Rahway train station
By Jeff Jotz
The Rahway train station traces its history back to the earliest days of railroading in New Jersey. After the development of the first successful steam locomotive in America by John Stevens (of Stevens Institute of Technology Fame), the New Jersey Railroad began laying track for a mainline between New York and Philadelphia in 1831. By 1835, trains between New York and Philadelphia began stopping at Rahway.
The New Jersey Railroad was soon acquired by the growing Pennsylvania Railroad several years later and the railroad giant soon added trains from Rahway to the hundreds of destinations throughout the country served by the mighty Pennsy.
Around the turn of the century, the city and the railroad were concerned about the number of grade crossing accidents between trains and pedestrians and trains and vehicles through Rahway’s central business district. In 1913, the railroad right-of-way was elevated and a new granite and concrete station was built along Milton Avenue and Irving Street to replace the older wood-frame station.
For over 60 years, the Pennsy, which boasted of itself as "The Standard Railroad of the World," hauled freight and passengers from Rahway to the Jersey Shore, New York, Philadelphia and beyond, significantly boosting Rahway's importance as a manufacturing and residential center. The city’s commerce rapidly moved away from the old stagecoach roads and Rahway River to the train station downtown. In 1935 the railroad electrified the tracks through Rahway, providing city residents with a direct connection to Pennsylvania Station in New York City, as well as Trenton, Philadelphia, South Amboy and Washington. The railroad's huge, electric GG- 1 locomotives were a common sight in Rahway well into the early 1980s.
After the Pennsy merged with the New York Central in 1968 and changed its name to the Penn Central, the railroad, like many of its competitors, became mired in bankruptcy and financial woe. With funds from the New Jersey Department of Transportation, Penn Central constructed a new, "improved" station on the site of the old Rahway Penn Station in the spring of 1974. The station's design and the railroad’s spotty train service soon resulted in numerous headaches for commuters and neighbors as the Penn Central was transformed into Conrail in 1976 and the state reluctantly began investing dollars in passenger rail travel.
NJ Transit’s creation and subsequent takeover of the state’s commuter rail operations in the early 1980s brightened the picture considerably for rail service in Rahway. In 1991, New Jersey Transit expressed interest in replacing Rahway station with a brand new facility, correcting many of the flaws in the original Penn Central/NJDOT station. After meeting with Mayor James Kennedy and city officials, a design was chosen that would reestablish the station as a focal point for the central business district. Construction of the new station was completed in 1999 and was joined by a new public plaza in 2001. In April 2002, the plaza was recognized by Downtown New Jersey as the best new use of public space in New Jersey.
As of 2001, Rahway train station was serving an average of 2,644 passengers each day and is conveniently located along Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor. Both New York Penn Station and Trenton are only 35 minutes away by train from Rahway, and with the growth in passenger rail in New Jersey and throughout the nation, Rahway station may return as an important regional transportation hub.