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Don Lee’s PRSLHS page

Teenage Recollections

By Donald B. Lee

 

 

 

My father, H. R. Lee, was a freight conductor for the Pennsylvania-
Reading Seashore Lines.  Many times, while I was growing up dad would let me tag along when he had reason to visit various locations along the railroad, thus instilling an early interest in railroading.  Bulson St. yard and Morgan Blvd. were locations often visited.  In 1961, dad bid in the conductor job on WY33/WY34 the daily except Sunday, Pavonia to Millville and return job.  Southbound WY33 would depart Pavonia with cars for Millville that the PRSL had received from the Pennsylvania Railroad.  Cars from the Reading Company were picked up at Bulson St. yard.  Conversely, on the northward trip, WY34 would set off RDG’s at Bulson St. and then take the PRR’s to Pavonia where the crew would go off duty.  

 

 

By the mid-60’s, I was regularly riding my bicycle from home in Audubon to watch trains at various PRSL locations including the south Camden area.  Many of these treks were timed to coincide with the early evening arrival of WY34.  Dad would ride the head end of the train from Millville to Morgan Blvd., where he would cut off the RDG cars. The head brakeman would accompany the set off into Bulson St. yard while dad would walk back to the cabin car to finish his paperwork and then ride into Pavonia.   I would walk with him to the cabin car and ride up to Morgan Blvd. where I would drop off of the slow moving train to get my bike and ride home.  It didn’t take long to realize that the bicycle was a real hindrance to my main ambition, getting a train ride.  The first time I walked to Morgan Blvd, dad asked about my bike.  I told him that I left it home and that I hoped I could ride home with him.  After a disapproving frown, I got my train ride to Pavonia and a ride home. 

 

Dad stayed on WY33/WY34 until his retirement in 1969.  In the last five years of his career, I made the pilgrimage to Morgan Blvd. several times, never wanting to be too frequent to wear out my welcome.  I got to know the crossing watchmen and learned to operate the manual crossing gates while waiting for his train.  First, turn the hand crank on the right to lower the gates for oncoming traffic from both sides.  Second, use the left crank to lower the gates for the exit sides of the crossing.  At dusk, the watchman would bring out and clean four red kerosene lights, one hung from the each of the gates as the only illumination after dark.  Cast iron cross bucks were in place, but no crossing flashers.  The black and white striped wooden, four quadrant gates would look out of place today. 

 

The crossing watchman’s shanty was located on the southeast corner of the crossing. It was nearly identical to the one currently in the park on Cooper St., Woodbury, and east of the railroad.  There was just enough room inside for the watchman to have a place to sit and a coal stove for heat in the winter.  On cool evenings it felt good inside the shanty with the heat radiating from the stove.  There was no room to sit down with the watchman inside, but the aroma of coal smoke and kerosene was a most enjoyable smell.  Morgan Blvd. was a cabin car supply point.  Behind the shanty were ice and coal bins.  It was usually more convenient supply on the southward trip since the cabin car was usually stopped near the crossing.  The rear brakeman would gather supplies while the rest of the crew made the Bulson St. pick up.

 

When WY34 arrived, my attention turned to the train.  If Bulson St. could not take the setoff immediately, I would sit in the engine with dad, usually the second unit, and watch for the position dwarf signal controlled from BROWN for an indication that would allow the train to proceed into the yard.  I learned many of the position light signal indications and their meaning here.  Dad taught me how to turn the angle cock and pull the pin to uncouple the Bulson St. set off.  As we walked back to the cabin car, I learned the names and functions of various components of track and cars.  At that time there were no walkways on the bridge over Newton Creek.  It was not uncommon to have cars or impending train movements on all three tracks, meaning that the only way to the rear of the train was to climb up and walk over the roofs of the cars, a common practice at that time that is now considered unsafe.

 

During this time, Pavonia yard was being expanded and improved with the addition of a hump yard and engine house as a result of the abandonment of Camden Terminal.  Long waits to get into Pavonia were common.  We waited at BROWN, we waited at CENTER and later MILL (near where PATCO curves away to head toward Ferry Ave.) and occasionally we waited at COOPER at the entrance of the yard.  This gave lots of time to talk, learn and experience what railroading was all about.  

 

WY 34 was normally yarded in Pavonia east yard.  Looking northward from COOPER, the Bordentown Branch bisected the east and west yards.  The Pemberton Branch diverged at COOPER and wrapped around the east side of the yard.  The east yard was located between the two branches.  The east yard could be entered from either branch through a hand operated electric locked crossover situated just north of State St.  After the termination of passenger trains on the Bordentown Branch, the yard regularly built outbound road trains on the Bordentown main therefore it was more common for WY34 to enter the east yard from the Pemberton Branch.  Dad and I would dismount the train at the main track switch.  Once clear of the crossover, the flagman would give a couple toots on the cabin car backup whistle as he used the brake valve to stop the train.  I would then reline and lock the switch as dad called COOPER on the block phone to report clear.  The only thing remaining was the walk to the yard office at 27th St., sign off duty and the ride home for dinner.

 

 

 

Westville Cutoff

By Donald B. Lee

 

In the decade that began in the mid-1890’s, southern New Jersey experienced a period of economic prosperity that led to growth in both population and economic development.  It was during this period that many suburban towns were founded and new industries started or expanded.  Along with this growth came an increase in freight traffic into the area, much of which was coal for both home heating and powering the new industries.  The 1896 opening of the Delair Bridge permitted an all rail route into southern New Jersey from Philadelphia and the west.  The resulting growth and prosperity placed strains on the yards in Camden, primarily Pavonia, to efficiently handle the additional traffic. 

 

The year 1906 became a monumental year for expansion of the Pennsylvania Railroad and its subsidiary, the West Jersey & Seashore Railroad.  Among the projects on the agenda for that year included the grade separation of the railroad from the Federal St. ferry terminal through the heart of downtown Camden, the third rail electrification from Camden to Atlantic City and Millville via Newfield, the negotiation of trackage rights from Winslow to Woodbine Jct. over the Atlantic City Railroad and the double tracking of that line as a result of the increased traffic and the construction of an all new freight bypass around Camden that became known as the Westville Cutoff. 

 

On January 26, 1906 the WJ&S Board of Directors voted to construct a branch from a point near West Haddonfield to a point north of Westville, present day Brooklawn, which would connect the Delaware River Railroad and Bridge Co. Branch of the PRR with the Cape May Division of the WJ&S.  Construction began in the spring of 1906.  The line was to be grade separated to eliminate both highway and railroad crossings at grade.  The line was to begin with the construction of a switch in the Bridge Branch that was to be located immediately under the south side of the Haddon Ave. overhead bridge, north of the West Haddonfield station.  The WJ&S Atlantic City Division, the former Camden & Atlantic, was to cross this new track on an overhead bridge.  Immediately on the south side of this new bridge another switch was to be constructed for a short, .35 mile branch to the south that would connect with the southbound main of the Atlantic City main line at West Haddonfield.  This would permit the simultaneous movement of a southbound train from the Bridge Branch and a northbound train to Camden.

 

The Westville Cutoff itself would extend 4.7 miles in a general southwesterly direction to a point it the Cape May Division approximately 4200 feet north of Westville Station.  This would have placed the switch just north of a street known today as Old Broadway in Brooklawn.  In 1906, this highway was a grade crossing.  Generally, the trackage would be located in a cut north of Nicholson Road in Audubon and on a fill south of that location.  Bridges were constructed to permit the Atlantic City Railroad and the Clementon trolley car line to cross the new railroad north of the Audubon Station.  The cutoff bridged over the Gloucester Branch of the Atlantic City Railroad about ¼ mile south of Cloverdale Station.  Cloverdale Station would have been near the intersection of Park Ave. and Station Ave. in Mt. Ephraim.

 

In 1907, a financial panic gripped Wall St.  The stock market lost 50% of its value from the peak in 1906.  Cash was tight and railroad revenues were on the decline.  By 1908, the resulting recession was showing no signs of improvement.  The Pennsylvania Railroad started to look for ways to conserve cash.  One of the unfortunate victims of this cash crunch was the Westville Cutoff.  In the fall of 1908, with about 80% of the work complete and about a mile of track constructed on the south end, all work was suspended until further notice.  In 1916, with the advent of World War I, the PRR considered reactivating the cutoff project.  However, in the decade since the inception of the project, numerous improvements had been made to the railroad physical plant in and around Camden.  It was decided that the existing rail route through Camden was now adequate to handle the existing traffic.  No funds were voted for reactivation.  

 

In the 1960’s the Westville Cutoff right of way was sold to Public Service Electric & Gas Co. for a power transmission line.  Even though most of the bridges and fills have been removed over the years, the right of way is still readily evident as it carries the power lines through the Camden suburbs.

 

Note

The following photos were taken on 1-9-2009. Because of their historic nature, some PRSLHS members want to keep the exact location of these photos unknown. We will respect that. They are believed to be the last surviving original narrow gauge tracks in New Jersey.

 

These tracks were laid by the contractor hired to build the standard gauge track. They would have been removed prior to laying the standard gauge tracks.

 

Audubon1 small Audubon2 small

Audubon

 

Westville1 small Westville2 small Westville3 small

Westville

 

Photos by Kevin Moran

 

 

 

 

Why Color Search Light Signals on the PRSL?

By Don Lee

 

Over the years there has been much debate as to why the Pennsylvania-Reading Seashore Lines replaced the Hall disk type signals on its former Atlantic City Railroad lines between Camden and Woodbine Jct. with color Search Light Signals between 1939 and 1941, instead of standardizing on the Pennsylvania Railroad position light signals.  After the creation of the PRSL in 1933, the PRR influence was readily visible.  The PRSL used the PRR operating rules, PRR forms and paper work, painted their locomotives with the PRR Brunswick Green and in fact used hand-me-down, PRR steam locomotives.  To the uneducated, the PRSL looked just like any other PRR operating division.  At one point in its history, even joint PRSL/PRR Atlantic Division employee timetables were issued.

 

My belief had always been that since this was former Reading territory, it had retained Reading signals.  Three pieces of evidence would tend to negate that idea.  First, although Search Light Signals were used on the Reading in some locations, the Color Light Signal with the lens arranged in a triangular manner on the head much was more common.  Second, as mentioned above, the dominance of the PRR was evident in most all aspects of the PRSL operations.  Third, in 1934, when the new interlocking towers at Brown in South Camden and Winslow were built to accommodate the changes resulting from the PRSL merger, all of the newly installed interlocking signals on the former ACRR tracks at those locations were standardized on the PRR position light signals.

 

Invented by Thomas Hall in 1869, the Hall disk type signals, nicknamed Banjo signals for their unique shape, were installed on the ACRR in the 1890’s.  Although we are not aware of any specific documented evidence as to why the Hall signals were retired, it appears that Public Law 378, signed by President Roosevelt on August 26, 1937, had an influence on the decision.  This act, commonly known the Signal Inspection Act, required that each railroad submit to the Interstate Commerce Commission a written plan for inspecting and testing signals and the equipment that made them operate.  After the ICC approved the plan, government inspectors made frequent checks to see that the plans were being followed.  Railroads could be assessed civil penalties for not adhering to the plan, for not immediately correcting any deficiencies discovered during the inspection and testing process and for any part of the signal system that failed to work as intended.  The Hall signal system was old and, no doubt, worn out and reaching the end of its useful life.  The cheaper alternative to comply with the 1937 law was to replace rather than to repair a nearly 50 year old system.

 

Still the question remained, why replace with color Search Light signals instead of the PRR position lights.  The Search Light Signal was an invention of the Hall Signal Company, which became part of Union Switch & Signal in 1925.  To this day, Search Light signal equipment sold by USS is designated by the prefix “H” which stands for Hall. 

 

I asked a signal engineer about the workings of these signals to try to determine an answer.  The Search Light Signal is a simple mechanism that contains one light bulb that illuminates a colored disc that is magnified to increase intensity.  The mechanism is a simple electrical relay.  With no electrical power the relay is dead center with the red disc in front of the light.  When electricity is applied to the wires to the relay, a magnet is energized.  This magnet will pull a colored disc, either green of yellow in front of the light.  To change colors; polarity to the relay is reversed causing the magnet to pull in the opposite direction.  The wires that operate the bulbs and mechanisms are routed to a signal case that is at or near every signal installation.  This case contains all of the electrical apparatus that makes the signals display the proper indications.  The Hall Signals operated in a fashion very similar to the Search Light Signal.  Only four wires were required to operate each Signal, two for the light bulb and two to operate the mechanism that moved the colors in front of the light.  This was repeated for each signal head on the mast, although the ground (negative) wire for the light bulbs could be tied together in the signal and run to the case as one wire.

 

The Position Light Signal was different.  While there was no moving mechanism within the signal, just light bulbs and more of them, as many as seventeen per signal.  Again, the negative ground wires were joined at the signal and run to the case as one wire, but each light bulb of the position light signal required its own hot wire.  In the case, additional apparatus was necessary to tell each light bulb in the signal indication when to light up.

 

The PRSL was initially created to stem the financial drain on both parent companies from their South Jersey operations.  Also in the late 30’s the economic forces of the Great Depression further weakening the finances of the PRSL.  It would make a logical conclusion that the similarity between the Hall disk type signal and the Search Light Signal might create a significant cost savings over the Position Light Signal.  The Search Light Signal, being a modern day update of the Hall signal, could utilize much of the wiring and signal apparatus of the older system.  Of the parts of the system that were common to both the types of signals, only those that could not pass the new inspection and testing laws would have to be replaced.  Position Light signals, on the other hand, with their much more elaborate wiring and circuitry would require that all parts of the signal system, including the wiring, the signal cases and apparatus all be converted over to new.

 

Eddie Fell’s Track Diagrams

Photo 3 Eddie Fell small

 

Edward L. Fell was born in 1892 and began his railroad career in 1908 at the age of 16 as a clerk for the West Jersey & Seashore Railroad Co. in its Haddonfield station.  Two years later Eddie applied for engine service and was hired as a fireman in 1911.  In 1917 Eddie was promoted to engineman, a position that he held until his retirement from the Pennsylvania-Reading Seashore Lines in 1957, almost a half century later.  In 1961 he joined the West Jersey Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society.  In 1965, he was elected Chapter Historian, which he held until his passing in 1972, at the age of 79.

 

Eddie created this collection of track diagrams of the WJ&S as an aid to passing the examination on the physical characteristics of the railroad necessary for promotion to engineman.  Although undated, it is thought that this work was completed sometime between 1910 and the beginning of World War I.  It includes all main lines, branch lines and industrial spurs owned and operated by the WJ&S as well as the newly established trackage rights over the Atlantic City Railroad between Winslow and Woodbine Jct.

 

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    Mainlines                     Branch Lines

Book 1                  Book 2

 

PRSL to Conrail

By Don Lee

6-3-12

You have to remember that this was the era of total government regulation of railroads.  The PRR was forced to continue many services that lost tons of money.  A couple examples were a coal mining branch in central Pennsylvania.  The last coal mine and customer on the branch shut down.  The PRR petitioned to abandon the branch.  The local politicians protested.  The ICC decree ordered the PRR to rehab the branch to 25 MPH and work for five years to attract customers.  If that didn't work they could repetition for abandonment at the end of the five years.  I understand that there was absolutely no industry in the area and the only customer on that branch was the coal mine that shut down because the coal played out.  I wish i could remember the name of that branch.
 
In New York City, the railroad was forced by regulation to provide literage service across the Hudson River.  That means that rail cars arrived on the New Jersey side of the river, their contents transferred to a barge and delivered to a pier in Manhattan for the customer to pick up.  The ICC would not allow the PRR to charge for the service, but they were not allowed to discontinue it either.
 
Railroads could petition for rate adjustments, but anyone could protest.  Once the rate was set, every road that ran between the points were forced to adopt that rate.  If the PRR was granted a rate adjustment for widgets between New York and Chicago, then every railroad that ran between New York and Chicago got the same rate.  If the New York Central could haul at a lesser cost, then they received a windfall profit from the move.  Conversely if the Erie had higher costs, then they were forced to haul the widgets at a loss.
 
The PRSL wasn't exempt from this nonsense either.  Train 1022 left Atlantic City every day, seven days a week including holidays, at 3.00pm.  One or two passengers was the norm.  Five was a crowd.  Many days the passenger count was zero.  Simply stated there was no public demand for a 3.00pm departure from Atlantic City.  The regulators told the PRSL to refurbish their equipment and advertise to attract passengers.  1022 continued to run empty.
 
After the Clementon Local was discontinued in 1965, the PRSL removed the passenger shelters and stations not necessary for freight service.  Orston station in Audubon was one of those three sided wooden leanto shelters.  The PRSL was able to reduce their tax burden to the State of New Jersey by $25 when the shelter was torn down.  25 bucks doesn't sound like much today, but when you factor in inflation that stupid wooden box would cost over $400 in today’s money.  That was just the wooden shelter, not the ground or track structure, just the three sided wooden thing.  Multiply this times every wooden shelter on the line.  Station buildings were taxed much higher.
 
While I don't agree with the practices of the PRR/PC management, it isn't hard to understand why managers who viewed the railroad as strictly a business venture were reluctant to throw good money after bad when they had little chance to direct their railroad in a profitable direction.
 
My career span transitioned from a regulated climate to deregulation.  The first few years the whole emphasis was on saving money.  What could be eliminated to improve the bottom line.  Regulation wouldn't permit much freedom with rates or service, so the only thing left was to reduce costs.  There was a period of about 10 years after deregulation when things were slow to change, primarily because most railroaders did not have a clue how the real world operates outside of the bindings of regulation.  Once that bridge was crossed the sky was the limit.  Rail tonnage continues to increase, the physical plant improved as necessary to handle the traffic and so on.  All you have to do is compare a picture of any piece of mainline railroad of the late 60's with the same location today to see the improvement permitted after getting rid of the government burden.
 
Now here's a point to ponder.  My opinion is that the best thing that happened to the railroad industry was the Penn Central bankruptcy and the collapse of the northeast railroads.  Penn Central was ordered to provide lifetime job protection for every employee working at the time of the merger.  Therefore no labor savings could be realized from consolidating facilities until after those employees retired.  The New Haven was thrown into the mix which hemorrhaged cash much worse than either the PRR or NYC.  Out of the mess arose Conrail who was initially forced to live under the same burden as Penn Central.  Every employee that went into the Conrail era was granted lifetime job protection.  It ended when Washington determined that those payments would drain the federal treasury in a few short years.  Conrail was under a Federal mandate to turn around the northeast railroad picture, yet they were regulated in the same manner as all other railroads.  Battles ensued as Conrail began to receive regulatory exemptions that other railroads could not receive.  The end result was the Staggers Act which deregulated the entire industry and turned an industry from concentrating on saving money into one that provides quality transportation.
 
The fate of the PRSL parents ended up being the fate of the PRSL itself.  The same regulation strangulation affected the PRSL and was actually much worse since the State of New Jersey added to the regulation strangulation.  Even though the PRSL was not legally bankrupt at the time of the inclusion into Conrail, it was in fact technically bankrupt.  Withhold a payment here to make a payment there was the norm.  It was a downward spiral that would have eventually hit bottom.

 

Evolution of PRSL Freight Train Service

By Don Lee

Historical discussions of southern New Jersey freight train service have certainly been overshadowed by the abundance of high speed passenger trains racing to Atlantic City. A while back an internet discussion of Pennsylvania-Reading Seashore Lines freight trains provided entertaining reading and reminded me of a similar discussion that had occurred many years ago while several of us were sitting around the dining room table learning about railroad history from a man who lived much of it, former West Jersey Chapter historian and retired PRSL engineer, Eddie Fell. While the discussion centered on the true meaning of the letter designations used to identify PRSL freight trains, it is interesting to study the evolvement of these symbols prior to the creation of the PRSL.

 

As train traffic increased a method to identify trains became a necessity. Train symbols were created to identify trains, both passenger and freight, that operated on specific schedules over specific routes. Originally only numbers were used as symbols to identify a freight train. In many instances trains on each route had its own specific series of numbers. Passenger train numbers were usually at the lower end of the number series and freight trains at the upper end.

 

As traffic grew it became necessary to develop a system of train superiority in order to prioritize train movements so that faster trains could be moved around slower trains. At this juncture, trains were assigned to one of four classes. Class 1 trains were passenger and mail-express trains. Class 2 trains were mixed passenger and freight. Class 3 trains were fast freights and Class 4 trains were slow through freights and local freights. Trains of each class operated on their own timetable schedule. Conductors were now required know the schedules of superior trains in order to clear the way for higher class trains.

 

One fact that has remained fairly constant through all of the years is that even numbered trains ran northward or westward and odd number trains ran southward or eastward on the PRSL and its predecessors. This applied to both passenger and freight. While the actual train number changed over time, probably as the work assigned to a particular train changed, the number series used on a particular line or branch generally remained constant.

 

A December 1892 employee timetable of the Camden & Atlantic Railroad shows one freight train per day in each direction, No. 298 and No. 299, operating between Camden and Atlantic City. Both of these trains operated as third class trains and were designated in the timetable as “Atlantic Freight.” At this time all trains of all classes had a number in the 200 series.

In 1896 the Pennsylvania Railroad merged the Camden & Atlantic and the West Jersey to form the West Jersey & Seashore. Improvements from the merger along with the opening of the Delair Bridge resulted in a significant increase of trains on the Atlantic City line. By 1906 the increased traffic caused many of the WJ&S’s Atlantic City passenger trains to move out of the 200 series to other number series while the freight trains continued to operate in the 200’s. Frequency increased to three third class freight trains each way, Nos. 297, 299 and 289 southward and Nos. 298, 290 and 296 northward. All operated through between Camden and Atlantic City.

 

The June 30, 1906 West Jersey & Seashore employee timetable shows all freight trains operating from Camden via the former West Jersey Railroad now called the Cape May Division with two digit numbers. These trains ran to Salem (89&90), Bridgeton (77, 78 & 79, 80), Atlantic City via Newfield (59&60), Maurice River (35&36) and Cape May (37, 38 & 39, 40).

In 1906 there was no through freight service from Camden to the Penns Grove Branch. All traffic for this branch was forwarded by other trains from Camden to Woodbury. Trains 839 and 841 operated from Woodbury to Penns Grove and interestingly, only one train, 840, was scheduled to return.

 

Around 1910 the PRR began adding alphabetic prefixes to their freight train numbers to differentiate freight trains of different divisions. The original prefix identified the divisions over which the freight trains operated. The WJ&S’s Cape May Division was assigned “WY”, while the Atlantic City Division used “CA”. The other significant PRR southern New Jersey division, the Amboy Division, was assigned the “A” designation. The Amboy Division at the time included the Bordentown Branch between Camden and Trenton and the “back road” between Camden and Bay Head Jct. including its branches. In 1912 the “back road” was split from the Amboy Division and became part of the Trenton Division. With the change, the freight trains retained their “A” designation. However, in 1929, the “back road” was again transferred from the Trenton Division to the Atlantic Division. With that move the “back road” freight train symbol was changed from “A” to “CB”.

 

Many times in railroading tradition takes precedence over logic. Of the four divisions mentioned, only the Amboy Division used a prefix that was representative of the division name. All others used prefixes that more represented the original railroad companies rather that the current name of their respective divisions. Thus, “WY” represented the first and last letters of “West Jersey”, the predecessor road of the Cape May Division. Likewise, “CA” represented Camden & Atlantic. “A” represented the Amboy Division, originally the Camden & Amboy, and “CB” represented its original railroad, the Camden and Burlington County.

 

In 1933 with the creation the Pennsylvania-Reading Seashore Lines, the freight operation that was formerly PRR continued to operate as before with few differences. For the most part, freight train prefixes remained the same with the “WY” and “CA” prefixes being predominant on PRSL freight trains. Some Reading freight train symbols remained well into the 1930’s; however, as the merger was implemented all were converted to the PRR system before the end of the decade.

 

Initially the freight train that provided local service on the remnant of the Reading that became the PRSL Clementon Branch carried the symbol CG85/CG86. The “C” no doubt stood for the telegraph symbol for the Reading’s Camden. The “G” possibly came from “GO”, the PRR telegraph symbol for Hammonton. A 1936 employee timetable shows these trains as a Bulson St. to Winslow turn. By 1938 the symbol was withdrawn. Thereafter the Clementon Branch freight trains used the “CA” prefix in the 200 number series.

 

Soon after the merger the Clementon Branch became an alternate route to the Main Line for freight service between Camden and Atlantic City. The service provided was probably the most varied of any on the PRSL resulting in frequent changes in routing and scheduling of freight trains. These changes can be attributed to numerous reasons; among them the reduction in passenger operations over the years created more windows of opportunities for freight trains to operate during daylight hours; a marked reduction of freight traffic on the Main Line, particularly in Atlantic City; and a marked growth in freight traffic from industrial development initiatives on the Clementon Branch primarily during the 1960’s.

 

Although not the sole trains operated, these trains provided the bulk of the Main Line/Clementon Branch local freight service, CA289/CA298, CA295/CA294, CA299/CA300 and CA297/CA296 throughout the last two decades of the PRSL. While certain of these trains were commonly associated with specific service, e.g. CA289/CA298, Main Line service to Atlantic City; CA299/CA300 Magnolia; CA296/297 Williamstown Jct. all experienced changes. At some time in their history every one of these trains participated in two or more of the routes listed below:

                         Camden to Atlantic City via the Vernon Route, the present day PATCO route from Camden to Haddonfield.

                         Camden to Atlantic City via Clementon.

                         Camden to Atlantic City southbound via the Vernon Route, northbound via Clementon.

                         Camden to Atlantic City via Jersey tower using the new connection constructed between Hatch and Divide by the PRR in conjunction with the PATCO project.

                         Camden to Winslow turn via Jersey.

                         Camden to Hammonton turn via Clementon.

                         Camden to Winslow turn via Clementon.

                         Camden to Woodcrest turn via Clementon and Winslow.

                         Camden to Magnolia turn.

                         Camden to Williamstown Jct. turn.

                         Atlantic City to Winslow turn.

                         Atlantic City to Woodcrest turn, three days per week and

                         Atlantic City to Linwood, McKee city on the alternate three days.

 

One anecdote relating to the frequent changes occurred during one summer in the late 1960’s. Northwest Magnesite in Cape May had closed for a temporary plant shut down. To compensate for the reduction in freight traffic, the PRSL changed schedules such that WY390 out of Cape May and OC91 out of Pavonia were re-advertised as Winslow turns. In addition CA289 from Pavonia and CA294 from Atlantic City were also Winslow turns. All four trains tended to converge on Winslow at the same time in the early afternoon. With limited track space and most trains having to exchange cars with two or more of the others, this short lived plan became a logistical nightmare for the Winslow Block Operator to manipulate trains within his interlocking.

The PRSL in 1965 was still operating freight trains via the former Cape May Division, now the Millville Branch, with remnants of the two digit numbers. WY33 ran from Pavonia to Millville returning as WY34. WY79 ran from Pavonia to Glassboro returning as WY80. On the Salem Branch WY50 no longer ran through to Camden but now operated from Salem to Woodbury returning as WY51. Salem Branch freight was forwarded to/from Woodbury on WY79 and WY80.

 

Penns Grove branch freight trains actually ran contrary to the downsizing trend that was railroading during most of the 20th Century regulatory era. By 1965 all Penns Grove trains ran to or from Pavonia. WY841/WY840 turned at Gibbstown and WY847/WY846 turned at Pedricktown. WY843 operated to Penns Grove where the crew took rest, returning as WY842 the following day. Two crews were assigned to this train with each making three round trips per week. Working on alternate days, this provided six-day service to and from Penns Grove.

As the years progressed through freight train service to and from Camden diminished. When freight trains were established at outlaying points away from Camden, except Atlantic City, the PRSL used the 300 number series. In some cases, the 300 number indicated a connection with a Camden train. WY380/WY379 was a Bridgeton to Glassboro turn that connected with WY79/WY80 at Glassboro. WY390/WY391 was a Cape May to Tuckahoe turn that connected with CM90/CM91. You may ask why a “WY” prefix on a train from Cape May that operated over former Reading trackage. This maintained continuity with Cape May train symbols that were formerly operated via the PRR. Remember, tradition sometimes takes precedence over logic.

Trains of the 300 series originating in Millville did not use a connecting train symbol. Trains WY346/WY345 ran northward and turned at Clayton. Trains WY343/WY344 and WY351/WY350 ran southward and served the various sand pits south of Millville. This was no doubt because all of the traffic handled by the outlaying trains from Millville was received/forwarded by WY33 or WY34.

 

The Reading operated freight trains 491/490 between Camden and Cape May. Because of its all Reading route, this train did not fit into the traditional PRR symbolism ultimately adopted by the PRSL. The “Cape May Freight”, as many railroaders called it, operated through between Camden and Cape May with a PRR style symbol as CM91/CM90, the “CM” meaning “Cape May”. Crews would lay over in Cape May returning to Camden the following day. The opening of the new Atlantic City Electric generating station at Beesleys Point in 1962 changed the traffic flows on that end of the railroad such that this train was changed to a turn crew with the symbol OC91/OC90, “OC” for Ocean City, to provide additional service to the power plant. Connecting trains WY390/WY391, working out of Cape May, provided all freight service south of Tuckahoe on the Cape May Branch. Another relatively unknown train symbol that was listed in the 1936 employee timetable was PP802/PP801. The 800 series number identifies it as a Penns Grove Branch train. The “PP” prefix certainly did not fit the mold. This train was operated between Paulsboro and 44th St. Philadelphia train to primarily handle traffic generated by the Socony Vacuum refinery. Interestingly, the merger agreement that created the PRSL included language that specifically permitted run through trains with the PRR, but not the Reading.

As operating practices and signal systems improved PRR freight trains gradually were changed from scheduled trains running on timetable authority to “extra” trains that were granted their authority to run by operating rules and train orders. Even with losing their timetable authority, most regularly assigned freight trains retained their train symbols. The PRSL employee timetables listed these trains as “Arranged Freight Train Service”, with the notation that “the time shown conveys no timetable authority”.

The PRSL operated some extra trains frequently enough to mention, but not enough to justify an assigned crew and train symbol. One of these was the Beesleys Point Extra, a train that carried coal and/or oil to the power plant. In the summer when electricity demand was high, these trains ran at least every other day and many times daily. In winter when electricity demand was down and frozen coal could cause unloading problems, these trains were operated less frequently. Beesleys Point Extras never carried a train symbol and were always noted on dispatcher and block operator train sheets as simply “BP Ex”.

 

When additional service was required to supplement regularly assigned trains extra trains were operated. Sunday extras to relieve accumulation at Pavonia and Bulson St. became a staple of PRSL operations. Many times these trains provided an additional benefit to customers when there was a need for weekend service above and beyond that provided by the regularly assigned crews. The more common Sunday extras were destined to locations such as the Salem Branch to provide extra service to Swedesboro and forward Millville traffic to Woodbury, to the Clementon Branch where extra trains turned at locations such as Williamstown Jct. or Winslow and to the Penns Grove Branch with turning points at Thorofare, Paulsboro or Pedricktown. None of these trains carried a train symbol other than the extra designation. Although not necessarily a Sunday extra, Deepwater Point Extras regularly moved coal to the Atlantic City Electric generating station.

 

Beginning in 1957 the world experienced a moderate economic recession. Unfortunately neither the PRR nor the Reading recovered much from the effects of this downturn. Financial losses of the PRSL turned from a tax advantage for the parent companies to a drain on their declining financial condition. This strain resulted in a new cooperative effort between the PRR and Reading that had a profound effect on the freight operations of the PRSL. The Reading provided a gateway for New York Central freight traffic to and from the Philadelphia area. Until this time the fierce competition between the PRR and RDG/NYC partnership gave the PRR little incentive to aid the Reading. By the late 1950s the PRR and Reading began convening joint PRR-Reading committees to review various aspects of the PRSL. Committee members were a group of high-level individuals from system departments of both the PRR and Reading. Membership on the committee was in addition to their regular duties within the parent company. Their task was to determine physical plant and operating changes that that would reduce the PRSL deficit and at the same time be acceptable to both parent companies. It appears that the conclusions of these studies were done without much regard to such areas as governmental or labor restrictions. Although many of the conclusions were not easily achievable, they did give direction to pursue cost containment. Two significant committee conclusions were implemented in the 1960s. While both provided significant savings for the Reading, the PRSL also benefited by cost savings that reduced its deficit. This, in turn, benefited the PRR by shrinking their two-thirds share of the PRSL deficit and by prorating some of their costs in southern New Jersey with the Reading.

 

The Reading utilized costly carfloats between Port Richmond and Bulson St. to move all traffic between the two companies while the PRR took advantage of the lower cost all-rail route via their Delair Bridge. In 1962 the PRR granted the Reading trackage rights to operate Port Richmond to Bulson St. freight trains between Frankfort Jct. in Philadelphia and Center tower in Camden via the Delair Bridge. This all-rail route ended the Reading carfloat operation between these points. Although the Reading was limited to two trains (RB1 and RB3 to Bulson St. and BR2 and BR4 back) each way per day with a 70-car limit on each train, service was improved to PRSL locations. The Reading ended their costly car floats while the PRSL was able to eliminate several yard crews at Bulson St. and end the maintenance on the float docks. The PRR additionally gained some revenue from trackage rights charges for Reading trains operating over PRR trackage.

 

In connection with the construction of PATCO and the removal of the railroad presence on the Camden waterfront, the PRR rebuilt and expanded Pavonia yard with a semi-automated hump yard during the mid-1960’s. Beginning in 1967 the PRSL and the Reading were able to save more money by having the Reading interchange with the PRSL at Pavonia rather than Bulson St thus withdrawing the Bulson St. stop for most PRSL trains. Also several more Bulson St. yard crews were eliminated. The PRR would also reap an additional benefit with this proposal since the Pavonia costs would be prorated with both the Reading and the PRSL.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Updated 3-3-13

© PRSLHS 2010

Resuscitated from a 20 year nap on 1-25-07