History of the Jersey Shore Commuters Club
The Jersey Shore Commuters Club, Inc. has been in continuous operation since 1933 on New Jersey Transit’s North Jersey Coast Line. The JSCC, a private, not-for-profit organization incorporated in the State of New Jersey, has leased a private commuter railcar from NJ Transit and its predecessor railroads since its founding, and is one of only two organizations of its type left in the United States. The JSCC was founded under the Pennsylvania Railroad, and has been hosted by Penn Central (1968-1976), Conrail (1976-1983) and NJ Transit (1983-present). One reason why it has survived this long is because, unlike the numerous private commuter club cars that operated on the New York & Long Branch (the railroad jointly operated by the PRR and Central of New Jersey and their successors prior to NJ Transit), the Club never owned its equipment—it always leased it.
The JSCC has a storied place in New Jersey railroad history. From 1933 to 1961, the commuter club car operated on the PRR’s “Broker” train between Bay Head, N.J., and PRR’s Exchange Place Terminal in Jersey City, N.J., using steam locomotives until they were replaced with diesels in the late 1950s. In February 1951, it was the last car in the consist when the “Broker” wrecked at Woodbridge, N.J., killing 85. There were no fatalities on the club car, but several injuries.
The PRR closed Exchange Place in November 1961; the “Broker” was one of the last trains to depart from that terminal the day it shut down. The “Broker” then ran between Bay Head and Pennsylvania Station New York, with an engine change from diesel to a GGI electric locomotive at South Amboy, N.J. The railcar that provided most of the service during that time, PRR P70 coach No. 1734, was custom-built by the PRR to JSCC specifications in 1966. It was equipped with a bar, refrigerator, lounge seats, and lockers, among other amenities. The interior was designed by the late Louis E. Cooke of Rumson, N.J., who had survived the Woodbridge wreck and actually jumped out of the car and ran back down the tracks to help flag down the following train. Cooke also designed the club’s logo, which is based upon the PRR’s famous keystone logo. No. 1734’s exterior was painted in the PRR’s standard Tuscan Red passenger car scheme, with the club’s name lettered in white against a bright red stripe below the windows.
The PRR went out of its way to accommodate the JSCC’s needs. For example, for a number of years, the club would hold its annual Christmas party aboard a refreshment bar coach or caf� coach or dining car attached to the commuter club car.
No. 1734 was retired, along with GGI electric locomotive No. 4877, by NJT on October 29, 1983, and replaced with a newer steam-heated car that was used until 1988. The venerable GG1s, which originally entered into service in 1938, were replaced with General Electric E60s acquired from Amtrak. Not much is known about the car that replaced 1734, nor have any photos of it been located. No. 1734 is now part of the United Railway Historical Society of New Jersey collection but would require a complete, extensive rebuilding and upgrading to return it to running condition and possible excursion service.
With the electrification of the North Jersey Coast Line completed from Matawan to Long Branch on July 2, 1988, direct service from points south of Long Branch to New York ended. Passengers either had to ride a shuttle from Bay Head to Long Branch and change trains or ride a through train from Bay Head to Newark (N.J.) Penn Station and later Hoboken, N.J., and catch the PATH, ferry, or Penn Station New York train at Newark. That year, NJT retired what little remained of steam-heated, mechanically air-conditioned cars, and replaced them with modern HEP (head-end power) equipped Comet II cars from Bombardier Transportation.
The JSCC arranged to lease one-half of a Comet IIB from NJT, No. 5759. This car served the JSCC for 15 years, operating between Long Branch and New York Penn in all-electric service, hauled by ALP-44 or ALP-46 locomotives NJT acquired new from Bombardier Transportation. Member Robert G. Lewis of Red Bank, the now-retired publisher of railroad industry trade magazine Railway Age, negotiated the lease with NJT. Lewis, who lives in Ormond By the Sea, Fla., also designed the interior of that half-car, equipping it with eight Amtrak recliner chairs and four tables, and a bulkhead with a door separating the club space from the regular passenger space. No. 5759 was identical in exterior appearance to the NJT fleet—an unpainted aluminum carbody with a black band over the windows.
In late 2002, No. 5759 was scheduled to be rebuilt along with the entire NJT Comet II fleet. NJT and the JSCC negotiated a new long-term contract. William C. Vantuono, a long-time JSCC member who had been hired by Robert G. Lewis in 1992 as an editor at Railway Age (and who has been editor-in-chief since 2000), worked with NJT, car rebuilder Alstom Transport and engineering consultant LTK Engineering Services to design a new half-car interior, complete with 24 Amtrak Metroliner-style reclining seats with flip-down trays (12 doubles) and two tables.
No. 5759 was overhauled, refitted, and renumbered 5459. It was the last Comet IIB rebuilt by Alstom at Hornell, N.Y. (All NJT Comet IIs and IIBs were rebuilt as Comet IIs, with no letter suffixes; cab cars were rebuilt as coaches.) Like 5759, it is no different in exterior appearance from the NJT fleet. Some $27,000 of JSCC funds were invested into 5459, which entered into service in January 2004. The club car operated on trains 3224 (eastbound Long Branch-New York Penn) and 3269 (westbound). It was always coupled next to the locomotive, usually one of NJT’s newer Bombardier-built ALP-46s.
In November 2009, the JSCC, returning closely to its 1933-1961 operating plan, began running between Bay Head and Hoboken Terminal on NJT trains 2304 (eastbound) and 2311 (westbound). Club Car 5459 is still coupled up to the locomotive, though now it’s a diesel-electric, usually a PL42AC.
Through the Jersey Shore Commuters Club, part of a grand tradition in railroading, and an interesting part of New Jersey railroad history soldiers on along the old New York & Long Branch. JSCC parlor car 5459 is open to any fare-paying NJT customer. All parlor car passengers are responsible for paying their own train fare.