Throw Back Thursday: Broad and Market, 1914

Submitted by itadmin on Thu, 01/14/2016 - 12:12

Interurban railways. Although New Jersey was never the heartland of the electric intercity railway, it briefly became a popular form of transport. Near the close of the nineteenth century, Americans began to use electric-powered intercity railways (in reality, rural trolleys) as a transition between the horse and buggy and the automobile and bus. These upstart companies frequently installed track and overhead wire along a public road that connected several communities and perhaps served a cemetery, amusement park, or campground. In the mid-1890s one of these pioneer roads opened between Bridgeton and Millville in the south-central part of the state, and it later extended to Bivalve, an active oystering port. As replacement technologies made rapid, long-distance interurban railways fully practical, a transport revolution was at hand—interurban railways appeared to be the wave of the future. More ambitious projects followed in both the nation and the state; between 1900 and 1910 several important electric intercity railways appeared in New Jersey, including the Atlantic City and Shore Railroad Company, North Jersey Rapid Transit Company, and New Jersey Interurban Company.

 

It was the Public Service Corporation of New Jersey (PSC), however, that constructed the state’s most significant network. By the early years of the twentieth century this firm operated an array of street railways in Jersey City, Newark, and in other parts of North Jersey. Although some of these “car lines” were intercity and contained sections of private rights-of-way, they were never considered to be bona fide interurban railways, largely because of their cheap construction, inexpensive rolling stock, and overall trolley like qualities. Nevertheless, PSC arguably developed true interurban railways. Between 1899 and 1904 the company constructed the Camden and Trenton Railway, a distinctive feature of which was its nonstandard gauge of five feet, the wider gauge of the Camden city lines. When the Camden and Trenton Railway opened, it was possible for travelers to make a through trip between Camden and Jersey City with a change of cars in Trenton. Few people made such a trip, however, since it required nearly nine hours—much slower than the competing steam railways. Sensing the popularity of long distance service, PSC built a new line on mostly private rights-of-way between Trenton and the North Jersey area. On July 1, 1913, what became known as the Fast Line opened, and soon connectors allowed the heavy steel passenger equipment to enter Perth Amboy and Carteret. The Fast Line failed financially, in part because of the growing popularity of the private automobile. In the 1920s and early 1930s the company reduced service, in places substituting buses, and finally abandoned the track age. A similar fate befell the other interurban railways in the Garden State; abandonments became ubiquitous. The New Jersey Interurban Company, for example, which connected Port Murray and Phillipsburg, folded in 1925, nineteen years after it opened. What occurred in New Jersey happened elsewhere, with the exception of that small group of interurban railways, mostly in the Midwest and West, which established a profitable carload-freight business.