County: Somerset County
The Belle Mead train station was built in 1919 along the West Trenton Line in the Belle Mead section of Montgomery Township, Somerset County. This station replaced a c.1870s three-story station which was not conducive to contemporary needs. The station is built of red brick with chestnut trim and includes buildings on both sides of the tracks. The station was used until 1982, when the passenger rail service was deactivated. The rail line is currently utilized by CSX for freight service, but the vacant station has suffered from neglect and vandalism.
In the early part of this century, NJ Transit conducted feasibility studies to re-activate the West Trenton Line for passenger service. In consultation, the New Jersey Historic Preservation Office issued several opinions specifying that should the line be re-activated, the Belle Mead station should be rehabilitated. To date, the necessary funds have not materialized to re-activate the West Trenton Line. In the meantime, the historic Belle Mead station continues to deteriorate and suffer from neglect. As the station’s condition and integrity is further compromised over time, restoration will become increasingly more difficult.
Relying on the resurgence of a defunct passenger rail line is not the best option; however, there are numerous examples of railroad stations that have lost their original use as a station and been adapted for community, office, nonprofit, or other sympathetic uses. Take for example the Lake Hopatcong Station in Landing, which is currently being rehabilitated by the Lake Hopatcong Foundation as their headquarters and a center for educational and cultural programming; or the Demarest Railroad Station, which serves as a senior center and community meeting space. Restaurants are now located in the Upper Montclair Station, the Far Hills Station, and the Tenafly Station. The Glen Ridge Station is a youth and senior center during the week, and a rental space for parties and events on the weekends.
Increasingly historic train stations, even on active lines, are not used solely as ticket stations, but take on other uses under the control of municipal or nonprofit organizations. Given the lapse of years since the initial study, NJ Transit plans to embark on an update to the environmental assessment for the West Trenton Line soon. PNJ hopes that the assessment will not only recommend the rehabilitation of the Belle Mead Station should the passenger line be reactivated, but actively call for CSX to stabilize and secure the structures to limit further degradation. PNJ also recommends that CSX be proactive in finding an interested party to take on the responsibility of determining a compatible new use and undertake the necessary planning and preservation work to ensure the station’s long-term viability through adaptive reuse.
Preservation New Jersey