Lackawanna Plaza will be home to historic train car
(Courtesy Otto Vondrak)
A 1930 Lackawanna electric commuter car will make its way back home to the former Lackawanna Plaza Station in Montclair.
Last week, the train car was loaded onto a flatbed, traveling from its home of 37 years at the Rochester & Genesee Valley Railroad Museum in Rochester, New York to Morristown, New Jersey, where it will be restored to its former glory.
BDP Holdings expects to bring the restored train car — which carried passengers from Montclair to Hoboken and back for 54 years — to Lackawanna Plaza as part of its planned redevelopment of the site. BDP managing David Placek bought the property in 2021, saying he wanted to preserve “as much as possible” of the historic Lackawanna Station, built in 1913.
The station closed in 1981. The train car has been at the Rochester & Genesee Valley Railroad since it was decommissioned in 1984 and bought by the museum in 1985, museum president Otto Vondrak said.
The Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad No. 2628 was the last car on the last train of the Lackawanna Electric Multiple Unit fleet to depart Hoboken Terminal on Aug. 24, 1984, Vondrak said.
On Tuesday, April 26, the car made its way to the Tri-State Railway Historical Society in Morristown, a non-profit educational organization dedicated to the preservation of New Jersey's railroad heritage. The organization will oversee the renovation, according to a press release issued by BDP Holdings.
Soon after Placek purchased the property from Pinnacle Companies and Hampshire Companies, he sought out the Tri-State Railway Historical Society, which he said has revealed even more unknown features of Lackawanna Station. It was Tri-State officials that also located the car.
Placek said it was important that some kind of historic element become a permanent part of the redevelopment of Lackawanna Plaza — “something that gave a nod to the property’s past as a working train station.”
“Dave Placek is the right person in the right place at the right time for all the right reasons,” Mike Del Vecchio, director and past president of the Tri-State Railway Historical Society, who also serves as the project leader, and the history consultant and coordinator for the group, said. “In nearly 40 years, none of the surviving ‘Edison electrics’ have been restored until Dave came along. We look forward to installing the restored car in Lackawanna Plaza sometime in 2024 and celebrating this grand and famous fleet.”
Although converted to a retail center in the 1980s, Lackawanna Plaza still houses the original waiting and ticket area, a horse trough, the Grove Street stairwell, a baggage kiosk and the original large pylons on the Grove Street bridge. The train platforms and the overhead stanchions still exist, although enclosed by glass atriums to make a mall there in the 1980s.
BDP Holdings, will fund the cost of professional restoration, which will be completed in the Morristown & Erie Railway shop in Morristown. The rail car will be restored to its original historic appearance, Vondrak said.
Although the car ran for 54 years and has been outdoors for nearly 40 years at the museum, “unfortunately, the years have not been kind to our car,” Vondrak said. Corrosion from the outdoor elements caused a partial collapse of the roof. But, Vondrak said, the car is “pretty rare.” It is only one of a “handful” of 141 electric multiple-unit commuter coaches built in 1930 by Pullman.
The cars ran on high-volt DC and were self-propelled, drawing electric current from an overhead wire. The cars were decommissioned when NJ Transit, which took over the line, switched to a high volt AC system, Vondrak said.
“DL&W 2628 is, perhaps, the best surviving example of a Lackawanna motor,” Richard King, president of the Tri-State Railway Historical Society, said in a press release. He said that of the others that have survived, many don’t have the original components as they are repurposed into tourist trains.
“As it will be a static exhibit, DL&W 2628 will be made nearly original as possible,” King said.
Vondrak said the Pullman cars were known for their wide aisles, wide vestibules and wide steps that helped speed up passenger loading and unloading. The coach’s colors will be restored to its original Pullman colors of deep olive green on the exterior, and interior walls painted light buff above the windows, and green below. The rattan “walkover” seat backs, which moved to allow passengers to choose which ways they faced, will also be restored.
Placek said that the restoration could take a year or more.
Vondrak said museum officials are “over the moon” about the train car’s restoration and new home.
“This car will be an anchor at Lackawanna Station. It’s one thing to be able to walk around the station and on the platforms. It’s another to have an actual train from Lackawanna on display. It will build a bridge from the past to the future. To have it on display at the station it once served is the best possible outcome,” Vondrak said.
Lackawanna Plaza is being redeveloped by BDP Holdings, with an anticipated completion date of sometime in 2024 — though BDP would first need the Township Council to sign off on a redevelopment plan before moving ahead.
BDP hasn’t yet unveiled its plans for the plaza, but Placek has shared some details — including saying he’s inked a deal for a supermarket to be part of the redevelopment. He’s also planning more housing than the 154 units the Planning Board originally approved for the site’s previous owners, larger setbacks and community and green spaces, he said.
The site in the Fourth Ward has been without a supermarket since the Pathmark at Lackawanna closed in 2015.
“Bringing the restored DL&W 2628 to Lackawanna Plaza is going to take the project to a whole new level,” Placek said.. “Once Lackawanna Plaza is redeveloped, it will be home to the township’s largest food market, as well as offer a wealth of affordable housing and environmentally friendly buildings and landscaping. And once we install the train car, it also becomes a place where people can see a piece of Montclair’s history as they climb aboard DL&W 2628. I want to thank everyone at the Rochester & Genesee Valley Railroad Museum and Tri-State Railway Historical Society for helping us bring this amazing piece of history back to the Montclair community.”