Sunday, June 08, 2008

Passenger Trains Coming Back to Part of the Lackawanna Cutoff - maybe

Following article is from the Star-Ledger dated 6/5/08.

Rail link to Pa. closer to revival
Lackawanna Cutoff rebuilding endorsed

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Star-Ledger Staff

A long-awaited plan to restore passenger rail service between Hoboken and Scranton, Pa., via the defunct Lackawanna Cutoff in Warren, Sussex and Morris counties took a major step forward yesterday.

The North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority in Newark included in its transit plans a 7-mile stretch of the cutoff from Andover Township in Sussex County to Port Morris in Morris County.

The nod of recognition makes this segment of the dormant rail line, estimated to cost $36.6 million to revive, eligible for federal funding. Trains could be running from Andover to Port Morris within "a few years," said Richard Roberts, chief planner for NJ Transit, the agency that would construct and operate the rails.

"We're going to build 7.3 miles of track," Roberts said. "The intention with this action is that something is going to happen."

Restoring the 28-mile Lackawanna Cutoff is a key to a $551 million plan to revive the 133-mile 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.

An engineering marvel when it was built a century ago, the cutoff was abandoned more than two decades ago. Passenger and freight trains whizzed along the high-speed route for some seven decades before service was discontinued and its rails were torn up in 1985.

Restoring the cutoff has been on the books for years, but has progressed mainly in fits and starts. The groundwork was laid in 2001, when New Jersey and Pennsylvania bought the cutoff rail bed for $21 million.

The goal is to create a mass transit commuting alternative in fast-growing northwest New Jersey and northeast Pennsylvania. Eight trains would run daily, with stations in Andover and Blairstown in New Jersey, and in Delaware Water Gap, East Stroudsburg, Analomink, Mount Pocono, Tobyhanna and Scranton in Pennsylvania.

Last year, another hurdle was overcome when a draft environmental assessment of the entire rail line showed no major problems; but the cost estimate soared from $200 million more than a decade ago to $551 million in 2006.

The $36.6 million in federal funding was earmarked for the project by U.S. Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-11th Dist.), a staunch supporter of the rail plan, and U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.). With the federal fiscal year ending by September, the NJTPA adopted the 7.3-mile stretch as the "minimal operable segment" and "locally preferred alternative" of the entire line.

An incremental approach is not unusual with large transportation projects, and now at least one section of the cutoff would be revived as a spur off NJ Transit's existing Boonton line.

"This is logical. We could work off the existing system," Roberts said. "You may lay out an entire project, but can't pay for it all at once. This is not a bad investment at all."

There are no timetables for construction on the rest of the line, beyond the 7.3 miles authorized yesterday.

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

Jim Lockwood may be reached at or (973) 383-0516.