Tom’s Raritan River Railroad Page




Wrecks on the RRRR




1895 – RRRR Engine Goes Through the Open Draw Bridge in South River. 1

1899 – Passenger Train wrecks at Melfort 1

1901 – Two Engines Collide in South Amboy. 1

1906 – Small Wreck in South Amboy. 1

1906 – Wreck near the Turntable in South Amboy. 1

1906 – RRRR Crashes into a House in New Brunswick. 1

1927 or 1928 Wreck at Suchs (Again) 1

1947 - No. 15 at the PRR connection. 1

1972 – Phoenix Branch. 1














1895 – RRRR Engine Goes Through the Open Draw Bridge in South River


The Daily Times (New Brunswick, NJ) - Thursday, November 7, 1895



Shortly after trolley service opened to SR , A serious wreck occurred on November 7, 1895 when a RRRR Passenger train didn’t see an open draw bridge in South River due to the fog.   The train tried to stop, the crew jumped off the train as the Engine slid through an open draw and landed face down in the river.  Amazingly, the tender stayed on the bridge, as well as the passenger cars. The engineer, Fred Bissett, tried to stop the train, but once it became apparent that it wasn’t going to stop, the crew jumped.  The Brakeman jumped and landed on the embankment and rolled down into the mud flats, escaping without injury.  The Engineer was not as lucky and broke his leg when he jumped from the bridge, but landed on a scow that was moored alongside the bridge. James Welsh, another brakeman, jumped into the water and managed to swim ashore.  Frank Hoffman, the superintendent of the RRRR was also on the train, but did not jump off.     Richard Sullivan, the Conductor, also jumped into the water, but he was weighted down by his clothes, and the tide current was Very strong and proceeded to pull him farther out into the channel, where he was rescued by a row boat.  


All Navigation on the river was blocked now.  The RRRR needed to call to New York to get a steam wrecking scow large enough to pull out the engine, as none could be found locally.


The draw can be mostly closed, just enough to allow a person to walk from one side to the other, but not enough to allow a train to cross.


Keep Richard Sullivan’s name in your mind, we will hear from him again…      


Unfortunately for the RRRR, since there were no active trains on the western side of the bridge, the only way to get from New Brunswick to South River was by the recently deployed TROLLEY CARs!   Literally, the trolleys only started running from New Brunswick to South River just 5 days earlier, on November 2!



1899 – Passenger Train wrecks at Melfort



The Daily Times (New Brunswick, NJ) — Wednesday, July 5, 1899



A serious wreck occurred in 1899 when a passenger Train jumped tracks at switch for the PRR connection near Melfort (Suchs Siding).  The engine left the track and plunged down the embankment followed by two cars.  Engineer C. W. Mulford and Fireman John Sullivan both jumped from the train before it went over.

The engine was badly damaged.  One of the passenger cars caught on the tender and was prevented from overturning.  Conductor Richard Sullivan was the first man out of the train and, though badly hurt, he went to work assisting in rescuing the passengers.


The most seriously injured passenger had a broken ankle.   Another was thrown over three seats in the first car and received a sprained shoulder.   Nearly everyone was cut or bruised.


As I wrote this summary, I had though that I had seen an image before of a passenger car resting on a tender… somewhere… then I realized it…


Rails Up the Raritan – Fred Diebert – 1983 – Pg. 63  One of the more
spectacular wrecks. Site and date unknown”


0705 The Daily Times (New Brunswick, NJ) — Wednesday, July 5, 1899 Wreck at Melfort


Fred Diebert, when he wrote Rails up the Raritan, had such a picture in his book from the official company files of the RRRR (which are all lost today…)   I went and double check the newspaper article, and compared it to the unknown wreck, and believe we have a match!    I think we can safely say that this picture is from the 1899 wreck at Melfort. 





1901 – Two Engines Collide in South Amboy


The Daily Times (New Brunswick, NJ) - Friday, May 31, 1901


The two engines collided and wrecked both of them and threw them across the ROW and tarring up the tracks.  The NY&LB road was tied up until 9 a.m., while the RRRR was not moving until noon.   No employees were injured.




1906 – Small Wreck in South Amboy


The Daily Times (New Brunswick, NJ) - Thursday, May 10, 1906




1906 – Wreck near the Turntable in South Amboy


The Daily Times (New Brunswick, NJ) - Saturday, May 26, 1906



And as things get busier, things get riskier, and accidents begin happen…  Here we see two small wrecks, both in SA, which was very crowded at this point being pressed up against the NY&LB lines, and not ideal for the shifting and soring of freight cars… They didn’t have a very big yard in SA…   


So if trains crashing into trains wasn’t enough, how about a train crashing into a house! 



1906 – RRRR Crashes into a House in New Brunswick


The Daily Times (New Brunswick, NJ) - Tuesday, June 12, 1906



Yes, in 1906 the RRRR crashed into a house in NB…  Exactly how does that happen?  


End of the Line in New Brunswick with the coach next to and hiding the passenger station.

The house at the end of the train is the one that was damaged in 1906.


Well a Passenger Train with 2 passengers on board enters NB.  On one of them was the wife of the ticket agent in NB. Typical operation in 1906 was to swing the three passenger cars onto the siding with a “flying switch” maneuver.  Simply said, the engine pulls the cars, breaks off the train, pulls ahead, the switch get thrown, allowing only the passenger cars to roll by themselves to the depot.  Conductor Richard Sullivan worked the brakes manually on the passenger cars as they entered the dead end siding, but the brakes did not work.  The passenger cars broke through the end of the track, crossed over the street, dashed up a slight incline, tore down a fence and crashed into the porch doing significant damage to the house. 








1927 or 1928 Wreck at Suchs (Again)



Click on the link or the pic for more details


One summer morning during August 1927, a cut of eight cars lost their brakes and went down the steep grade east towards South Amboy.  At just the same time, poor locomotive number 11 was heading up the grade at the same time.  With no way to stop the train, the crew just jumped, and watched the runaways crash into poor number 11.  There were no injuries reported, and good old number 11, although being badly damaged (as the pictures show) was actually put back together by the competent shop crew, and survived for another 20 years of service!






1947 - No. 15 at the PRR connection


Number 15 jumped the tracks near the PRR interchange in 1947.

Unfortunately, she was not rebuilt, but cut up on the spot.



1972 – Phoenix Branch


Phoenix Branch Map – from Rails up the Raritan



Ilmenite Ore was used by National Lead to make Titanium Dioxide, which was used as a pigment in paints.  This plant, at the end of the Phoenix Branch (otherwise known as the Kearny Spur) was built in the late 1930s and was in continuous operation until the 1980s when it was shut down and converted into a superfund site.  Ilmenite Ore is slightly radioactive, and well, 50 years of using the stuff has caused just a slight cleanup problem.


 A few hopper cars filled with Ilmenite Ore being shipped on the Phoenix Branch in 1972 to the National Lead plant got hung up on a loose rail and tipped over.


  Raritan River Crane No. 3 was called out, as well as CNJ hopper No. 9261.  We will see on a few occasions when the Raritan River would call in extra cars from the CNJ to help out every once in a while.




























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