Part of the unique Pennsylvania Reading Seashore Lines operation of Southern New Jersey, the Salem Branch extended from the Millville Branch in Woodbury NJ at Milepost 8.8 to the terminus of Salem NJ at Milepost 37.5 ending at the foot of Grant Street.
Originally a light density branch of the West Jersey and Shore System, a subsidiary of the Pennsylvania Railroad, the line was part of a larger operation that provided significant passenger and freight service to the agricultural areas and of course the Beach resorts of Atlantic and Cape May Counties. After increase auto traffic from the Delaware Bridge, now know as the Ben Franklin, rubber tired competition created a unique 60-30 partnership between fierce rivals Reading Company (Atlantic City Railroad) and Pennsylvania Railroad (West Jersey and Shore).
The Salem branch serves an agricultural region of the State that also hosts larger customers such as Anchor Glass and the large textile producer Mannington Mills both in Salem. Today the line South of Swedesboro is operated under contract with a host railroad, who interchanges traffic with Conrail Shared Assets (ironically another unique partnership of Norfolk Southern and CSX Transportation) but the tracks are actually owned by the County in an effort to preserve rail service on this aging line. Over the past several years there have been periods of much needed track and infrastructure work, but over all the line is in rough shape and trains creep along at a steady 10mph.
The line to me represents the typical rural branch line, running through beautiful little towns and representing a glimpse of the past with old mills, industry and railroad infrastructure that speaks of a simpler time. I have come back to this line, not far from my home, time and time again, to disconnect from cell phones and technology, making images of the towns and countryside that Salem branch serves.