Facebook Page
Route 22

Grade Crossing: Route 22
"The Gauntlet"
(Earlier Chester Road and Route 29)

This image appeared in the New York Times in 1970 in the article "That Train and Route 22"

In 1927 the New Jersey State Legislature created Route 29 to run between Trenton and Newark, two of New Jersey's most important cities. In the process Chester Road was absorbed into the new New Jersey Highway.


This 1923 aerial view shows the Chester Road grade crossing. As you can see, the area was mostly rural farmland at the time. Just to the north can be seen a RVRR locomotive switching a cut of cars at the Wright Chemical Company.
Collection of the Union Township Historical Society.

Anyone who lives in this part of New Jersey will surely know the perils of the infamous “Route 22.” Day after day countless cars, trucks, and motorcycles sit, paralyzed, in long lines of traffic that stretch for as far as the eye can see. Bumper to bumper traffic and blaring car horns, with a fender bender or two, is usually the norm for any weekday around five o’clock.

Now, take all of that and “couple” (no pun intended) it to the Rahway Valley Railroad. What you end up with is a very interesting, and dangerous, relationship that existed between a busy New Jersey highway and a short-line railroad.

After the Rahway Valley Railroad was formed in 1904 it began building north from New Orange (now Kenilworth) towards Summit. The first grade crossing the new railroad would encounter was Chester Road . At the time Chester Road was little more than a wide dirt and gravel thoroughfare with rush hour traffic consisting of an occasional horse and buggy.

Year after year the automobile became more and more in “vogue” and was making invasions into the Rahway Valley’s territory. Chester Road was no exception.


Then in 1927 the New Jersey State Legislature designated several roads as the newly created “Route 29,” to run between Trenton and Newark. Subsequent improvements were made to the newly designated cross-state route. The roadways were widened and eventually paved. Through Union Township the road was eventually upgraded to actually become two roadways, two lanes eastbound and two lanes westbound with a large center median.

What was once a small affair where rail met road quickly grew into a dangerous grade crossing, where the Rahway Valley Railroad did battle daily.

In 1953 Route 22 was moved to be concurrent with Route 29 between Bridgewater and Newark, therefore renaming that portion of Route 29 as Route 22.

No highway crossing in America, perhaps even the world, was as dangerous or as scary as the Rahway Valley Railroad’s crossing of Route 22
(Route 29 was designated as U.S. Route 22 in 1953). At grade, the railroad crossed two lanes eastbound and two lanes westbound of Route 22. For the entire existence of this grade crossing there were never any crossing gates.  Only in later years did the NJDOT install a set of flashing signals that resembled traffic lights, must less like railroad crossing signals.

At least twice a day, a flagman risked life and limb to stop the speeding cars of the infamous highway. There were several brush-ups over the years, involving train and motorist, most notably when a tractor trailer T-boned #17 and derailed the engine. One man said the railroad crossing resembled an Italian airport where a railroad line crossed right through the middle of it. (See That Train and Route 22).

Railroad president George A. Clark was quoted as saying in 1950, "That crossing's a son-of-a-gun," Clark says grimly. "We're afraid of it all the time, even though we've never had a serious accident and darn few minor ones. You know the law says trailer and tank trucks must stop at a grade crossing. I swear the majority don't stop. They absolutely do not. I sweat to think of what might happen." (From “New Jersey’s Streak ‘o Rust, John Cunningham, TRAINS Magazine, October 1950).

See also
Daily Dalliances With the New Jersey Motorist , and Truck Derails Locomotive.

Wm. Wyer & Co.
Report on Rahway Valley Railroad
August 1944

NJ State Highway Route #29, Union, N.J.

Eastbound Lane - One track (main).

Plank crossing.
Concrete road.
Vehicular - heavy (one way only).
1 P.U. Sign with reflector buttons.
Advance State Highway railroad sign.

Westbound Line One track (main).

Concrete crossing.
Concrete road.
Vehicular - heavy (one way only).
1 P.U. Sign with reflector buttons.
Advance State Highway railroad sign.

Wm. Wyer & Co.
Report on Rahway Valley Railroad
August 1944

The most heavily travelled [grade crossing] is a dual crossing over State Highway Route 29 in Union. A motor traffic survey made at this crossing on December 16, 1940 (a Monday on which heavy rain fell all day) indicated that 4,688 vehicles used the eastbound crossing and 3,949 the westbound, or a total of 8,637 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. The crossing was blocked by train movements on five instances but for only one minute in each instance. A similar survey made on Wednesday, December 18, 1940, when weather was clear, indicated that 5,201 vehicles used the eastbound crossing and 5,339 the wesbound, or a total of 9,540 between the same hours of 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Again the crossing was blocked on five instances by train movements, but only a minute each time.



Looking southward towards the Route 22 grade crossing. 3/1988. Photo taken by Jeff Jargosch.

Looking southward, Route 22. This view shows a great deal of detail about how the Route 22 flashers were activated. Inside the yellow box on the far left was a key switch which would turn on the flashers. The "traffic light" facing the rails would turn green once the flashers were on. The train, protected by a flagman, would then proceed through the crossing, first the westbound and then the eastbound lanes or vice versa. 1990. Photo taken by Peter Thornton, courtesy of Don Maxton.
The westbound flashers on Route 22. The flashers had the appearance of traffic lights, which was the idea. Motorists were more apt to stop for something that looked like a traffic light, than a typical railroad flasher. They were installed by the New Jersey Department of Transportation. 1990. Photo taken by Peter Thornton, courtesy of Don Maxton.

Looking southward towards the Route 22 grade crossing. 10/1990. Photo taken by Jeff Jargosch.

Looking northward. Route 22. 10/1990. Photo taken by Jeff Jargosch.

#16 backs a single boxcar across Route 22 Eastbound, having just crossed the Westbound lanes. 1985.
Photo taken by Carl Perelman.


Wyer, Dick, & Co.
Report on Rahway Valley Railroad
December 4, 1969


One item of particularly immediate importance of the Rahway Valley Railroad study is the Route 22 grade crossing. We have inspected the crossing and pictures taken that day are included in our file, and copies have been sent to Mr. Clark. The problem has been discussed with Messrs. Clark and Davis of the Railroad in order to obtain a history of the crossing and to determine the nature of the problem in more detail. We have also met with local officials of the State of New Jersey Department of Transportation (formerly the Highway Department) to determine licensing and design requirements.

Condition of Crossing

Route 22 at the point of the crossing is a high speed main artery for both car and truck traffic. The most recent traffic county available from the State indicated approximately 70,000 vehicles per day using the highway in that vicinity. From the rail side, normally only two movements a day are made over the crossing. In each case, the train is "flagged" across at slow speed.

Route 22 is a divided highway at this point with approximately three lanes of pavement in each direction, and the single track railroad crosses at approximately a right angle. The three westbound (or northerly) lanes are in reasonbly good condition at the point of the crossing. The track apparently was set in concrete with blacktop being subsequently applied for resurfacing. The blacktop has deteriorated badly and the surface of the concrete shows some deterioration. There is one rail joint in the crossing with is quite low.

The eastbound lanes (or southerly) are in much poorer condition at the point of the crossing. It would appear that this crossing is a combination of plank and bituminous filler. Based on a review of railroad files and our discussions with Railroad personnel, it would appear that repairing the blacktop is a continuous maintenance function on almost a weekly basis.

Recommendation for Westbound Crossing

Because of the apparently solid condition of the westbound crossing, we suggest limiting work at that point to removing the deteriorated concrete and bituminous surface and repaving with a heavy-duty asphalt wearing course . The low joint is not critical at train speeds but should be welded up and ground smooth.

Recommendation for Eastbound Crossing

Due to the poor condition of the crossing, it is necessary to remove the paving material and the track down to the ballast. The track should be rebuilt in first-class condition using second-hand rail but all other materials should be new. In order to insure permanence, it is suggested that treated ties, 7" x 9" x 8'-6," and 100# or 112# rail be used. Whereas the crossing is actually about 47 lineal feet of track, sufficient work should be done on each side to insure that the portion of track within the crossing holds in place. This would require at least an additional 15 feet of new track construction on each side of the crossing. Joints within the crossing should be field welded by a thermite process.

The elevation of the railhead should be such that it is approximately 1/4" higher than the grade of the pavement through the crossing. At present it is approximately 2" below grade making a dip in the highway having set the railhead at this elevation, it will probably be necessary to add some blacktop to the highway on each side of the crossing to achieve a uniform grade.

The selection of material for repaving has been one of most difficult considerations at this crossing. The American Railway Engineering Association specifications for crossing materials under such traffic conditions indicate a preference for either bituminous or fabricated timber crossing. Neither the State engineers nor Railroad have had any experience with fabricated timber crossings and are quite uncertain  as to their capabilities. Bituminous paving on the other hand has shown a very poor life at this crossing and is also, therefore, suspect. It is possible, of course, that if bituminous were properly laid and to the proper elevation that the life of the crossing would be extended over previous experience. In discussion with the State engineers, however, they suggest that the only material which has proven satisfactory for a crossing of this sort and under these traffic conditions is Paving (or Belgian) Block. They have provided a detail from a previous job using this paving material. A comparison of paving costs with these three types of material was made. Whereas the paving block has a much higher initial cost, the long-term maintenance is very low. The bituminous and timber crossings have a lesser initial cost but also have a lesser anticipated life. Therefore, assuming the Railroad is to be in existence for some years to come, we recommend use of Paving Block for the surfacing material.

Department of Transportation Requirements

The local engineers of the Department of Transportation were most cooperative and helpful on this project. We are advised that the State does not specify the crossing materials in any manner. However, they do require that plans and specifications be submitted in advance for their review. This had not been required of the Rahway Valley Railroad in the past as previous repairs to this crossing by the Railroad were made "due to broken rail" and were, therefore, of an emergency nature. As the present file indicates that this subject of repairing the crossing was broached with the State in April, 1968, or thereabouts, it would be difficult to claim an emergency at this time. Upon application, the Department of Transportation will provide a letter of license to make the necessary repairs. This letter stipulates the various State requirements.

Previously, when repair work was done on the crossing, the State insisted that it be done in off hours. Because of the nature of this complete reconstruction and the feeling that it may be three or four working days, the engineers indicate that the Railroad could not be required to do that much work during off hours but will be permitted to close half of the single-direction lanes at a time. This means that much of the work could be done on a straight time basis as opposed to te penalty time paid previously. This is from informal discussion and we have no commitment to this effect.

Progressing Project

At present the Railroad has requested and received two proposals for replacing the crossing of the eastbound lanes. There is a wide difference in cost but the proposals are not on comparable work. In any event, both would seem too high. Presumably this reflects the contractor's provision for performing the work at penalty time rates for labor. We would suggest that negotiations be held with the low bidder to discuss more fully the specifications and to establish a revised cost reflecting agreement with the State on working hours and the new material specifications.


Because of the condition of the crossing at present, the poor maintenance history and the accident potential of a detiorated crossing, we recommend that action be taken to rebuild this crossing before winter sets in this year. Because of the State's review requirement and the need for advance publicity time to notify the public of the work, time is running very short.


The westbound lanes of Route 22 can be repaired with relatively little cost consisting primarily of welding up and grinding of one low joint and resurfacing the area of the crossing. The crossing of the eastbound lanes of Route 22, however, require reconstruction of the Railroad and the crossing pavement. For the crossing pavement, serious consideration should be given to Belgian Block with bituminous being the low-initial-cost alternate. Work should be progressed immediately on plans and specifications and a letter of request to the State in order to permit them to start moving, and negotiations should be undertaken with the contractor to establish a revised cost estimate.


#15 and Caboose 102 make their way north across Route 29, heading for the Maplewood Branch, in this 1950 view. Photo taken by Bruce Nett.

In this view #16 crosses westbound Route 22.
Photo taken by Jon Franz.

#16 has just crossed Westbound Route 22 and is on the switch for the Maplewood Branch, but is heading out on the mainline towards Springfield. Taken in 1986.

#16 with a single box car heads out of Kenilworth into Union about to cross Route 22 Eastbound. Photo taken by Jon Franz.

This June, 1980 view shows the UCTC Special making its way across the westbound lanes of Route 22 on its way to Baltusrol.
Collection of Paul Carpenito.

In this September, 1979 view #17 creeps across the eastbound lanes of Route 22 as disgruntled motorists are forced to sit and watch the 70-tonner perform her duties. In this photo can be seen the flashers installed by the NJDOT. Collection of Paul Carpenito.

#17 crosses Route 22 Eastbound. 3/1/1971. Collection of Frank Reilly.

#17 crosses Route 22 Westbound. 10/12/1971. Collection of Frank Reilly.

Head Back to the Station!