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Black River & Western Railroad working to restore service between Flemington and Lambertville

Lambertville hasn’t seen regular train service since 1997, but Ringoes-based Black River & Western Railroad (BR&W) is working to change that.

The focus is on weekend tourist excursions, not commuter service, with steam engines being used about half the time.  BR&W also envisions service to holiday themed events, trips to Delaware & Raritan State Park, and trains providing access to special events in downtown Lambertville.

The Flemington Branch of the railroad runs north to Flemington and Three Bridges, and the Alexuaken Division meanders south 2.5 miles to Bowne Station, then continues another 4.5 miles to Lambertville. BR&W volunteers are working to replace ties and clear brush along the 4.5 miles of track to Lambertville. The company hopes to start service within two years.

Founded in the early 1960’s by a group of friends with an interest in steam railroading, the first BR&W passenger trains between Flemington and Ringoes operated under a lease agreement with the Pennsylvania Railroad, which still operated freight service on the line. BR&W purchased the line from Lambertville to Flemington, later added the former Central Railroad of New Jersey line from Flemington to Three Bridges, and entered the freight business. BR&W currently serves several industrial customers in Hunterdon and Warren counties.

Working on the tracks

But the heart and soul of the railroad remains the steam locomotive, with its storied history and iconic whistle.

“Our mission is to preserve and educate the public about railroads and railroad history,” explained Scott Kwiatkowski, a member of the management committee of BR&W and  superintendent of the Alexauken Division. “We’ll operate a 1937 Alco steam engine every other weekend. As with any 80-year-old piece of equipment, there’s always maintenance items that we’ll keep an eye on and improve, so if something acts up — like the air compressor governor — we’ll look at it during the week to make sure it’s working just the way we want.”

Kwiatkowski said the steam engine will run every weekend during the Christmas season. He’s been with the railroad 27 years, and wears many hats in his role.

“Sunday, I was cleaning trash cans, then repairing track, working on locomotives, and stocking stuff in the store,” he said.

Work on the railroad, most of it performed by volunteers, is demanding and highly regulated.

“We’re all subject to random drug tests,” noted Kwiatkowski. “We all go through rigorous testing and training to ensue the safety of our volunteers and visiting public.”

Bowne Station

The ultimate destination for the rail line is Lambertville Station, now housing a popular restaurant, historically significant in itself for its role in the emergence of the city from the shadow of New Hope as a tourist site. BR&W is talking with restaurant owners on ways to make the new arrangement work for both.

“We have to come to some agreement with the station,” said Kwiatkowski.  “We own the platform, so we have to work out with Lambertville Station exactly where passengers will be boarding and buying tickets.”

When each train is ready to return north, it will head slightly south of the station to where a side track will allow for repositioning the engine.

“The train will pull down into the runaround, take the engine from one end, and put it on the other for their return trip,” Kwiatkowski explained.

While many in Lambertville, particularly long-time residents, feel a sense of nostalgia in seeing the locomotives of their youth return to the city, there is also concern in some quarters about the potential environmental impact of renewed train service, including noise, smoke, and diesel engine exhaust.

Several residents were unhappy with extensive tree cutting near the tracks along the Delaware & Raritan Canal, but that was eventually determined to have been performed by the New Jersey Water Supply Authority, who said it was part of an effort to secure the aging stone walls of the waterway.

Most recently, some residents have been alarmed by the application of herbicide along the rail line.

“Sometime today, Black River & Western Railroad sprayed Helostate Plus going up to the trestle bridge and for 12 feet along railroad tracks,” wrote Lindsay Gallagher on June 5 in the Lambertville 2.0 Facebook group. “Helostate contains glysophate, which is the cancer causing agent in Roundup. My concern is it seeping into the ground and effecting the canal. Trout are stocked there as well it being home to geese, ducks, frogs and turtles.”

Kwiatkowski disagreed.

“The chemicals we use all meet New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection guidelines, so we do all of our herbicide application per those guidelines, and they’re very safe for the environment,” he said. “We encourage people to stay off the tracks for safety of themselves and their pets. It’s private property.”

“We will probably provide a benefit to the environment by getting cars off the road,” continued Kwiatkowski. “Train travel is naturally fuel efficient, and no more of an environmental concern than the average automobile.”

Kwiatkowski believes that that the revival of train service to Lambertville will be a big plus for the city’s economy, while helping to keep alive the allure of American railroading.

 “Lambertville used to build railroad locomotives — there’s a lot of railroad history in Lambertville,” he observed. “We look forward to working with City of Lambertville and all the residents on the option the train will provide as another tourist attraction.”

About the author

Charlie Sahner

“Once you can accept the universe as matter expanding into nothing that is something, wearing stripes with plaid comes easy." - Einstein


  • I wonder how many of the people whining about the Black River and Western are people that moved out of the cities and built their McMansions which could easily be considered gaudy and obnoxious. I spent the majority of my life in Hunterdon County and love the BR&W. If y’all have a problem with things in Hunterdon County, maybe you would feel better moving back to the cities. You chose to move to the “country” and then wanted to change things to suit your needs instead of blending in. Y’all can go pound salt as far as I’m concerned. I’m glad that I have moved to Kentucky where I don’t have to deal with stuck-up city scum.

  • Wow the hate of liberals is unreal! If you don’t like trains, don’t buy property next to railroads. The train is coming back and you can’t stop it. Enjoy.

  • I applaud the BR&W for investing in their operations and bringing new business to Lambertville. Those complainers about herbicides should look no further than their well-manicured, weed-free lawns to find the worst environmental violators. If there is a well-known drug problem near the tracks in your town, can you not ask your own police to investigate? I do not envy “the millionaire” Burenga for being stuck owning a struggling business that competes with government-subsidized trucking and, frankly, doubt the railroad makes much money at all, after maintenance costs.

  • I live in West Amwell, right by the tracks. I look forward to the train coming in. I, and my family will use it every time town is crowded and there is no parking. Shad Fest, fireworks, every summer weekend. We all know parking is horrible in town. It will be a great convenience for anyone living around here. It will also benefit Flemington and there failing outlets. Easy transition to shopping in both towns. Seems like a win, win to me. As far as eating at the station. The RR owns the platform, they can do whatever they want with it. (The food is overrated anyway).

  • I suggest we try to have a civil conversation without calling each other names because we have different opinions.

    Here are a few facts:

    1. There are many BR&W railroad enthusiasts, but few would argue with the statement that the BR&W is a vanity project driven by Mr. Burenga, a politically-connected millionaire who lives in Ringoes and is happy to have the tracks running through his property.
    2. New repairs and upkeep are done by “volunteers” and paid for (at least in part) by Internet funded donations.
    3. The BR&W is a BUSINESS, part of it is an Historical Trust “non-profit”. Check their web site and try to figure out what part is non-profit.
    4. When the B&RW had a “freight business” to Lambertville, they warehoused tanker cars of toxic cancer causing PCBs on the tracks at both ends of town (for years?). After many complaints and objections from the “whiners” and various authorities concerned about possible contamination of water, the canal, and canal path, these were eventually removed.
    5. The previous tourist train was shut down between Lambertville and Ringoes after damage from Hurricane Floyd made one or more of the railroad bridges unsafe, and too expensive to justify repair.
    6. An engine moving “slightly south” of the Lambertville Station to change directions means about as far as Cavallo Park. Take a walk on the far side of the canal to check this. The train will run and residents and tourists will see and hear and smell the train along the Delaware Canal Path from Cavallo Park to Alexauken Creek.
    7. Watch one of the many BR&W promotional videos , and decide for yourself if the chugging, rumbling, rattling, clanking and smoke and steam belching of the antique engine is either noisy or polluting. Walk to New Hope to see what a diesel engine does to the air.
    8. The train will impact traffic. By reducing auto traffic from Flemington to Lambertville? Not likely, but definitely by requiring autos to stop for trains on Route 29, Coryell Street, and Bridge Street. (Who will pay for painting the street markings, and repair or replacement of the currently broken railroad crossing signs?)
    9. Many, not “several” residents were concerned about the railroad tree clearing of approximately 200 trees by the New Jersey Water Supply Authority. And few were convinced that the work served anyone but the BR&W.
    10. A DEP investigation confirmed that the BR&R followed the letter of the law in their recent track herbicide spraying. As for the “spirit” of the law and keeping residents informed? A notice in the Hunterdon Democrat doesn’t really do the trick. How about coming to one of the open town meetings, or advising the Environmental Commission of such activity before it creates a fuss? (Check the City Web Site , not Facebook.)
    11. Requests by people in town and canal and park authorities to get the B&RW to remove or clean up the trash heaps, smoldering campfires, and drug refuse inside and around the abandoned rail cars at both ends of town have been ignored. If Mr. Kwiatkowski really wants to work with the residents and City of Lambertville he should show us the courtesy of starting there.
    12. In fairness, the Free Press might present a few “before and after” photos of the tree stump carnage along the tracks near Finkles in addition to the quaint press release railroad photos.

    I get it. I had a Lionel train. Railroads have a certain appeal. We hear about their benefits, let’s also remember they were built largely by enslaved peoples, owned by and benefitted monopolists, enabled the massacre of hundreds of thousands of American Bison, and were the downfall of Native Americans.

    It’s fun to ride a railroad once. I did that at Disneyland. But I don’t want one in my home every weekend.

    • Very well said Christopher. It’s laughable to think there is any environmental benefit to having this type of toy train returning to regular service in Lambertville. As far as nostalgia goes – maybe we should return the bridge to a private toll bridge with a trolley. Perhaps we should bring back leased gasoline and big cars without pollution control devices. Or better yet – maybe we just dump our sewage in a hole in the yard or the street…

      As humans get smarter about the environment we learn from the past and improve… not hide behind nostalgia to run an unnecessary toy train that will only benefit the railroad.

    • Typical Lambertville liberal Haha. Brings up slaves making railroad tracks when talking about a local railroad.

  • I have read this paper (website) for many years and this article is unfortunate. If you had tee’d up that quote about their spraying a *known carcinogenic substance* any higher for him we would have been watching it from the grass at Ely field.

  • I, and many local residents, agree with Zac and are concerned with the environmental impact. The only one benefiting from this project is BR&W. It is interesting that there has never been a response from BR&W, despite multiple attempts, as to why the railroad does not maintain the abandoned rail car on the towpath. The area is full of garbage and there was a small fire at the rail car last year which was attended to by Lambertville fire and police depts. If BR&W can’t take care of its existing property how can we trust that they will well manage this new endeavor? I understand the railroad has right of way and will proceed as they want. Let’s just be clear that this is ultimately a moneymaker for BR&W and has nothing to do with anything else. Their disregard of the impact to the environment and community is reprehensible. Lambertville does not need a tourist railroad.

  • Zac is just another whiner who wants to stifle history and the importance of it. The fact of the matter is, the railroad OWNS that trackage and can do what they want, they are just trying to make sure they consider the people of the area as a curtiousy. There’s always some putz trying to put a negative spin on something and i guess it’s Zac’s turn this time. Just a sad little man.

  • I am all for the railroad coming back to our town. If you know Lambertville’s History we were in the locomotive business. The only people that are against it aren’t even from here, most come from New York with their noses in the air and want to change this town into something it’s not!! We have dealt with our trees being torn down to build your homes, and you have the audacity to be concerned about a train!!? Give me a break!!! Bring our train back!!!

  • The idea that the reopening of the railroad will in any way benefit the city of Lambertville, or that it will “benefit the environment by getting cars off the road” is a joke. This is an expensive pet-project that serves a small group of railroad enthusiasts at the expense of Lambertville residents.
    Is there a transport or recreational need for railroad service between Lambertville and Ringoes/Flemington? No. For commuters there is greater need for rail or bus service between Lambertville and the Trenton Transit Center. For recreational railroaders there are already the options of the New Hope & Ivyland RR and the section of BR&W RR running between Ringoes and Flemington.
    Environmentally I’m sure BR&W only uses the finest herbicides along the tracks but what about the noise pollution? What about the exhaust from the diesel trains and the string of idling cars along bridge street that will be halted ever time the train crosses? Weekend traffic is already a nuisance in town and is likely to be magnified by this project.
    Thank you for reporting on this topic. Please continue the conversation with a more balanced piece about how this project will impact our community.

    • A more balanced piece will include interviews with Lambertville business/home owners located next to the tracks. Conduct the same interviews with business/home owners who live along the New Hope & Ivyland RR tracks. I’m sure they are not happy. When/if this happens, I will never eat outside at Lambertville Station again.

      • Nobody will. How are they going to pull a steam engine train up inches from somebody’s table? Just take a walk down there and look at how close those tracks are to the outdoor deck at the station. It makes no sense!

        • Most ridiculous sentence in the entire story. “One can imagine that the arrival of a train would be an exciting event for diners, especially those seated out of doors.” With any luck two dozen motorcycles will go by at the same time!

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