Chesapeake & Delaware LLC (C&D) wholly owned subsidiary Delaware & Raritan River Railroad (DRR) has completed the Freehold & Southern Connection, a five-mile track rehabilitation project reconnecting, after nearly 40 years, Freehold and Farmingdale, N.J., through Howell Twp. A final-spike ceremony took place on Oct. 13 in Farmingdale.
Completed nine months ahead of schedule and under budget, the F&S Connection (formally, the Conrail Shared Assets Freehold Industrial Track, which NJ Transit owns) links the Railroad’s Freehold and Southern branches in Monmouth County, N.J. Started in January 2023, the $12 million project included 25,000 track-feet of relayed rail and 12,500 new crossties, more than 8,000 of which are environmentally sustainable Narstco steel ties; vegetation clearing; and six upgraded grade crossings.
The New Jersey Department of Transportation Rail Freight Assistance Program and the State’s grade crossing improvement fund helped pay for the project, which, in addition to the five miles of track, included rebuilding of the northern leg of the Farmingdale Wye, the connection to the Conrail Red Bank-Lakewood Southern Branch (which NJT also owns), a former Central Railroad of New Jersey line best known as the route of the famous Jersey City-Atlantic City Blue Comet luxury passenger express train. Accessorial work to be completed will include rebuilding the Farmingdale Wye’s south leg, siding construction and rehabilitation, and grade crossing improvements in Freehold, Howell and Shrewsbury, N.J.
Tracks Unlimited LLC of Mountainside, N.J., and Railroad Construction Co. of Paterson, N.J., provided materials, equipment, administration, design assistance, and agreement labor to rebuild the tracks and crossings.
In addition to linking the DRR’s separate branches into one network, the project reroutes freight trains off New Jersey Transit’s North Jersey Coast Line (NJCL), opens the Southern branch for heavier 286K railcars, consolidates interchange with Conrail at Jamesburg, and provides a shorter and faster route to rail customers in Monmouth and Ocean counties. In addition to network efficiencies, the rebuilt railroad is expected to attract new rail customers and reduce local truck traffic. DRR operated a test train over the rebuilt track on Sept. 15, marking the first train to run through between Freehold and Farmingdale since 1985. Regular train service on the line ended with the Penn Central in 1975.
DRR leases and operates 50 miles of freight trackage in Middlesex, Monmouth and Ocean counties from Conrail and NJ Transit. Via Conrail, it interchanges with CSX and Norfolk Southern and connects local customers to the North American rail network. Chesapeake & Delaware, formed in 2017, operates 208 route-miles of railroad in New Jersey, serving short line freight customers in Hunterdon, Middlesex, Monmouth, Morris, Ocean, Passaic and Warren Counties. Its wholly owned subsidiaries include DRR, the Dover & Delaware River (DD) and Dover & Rockaway River (DRRV) Rai, and affiliates Belvidere & Delaware River (BDRV), Black River & Western (BRW) and Maryland & Delaware Railroad (MDDE)
There’s a lot of railroad history behind the DRR. The Freehold Branch, built in 1851 by the Freehold & Jamesburg Agricultural Railroad, connected the Camden & Amboy Railroad—New Jersey’s first railroad—with Sea Girt, on what is now the NJT NJCL. In 1871 it became part of the Pennsylvania Railroad system. The right-of-way from Sea Girt to Farmingdale is now a biking and walking trail. DRR’s Southern Branch was built by the Raritan & Delaware Bay Railroad Company and completed to Lakewood in 1860. It became the Southern Main of the Central Railroad of New Jersey in 1879. Today, with a branch into Toms River, the line is out of service between Lakehurst and Winslow Junction on NJT’s Atlantic City Line.
C&D President Kean Burenga called the Freehold & Southern Connection “a great public/private project, with benefits to the community, customers and railroads alike.”
“With safer and more direct infrastructure in place, we look forward to working with new and existing customers to grow rail traffic on the Delaware & Raritan,” C&D Executive Vice President Cathrin Banks said. Banks oversees the company’s business development efforts. She is a partner in the firm and previously filled the role of Vice President & General Counsel. Banks is also President of affiliate MDDE.
Tracks Unlimited General Manager Andy Creteau added that the rebuilt connection “is great for commerce and the economy.”
Opening of the F&S Connection closely followed the appointment of Sean Dolan as Vice President & General Manager of Railroads. Dolan joined C&D after retiring from a 32-year career at New Jersey Transit, where he held numerous transportation roles and was most recently Deputy General Manger, responsible for all train operations on the Newark and Hoboken Divisions.
William C. Vantuono photo