A History of the West Shore Rail Line in Teaneck
By Richard Kunath
When the railroad tracks were built through Teaneck in the 1870s, they cut through the farms of George Blanck and Charles Kuntze creating the need for a bridge over the tracks, now the site of Sagamore Ave. and Grayson Place. The first bridge burned down due to sparks from the steam engines. This was corrected by putting strainers on the stacks of the engines. Several one-lane bridges were built on this site until a two-lane bridge was built in 1967 known as the Grayson Place Bridge, which joins with Sagamore Ave. About 200 feet north of this was another bridge. The stone foundation is still visible today. This could possibly be the original cattle bridge between the two farms, but no one really knows.
The New York Central Railroad acquired control of the West Shore Line, in the 1880s. Both passenger and freight service were used which originated in Jersey City (via the Weehawken tunnel) to Albany, New York
By 1907, 66 passenger trains per day went through Teaneck. Not all trains went to Albany. Most were local passenger service that terminated in Haverstraw or Newburgh, New York. Express passenger service was very popular for vacations in the Catskill Mountain resorts. Southbound passenger service terminated in Weehawken, at the Hudson River where the New York Central Ferry crossed the Hudson River to 42nd St. in New York City.
In 1926, the New York Central decided to go from two tracks to four tracks. This project required a massive grading and restructuring of the tracks The machinery used to do this was the same used to excavate the Panama Canal. This resulted in eliminating four grade crossings in Teaneck: Vandelinda Ave., Cedar Lane, Colonial Ct., and Tryon Ave. The Cedar Lane crossing was a very steep grade. It was made of cobblestone to assist horses up the hill to Palisades Ave. This is the site of the current bridge crossing the tracks. Before this project, the hill by H.J. Tulp Real Estate leading up to where the bridge is now did not exist, but was level ground. The hill on Cedar Lane that is seen now is a man-made grade to accommodate height clearance over the tracks for the new bridge. The safety record of the tracks through Teaneck is not bad considering that they have been there for 120 years. In the late 1930s a tragedy occurred at the old West Englewood Ave. crossing (now the site of an underpass). A deaf man operating a vegetable wagon being pulled by a horse did not hear an approaching train and was hit reportedly in full view of several school children on their way home from school. In the 1960s a 15-car derailment occurred when vandals threw a switch at an industrial siding track at a factory behind Herrick Park.
On a less serious note, many years ago a young Teaneck boy, who shall remain nameless (it was not me) hid on the Grayson Place Bridge train signal platform facing south waiting for a northbound train. He heard a whistle in Bogota and got ready for his mischievous prank. Just after the train went under the Cedar Lane bridge, he waved a lantern back and forth to the approaching train. The engineer, thinking it was a distress signal, halted the train into an emergency stop. After the police were called, the young rascal ran and hid in the weeds up by Route 4 and got away. During the 1960s, hanging out underneath the Grayson [Street] bridge was a favorite pastime for me and my pals, Bill Panzenhagen and Robert Birney.
When Franklin D. Roosevelt was president, there were many occasions when he would take the train from Washington, D.C. to his home in Hyde Park, New York. On board the special bulletproof Presidential Pullman car called "The Magellan," he would pull into Jersey City where his car was switched from the Pennsylvania Railroad to the New York Central. Roosevelt liked trains and directed the entire itinerary himself.
The Presidential train then proceeded north through the Weehawken Tunnel on the West Shore line through Teaneck with its final stop in Hyde Park.
During the years of passenger service, there were two stations in Teaneck. The north one was in the West Englewood section near Goodmans Hardware on Palisades Ave. The other one was just north of Cedar lane, which is now a parking lot for a large medical building on Palisades Ave. A commuter ride to New York in 1954 took 35 minutes, including the ferry across the Hudson, which was provided by the railroad. The cost was 46 cents. There were 14 morning rush hour trains to New York City between 5 a.m. and 9 a.m.
The last year for steam engines on the West Shore Line was 1952. Engine No. 4525 departed north from Weehawken, through Teaneck and on to Albany for the last steam ride, paving the way for diesel service.
By the mid-1950s, the railroad was losing money on the passenger operations. It ceased all ferry and passenger service in 1959 leaving only freight service.
The New York Central merged with the Pennsylvania Railroad in the 1960s then went bankrupt in 1976. The West Shore Line is now called The River Line and is operated by Conrail Corp. Today at least 20 freight trains pass through Teaneck every day.