You may have heard about plans for the future New Jersey Transportation Heritage Center in Phillipsburg, but even without an official building or staff the NJHTC does exist and one can arrange tours. Last August the West Jersey Chapter of the NRHS organized an informal trip to Phillipsburg visit the NJHTC and ride the adjacent Black River and Westers steam tourist train along the Delaware River.
The NJHTC is currently split between several sites. These consist of the downtown Phillipsburg Union Station, which is probably the only part that can really be opened to the public, the adjacent CNJ PU interlocking tower, undergoing restoration, the nearby Phillipsburg Railroad Historians Museum, which if the NJHTC is ever built will contain most of the full size outdoor exhibits and/or trolley line and finally a storage facility north of town a the former Phillipsburg water pumping station where all of the miscalculation transportation related artifacts are stored.
The Black River and Western line runs a steam excursion service on the former PRR Bel Del Line between Phillipsburg and about halfway to Millford. The train uses former LIRR 1950's Ping Pong rolling stock with a 2-8-2 steam locomotive purchased from China in the late 1980's. This is the only operating steam locomotive in New Jersey and everything is branded with New York Susquehanna and Western markings.
We will begin with the Phillipsburg Union Station and PU tower, then move onto the steam excursion, the storage facility, the Railroading museum and finally cross the river to check out the former LVRR Easton, PA Station.
You can find all of the photos at: here.
We're start out with the public face of the NJHTC which is the old Phillipsburg Union Station which served both the CNJ main line to Scranton and the DL&W Washington Branch. This last saw passenger service under NJDoT in the early 1980's and has been temporarily suspended ever since. Te building is owned by the city and has several tenants, including the NJHTC and a local railfan club's archive. The building had been drastically rehabilitated in recent years with the top level completely fixed up along with the roof.
From the other side we can see the platform level and the various doors
and stairways providing access. Back in the day the station here was as
sophisticated as any currently serving Amtrak with checked baggage and
different gates to different platforms. Still there are still occasional
issues with vandalism included someone breaking in and setting a fire
which fortunately did not spread to the whole structure.
The station is adjacent to CP-PHILLIPSBURG, a simple interlocking between the NS/Conrail Lehigh Line and the Washington Secondary. I was lucky because not long after I took these pictures NS re-signaled the interlocking when the signals had to be relocated to accommodate a track realignment on the adjacent Delaware river bridge. It's sort of bizarre that it's preferable to replace perfectly serviceable signaling equipment than just move it :-(
Here we see a clear signal pulled up on the main track signal for an approaching NS intermodal train. The lack of a top head yellow aspect is due to the short 2500 foot signal distance between here and CP-EASTON so trains in either direction approaching a stop signal will get a Restricting instead. The re-alignment has since moved the single track on the bridge from the south to the north trackway and you can see the fresh ties already installed.
The Washington secondary gets a three head slow speed signal for
movements out onto the main line. Here you can see the deteriorating
Lehigh Valley RR bridge in the background, parallel to the CNJ bridge.
While the Lehigh Line makes use of the former LVRR alignment, when
Conrail took over both lines the former LVRR bridge was abandoned due to
it being significantly older than the parallel CNJ span. The Lehigh
Line flips to the CNJ alignment about 1 mile to the east and then
switches back at the western end of the bridge.
The surviving CNJ PU tower was built in the 1930's to replace a number of other towers in the area. PU had one of the longest territories of any single interlocking under direct wire control with a total length of around 3 miles. Currently undergoing restoration many of the windows have been replaced as has the slate roof.
The red and white ID plate is original to CNJ days as we look past
the bay window towards CP-PHILLIPSBURG and the union station. The door
to the relay/compressor room is clearly new with work on the second
floor currently under way.