Built in 1876, the railroad branch line was used for passenger and freight traffic. The type of freight most commonly moved was iron ore from mines in Morris County to be used in the foundries at High Bridge or Wharton. In 1976, the branch was deemed redundant by its new owner, Conrail, and the rails were dismantled in 1980. Since then, it has been a recreational trail serving the surrounding communities. In the mid-1990s, Columbia Gas Company bought the trail right-of-way and laid an underground gas pipeline under the right-of-way along the length of the trail. The trail and bridges were resurfaced in 2004. The Hunterdon County Department of Parks and Recreation and Morris County Department of Parks and Recreation now operate and maintain the trail under lease, although ownership of the right-of-way remains with the Columbia Gas Company. Lewis H Taylor a member of the trustees of the Central Jersey Railroad brought the railroad in to High Bridge originally to bring coal to fuel the Taylor Wharton Iron and Steel Company, the oldest foundry in United States History. This connects to the Taylor Steelworkers Historic Greenway.
Ironically, a train wreck that occurred on the trestle on April 18, 1885, when an iron ore train led by the Columbia Engine derailed and crashed on the trestle and into the river below. IRON MINE RAILROAD OF NORTHERN NEW JERSEY, by Larry Lowenthal, indicates this was engine 112 and does not indicate it had a name. The trail is, instead, most likely named for the Columbia Gas Pipeline. Minutes of meetings in Hunterdon Parks indicate that Hunterdon suggested the name "Columbia Trail", much to the satisfaction of the gas company. Recent oppositions to gas utilities, and their relationship to hydraulic fracturing (aka "Fracking") have spurred public outcry to rename the route "High Bridge Branch Trail", a more historically accurate and less controversial tag. Furthermore, it may be considered a conflict of interest for a government agency to promote a private industry such as Columbia Gas in name and associated publications (tax payer funded maps, guides, interpretive signage, etc.).
Read more about this topic: Columbia Trail
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