The Real Black River & Western

The raison d'Ítre of my layout, the Black River & Western has been a modeling inspiration for me since I first rode it when I was ten. One of its distinguishing features is that, in addition to its regular tourist operation, it provides freight service for a number of industries.

History In a Nutshell

Founded by William Whitehead in the late 1950s, the BR&W began as a few hundred yards of track he laid in his back yard along the defunct Rockaway Valley Railroad. The expansion of I-78 halted his plans to start a railroad there, so he moved to the Chester Hill Branch of the Jersey Central, but that was cut short by the construction of I-80. The Black River in Chester did however inspire the name for the railroad.

Incorporated in 1961, the railroad was eventually moved to Flemington, and a leasing agreement was struck with the Pennsylvania Railroad to allow a tourist train to operate from Flemington to Lambertville on the Flemington branch of the Belvidere & Delaware River Railway, for which the BR&W paid $5,000 a year. Former Great Western 2-6-0 #60 pulled the first passenger train on 16 May 1965.

By March 1970, the BR&W had full ownership of the line, and with it came freight operations; interchanges were made with Penn Central at Lambertville and the CNJ in Flemington to serve customers in Lambertville and Flemington. When Penn Central went bankrupt, BR&W took ownership of a portion of the Belvidere line in Lambertville, as well as the CNJ portion of the line from Flemington to Three Bridges.

After Conrail took over Penn Central, the Belvidere line was abandoned in 1978, and track north and south of Lambertville was removed, although the BR&W continued serving freight customers in Lambertville through the 1980s. However, due to the poor track conditions between Ringoes and Lambertville, as well as dwindling freight service, operations along that leg ended in 1998.

In 2014, a separate non-profit entity known as the Black River Railroad Historic Trust announced plans to reactivate the line to Lambertville. Dubbed the Alexauken Division (for the Alexauken Creek, along which it runs), the line is expected to reopen around 2021; currently the line is open down to Bowne Station.

Principal Station Stops

The Model Railroad

My goal is to represent all of the major landmarks and features along the full length of the line, from Lambertville to Three Bridges. This naturally required considerable compression, with its 16 miles of track reduced to a little over one scale mile. However, given the size and shape of the space, it's still possible to achieve my primary goal, without resorting to hidden loops of track or other tricks.

As for operations, it will be run almost exactly the way its real-life counterpart does, with regular tourist passenger service as well as freight ops. I chose a "rubbery" range of 1970s-1990s as the time setting for the layout, allowing me to pick and choose the most interesting buildings, rolling stock, etc.

One distinct advantage of modeling this sort of line is that control is dirt simple: there's virtually no need to run more than one train at a time. So, no need for DCC! Additionally, I'm planning to operate the turnouts manually from panel-mounted knobs.

Further Reading


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