Tom’s Raritan River Railroad Page




Forgotten History

of the

Raritan River Railroad


South River, New Jersey


Two Wrecks at South River

South River Passenger Station

South River Freight Station

South River Swing Bridge

South River Branch

South River maps 1912

South River maps 1940

South River fire 1969






Version 1.4





Raritan River Railroad crossing the South River Swing Bridge



The Raritan River Railroad was started in South Amboy and Sayreville in 1888 and by 1889 made it through Parlin and Sayreville, entering into South River in 1890.  The first South River Bridge was a pile trestle, and lasted about 20 years.  The current South River Swing Bridge was built by the Raritan River Railroad in 1910.  The line made it through East Brunswick and Milltown on July 4th, 1891, terminating in New Brunswick later that year.  The plan was to continue up the Raritan River on into Bound Brook, but that never happened.

Then and then again, looking to South River from the river, about 1910

Then and then again, looking to South River from the river, 1969

Today, the South River Swing Bridge may be one of the last manually operated swing bridges in NJ!  This bridge requires that the bridge tender walk across the river on a plank walkway, climb up the bridge, use a very long arch bar, and walk in circles while pushing the arch bar to slowly rotate the bridge.   This bridge site has been the scene of not one but two rail disasters in its time!  The first one occurred back in November 1895 when a locomotive coming from Parlin went head first into the open draw in the fog. 


From the NY Times Archive 1895


If you read the above story, it is funny to note, that that Conductor Richard Sullivan was also involved in the wreck of 1899:


From the NY Times Archive 1899

The second wreck at the South River Draw, and more famous, but mostly forgotten, occurred in December 1968 when Raritan River Caboose No.5 took a long unattended ride from the Sayreville Junction Yard.  The caboose went across Washington Avenue, past the Parlin Station, past the switches for Dupont and Hercules, past both switches for the Gillespie Branch Wye, across Jernees Mill Rd, and …into the river!

This was going to require more muscle than the little Raritan could handle on its own, so they called in the CNJ to help out


Is it a fish?


No!  It’s Raritan River Railroad Caboose No.5!



What a mess!



What a wonderful shot!  When was the last time you saw a caboose getting pulled out of a river?



Old No.5 is officially retired.


For most of its life, the little swing bridge was painted black. 

South River Swing Bridge in Black, 1960s


During the early 70s, it was painted red to match the engines, and the newly painted red cabooses (which used to be yellow).


Painting the South River Swing Bridge Red, 1971-72?



Here are some great shots of the Raritan River Railroad on the bridge.

Raritan River Railroad Inspection Train 1973


Many years later, after the Raritan River was assimilated into Conrail, The Home News wrote an article on the swing bridge after interviewing the bridge tender, who would show up only when a train actually needed to cross. 

South River Swing Bridge Tender Interview Home News Tribune 2000



For most of the time, the bridge is left in the open position.  What is ironic is that the only way to access the bridge to close it is from the western side via a plank walkway from the shoreline.  Yet the trains appear from the eastern side (from Browns Yard).  There is also the dilemma, that at high tide, or during tidal surges, the walkway planks to access the bridge from the western side can actually be under water!


This design made sense in 1910 because at that time the western side of the river was a booming railroad town. 


South River 1912 Map

Note the odd “run around” track.  This would disappear in later years.

Note the passenger station in relation to the freight station.  Serviss Street used to be called Prentiss Street.

South River Passenger Station, 1920s

Note that this picture is different than the one in Rails up the Raritan (it has electricity wires on the right roof peak!)

This is the only picture I have seen of the South River Freight Station

(Borrowed from Ebay)

This is a great shot, as it shows the long loading platform which connected the station directly to the old handkerchief factory.


 Right past the bridge, South River had a freight station, a passenger station, the South River yard, as well as the junction for the South River Branch which was built in 1906 and went south along the river about 2 miles.  South River was a very busy place a train time with the handkerchief factory being attached to the freight station.   

South River 1940s Map


This operation required many cars of freight to South River every day.


Raritan River Caboose No.5 in South River Yard in front of Handkerchief factory, 1950s


South River had many brick yards, the remains of some which can still be found today. 

Remains of the American Enamel Brick Co. trestle, just south of the South River yard, 2003


New cars used to be delivered to the South River Freight Station in the 1940s and 1950s in box cars and they would be unloaded and driven down the large ramp to their destinations.  This was told to me by John T (Pop-Pop) who used to unload the cars in the late 1940s when he first started working on the Raritan.  Pop-Pop worked from 1947-1980.

Photo showing Raritan River Railroad moving PRR Automobiles box car to South River in 1940s


The passenger station closed in 1938 and burned down some time after that.  The South River Freight Station was used up by the railroad until the 1950s, being rented out until the late 1960s when it burned in a spectacular fire when the handkerchief factory that was literally attached to it burned to the ground.

Fire at South River 1969!  The remains of the Raritan River Railroad South River Freight Station can be seen at the right.


Fire at the big handkerchief factory in the back burned down the little Raritan River Railroad South River Freight Station in 1969.  All that survived was the loading platform.

This is the last photo of the Raritan River Railroad South River Freight Station.  Only this little corner survived.

The loading platform is swept clean.  Note the trestle to the old handkerchief factory on the left.




The bridge used to be manned daily, with a railroad employee waiting in his bridge shanty along the ROW.  This too burned in the 1970s and was never replaced.  By then the trains only crossed once or twice per day.

Location of South River Fright Station, and South River Yard, 2003

Today the remains of passenger station can barely be seen, but the concrete foundations of the Freight Station, with its odd sized ramp, can be easy noticed.  The remains of the Handkerchief factory are visible, but the Yard has been eliminated. 


South River Then and Now, 1969 after the fire

South River Then and Now, Remains of the South River Freight Station platform, 2003


The rails and ties of the South River Branch can been seen, starting near the yard and working its way south for about 2 miles.  Surprisingly, Conrail never took up the rails for scrap. 


The design of the bridge and its maintenance has always been a thorn in Conrail’s side.  Costs to automate the bridge are too high and can’t be justified for the 2-3 active customers on the other side.  One or two customers in East Brunswick get covered hoppers or box cars, and Silver Line Windows in North Brunswick gets many cars of plastic pellets in cover hoppers a few times per week.

For as long as there are customers on the “western end” there will be a Raritan River Railroad South River bridge.

For an interesting story, follow our activities when we walked and explored the South River Branch in 2003.


Raritan River Railroad No.2 crosses a freshly painted South River Swing Bridge.


For more pictures of the great fire:


more pictures of South River Stations


For more information on other Raritan River railroad stations:






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