in the right place at the right time? Did the weather gods actually help?

I don’t know, all I have to say is that, sometimes, a little luck goes a long way…….

Image recorded on November 5, 2010.

Conrail Southern Secondary Shrewsbury NJ NS5281 Conrail Quality

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The end of the line, for now

With Conrail severing the former Central Railroad of NJ Southern Division mainline back in the late 1970s, and with rail customers switching to trucks, or not surviving the tough New Jersey marketplace, the present day Conrail Shared Assets Operations railroad decided that, with no future potential for rail-freight services, they would take the Toms River Industrial track, and the Southern Secondary out of service at MP65.9 by removing a section of rail in Lakehurst in June of 2009. The mainline extends south of this point to the sand pits in Woodmansie, NJ, and there was hope that the owner of the line south of Lakehurst would revive sand train service in 2006, and again in 2009, but those plans never materialized, and the line remains dormant. Unfortunately, in December of 2010, the end of the line would be moved further north to South Lakewood, NJ, and trains would be eliminated from Lakehurst altogether.

Here we see weekly local WPSA-31 sitting at the end of track marker, with a new crew onboard and getting ready to utilize the runaround track immediately behind the train. CSX 4423 has seen these rails before, starting life as Conrail 3338, built in June of 1978 by EMD. In a matter of minutes, the crew will position the locomotive on the opposite end of the train, and head north to Lakewood to drill the large lumber yard there; without the 4 to 10 carloads of inbound lumber every week, this line would have little chance of survival, so to the good people of Woodhaven Lumber, we say ‘thank you’.

Image recorded September 18, 2009.

Conrail Southern Secondary CSX 4423 exCNJ Lakehurst NJ

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Train’s mechanical trouble provides great photo op

It doesn’t happen very often, but today’s edition of Conrail Shared Assets train SA-31 is sitting in Farmingdale, NJ, unable to continue its journey as a result of a mechnical problem with Norfolk Southern GP40-2 3022 (ex-CR 3315, blt 5/78). This short local would sit here under beautiful sunny skies for almost 4 days, before a ‘rescue’ locomotive was sent down from Browns yard, in Sayreville, NJ. Due to its very accessible location, and the great weather during this time, number 3022 must have been the most photographed locomotive in the country in early January, 2010, as railfans from near and far paid a visit to see this wounded warrior.

Image recorded January 9, 2010.  Train's mechanical trouble provides great photo opportunityClick on the image to display it at a larger size. Use your browser’s Back button to return to this page.

In Lakehurst, NJ, rails are quiet for first time in 149 years

It is the end of an era as Conrail Shared Assets Symbol WPSA-31, with NS 5281 (EMD GP38-2, ex-Conrail 8078, built as Penn Central 8078 in February 1973) in charge, sits on the runaround track in Lakehurst, NJ, for the final time. The railroad was first built into Lakehurst when the Raritan & Delaware Bay RR came to town in 1861, as competition to the already established Camden & Amboy RR. Difficult financial times for the Raritan & Delaware Bay found itself reorganized into the New Jersey Southern Railroad in 1869, and 10 years later, in 1879, the line was acquired by The Central Railroad of New Jersey (CNJ) as their Southern Division Mainline. For the following 97 years, the CNJ moved passengers (until 1957) and freight on the line from northern NJ to extreme southern NJ, until the formation of Conrail in 1976.

Conrail severed the Southern Division in 1978, with the southern terminus now here in Lakehurst, and referred to this line (now Red Bank to Lakehurst) as the Southern Secondary. The line remained in this configuration until December, 2010, when a new runaround track was built in Lakewood, NJ, some 5 miles to the north, to cut travel time and save money for new operator Conrail Shared Assets Operations (so designated after Conrail was split up between CSX Transportation and Norfolk Southern RR in 1999). With the new runaround completed just 2 weeks before this photo, it would be put into operation on the following run of SA-31 the very next week.

It is with great sadness that I officially report that, for the first time in 149 years, there will be no trains in Lakehurst, New Jersey.

Image recorded December 3, 2010.

Conrail Shared Assets Symbol WPSA-31 sits on the runaround track in Lakehurst, NJ, for the final time

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