Historic Structures

Central Railroad Engine Terminal Complex, Jersey City New Jersey

Date added: September 29, 2017 Categories: New Jersey Train Station

During the second half of the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth, the Central Railroad of New Jersey maintained extensive facilities to service its passenger and freight operations on the New York harbor. Its main line from Phillipsburg crossed the Newark Bay at Elizabethport to Bayonne and followed the western edge of the upper bay to the Jersey City yards. These yards, located on fill in Communipaw Bay, were the most extensive and concentrated such facilities of one railroad company on Jersey City's waterfront. Included here were the large passenger terminal, lighterage and car float operations, covered and open piers, the coal dumpers at Pier 18, the marine repair drydocks at Pier 19, and the various support facilities for maintenance of equipment.

As the Hudson County yards at Jersey City and Bayonne became so extensive, the Jersey Central maintained its major classification yards at Elizabethport, In 1901 these yards were expanded, and a large new shop complex was constructed where the Newark and Elizabeth and the main line branches of the Jersey Central form a "Y." Facilities here included maintenance shops for rolling stock, a machine erecting and boiler shop, a 25-stall roundhouse, and a transfer table.

Complementing these locomotive facilities were older engine teirminals at Bayonne and Communipaw. The Bayonne roundhouse was built before 1908 and was demolished before 1928. It was located at the east end of 18th Street and Avenue E just southeast of the East 22nd Street station. Seventeen stalls were contained within a wooden structure having brick end walls.

The 1887 Atlas of Jersey City, New Jersey, Plate U, shows a wood frame roundhouse with masonry appendage just west of the passenger terminal (c. 1864). This occurs within the block bonded by Lafayette, Dudley, Maple, and Mason streets. Another roundhouse segment is shown on Plate V at Johnston Avenue and Washington Street. By the time the Map Atlas of Hudson County, New Jersey was published in 190S, a new 20-stall roundhouse appears in the same block location as just described. This facility, just north of the Communipaw Avenue Bridge and Station, was demolished sometime before 1919.

The 1914 engine terminal at Communipaw was part of a larger, overall modernisation plan enacted by the Central Railroad of New Jersey. This included the passenger and freight terminals and the switching and signalling systems. Locomotives could be fueled and serviced within close proximity to these operations. The engine terminal was the largest and most modern of its type at the time.

Its layout and technology were most progressive, and its architecture equally modern. The eclectic architectural considerations of the great passenger terminal gave way to a functional aesthetic marked by modern materials and methods. This occurrence was concurrent with revolutionary experiments of modernism in Western Europe. Especially notable at Communipaw is the extensive use of reinforced concrete structural systems.

To maintain their locomotives which made runs to the Jersey City passenger and freight terminals, the Central Railroad of New Jersey built a first-class engine terminal in 1914. This consisted of fueling stations, two turntables and segmental roundhouses, a powerhouse, storage areas, and major repair shops. Logically the site for these facilities was due west of the grand passenger terminal at the foot of Johnston Avenue in Jersey City, at the point where the main line approach tracks to the terminal swing eastward and parallel the roadway of Johnston Avenue. At this point as well, the northern track of the freight yard forms a "Y" with the main line. The site is on the opposite side of the main line from the old Communipaw roundhouse, which stood for some years after the new terminal was built. Standing on the northeast corner of the intersection of Communipaw Avenue and Phillips Street, the most modern engine terminal of any railroad before World War I must have offered a striking contrast to the early houses on the opposite side of the street.

The new engine terminal provided space for the storage and minor repair and maintenance of locomotives. Two roundhouse segments and separate turntables were designed to segregate engine service of the freight and passenger lines, obviously providing a versatility lacking in most engine terminals. The two segments contained 32 and 34 stalls for a total capacity of 66 engines. Here locomotives could undergo light repairs, be housed when out of use, and be cleaned after runs. Construction of the terminal facilities was carried out under the direction of Joseph O. Osgood, chief engineer, and A.E. Owen, principal assistant engineer of the Central Railroad of New Jersey.

For major repairs to locomotives, a machine shop and blacksmith shop were annexed to the 34-stall roundhouse. From stall No. 2 of this segment, a locomotive could jpass through the roundhouse to the monitor-roofed machine shop. Housed here were small lathes, crank planers, and other such machines. A fire wall and a pair of doors separated this space from the blacksmith shop beyond, which housed forges, steam hammers, cranes, punches and shears, hand bending rolls, and screw flanges.

Attached to the blacksmith shop was the major parts storage building and related office. An open material platform beyond this area separated the shop and storage building from the oil house; it was always desirable to store the volatile fuels distant from the locomotives. The oil house was merely a small one-story building which straddled the oil pits below ground. Freestanding oil tanks on concrete and timber cradles were also located beyond the house itself.

The main fueling station at the engine terminal was a tremendous coaling plant located across the approach tracks east of the two roundhouses. It spanned 8 tracks and served an additional track at each end. Coal was brought to two receiving hoppers south of the material platform. From these, hoppers coal was discharged by means of reciprocating feeders into bucket-conveying elevators over the material platform and southern tracks of the engine terminal yard. The conveying elevators took the coal to the top of the-hopper house, where it was discharged on conveyor belts running up the conveyor bridge over the top of the bunkers. Traveling trippers running on rails above the bunkers discharged coal into the various compartments.

East of the coaling plant were two submerged cinder pits, each served by two tracks. Cinders were cleared out of the pits by an electric traveling crane that had a clam shell bucket.

West of the coaling plant, and actually an integral part of that facility, was the sand house. Here sand was stored and dried by means of two coal stoves. It was then screened and elevated by compressed air to two storage tanks of 15-cubic yard capacity located on the west side of the coaling plant. From these tanks the sand was delivered to the locomotives by cast-iron pipes and wrought-iron telescoping spouts at each of the ten tracks.

A diesel oil fueling station was added to the engine terminal sometime after 1914. This facility was located south of the machine shop/blacksmith shop. The station included two freestanding fuel tanks and an adjacent building containing an oil room, an oil pump room, lockers, and offices.

A large powerhouse provided electricity not only for the engine terminal but also for all rail requirements between Jersey City and the Newark Bay. Six boilers of 250 horsepower each and three 600-kilowatt, 2,200-volt a.c. generators were based here. The boilers were fabricated by Babcock & Wilcox, the generators were General Electric units, and the other electrical equipment was designed and executed by Westinghouse Church Kerr & Company of New York City. Two 2,500-cubic foot steam air compressors furnished air for the engine terminal and for the operation of signals and switches between this location and the passenger terminal and Newark and Elizabethport on the Newark branch.

Adjacent to the powerhouse were two 100,000-gallon water tanks. Water was taken from a 16-inch city water main and discharged through altitude valves into the tanks. It then passed through the low or service system of piping to eight water columns in the yard for filling engine tanks and for general use in the terminal buildings. In addition, a high pressure system was carried around the property and into the various buildings from the fire pump in the powerhouse for fire protection.

In the space between the two roundhouses were located office and toilet facilities for the workers as well as tool storage and a fuel oil pit. These were support structures for the activity within the roundhouses and the terminal yard.

After 1928 the Central Railroad of New Jersey constructed ancillary facilities along Communipaw Avenue to support this substantial engine terminal operation. A large three-story building at 232 Communipaw was constructed to house the railroad company's offices and the engineers' bunks. A one-story railroad restaurant. was also built at 230 Communipaw. Between these two buildings was a small one-story office.