After securing a $65 million deal to transfer the right-of-way of the former Greenwood Lake line to the nongovernmental organization Open Space Initiative, Norfolk-Southern (NS) railroad began to rip up tracks at the end of last year. Right now, Norfolk Southern is a household name due to the derailment and controlled burn in East Palestine, Ohio.
The right-of-way was part of the Greenwood Lake Railroad. The Greenwood Lake service, which was set up by the Erie Railroad and technically merged into it during World War I, was operated first by Erie, then the Erie Lackawanna, then Conrail, which was divided into the NS and CSX, with NS taking control of the right-of-way. NJ Transit used this right-of-way for passenger service starting in 1983, and by predecessors before that, with the last freight service on the line being semiweekly, then weekly, from Dover to Hartz Mountain in Bloomfield (the former Charms candy plant) via the Montclair junction. Despite protests, passenger service on this section of the “Greenwood Lake-Boonton Line”, as it was called then, ended in September 2002 when the Montclair connection opened. NJT claimed the area to be a redundant catchment area. Attempts by James Wilson to run his own passenger trains on the line failed.
The line west of DB Draw, over the Hackensack River between Secaucus and Kearny, has not had freight trains for more than 10 years. NJT sometimes parked maintenance-of-way vehicles on the right-of-way near Pine Street in Montclair. NS kept rolling stock, usually flatbed cars, on the right-of-way in Secaucus/Jersey City. Despite calls to secure the line for future passenger use, the right-of-way fell into disrepair. Norfolk Southern sold off this right-of-way to gain some financial capital and avoid maintenance costs. (Incidentally, NJT recently purchased the Washington Secondary between Netcong and Hackettstown from Norfolk Southern. However, do not expect service west of Lake Hopatcong to improve any time soon.)
By the time this article goes to print, the tracks between the junction at Pine Street in Montclair to DB Draw in the Meadowlands will be ripped up. The tracks east of DB Draw are being ripped up as well. The next time you see the right-of-way where it goes under the Northeast Corridor, there will be no more track. Norfolk Southern will retain salvage rights on the right-of-way. In the coming years it will be turned into a “linear park” and “rail trail”.
It appears to be a strange situation; bicyclists/hikers and transit riders are becoming political enemies. Many, but not all, bicyclists/hikers applaud rails-to-trails. Some bicyclist organizations oppose highway expansion. Some hiking organizations want rail-with-trails. Nonetheless, various biking/walking organizations in New Jersey are more than happy to deprive the others of mobility. It is bad enough that transit advocates have to fight motorists, politicians, and the transportation-industrial complex. Now transit advocates have to fight bicyclists and hikers, too. Railroad magnate Jay Gould said that he could pay half the working class to kill the other half.
There is one small consolation: at least Norfolk Southern cannot send any 2-mile-long trains with hazardous materials into my area now.