A picture of the Woodstown Central Railroad cupola.

Our History

The prosperity and growth of the larger towns and cities of South Jersey has always been linked to reliable transportation. Up through the mid-nineteenth century (and beyond) this meant water transportation on the Delaware River and its navigable tributaries. Such was the case with the city of Salem, which was located on the Salem Creek (later River). During this period traveling by boat was the accepted norm, both for freight and passengers. Because of this reliability, the roads remained deplorable ? there was no impetus to improve them, and thoughts of Salem being served by a railroad were few. This notion was shattered with the severe winter of 1851-52: with the Salem Creek frozen, shipping via water ceased and transportation costs soared, affecting the price of nearly everything. Out of this crisis, however, people began to think of transportation in terms other than on the water.

Early Attempts.

The first attempt to link Salem to the outside world via rail was in 1850 with the chartering of the Salem & Delaware River Railroad & Transportation Company. This railroad was projected to run between Salem and Pennsville, where freight and passengers would be transferred to steamboats for the trip across the river to New Castle, Delaware. This road was never built, probably owing to the company's inability to secure the requisite stock subscriptions to formally incorporate.

The next attempt to reach Salem by rail came in 1853 with the chartering of the West Jersey Railroad Company, which eventually became the dominant railroad in South Jersey. The company was empowered to construct a railroad from Camden to Cape May, and its charter provided for branches to Bridgeton and Salem. The latter branch would have diverged from the main stem at Glassboro, running 21 miles to Salem. This branch was never built.

The West Jersey Railroad, in common with almost all other early railroad companies in South Jersey, had difficulty selling stock subscriptions to enable it to formally incorporate. The subscription books were opened in Camden on March 29, 1853, and over the next seven days subscriptions were solicited in Salem, Bridgeton, Millville, Cape May Court House, and Cape Island (Cape May). The results were disappointing: only 1,005 shares had been subscribed, well short of the 5,000 shares needed to organize. At this juncture, the company made overtures to the principals of the Camden & Amboy Rail Road Company that it was in their best interests to support the West Jersey project. Convinced of the railroad?s value, Commodore Robert F. Stockton stepped in and purchased 4,000 shares of West Jersey stock, assuring that the company could now formally organize.

Stockton was now firmly in control of the West Jersey Railroad, but his motives were hardly altruistic. The West Jersey was seen as a valuable feeder for traffic to and from the Camden & Amboy, but more importantly, it was a critical pawn in maintaining political support for the C&A from the southern counties. The West Jersey Railroad was built ? albeit slowly but never reached its intended destination of Cape May; that goal would be filled by two other railroad companies. Upon reaching Glassboro, the West Jersey Railroad instead built south to Bridgeton, an important manufacturing center. The line from Glassboro to Bridgeton would become the railroad?s Bridgeton Branch.

Components of the Salem Branch.

On the map the Salem Branch is a continuous line from Woodbury to Salem, but it wasn't built that way. The Salem Branch was constructed in segments by three separate railroad companies in four distinct construction phases. There were also two branch lines constructed off the Salem Branch, one of which is still in existence. These railroads will be discussed starting with the oldest component.

The Salem Railroad.

When the West Jersey Railroad bypassed Salem in favor of Bridgeton (driven by a greater return on investment), the citizens of Salem realized that if they wanted a railroad they would have to build it themselves. A bill to incorporate the Salem and Camden Railroad Company was introduced in the Senate by Charles Perrin Smith of Salem on Tuesday, Feb. 26, 1856. Smith tweaked several sections of the bill, including changing the name to the Salem Railroad Company, which was done on March 5. Later that day the bill was passed by the Senate unanimously. It was also passed by the General Assembly unanimously on March 13, and signed into law by the Governor the following day.

The Salem Railroad Company was empowered to construct a railroad from a point in the town of Salem, or within one mile thereof, to any point on the West Jersey Railroad at Woodbury, or south thereof. Capital stock was set at $400,000, with liberty to increase it to $800,000. The company could formally organize when $100,000 of stock had been subscribed. Unfortunately, the company?s organizers had difficulty getting the necessary stock subscriptions, so the charter was amended by the state legislature on March 9, 1859, to decrease the amount needed to organize to $75,000.

The charter gave the company great flexibility in determining the route of their railroad, with the railroad being routed through the places which provided financial support. On May 21, 1860, the books were opened in Woodstown, but there was little interest and the sale of stock was quite limited. By September 1, 1860, only 1,508 shares had been subscribed, but this was enough to permit formal organization.

The lack of financial support from Woodstown guaranteed that the railroad would not pass through that town, but rather be built on the route which required the least grading and bridging. On November 11, 1860, Gen. William Cook started surveying the route between Salem and Pittstown (later Elmer), the junction point on the West Jersey Railroad. Grading began August 31, 1861, and the first rail was laid September 27, 1862.

One of the stipulations of the charter required the railroad be completed and in use by June 4, 1863, or the charter would become null and void. Realizing this deadline might not be met, the company went back to the legislature to have the charter amended again, this time extending the time of completion by seven years. This extension was approved on February 17, 1862.

With the charter?s expiration no longer a concern, the company focused on completing the railroad. The first passenger train between Yorketown and Pittstown ran on January 14, 1863, and between Claysville and Pittstown on July 31, 1863. The Salem Railroad owned two locomotives but no rolling stock, the latter being leased from the West Jersey Railroad.

The completed railroad didn?t actually enter Salem; rather, its western terminus was at the hamlet of Claysville in Mannington Township, across Fenwick Creek from Salem. (An 1872 map of Salem County shows the railroad terminating on Salem-Woodstown Road (NJ Route 45) just south of Mannington Mills Road.) This was considered a temporary terminus, as the company at that time lacked the financial resources to bridge Fenwick Creek or acquire real estate in Salem. Facilities were constructed at Claysville for handling freight and passengers, and for servicing equipment. An enginehouse was also constructed at Pittstown. The Salem Railroad was leased to the West Jersey Railroad on June 1, 1868, and thereafter operated as part of its system.

Of the original construction of the Salem Railroad, the portion from Riddleton to Claysville is now part of today's Salem Branch.

The Swedesboro Railroad.

The northernmost part of the Salem Branch was constructed by the Swedesboro Railroad Company, between its namesake town and its connection with the West Jersey Railroad at Woodbury. Joseph L. Reeves, the Senator from Gloucester County (and also an incorporator listed in the charter) introduced the bill on January 18, 1866. The bill was unanimously passed by both the Senate and the General Assembly, and was approved by the governor on February 21, 1866.

The charter authorized the company to ?construct a railroad from some suitable point at or near the village of Swedesboro, in the county of Gloucester, to intersect the West Jersey railroad, at or near Woodbury or Carpenter's Landing in said county.? Capital stock was set at $150,000, with liberty to increase the same to $300,000, with shares being $25 each. The company could formally organize as soon as $50,000 of capital stock had been subscribed. Construction of the road had to be commenced within five years, and completed within ten years, of the passage of the act. A supplement to the charter, passed March 14, 1867, set the railroad?s terminus within one mile of the West Jersey Railroad?s Woodbury depot.

The Swedesboro Railroad was allied with the West Jersey Railroad from the beginning, and the former company was leased to the latter. The railroad's charter authorized the West Jersey Railroad to endorse the Swedesboro Railroad?s bonds and capital stock. Opened for traffic on October 2, 1869, the Swedesboro Railroad had no locomotives or rolling stock, and was operated as part of the West Jersey Railroad system.

The entire Swedesboro Railroad, from Woodbury to Swedesboro, is the northern portion of today's Salem Branch.

The Woodstown & Swedesboro Railroad.

By the summer of 1868, the West Jersey Railroad's goal of a mainline from Camden to Cape May was achieved, when that company leased the Millville & Glassboro Railroad Company and the Cape May & Millville Railroad Company. The line to Bridgeton was now a branch, and the Salem Railroad was essentially a branch off the Bridgeton Branch.

Meanwhile, Woodstown, the most populated town in the interior of Salem County, continued its isolation, connected to the outside world only by mediocre roads. Several attempts to link Woodstown with the outside world by rail or water had failed. Further, as late as 1880, Woodstown had the ignominious distinction of being the only place of considerable importance in New Jersey without telegraphic communication.

To the north, Swedesboro was the end of the line of a branch from Woodbury, and local businessmen contemplated increased business if the line were extended south to Woodstown and Salem. Businessmen in Woodstown were also agitating for a railroad. Their common interests resulted in Assemblyman John W. Dickinson, of Pilesgrove Township, introducing a bill to charter the Woodstown & Swedesboro Railroad Company, on January 30, 1871. Dickinson was also an incorporator listed in the charter. The bill faced no opposition in either the General Assembly or the Senate, and became law on March 21, 1871.

The capital stock of the company was set at $100,000, with liberty to increase the same to $200,000, divided into shares of $25 each. As soon as $50,000 of the capital stock had been subscribed the company could formally organize by choosing a board of nine directors and electing a president.

Unfortunately, the same malaise that affected all earlier attempts the lack of stock subscriptions ? also affected the Woodstown & Swedesboro company. However, the West Jersey Railroad was also interested in the railroad, as it would provide a shorter and more direct route to Salem. In April, 1875, the West Jersey offered that if the citizens of Woodstown subscribed to $50,000 of the capital stock, they would build the road, put on the rolling stock, operate it, continue the road to Salem, and share the profits pro rata with the Woodstown stockholders. Still, stock sales languished.

By late 1880, the promoters of the railroad were facing two serious issues that put the value of their charter in jeopardy. First, Section 18 of the charter provided, ?That if the said railroad shall not be commenced within five years, and be completed at the expiration of ten years from the passage of this act, that then and in that case this act shall be void.? That date, March 21, 1881, was fast approaching. Second, Section 6 authorized the company to construct ?a railroad from some suitable point at or near the village of Woodstown ? to connect with the Swedesboro? railroad, at or near Swedesboro?,? so by law the company could not extend its tracks south of Woodstown to a connection with the Salem Railroad.

The first problem was addressed by the legislature in a bill approved February 14, 1881, which extended the charter's expiration by two years for any railroad set to expire in 1881 which had already expended money on surveys, location of the route, acquiring rights of way, or construction. As it turned out, this act would only apply to the Woodstown & Swedesboro Railroad Company.

Likewise, the second problem was addressed by an act approved March 23, 1881, which authorized any railroad to extend its road to any point of connection with any other railroad within five miles of either of its present termini, which applied to any railroad charter set to expire in 1881 and which had expended money on surveys or construction. Again, although generically written, the act would apply only to the Woodstown & Swedesboro Railroad Company. The projected junction with the Salem Railroad was at Riddleton, 4.3 miles south of Woodstown.

With the expiration date of the charter extended two years, stock subscriptions were solicited by the incorporators. The West Jersey Press of May 18, 1881, reported $15,000 of stock had been subscribed. The same newspaper reported on November 9 that only $2,000 more of stock needed to be subscribed before the company could formally incorporate. Meanwhile, the incorporators were negotiating with landowners for a right of way through their property, some holding out for a higher price. Finally, enough stock was subscribed, and the Woodstown & Swedesboro Railroad Company was formally organized on Saturday, January 21, 1882. At this meeting William J. Sewell was elected President.

The Woodstown & Swedesboro Railroad Company was controlled by the West Jersey Railroad Company from the start, as it subscribed to $60,000 of the capital stock, with the other $40,000 held by citizens of Salem County. It was estimated that the road would cost $200,000 to build, with the remaining $100,000 to be raised by the issuance of bonds secured by a mortgage of the road.

Construction of the railroad was soon underway, and grading was reported completed on November 29, 1882. By mid-December the tracks were in place, and the ballasting was nearly finished. On February 1, 1883, the new railroad was put into operation, and soon thereafter business for Salem was routed over this line.

The entire Woodstown & Swedesboro Railroad, from Swedesboro to Riddleton, is the middle portion of today's Salem Branch. Entry into Salem.

Commensurate with the organizational activity on the Woodstown & Swedesboro Railroad driven by the West Jersey Railroad, the latter extended the Salem Railroad across Fenwick Creek into the city of Salem, where new terminal facilities were constructed. As the charter for the Salem Railroad authorized the company to construct a railroad ?from a point in the town of Salem, or within one mile thereof,? no further authorization to build was needed from the state legislature. When this extension was completed is uncertain, but the West Jersey Press (November 9, 1881) noted: ?Work on the new depot in Salem is progressing and the railroad extension is completed to the creek. The entire work will be finished by the first of January, 1882.

The trackage from Claysville into the city of Salem, terminating above Grant Street, is the southernmost portion of today's Salem Branch.

A Shorter Route.

With the completion of the new line from Woodbury to Salem via Woodstown, this line was designated the Salem Branch. The original Salem Branch between Elmer and Riddleton became the Elmer Branch. The old route between Camden and Salem via Elmer was 43.3 miles long, as opposed to the new route via Woodstown, at 37.5 miles, a savings of 5.8 miles.

The Salem Branch Railroad Company.

The charter for the Salem Railroad Company did not provide for additional trackage in the city of Salem, other than terminal trackage, so to reach other sections of the city, a new company would be needed. No charter would be necessary, as the state?s general railroad law was passed by the legislature, and approved by the governor on April 2, 1873. The law provided a framework for the incorporation of railroad companies. Articles of Association for the Salem Branch Railroad Company were filed with the secretary of state on December 3, 1886. The capital stock was set at $50,000 in shares of $50 each. William J. Sewell subscribed to 970 shares, while the balance of 30 shares was split evenly amongst the six other incorporators.

The Salem Branch Railroad was about one mile long, running entirely within the city of Salem. Specifically, the route was given as ?its beginning point situate on the main line of the Salem Railroad about nine hundred and fifty-five feet more or less north of the terminus of the Salem Railroad, within the limits of the City of Salem ?, and its termination point in the said City of Salem in the northerly side of Broadway, west of Front Street and east of Salem Creek, with such sidings, turnouts and extensions as may be necessary for the maintenance of said railroad and the transaction of its business.

The Salem Branch Railroad is usually referred to as the Glass Works Branch, an apt name. In 1923, the branch had seven private sidings for the Salem Glass Works, the most of any company. (The H. J. Heinz Co. was next with four.)

The Glass Works Branch currently extends from a connection with the Salem Branch, just south of Fenwick Creek, to the Salem River waterfront, west of Front Street, and terminates near West Broadway. There are no active customers on this branch.


In order to simplify its corporate structure, the West Jersey Railroad Company (the second corporation by that name, incorporated September 1, 1885), was merged with the Salem Railroad Company, the Swedesboro Railroad Company, the Woodstown & Swedesboro Railroad Company, the Salem Branch Railroad Company, and two other railroad companies to form the third West Jersey Railroad Company on December 31, 1887.

The Alloway & Quinton Railroad.

The second branch off of the Salem Branch, known as the Quinton Branch, was incorporated as the Alloway & Quinton Railroad Company, on July 13, 1891. It was organized to reach the Quinton Glass Works, which had up to that time made its shipments by boat on the Alloway Creek. Quinton also had three canneries. The West Jersey Railroad (of 1887) owned its entire stock. The 4.22-mile branch was opened on December 21, 1891. As a new station was built in the village of Alloway, Alloway station on the Salem Branch was renamed Alloway Junction. As there was no turning facility for locomotives in Quinton, trains returning to Alloway Junction ran tender-first.

Another Merger.

To further simplify the corporate structure of its South Jersey lines, the Pennsylvania Railroad incorporated the West Jersey & Seashore Railroad Company on May 4, 1896. The merged lines included the West Jersey Railroad Company (of 1887), the Alloway & Quinton Railroad Company, and four other lines. As part of a system-wide reorganization of the Pennsylvania Railroad, the West Jersey & Seashore Railroad became the Atlantic Division of the New Jersey Division of the Eastern Region of the PRR, effective June 20, 1920. (The terminal trackage in and around Camden became the Camden Terminal Division.)

Abandonment of Passenger Service.

Passenger service ended on the Elmer and Quinton branches effective Sunday, April 29, 1928, with the last two trains operating the previous day. For several years prior, passenger trains operated from Elmer to Quinton, and vice versa, covering both branches. These trains traversed a short segment of the Salem Branch between Riddleton and Alloway Junction. After withdrawal of passenger service both branches were operated as yard tracks.


In South Jersey an intense rivalry for seashore-bound passenger traffic existed between the West Jersey & Seashore Railroad and the Atlantic City Railroad, the Philadelphia & Reading?s South Jersey subsidiary. By the 1920s, however, New Jersey was paving state highways, making automobile travel much more convenient, and drawing passengers away from the trains. The opening of the Delaware River Bridge (now Ben Franklin Bridge) on July 1, 1926, only exacerbated the situation. The Great Depression also negatively affected passenger counts.

Seeing that the competition for passengers was no longer between the railroads, but rather between the railroads and highways, the WJ&S and ACRR were consolidated effective June 25, 1933, as the Pennsylvania-Reading Seashore Lines. Duplicative trackage, mainly to seashore points, was abandoned. WJ&S branch lines west of that railroad?s Cape May mainline, including the Salem Branch, were not affected.

Abandonments and Retrenchment.

On September 10, 1936, the trackage between Daretown and Yorketown on the Elmer Branch was taken out of service, but not removed. The western end was renamed the Riddleton Branch. However, on Sept. 11, 1940, this trackage was returned to service, due to massive flood damage on the Salem Branch from the Labor Day storm. Once the damage was repaired, the trackage between Daretown and Yorketown was once again taken out of service on October 31.

The Labor Day storm also devastated the Quinton Branch: the underpinnings of the Alloway Creek trestle were demolished, and the Alloway station was lifted off its foundation and deposited it on the right-of-way. With the demise of the Quinton Glass Company in the 1930s, coupled with the storm damage, there was no reason to repair the branch, so in April, 1941, PRSL petitioned for abandonment. The branch was officially taken out of service on June 2, 1941. The petition was quickly approved, and the trackage was removed later that year.

Further retrenchment took place. On October 10, 1942, the Riddleton Branch was taken out of service, and on December 8, 1950, the Elmer Branch was taken out of service. The remaining 1,700 feet in Elmer became an industrial track.

The last scheduled passenger service on the Salem Branch operated on Saturday, December 30, 1950, with service officially withdrawn the following day. Effective with General Order No. 304, on December 15, 1952, the Salem Branch was renamed the Salem Secondary Track, with train movements controlled by the operator at Redoak tower in Woodbury.

Penn Central.

On February 1, 1968, the Pennsylvania Railroad and New York Central Railroad merged to form the Penn Central Transportation Company, which became a new parent for PRSL, replacing PRR. On June 21, 1970, the Penn Central entered bankruptcy, which caused five other regional carriers to subsequently declare bankruptcy. The United States Railway Association was formed out of the Regional Rail Reorganization Act of 1973 to put forth a plan to save the railroads in the Northeast. As part of this plan, marginal rail lines were analyzed to determine whether they should be retained, sold, or abandoned. PRSL was included in this analysis even though the railroad was not bankrupt. Its parents, Penn Central and Reading, however, were. The Preliminary System Plan (PSP) of February, 1975, did not identify the Salem Branch as potentially excess, nor did the Final System Plan (FSP) issued that July.

Conrail and Beyond.

The Consolidated Rail Corporation, or Conrail, was formed out of the six bankrupt railroads and numerous other railroads owned or controlled by these companies, including PRSL, on April 1, 1976. Operations on the former PRSL branches continued as before. In June, 1984, it was reported that points south of Swedesboro was being serviced by an extra freight running one or two days a week.

In November, 1984, Conrail gave official notice of its intention to abandon the Salem Branch south of Swedesboro. Fearing loss of freight service might have a negative impact on several of the county's major employers, Salem County acted. The June 21, 1985, issue of Today?s Sunbeam reported that Salem County had purchased the railroad south of Swedesboro from Conrail for $267,000 in May. The 18-mile line was named the Salem County Railroad.

After several months of negotiations the county awarded the West Jersey Short Line the contract to operate the railroad, effective May 23, 1985. On October 1, 1988, LTK Management Services, of Philadelphia, sold West Jersey Short Line to Pioneer Railroad Company, of Peoria, Ill., and its name was changed to the West Jersey Railroad Company (the fourth company by this name).

Conrail continued to operate the northern portion of the branch, but by September, 1992, the line to Swedesboro was being operated on an as needed basis. On May 1, 1995, operation of the line south of Swedesboro was awarded to the Southern Railroad of New Jersey (SRNJ). The operator of this portion of the branch changed again on December 11, 2009, to U.S. Rail Corporation. On January 14, 2012, the Southern Railroad of New Jersey once again became the operator of the Salem County Railroad. Conrail Shared Assets Operations (CSAO), formed June 1, 1999, leased the Woodbury-Swedesboro segment to SRNJ effective May 1, 2018. On April 1, 2021, SMS Rail Lines, of Bridgeport, took over operation and maintenance of the Salem County Railroad, while SRNJ continued to operate the northern segment of the Salem Branch.

Acknowledgement: I would like to thank William J. Coxey for his help with this article.

Laws of New Jersey, various years, 1850-1881.
Minutes of Votes and Proceedings of the General Assembly of New Jersey, various years, 1850-1881.
Journal of the Senate of New Jersey, various years, 1850-1881.
Crew Caller, West Jersey Chapter, NRHS, Palmyra, N. J., various issues, 1980-1995.
West Jersey Rails Quarterly, West Jersey Chapter, NRHS, various issues, 1996-2020.
West Jersey Press, Camden, N. J., various issues, 1881.
Employee time tables of the West Jersey & Seashore Railroad Co., Pennsylvania Railroad Co, and Pennsylvania-Reading Seashore Lines, various years, 1912-1966.