The Black River & Western Railroad started with William Whitehead in Oldwick, NJ circa late 1950's. A portion of the defunct Rockaway Valley line went through his backyard. He and his sons started collecting rolling stock and an engine and started laying track. The proposed expansion of Route 78 halted their dreams of starting a tourist railroad in that location.
They moved their equipment to the Chester Hill branch of the Jersey Central Railroad(CNJ) between Chester and Long Valley with hopes of starting a railroad. The section of rail they were scouting was to become landlocked by the construction of Route 80.
While considering this location, a railroad began to develop. Black River & Western Railroad was incorporated in 1961. Many railroad are named after originating towns or a natural landmark in the originating town. The Black River is a River located in Chester. The Western portion of the name comes from the prominent direction of travel.
The cars were moved to a siding in Flemington, New Jersey as the railroaders searched for a place to start their tourist railroad. Within a short period of time, it became apparent that Flemington was a rather convenient location. A deal was struck with the Pennsylvania Railroad for the tourist operation to begin on the Flemington-Lambertville section of track. Black River was to pay $5,000.00 a year and fix the deteriorated track. During this time the Pennsylvania Railroad handled the freight operations on the line.
Steam engine #60 pulled the first train out of Flemington on May 16, 1965 with then Governor Richard J. Hughes cracking a bottle of champagne of the rear driver. Official passenger service began, the first test run was on April 25, 1965. A weekend/holiday train schedule was devised. School trips, movie shoots, and special trips were also part of the operation.
March 16, 1970 The Black River & Western Railroad assumed ownership and operation of the entire Flemington/Lambertville line purchasing it from the Penn Central. On the same day, the Pennsylvania Railroad and New York Central merged to become the Penn Central. With responsibility for the entire line, passenger and freight operations a true shortline had emerged.
The freight was originally interchanged with the Penn Central in Lambertville. On April 1, 1976 the central branch which runs from Flemington to Three Bridges was purchased from the Central Railroad of New Jersey. A new interchange connection was constructed at the junction of the former Lehigh Valley line. On the same day, the CNJ, Penn Central and 5 other railroads ceased to exist and were absorbed by Conrail and the tracks from Milford-Lambertville and Lambertville-Trenton were abandoned. The freight from Black River was from then on interchanged in Three Bridges to Conrail (now Norfolk Southern).
In recent history, the line from Phillipsburg to Milford was formed as the Belvidere and Delaware River Railway, the Bound Brook and Raritan River Railway performs a switching operation at the Union Carbide plant in Bound Brook, and the Delaware & Lehigh River Railway which runs for 1 mile in Easton, Pennsylvania and connects to the Norfolk Southern.
Special thanks to Peter Reimer(Baron of the Bel-Del), Dan Vacarella, and Gregory Ill. Excerpts taken from The Black River Story by Virginia Smith.