Mile #3: The River Line

A River Line train pulling into the Hamilton Avenue, Trenton, N.J. station
A River Line train pulling into the Hamilton Avenue, Trenton, N.J. station.

 

The flat New Jersey landscape whizzes by, offering a short unofficial tour of typical Delaware River dry-land neighbors: tidy homes on tidy lots; lots of single-story businesses and warehouses; some urban blight.

There’s hardly a better way (especially when the days are chilly) to get to know this section of riverside from Trenton to Camden, N.J., than taking a ride on the River Line, a New Jersey Light Rail line that was once only used for freight. The River Line takes its name from the peek-a-boo that this line plays with the river. In some places it runs right at the water’s edge, in others the only reminders of the river are the tops of bridges glimpsed above the trees.

river_line_mapThere are contrasts along the line as well. Just south of Trenton is the Trenton-Hamilton Marsh — 1,250 acres of protected wetlands and wildlife preserve. Also known as Abbotts Marsh, It wraps the River Line and hugs the river from just south of Trenton to Crosswicks Creek just north of Bordentown. For more information on the marsh check out: http://hiddentrenton.com/swamp-fever-trenton-hamilton-marsh/

That’s only one rail stop away from a former Superfund site: the Roebling steel mill. Likely the old buildings at this site would have been fascinating, but the Environmental Protection Agency  determined that the toxicity of the site demanded that the buildings be torn down and carted away. The only reminder of what was once housed at the 240-acre site is the former gatehouse, carefully restored, which now houses the Roebling Museum: http://www.roeblingmuseum.org

Fans of the Delaware River might recollect another Roebling landmark that crosses the river near Lackawaxen, PA., in the Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River. The Roebling Bridge there was built by John A Roebling, and the company that was housed on this New Jersey site was set up by his sons: John A. Roebling’s Sons Company.

The museum’s focus is not just on the company or on the Roebling family, but also on the social history of the workforce employed there and on the village where they lived. The village is still largely preserved.

For further info, check out two stories from nj.com:

On the steel mill:

http://www.nj.com/mercer/index.ssf/2014/12/former_roebling_steel_dumping_ground_now_37-acre_riverfront_park.html

On the hamlet:

http://www.nj.com/mercer/index.ssf/2013/05/roebling_a_little_hamlet_with.html

No story about this line would be complete without a reference to the remarkable little city of Bordenton but don’t go jumping to conclusions: None of its history is related to the dairy company of the same name. Check out the Wikipedia entry for this city and you’ll find references to a sizable handful of Revolutionary War patriots, several Bonaparte family members (not Napoleon, of course). Other notable people who have lived in the city include Clara Barton, who in 1852 started the first free public school in New Jersey. Later she founded the Red Cross.

Really, Bordentown should start its own version of those Access Hollywood bus tours.

If you are intrigued by this little rail line (top to bottom, the ride takes about an hour), buy your ticket before you board the train (single trip is $1.60) and get it time-stamped at a different machine just before you board. Each ticket is good for a specific time limit. The time allowed can change but sometimes there’s enough time to hop off to take a quick look around at one of the 21 stations on the line. And if you get so engrossed that you get into overtime, you just buy another ticket and get it time stamped again.

On the two trips I took, there was no conductor. It was all on the honor system. But conductors do come on board for ticket inspections and there’s a fine if you don’t have a ticket — in case you need a reason to be honest!!

At the top end (Trenton) the line connects with Northeast corridor trains to New York as well as SEPTA and Amtrak trains to Philly. In the south (Camden) you can connect with different trains at different stations to get to Atlantic City or via PATCO to Philly.

Bikes are welcome, and with most stations less than 10 minutes apart, the flat New Jersey terrain seems quite inviting for folks who’d like to get some train/bike experience.

Check ticket info and train schedules at NJTransit.com

Oh, one last thing to mention: The two last stops in Camden are at the very kid-friendly Adventure Aquarium (http://www.adventureaquarium.com) and at the Entertainment Center at what used to be called the Susquehanna Bank Center. In 2015 it changed ownership and its name to BB&T Pavilion. Near there, too, is the Battleship New Jersey Museum and Memorial and a minor league baseball park, Wiggins Park.

There are all sorts of plans afoot too develop Camden’s waterfront as this article from the New York Times (9/29/2105) explains:

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/30/realestate/commercial/camden-nj-waterfront-revitalization-efforts-are-announced.html

Looks like Camden needs a blog entry all its own.

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