West of Hudson Passenger Terminals

From nycsubway.org

by Brian J. Cudahy

There's only one of them left in operation today, the former Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad terminal in Hoboken, New Jersey, now the home of NJ Transit, with a modest presence maintained by Metro North. But as late as the middle of the 20th century there were no fewer than five separate terminals across the Hudson from Manhattan; among them they hosted passenger trains of ten different railroads and offered service to points as close as Newark and as far distant as Chicago and St. Louis. All allowed passengers to travel to and from Manhattan aboard fleets of double-ended ferryboats, three of them were adjacent to stations of William Gibbs McAdoo's Hudson and Manhattan Railroad, the Hudson Tubes, now known as the PATH System, and a few supplemented trans-Hudson boats and subway trains with dedicated bus service to and from "the city" for long-distance passengers.

Weehawken, New York Central

Without going into all its complex corporate history, the northernmost of the five New Jersey passenger terminals was a relatively modest eight-platform facility in Weehawken roughly across from Manhattan's West 50th Street that was the southern terminal of the New York Central Railroad's West Shore Division. Weehawken, in the years after Grand Central was electrified early in the 20th century, was the closest spot to midtown Manhattan where one could see NYC steam locomotives in action, and these would typically be various classes of 4-6-2 Pacifics. West Shore trains made their way to and from Weehawken through the same tunnel under the Palisades now used by NJ Transit's Hudson-Bergen light rail operation, although during steam days, riding through the tunnel in an open-window coach could be quite an experience. And while the NYC's principal engine service facility for its West Shore Division was on the inland side of this tunnel, there was a small engine yard just to the south of the passenger terminal where power for departing trains would lay over. As late as 1955 there was still daily West Shore service to and from Albany, but this was gradually cut back to commuter service only as far as Haverstraw, and even this was abandoned outright in 1959, giving Weehawken the distinction of being the first of the five passenger terminals to pass from the scene.

The NYC's Weehawken Terminal was also used by passenger trains of the New York, Ontario and Western Railroad prior to that road's elimination of passenger service in 1953. (The entire railroad would be abandoned outright in 1957.) In its final years, the O&W operated only a summer week-end train or two into and out of Weehawken, schedules that utilized West Shore trackage as far north as Cornwall, where they reached the company's own right of way and continued on to Middletown, Roscoe and, in earlier years, the Lake Ontario port city of Oswego.

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Hoboken, Delaware, Lackawanna, & Western

For most of its early life, DL&W's Hoboken Terminal was used solely by the Lackawanna itself. In the mid-1950s, the Erie abandoned its own terminal in nearby Jersey City and shifted its trains into the DL&W's larger and more commodious Hoboken facility, a precursor, after a fashion, of the two roads eventual merger into the Erie-Lackawanna in 1960. From 1960 through 1963, it was proper to render the corporation's name in hyphenated fashion, although in 1963 the hyphen was dropped. In its heyday, several Hoboken-Buffalo trains of the Lackawanna carried through cars that were handed over to the Nickel Plate in Buffalo, meaning one could travel between Hoboken and Chicago without changing trains. Several DL&W suburban lines out of Hoboken were electrified in the early 1930s using a direct current system of 3,000 volts distributed through overhead catenary. In 1984, under NJ Transit auspices, the DL&W's original system was converted to alternating current to ensure compatibility with the more extensive system of electrification used by the Pennsylvania Railroad as NJ Transit consolidated the services of several once-private carriers into a unified public system.

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Jersey City, Erie

The Erie's facility at the foot of Pavonia Avenue in Jersey City was home to that company's suburban as well as intercity services, and was also used by rather modest passenger services operated by the New York, Susquehanna and Western Railroad. A Susquehanna service that achieved modest acclaim for a short time was operated by diesel rail cars, but these did not utilize Erie terminal. Instead they began and ended their suburban runs at a station just west of the Lincoln Tunnel that was called Susquehanna Transfer, with passengers continuing into midtown Manhattan aboard Public Service buses.

Like DL&W's Hoboken terminal, there was a direct connection available to subway trains of the Hudson Tubes from Erie Terminal. In fact, there was a stairway down to the H&M station from each platform in the railroad terminal.

Unlike the DL&W, through trains on the Erie operated all the way to Chicago over their own trackage. Compared to the Pennsylvania and New York Central, whose crack trains could travel between the Hudson and Lake Michigan in as little as 16 hours, passengers who choose to ride Erie or DL&W-NKP trains between the same points could expect a journey of almost 24 hours, but pay a slightly lower fare than was charged by PRR and NYC.

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Jersey City, Pennsylvania Railroad

Oldest of the New Jersey passenger terminals was the Pennsylvania's facility at Exchange Place. Unlike the other four terminals which were all at ground level, the PRR facility was built atop an elevated embankment, a feature that afforded passengers easy access to the upper decks of the company's trans-Hudson ferryboats. Once the home of Lehigh Valley trains as well as those of the PRR, this facility was electrified in the late 1930s and onward from the opening of Penn Station in 1910 more or less served as the home of suburban and commuter trains rather than intercity departures. Because it was located much closer to the financial district of downtown Manhattan than midtown Penn Station, albeit on the opposite side of a mile-wide river, Exchange Place played a key role in PRR's suburban operations until its abandonment in 1961. Until 1949, passengers could cross the Hudson aboard railroad-operated ferryboats, and onward from 1908 subway trains of the Hudson Tubes made for a swift passage from Exchange Place to the H&M's Hudson Terminal in the financial district of lower Manhattan. But perhaps the most interesting feature of Exchange Place in its final years was the fact that trains heading to points along the New York and Long Branch Railroad (trackage along the North Jersey Coast to Bay Head Junction jointly operated by PRR and the Jersey Central) would run to and from Exchange Place behind either steam or diesel locomotives. David P. Morgan, the long-time editor of Trains magazine, once noted that Exchange Place-Bay Head passenger trains, one of which even bore a name, "The Broker", represented the final instance of passenger trains operating along a Pennsy main line behind the railroad's classic K-4s Pacific-type locomotives.

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Jersey City, Central of New Jersey

While principally the home of Jersey Central trains, the facility at the foot of Johnson Avenue in Jersey City was also the New York terminal for long-distance trains of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, as well as services to and from Philadelphia operated by the Reading Company. And to make it a quartet, there were even a few seasons early in the 20th century when the Lehigh Valley was a CNJ tenant. (During the days of World War I when U.S. railroads were taken over by the government, passenger trains of both the B&O and the LV were routed into PRR's Penn Station behind that road's DD-1 electric motors. At war's end when PRR resumed control, the B&O was banished from Penn Station and its trains returned to CNJ's Jersey City facility. Lehigh Valley passenger trains continued to use Penn Station, though, until that road abandoned such service completely in 1961.)

At one point there was talk of extending Hudson and Manhattan subway service into the CNJ facility, but such plans never reached fruition. And because the Communipaw Terminal, as it was often called, was located in an isolated section of Jersey City to the south of the basin of the Morris Canal, its principal access would always be railroad-operated ferryboats. The B&O attempted to compensate for its lack of access to Manhattan by operating a fleet of connecting buses to various B&O store-front stations strategically located in places such as Rockefeller Center, Columbus Circle, the Grand Central area and even downtown Brooklyn. But the buses, all neatly painted in B&O colors, had to cross the Hudson aboard CNJ ferryboats. The buses pulled up immediately adjacent to inbound and outbound B&O trains on a paved roadway where Tracks 2 and 3 were previously located and buses reversed for the return trip on a little turntable located to the west of the terminal. This B&O passenger service became an early casualty of a general cut-back in intercity passenger trains and the railroad made Baltimore its eastern endpoint in 1958 and discontinued service to Jersey City. (B&O's own trackage ended in Philadelphia. Its trains proceeded north from there over RDG and CNJ rails.)

The former CNJ Terminal still stands, but it has been converted into a tourist and visitor center and no longer serves as a rail terminal, although the former ferry slips are used by tour boats that take passengers to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. It would take a trained industrial archeologist, however, to find any trace of the PRR's Exchange Place facility, Erie Terminal or the NYC station in Weehawken.

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Motive Power

This will not be an exhaustive list, but will highlight some of the locomotives and rail cars one might have encountered at the various terminals, particularly in the diesel era. Colorful Ontario and Western F units could be found on that line's final passenger trains in and out of Weehawken, while after the demise of steam in the early 1950s, host NYC relied primarily on Alco-GE RS-3 units, along with some relatively unusual Lima-Hamilton road switchers.

Lackawanna's Hoboken Terminal was a haven for direct current EMU equipment, but was also one of two Jersey terminals where one could encounter Fairbanks-Morse Trainmaster diesel units, with EMD E-8s the routine power on long-distance schedules. One could also find EMD GP-7 units on suburban passenger trains.

Erie Terminal in Jersey City was a place where one could find gas-electric cars into the early 1950s, along with both Alco-GE PA units and EMD E-8's on longer-distance schedules, plus RS-3's and GP-7's on other Erie commuter services, with Alco-GE RS-1 units in Susquehanna colors. Many classes of Erie locomotives, of course, migrated to DL&W's Hoboken Terminal after service into Jersey City was eliminated in the mid-1950s.

PRR's Exchange Place Terminal hosted New York and Long Branch trains hauled by K-4s steam locomotives, as well as tuscan red passenger diesels turned out by EMD, Alco-GE and Baldwin. Exchange Place was also home to seemingly endless numbers of Pennsy MP-54 class EMU cars.

Jersey Central's Communipaw Terminal saw Baltimore and Ohio President class Pacifics into the early 1950s, and a steady assortment of B&O EMD passenger cab units, including EA unit No. 51, now preserved in the B&O Museum in Baltimore as the world's first streamlined cab unit passenger diesel. Reading trains were typically hauled by FP-7 EMD units, although from time to time one could also encounter CNJ power hauling Reading trains. RDG also fielded an unusual stainless steel passenger train that ran under the name "Crusader" and featured an observation lounge car on each end of the consist, obviating the need to turn the entire train at the end of each short Jersey City-Philadelphia trip. (This Budd-built train was originally hauled by an RDG 4-6-2 Pacific steam locomotive that was also sheathed in stainless steel.) CNJ itself fielded an unusual assortment of motive power. This company was the nation's sole operator of double-cab Baldwin road locomotives, and right up until the end of steam power in 1953, Camelback engines with the cab astride the boiler were hauling trains in and out of Jersey City. Local trains to points as close as West 8th Street in Bayonne often returned to Jersey City with the Camelback locomotive operating tender first. CNJ boasted a diverse fleet of road-switchers from EMD, Alco-GE and Fairbanks-Morse, including a fleet of Trainmasters. And other than a few Budd-built cars owned by the Susquehanna and an occasional Nickel Plate run-through car on a DL&W train at Hoboken, the only stainless steel cars routinely found along the Hudson River waterfront were CNJ Budd RDC cars, along with RDG's aforementioned "Crusader."


New Jersey Transit Commuter Rail operates service over the New Jersey portions of many of the rail lines described above, operating out of Hoboken Terminal.

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By Brian J. Cudahy.

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