Along the Line - Conrail's New Jersey Division: Part One
By M. R. Snell/Photos by the Author
If you read the popular model press today, it appears that the large,
basement-sized layout has fallen out of favor. Smaller layouts predominate,
and even pioneers like Tony Koester's Allegheny Midland and Eric Brooman's
Utah Belt have succumbed to changing tastes. Perhaps my layout bucks the
trend. I model the railroad scene of northern New Jersey in a space 24x40.
Included are the operations Conrail; NJ Transit; Amtrak; and regional
New York, Susquehanna & Western (successor to shortline Rahway Valley).
The focus of the layout is the major freight yard that supports four local
and transfer runs to satellite yards, each with their own locals in turn.
Add in the hotshot intermodals along with the scheduled commuter runs
and things begin to get interesting. I am proud to operate my layout like
the prototype. Our NORAC dispatchers are in radio communication with all
crews on our fully signaled, CTC-controlled railroad. You get the gist.
Over the next few months, I hope to bring you an in-depth and interactive look at my layout and how it operates. There were many factors leading up to the construction and development of my layout that I hope to share with you. Every segment may not interest you, or fit your style of modeling, but you may find information that may be useful for a situation on your own, or a friend's layout, or one yet to be built. Hopefully, you'll find inspiration here, as I have from others who came before me. Let's get started!
An introduction to the New Jersey Division
The Conrail New Jersey Division is based upon the prototype operations of Conrail, NJ Transit and Amtrak in the north and central New Jersey areas. Northern New Jersey offers some of the most dense train operations in the country, and being from the area, it was a natural to model.
Conrail was formed from the remnants of six bankrupt northeastern railroads by an act of Congress in 1976. Between 1976 and 1998, Conrail revitalized the Northeast, and the operations in New Jersey in particular. Through abandonment of redundant or unprofitable lines, shedding passenger service, updating equipment and labor agreements, Conrail became an aggressively profitable railroad.
In 1998 Conrail was sold to Norfolk Southern and CSX Transportation, and divided between them. Conrail still exists as a company in the terminal areas of Northern Jersey, Philadelphia, and Detroit. It provides switching and terminal services to both NS and CSX. In this case, life imitates art in this instance as the starting and ending points of my layout became the real life boundaries of Conrail's North Jersey Shared Assets Operations area.
Construction of the layout began in December 1994, and was largely complete by May 2000. The layout is a linear design with a footprint of 24x40 feet. Physical features include 1312 feet of track, 156 turnouts, over 225 structures, full night-time lighting from over 300 bulbs. Electrical control comes from ten MRC Controlmaster 20 transformers, with A and B cabs for Oak Island Yard, the Lehigh Line, and the Chemical Coast Secondary/Port Reading Yard. Separate cabs are used for the Perth Amboy Secondary Track, Portside Yard/Bayway complex, and the Rahway Valley Railroad. Additionally, the North Jersey Coast Line and the Raritan Line each feature one cab. The Northeast Corridor is operated off the cab for whichever transit line trains will be operating over it. Right now we're studying the conversion to DCC, although due to the expense of equipping a large fleet, it will probably take several years to make a firm decision and make the conversion.
The layout's design features prototype operation with the biggest emphasis on switching. The layout hosts a large classification yard with multiple smaller satellite yards utilized by locals serving nearby industries. The layout features 86 individual car spots in addition to two unit coal trains, the famous Tropicana orange juice train, the Doremus Avenue auto facility, and the Portside Intermodal Terminal.
The freight main is based on the Lehigh Line, which begins in Newark and terminates in Allentown, Pa., formerly the Lehigh Valley Railroad mainline. Also running out of Newark is the Chemical Coast Secondary Track, which terminates at WC Tower (Woodbridge Jct.), at the junction with NJT's North Jersey Coast Line (the former New York & Long Branch Railroad). Numerous industrial tracks run throughout the railroad as well as the Perth Amboy Secondary Track. All of these are serviced by locals operating out of Newark or the various satellite yards.
Commuter operations are also represented, although not on as great a scale, by the inclusion of NJT North Jersey Coast Line and the Raritan Line (former Central Railroad of New Jersey). Since the Aldene Plan came into effect in 1967, trains from these lines all travel to Newark Penn Station. These required a small portion of the Northeast Corridor to be represented on the layout.
The Rahway Valley Railroad was a shortline headquartered in Kenilworth, servicing a few local industries. In its latter years, it was purchased by the Delaware Otsego Corp. in 1986, with day-to-day operations handled by the New York, Susquehanna & Western Railroad. Even though operations on the RV ceased in 1992, I have chosen to include a small portion of the RV on the layout.
Operations are conducted in accordance with Northeast Operating Rules Advisory Committee (NORAC) rules, as well as any other applicable railroad rules, including hazmat regulations. Three radio channels are employed, one for commuter operations and two for freight operations. The railroad follows an employee timetable, which details the characteristics of each line, along with applicable operating rules and information.
We're just getting started!
Now that everyone's gotten the quick rundown of the railroad, let's have an in-depth look. In our next installment, we begin our tour of the New Jersey Division by taking a look at the main freight route to Northern New Jersey.
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About the Author
Matt Snell, 35, born and raised in northern New Jersey, the basis for his HO scale Conrail New Jersey Division, is a dockworker currently residing in Milford, Ohio. Matt has been a model railroader and a railfan since age 12 and is currently married, "with goldfish and trains."