An Amtrak train passes through Metuchen, N.J., in 2003. (Photo by Todd DeFeo)
An Amtrak train passes through Metuchen, N.J., in 2003. (Photo by Todd DeFeo)

METUCHEN, N.J. — The first trains passed through this Central New Jersey town in 1836 when the New Jersey Railroad was completed.

The current railroad depot is situated in the center of town and was built in 1888, the same year the railroad right-of-way was elevated above the street. It was rededicated on Dec. 13, 1979, and today serves N.J. Transit commuter trains.

A second line, the Easton and Amboy Railroad (later the Lehigh Valley Railroad), reached Metuchen in the 1870s. At Metuchen, Easton and Amboy passenger traffic connected with the Pennsylvania Railroad and continued to the Pennsylvania Railroad’s Exchange Place in Jersey City, a connection that lasted until 1891 when the LVRR established its own route to Jersey City from South Plainfield.

The LVRR line was abandoned in 1991. A portion of the former right-of-way is today a part of the Middlesex Greenway.

A third railroad, the Reading Railroad, passed through town starting in about 1892. The line remains in use today and is part of the Conrail Shared Assets Operations (named the Conrail Port Reading Secondary).

In March 1907, the boiler of a Pennsylvania Railroad mogul locomotive exploded shortly after passing through town. The train, traveling from Jersey City, N.J., to Philadelphia, was “drawing a long train of freight cars” at the time, according to a report in The New York Times on March 12, 1907.

The explosion sent “white-hot pieces of iron” in every direction while scalding steam burned the engineer and fireman, killing both along with the head brakeman, who was also in the cab.

On March 31, 1932, 13 cars of a freight train just east of the Pennsylvania Railroad station, according to “Metuchen” by Stacy E. Spies. The wreck knocked down several of the poles used to electrify the line.

In June 1977, 17 cars of a Conrail freight train derailed near the Metuchen train depot. Cars spilled onto the streets and blocked all four tracks of the Northeast Corridor main line. The train apparently derailed after an axle of a freight car overheated and the metal separated or melted away, a situation known as a hotbox.

Railroad History Timeline

  • 1836: The first New Jersey Railroad train passes through Metuchen
  • Circa 1841: The first railroad depot, known as Campbell’s Station, is built west of Lake Avenue
  • 1859-60: A two-mile branch off of the New Jersey Railroad to Bonhamtown is built
  • 1860: A second track is added to the New Jersey Railroad line
  • 1870: The Lake Avenue depot along the New Jersey Railroad line is erected
  • July 1, 1871: The Pennsylvania Railroad assumes control of the United New Jersey Railroad and Canal Company (United Companies)
  • 1873 (or 1875): The Easton and Amboy Railroad (later the Lehigh Valley Railroad) brings a second rail line to Metuchen
  • 1879: The Lehigh Valley erects a passenger station and a separate freight depot at Durham Avenue; a few years later the railroad constructed a second passenger station at the corner of Lake Avenue (Route 27) and Amboy Avenue
  • 1880: The Pennsylvania Railroad builds the Robinvale depot at Grove Avenue
  • 1882: A third track is added to the Pennsylvania Railroad line
  • 1888: The Pennsylvania Railroad’s Lake Avenue depot is razed, and the current depot is built
  • 1892: A third line, the Reading Railroad, enters Metuchen
  • January 1898: The first trolley operates in the borough
  • Dec. 8, 1932: The first electrified train between New Brunswick and Jersey City operates
  • Jan. 16, 1933: The first electrified train between Philadelphia and New York operates
  • 1965: Borough officials send a proposal to relocate the train station to a new location with additional parking
  • Feb. 1, 1968: The Penn Central is formed
  • Dec. 13, 1979: Former Pennsylvania Railroad station is rededicated
  • 1991: The Lehigh Valley Railroad is abandoned

Notable Happenings

  • June 23, 1883: A Pennsylvania Railroad employee, John McGauley, died after a train struck him while walking across the bridge crossing the Lehigh Valley Railroad
  • Nov. 9, 1887: Burglars broke into the Pennsylvania Railroad depot and stole tickets, express packages and the station agent’s uniform; the tickets were not stamped; a man named Walter McGinnis was subsequently detained on suspicion of being the burglar
  • Sept. 12, 1888: Henry Henderson died after a Lehigh Valley Railroad struck him while walking along the railroad’s tracks
  • Nov. 23, 1887: A man named William Bodenstein died after a Pennsylvania Railroad train struck him as he walked along the tracks between Metuchen and Robinvale
  • Oct. 22, 1889: Two young men died after a locomotive struck them while walking along the Pennsylvania Railroad tracks
  • Sept. 29, 1891: Thieves broke into the Pennsylvania Railroad depot and stole some level of items
  • Sept. 11, 1946: A woman died after she either fell or jumped in front of the Boston-bound express train as it passed the abandoned Grove Avenue grade crossing
  • April 1963: Railroad ties along the Pennsylvania Railroad near the Lake Avenue bridge caught fire several times

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