Village Citizens' Coalition
|Conductors and driver on trolley||
Old style trolley above.
The "Fast Line" was a trolley line, part of a vast network of trolley and railroad lines throughout New Jersey in the early 1900s. Several "traction" companies such as the New Brunswick Traction Company, the Middlesex and Somerset Traction Company, The Raritan Traction Company and others preceded and were later incorporated into the "Fast Line" interurban route.
The Trenton and New Brunswick Railroad Company was incorporated in 1902. Groundwork began on July 1, 1902 on a new route from Milltown to the fairgrounds in Trenton. This "was the first section of rail in the state on [a] high speed private right-of-way." (1. p. 279) It linked formerly isolated rural areas with New Jersey cities. This rail line crossed South Brunswick in a diagonal line from southwest to northeast. The "Fast Line" route is now traversed by Public Service Electric lines where once trolleys carried passengers making various stops along the way.
On November 2, 1903 a private trolley car owned by Edward Radel, a New Jersey trolley entrepreneur, ran from Trenton to Jersey City as the first car over the soon to be called "Fast Line."1 Regular passenger service began on May 13, 1904. However, the four daily round trips over the 72 miles of track took 5 ½ hours each way versus the Pennsylvania Railroad's 2 plus hour time from Trenton to Newark. Scheduling was later improved and by August 4, 1904 trolleys began hourly runs with half-hour service between Trenton and New Brunswick.
In 1904 the Camden
and Trenton Railroad was completed and through car service was linked
to the Trenton and New Brunswick line with other connections to Jersey
City. Passengers could now travel from New York to Philadelphia in eight
hours. At the time critics predicted failure for the line's rural route.
However, as many as 2003 passengers once road the rails in 1903 with an
average daily ridership of 650. Innovations by a superintendent named
Wagenhals* like late cars for theater patrons, a smoking car, along with
special promotions for trips to the State Fairs in Trenton helped popularize
trolley use. 2.
By 1906 the New Jersey Short Line Railroad began constructing an electric railroad from Bayway to Milltown that would directly connect Newark and Trenton. However, in 1908, the Short Line, New Brunswick and Trenton, and Camden lines were bankrupt. Public Service acquired control of the successors of the bankrupt roads in 1912. The Public Service Corporation of New Jersey was formed in 1903 and by 1904 had begun to take control of most of the trolley systems in central New Jersey. They supported the trolley system with investments for new trolleys and improved routes. In 1912 the route was shortened to improve speed. Besides purchasing the Trenton and New Brunswick trolley line, the company shortened the route north of New Brunswick to Elizabeth.
The "new" Fast Line officially opened on July 1, 1913 from Trenton to New Brunswick. Running time between Newark and Trenton was cut in half. There were also new electric cars 44 feet long with a top speed of 60 mph. A few weeks later the Public Service Railroad Company was created on July 29, 1913. In 1913 the fare was $.95 one-way from Newark to Trenton and $1.45 one-way from Newark to Camden. Local stops were in Plainsboro, Dayton and Deans; Dayton, most likely at the Georges Road crossing at the current Liberty Mall and Deans, most likely at Deans Rhode Hall Road or on Davidsons Mill Road.
However, after World War I, passenger use declined. Beginning in 1924 the "Fast Line" was "split" at New Brunswick. Ridership and revenues began to drop seriously in the early 1920s. Competition with the Pennsylvania Railroad and the automobile were the main causes. The PSRR tried various strategies to cut their mileage costs. In January 1924 they split the line at New Brunswick ending through service between Newark and Trenton. Heavy interurban trolley cars were replaced on the section of the line between New Brunswick and Trenton. But even this plan did not last more than a few years. Then they fares were reduced to help bring back lost riders. They even tried special tickets for frequent riders.
These changes were not successful. Experiments with a rail-bus that had tires, but could also ride the rails began at least by 1927. By 1934 rail-busses were used on the ex-Fast Line rails, running three daily trips between New Brunswick and Trenton. Finally on January 16, 1936, the Trenton-New Brunswick line ceased operation. A section north of New Brunswick remained in operation until the end of service on May 11, 1937. After this the Fast Line track was taken up and later replaced with steel towers for electric transmission lines.
Technical sources note that the rail tracks were built of 80 lb. T-section rails, bonded with 10 inch copper joiners. Turnouts were located at various places along the single track sections. "Electricity for the rails south of Milltown (to Trenton) was supplied from [the] Milltown power house and [the] Plainsboro substation. The chestnut wood poles for the overhead trolley wire were set at 100 foot intervals along the right-of-way."
Chart on distances on the trolley lines through South Brunswick as listed in Public Service Trolley lines in New Jersey. First is Distance between points according to Public Service. Then Distance from Neward and Trenton. Place Name for location; Miles between points from the North going South and from the South going North; Miles from Newark going South and miles from Trenton going North. When D.T. (Daylight Time) is given there is a slightly different mileage between points and distance from Newark/Trenton when S.T. (Standard Time) is given. S.T. is not included on this chart, so as not to be confusing.
* Wagenhals may have lived South Brunswick Township. A Fred Wagenhals appears on the 1930 Federal Census for South Brunswick and there are pictures of him (supposedly) at a trolley station. He operated an auto garage.?
1. Public Service
Trolley lines in New Jersey. Edward Hamn, Jr. 1991.