Thursday, June 26, 2008

NJ Transit: Lackawanna Cutoff rail line won't carry freight

The following article appeared in The Star-Ledger on 6/19/08.
Also see our posting on Sunday 6-8-08.

NJ Transit: Lackawanna Cutoff rail line won't carry freight

by Jim Lockwood/The Star-Ledger
Wednesday June 18, 2008, 6:49 PM

A revived 7.3-mile stretch of the Lackawanna Cutoff in Sussex County would be for commuter trains only and would not be a freight line, officials said today during a public forum in Byram on the rail plan.

Responding to a resident's question about whether trash or freight would one day be hauled on the line, Jeff Stiles, an engineering consultant for NJ Transit, said, "NJ Transit does not and cannot operate freight. There are no plans or discussions on freight."

Stiles gave an overview of the $36.6 million rail-revival plan during a special meeting of the Byram Township Council. The session was held in response to the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority's June 4 funding approval of the cutoff section from Andover Township to Port Morris in Morris County.

That was a big step in a long-awaited plan to restore passenger rail service between Hoboken and Scranton, Pa., via the defunct 28-mile Lackawanna Cutoff in Warren, Sussex and Morris counties. The Andover-to-Port Morris section of the cutoff would be a spur off NJ Transit's existing Boonton line.

Asked about the project timeline, Stiles said, "If all the moons aligned, it would be three-to-four years at least before a train would be running in Andover."

Concerns also were expressed about the location and safety of a train station proposed to be built on rural, isolated Roseville Road in Andover Township, between Andover Borough and Byram. An "unmanned" station would consist of a boarding platform and parking for 65 vehicles. Stiles said NJ Transit would work with the local police departments on safety issues.

The rail plan is still in the environmental-assessment phase. If the Federal Transit Administration finds no significant impacts, as is expected, the plan would move on to engineering and design, and then to construction.

Restoring the cutoff is a key to a $551 million plan to revive a passenger rail line between Hoboken and Scranton. A revived line would ultimately link to New York City's Penn Station by connecting to NJ Transit's Montclair-Boonton and Morris & Essex trains.

Proponents of the plan see it as necessary to remove cars from congested Route 80 in New Jersey. Opponents say it would cause more sprawl and traffic in Sussex and Warren counties and the neighboring Poconos, and would not remove cars from Route 80.