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The Northern Branch
By Lewis Bogaty

Note: This article was written in early 2006. We are in the process of revising it
after dramatic changes on the line.

 

 Page added 2006. Last Updated January 2009. Copyright © 2006, 2009 Lewis Bogaty


Be sure to see Lewis Bogaty’s article on “Railfanning the Northern Branch”
that appeared in the January 2005 issue of Railpace NewsMagazine.

 

If it’s a rusty Conrail GP40-2 and a CSX GP38-2 with the paint half scraped off, it must be the Northern Branch!
Local train C777 crosses Railroad Avenue in Closter, NJ, as it pulls empty boxcars off the Weyerhaeuser siding, October 11, 2004.

 

The CSX Northern Branch runs a little over 20 miles from North Bergen, NJ, north to Northvale, NJ, where it ends at the New York State Line. (The Northern Branch also extends south from the North Bergen Yard as part of Conrail Shared Assets). It began in the 1850’s as the Northern Railroad of New Jersey. In the earliest years of the twentieth century it was acquired by the Erie Railroad. In those days its southern terminus was in Jersey City, NJ, where passengers transferred to a ferry, and later, to the Hudson Manhattan tube trains, to New York City. In its last years of operation, after its merger with the Lackawanna Railroad, trains terminated in Hoboken, NJ. At the northern end it continued north into New York, through Tappan, Sparkill, Piermont, and Grandview to South Nyack and Nyack. In 1966, the then Erie-Lackawanna Railroad discontinued passenger service. Freights continued north to Piermont until the closing of the Continental Can Company in the late 1970s. The freight service was eventually taken over by Conrail, and is now owned by CSX.

 

Above: The most scenic spot on the Northern Branch is in Demarest. Seen on October 28, 2004,
the train is led by an SD40-2 leased from Helm Financial.

 

Today, the Northern Branch runs one freight train a day, weekdays, to service the customers along its route. The train is officially local train C777, but it is known by its old Conrail designation, NB51, and almost always referred to by its crew as “five-one.” The local is under the control of the River Subdivision’s dispatcher, the CSX NI Dispatcher (since the NJ dispatcher was abolished in March 2009), and can be monitored on scanner frequencies 160.980 and 160.260. You never know what kind of power you will see on a particular day, from an old GP-38 in Conrail paint to a CSX SD40-2, or a colorful variety of leasing engines.

 

Above: 5-1 comes north of Palisade Avenue in Englewood to clear the switch for the
Supreme Oil siding, January 23, 2004. The power is a leased Alstom-Connell SD40-2.
 

2006 Text: C777 starts in the North Bergen Yard and rolls north through Fairview, Ridgefield, Palisades Park, Leonia, Englewood, Tenafly, Cresskill, Demarest, Closter, Norwood, and Northvale. The track ends at mile 22.7. On the way north, 5-1 services W.R. Grace, just north of 83rd Street in North Bergen; Delta Corrugated in Palisade Park; Admiration Food, Supreme Oil, a maker of salad dressing, mayonnaise and other such products, in Englewood; J. J. Demarest Lumber and Weyerhaeuser in Closter; and Cove Distribution in Northvale. On the return trip the crew stops at Lowe Paper and Colorite Polymer in Ridgefield. On that rare thing, a normal day, the train will be found working in Englewood in the late morning. The crew usually breaks for lunch in Closter, parking the train north of Closter Dock Road. In the late afternoon they can be found in Ridgefield.

January 2009 Update: When we wrote this article in early 2006, we warned that the railroad is constantly changing. Just three years later, three of the railroad's eight customers are gone, and the train, generally, goes north of Englewood only on Tuesday and Thursday. Lowe Paper was sold in 2006. The new owner demolished the plant in Ridgefield. Delta Corrugated in Palisades Park is no longer a customer. Weyerhaeuser closed its Closter facility after a fire in 2007. Meanwhile, talk of a New Jersey Transit light rail system for the Northern Branch has gotten more insistent. We have kept coverage of the line as it existed when we wrote the original article, but some of this article is now "historic."

 

Above: The C777 crew is working at Colorite Polymer in Ridgefield on October 11, 2004.
 

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