By Denis Connell/photos by the author
Shrouded in the pre-dawn mist rising from the Edison estuary of New Jersey’s Raritan River, engineer John Dimitrakis carefully navigates the six-track yard as he approaches today’s power for Train RC-1. It’s 5:45am on January 19, 2021, and after obligatory tests — generator field , m.u. connections, fuel level — the original 567 of GP20 2093 rumbles to life pumping air, much as it has since emerging from La Grange in 1960. Sister unit 2092, also class of ’60, is next, with an upgraded 645 under the hood. As both units idle, John retreats to the office for today’s train orders. Train RC-1 has 19 empties for Conrail interchange today with 32 loads dropped overnight at the 11-track yard once dedicated to the nearby and now-gone Ford assembly plant in Edison.
With no time to waste, John and crew hustle to assemble the outbounds and head up the main, cross busy Route 1, and continue up the hill to the interchange. Switching moves are orchestrated by the crew under the direction of general manager Tony Gonzalez, who frequently shadows his crews by vehicle, to assist in switching moves and ensure compliance with the operational curfews due to heavy truck traffic within the Raritan Center complex. Another day begins on Raritan Central as the two GP-20s deliver the heavy RC-1 to the Campus Drive yard —within curfew limits — exactly at 8:00am.
ABOVE: RC GP38 2244 puts on a smoke show at HATCO on April 19, 2021. Built for Santa Fe, the 2244 went to BNSF and then dealer Larry’s Truck & Electric before coming to New Jersey.
Raritan Central Railway is located in Edison a few miles south of the Amtrak Metropark station. Situated almost entirely in Edison, with short sections of track in Metuchen and Woodbridge, this terminal switching operation serves 20 major industrial customers in the 3,000-acre Raritan Center Business Park and adjacent Heller Industrial Park. Marketed by the railway as the Raritan Logistics Center, this massive complex offers warehousing, transload capability, a private barge dock, and industrial capacity framed by the Raritan River, the New Jersey Turnpike, the Garden State Parkway, and I-287.
Lehigh Valley Roots
When Raritan Central owner Eyal Shapira first arrived to inspect the railroad in August 2001, he found an unimpressive property with tremendous business potential. Durham Transport had acquired the former Lehigh Valley branch from Conrail in 1991. Wobbly 70- and 80-pound rail laid in the 1920s over rotting ties and mud ballast was the rule, proving decades of neglect by the previous operators.
ABOVE: RC GP30 5 and GP38 2244 shove cars west toward the Raritan Center Parkway crossing on February 4, 2021. The 5 was built for Baltimore & Ohio, then went on to CSX before going to Nebraska, Kansas & Colorado RailNet.
At the time of his inspection, Shapira noted that there were only two active customers on the line moving just 300–400 cars per year. He saw potential in the area already designated for industrial development, especially when considering its close proximity to the New York/North Jersey metropolitan markets. Adjacent water, rail, and highway access was also a significant factor in his decision to acquire the 22 miles of track in late 2001.
Over the past 20 years, Shapira has invested nearly $20 million in infrastructure improvements, including crossing protection, passing sidings, yard tracks, and car storage. Much of the business center portion of the complex is located on the property of the former Raritan Arsenal. Established as an ammunition depot during World War I, the depot was served from LV’s Perth Amboy branch at Raritan Junction. Pennsylvania Railroad (Penn Central after 1968) also served the arsenal from the north, dropping down from its electrified main at Lincoln tower…