Winslow Junction is located at the edge of the New Jersey Pine Barrens almost exactly half way between Philadelphia and the resorts in Atlantic City. The site is surprisingly rural for something set in the most densely populated area of the United States. However, 100 years ago Winslow Junction could boast some of the highest traffic densities in the world as two railroads competed to bring millions of middle and working class passengers to the fun and leisure of the New Jersey shore.
In the few decades between the time when workers developed the ability to enjoy leisure time in the late 19th century, and when private automobiles and inexpensive air travel expanded their options in the mid 20th, Atlantic City was one of several resort cities that owed their fortunes to efficient rail transport. Like Brighton Beach, New York and Brighton, England, Atlantic City relied on a conveyor belt-like system of trains that whisked holiday seekers from the urban core to the beach in the brief period when they were released from their jobs. Winslow Junction sat at the nexus of this system, located at the point where the Central Railroad of New Jersey’s Southern Division crossed both the Camden and Atlantic (PRR) and Atlantic City Railroad (Reading) main lines. It was also the point where the ACRR’s Cape May branch split off from their Main Line with additional connections to the CNJ for its famed “Blue Comet” express service to New York City.
Improving road transport brought rapid change to the Atlantic City travel market and in 1933 the competing Pennsylvania Railroad and Reading System operations were merged into the Pennsylvania-Reading Seashore Lines. In 1934 the state of the art WINSLOW tower and its associated interlocking was constructed to bind the system together at its nexus point, replacing older mechanical towers and antiquated signaling. The air operated switches and cab signals were installed on over 5 route miles of track, all controlled from a single power interlocking machine in a brand new brick tower.
However the story of Winslow Junction from then on would be mostly one of decline. As Atlantic City faded, tracks were cut back and the main lines were downgraded. Finally, in 1983. passenger service to the shore was suspended and the interlocking plant in the middle of the Jersey pines was shuttered for good. Fortunately, state ownership meant that the artifacts were largely left in place. Reconstruction of the Atlantic City rail line in 1989 swept away some of the decay, but the tower’s unbroken windows still let in sunlight to shine on the Model 14 interlocking machine for nearly 20 years before they were boarded up.
The main line to Atlantic City that in its heyday hosted the fastest scheduled passenger train service in the world is now a single track line with short passing sidings and a top speed of 80mph. The interlocking that remains in sight of the tower is just a single crossover at the south end of one of those sidings. The former southward main is now just a glorified storage track, albeit one sporting 136lb main line rail with some joints still still paper thin.
Year by year, bit by bit, more of Winslow’s history succumbs to collectors, vandals and nature. The telegraph poles have fallen to those interested in the copper wire or blue glass insulators. The power supply was bulldozed for PCB remediation and even the half mile long ramp for the Cap May flyover was completely harvested for its supply of high quality construction sand.
If anything, Winslow Junction is a testament to the force of nature to reclaim that which humanity tried to assert its dominance over.
At the same time it is a testament to those materials of the analogue age that continue to resist the forces of nature, decades after being left to fend for themselves. Creosoted wooden ties, lead painted pipelines and even rust covered structural steel still stand strong.
Many of the classic PRR position light signals at Winslow Junction were salvaged by local railroad enthusiasts during the Amtrak rebuilding project in the late 1980’s, however the former 8L signal stationed at the south junction of the connector track was rolled down the embankment to fade away.
The track connecting the former Atlantic City Line to what became the Conrail Beesley’s Point freight line saw a brief resurgence after the tower was closed as it was the only way that Atlantic City bound freight traffic could access the line after the portion between the Delair Bridge and Winslow Junction was taken out of service. When the line was rebuilt the interchange moved to SOUTH WINS interlocking and the S-curving connector was left to the weeds. In addition to the rails, this NJT friction bearing M of W flatcar found itself stuck in time.
Winslow Junction was built with no fewer than 6 rail-rail overpasses to allow movements to pass by each other without conflict. This amount of “flight” is typically reserved for busy urban junctions like Zoo, Harold or Jamaica. Elsewhere in the country, junctions similar to Winslow would have consisted of flat switches and diamond crossings.
The air for the switches was supplied by nearly 2.5 miles of pipeline, originating at WINSLOW tower and then following the CNJ Blue Comet connection up to the ACRR junction before splitting, with one line continuing down the Cape May branch and the other using the connecting track to serve the switches around the flyover bridge on the former PRR main line. Most of this impressive compressed air system was left in place where it is slowly being covered by leaves and vegetation.
Surprisingly this isn’t the only abandoned pipeline at Winslow Junction. On the remaining connecting track between the CNJ and Reading are a collection of concrete blocks dating from before even the depression era WINSLOW tower. These are foundations for the mechanical pipes that ran from the original ACRR Winslow Jct tower to switches and signals on the CNJ connection.
Nearly invisible from the track and ensconced in a thicket of brambles and weeds, the foundation for the 1890’s vintage Reading owned ACRR tower can still be found. The upper level was razed in 1934; the basement continued to be used as a remote relay room and possibly as a secondary air compressor station. Today, still water tight, it is used as a clubhouse for local teens, looking to consume adult beverages away from the prying eyes of adults.
Winslow Junction is a double accident of history. Constructed in the middle of nowhere to take the masses to the shore in the pre-auto era, it was left to fade away due to having become the ward of a state that couldn’t be bothered to properly dispose of it. Hopefully its secrets will linger on to inspire future generations of trackside explorers.
(All photographs were taken in November, 2015. Click here to view additional photos from Winslow Junction.}