The Forgotten Railways of Cape May, New Jersey

The Sometimes Train Tracks of Sunset Beach, as Atlas Obscura refers to them as, are old news to anyone whose followed abandoned railroad tracks for any length of time, but in 2014, it was one of the most fascinating stories I had followed that year. In that year, the railroad history of Cape May was revealed in the washing ashore of a former beach track of the Delaware Bay & Cape May Railroad. In low tides, the tracks have been revealed a couple times after their initial rediscovery as well.

The fact that railroad tracks could randomly appear on a beach with little explanation was an amazing thought to me, and definitely impacted my eventual study into the abandoned railroad network of the world. Even stranger, they aren't the only "sometimes train tracks"; the phenomena also occurred as recently as 1997 at Illinois Beach.


So what is the story behind these sometimes tracks, nearly seven years after they first erupted from the southern New Jersey sand?

Beach Tracks in 2014 via WHYY

Cape May, NJ, on the southern coast of New Jersey, actually had two railroads in close proximity to each other that ran to the beach; the Cape May and Sewell Point Railroad, and the Delaware Bay and Cape May Railroad. Both lines predated the turn of the 20th century, and were abandoned early in the century. The area was once home to 22 hotels, and thus tons of railroad activity as well.

The western line, the Delaware Bay & Cape May Railroad, was the one discovered. It was owned by the Cape May Sand Company and used to haul sand from the beach, and used an electric locomotive owned by the Reading Railroad. "Years later, officials in Cape May stopped the company from shipping sand off the beach at Cape May Point, fearing that it was the reason why the swimming beach was disappearing, Cook said." (WHYY)

Image: Reading Electric Locomotive. I don't think this was the exact locomotive that was used here, though. via Weird NJ

Right of way of the lines which terminated at the Cape May and Millville Railroad (in Blue). The CM&S ran east while the DB&CM ran to the west. Another unrelated spur in red inland is shown that was owned by the Reading Railroad.

While these spur tracks are interesting to say the least, they are a small part of the railroad history of Cape May. The longest abandoned railroad corridor actually paralleled the existing tracks between Cape May and Cumberland, NJ, about 34 miles in length. This track was owned by the Cape May and Millville Railroad, which later became the West Jersey and Seashore Railroad.

I'm not saying that a storm that blew sand in Cape May in 2014 was the cause of me building a map of abandoned railroad lines, but I'm also not not saying that. The butterfly effect is an incredible thing, to say the least.

Thanks as always for reading!


  1. The line running to the north of Sunset Boulevard seems to have been active after storms damaged and eventually destroyed the trolley car line along the beachfront in the 20s. From something I just read, it was built by the Cape May Sand Company to provide a more reliable service, then later used by the Magnentite company. Remnants still exist. If you visit the Willow Creek Winery, you can see some of the track either side of the drive and where it crossed Broadway alongside what is now Cape Winds Florist.


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