Study Background

The Washington Secondary/Morristown Line Corridor extends from Phillipsburg to Morristown and provides rail freight access to businesses in Warren and Morris Counties.  Approximately twenty (20) businesses, located along the corridor and the connecting branch lines, rely on rail freight to receive commodities, ship finished products and compete in a global economy.  The bridge over the drain is structurally deficient and limits the weight of rail cars that can be carried across it resulting in the short-loading of many of the rail cars that serve the businesses along the corridor and the connecting branch lines.

Currently, loading of rail cars moved along the corridor is limited to 263,000 pounds (263K) per rail car.  Since 1995, the Association of American Railroads has maintained a national standard allowing loading of up to 286,000 pounds (286K) per rail car.  Improvements to the bridge to allow the movement of 286K rail cars would allow more cost-effective transport of materials to and from the rail-dependent businesses, supporting the growth of these business and the jobs and economic value they offer to the local and state economy.

This project is studying ways to provide freight transportation infrastructure that meets current industry standards in order to promote economic development and optimize freight movement particularly with the existing weight restrictions of the 3rd Avenue Drainage Culvert under the Washington Secondary/Morristown Line in Hackettstown.

Existing Conditions

The project area is located in the Town of Hackettstown, Warren County, New Jersey. The bridge is approximately 600 yards west of NJ TRANSIT’s Hackettstown Station, and consists of a single span concrete slab reinforced with encased steel rails supported on concrete/stone masonry abutments. The bridge currently carries two tracks, only one of which is active. The second track is in a deteriorated condition and is not serviceable.  This bridge serves to accommodate a mix of drainage pipes and stormwater runoff conveyed from the south side to the north side of the tracks.


Weight Restrictions

This bridge was most recently inspected by NJ TRANSIT in 2015.  The inspection analysis concluded that the bridge was not suitable for the movement of 286K rail cars. Key findings from the inspection report are as follows:

The superstructure is in fair condition. The concrete slab exhibits several fine transverse cracks with efflorescence throughout the length of the slab. There are several spalls and delaminations on the underside of the slab, partially exposing the moderately corroded bottom flange of six encased steel rails near the north end and nine steel rail bottom flanges near the south end. There is active leakage for half of the slab area. There are fine to medium cracks, light moss growth, and edge spalling on the north headwall extending approximately 1 foot into the slab.

The substructure is in good condition. The stone masonry abutments exhibit several areas of missing and deteriorated mortar with a small void at the north end of the east abutment and the south end of the west abutment near the base of the walls. There is a displaced stone 15 feet from the south end of the east abutment. The top concrete portion of the east abutment breastwall exhibits several fine vertical cracks throughout with minor scaling at isolated locations. The north wingwalls exhibit areas of missing mortar/small voids with heavy debris, moderate vegetation and moss growth.

The Washington Secondary/Morristown Line Corridor, which is the subject of this study, includes approximately 52 route-miles extending from Phillipsburg to Morristown and serves as the primary rail corridor for freight service to Warren and Morris County.  The line provides rail freight access to four branch lines that serve businesses in Morris and Passaic Counties.  A number of constraints to the weight (286K) and height (Plate F) of rail cars along the corridor limit the rail line’s utility and ability to effectively serve the freight rail served businesses located along the corridor and the connecting branch lines.

Upgrading key rail corridors to accommodate 286K Plate F railcars is fully consistent with the goals and priorities set forth in the NJTPA’s current Regional Transportation Plan, NJDOT’s Statewide Freight Plan, as well as the additional plans listed below which support investments in the rail infrastructure and eliminating weight and overhead clearance restrictions throughout the NJTPA region as well as New Jersey. Improvements to the rail service within the corridor would create opportunities for growing the existing rail served businesses and attracting new developments which would, as a result, increase the number of jobs as well as economic vitality of the region.

Other Considerations

This bridge is located within the Delaware Lackawanna & Western Historic Corridor and as such is likely considered an historic bridge of cultural and architectural significance.  Adjacent to the bridge is the site of the former Lackawanna Leather Co. tannery building.  Constructed in the early 1900’s, this building and remains of other associated buildings (foundations, etc.) may be considered of historic significance as well.

Prior studies, most notably the NJTPA’s Morris and Warren County Rail Corridor Study, completed in July 2013 suggested removing the bridge and replacing the existing concrete slab superstructure and abutments with a precast concrete box structure to accommodate 286k railcars.  Removal of the existing bridge would require coordination with New Jersey’s Historic Preservation Office.

Estimated Project Schedule

  • This effort began in March 2019
  • Completed Purpose & Need Statement, October 2019
  • Public Information Center #1, September 2019
  • Selection of Preliminary Preferred Alternative, December 2019
  • Public Information Center #2, February 2020
  • Final Concept Development Report, October 2020