ROXBURY, NJ — Passenger trains between New York and Pennsylvania might return to the Lackawanna Cutoff, a historic rail right-of-way connecting Roxbury and the Delaware Water Gap.
The government-subsidized, quasi-public corporation is including a revival of the long-dormant Cutoff as part of a plan to restore long-distance passenger rail service between New York City and Scranton, Pa. Its plans show stations in New Jersey at Summit, Morristown, Dover and Blairstown.
Passenger trains last ran on the Lackawanna Cutoff in 1970, freight service ceased in 1978 and tracks were removed in 1984.
The rail route, built by the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad and considered an engineering marvel even by today’s standards, opened in 1911. It served as a flat, nearly straight, high-speed connection between Port Morris and Pennsylvania. It features towering viaducts that span the Delaware and Paulinskill rivers, man-made mountains of rock that bisect Sussex County valleys and a tunnel in Byram.
Full Steam Ahead?
Over the decades that passed since Conrail took ownership of the right-of-way and pulled the tracks, railroad aficionados and commuter groups have fought to see the Cutoff returned to service. Some progress was made during the past decade: NJ Transit installed tracks between Port Morris and Andover Township and is close to restoring the Roseville Tunnel.
But Amtrak's idea, revealed late last month, is bringing new hope and optimism to those involved in Cutoff restoration efforts.
“It’s real,” said Chuck Walsh, president of the North Jersey Rail Commuter Association, an organization that wants to see the trains return to the Cutoff. “Amtrak is definitely interested in the project.”
Amtrak is envisioning three eastbound trains and three westbound daily with a limited number of stops. The trains would run from New York Penn Station, follow NJ Transit’s Morristown Line to Lake Hopatcong and then take the Cut-Off to Pennsylvania, according to plans.
Walsh said the 136-mile trip between Scranton and New York would likely take about three hours and 25 minutes on an Amtrak train.
Biden on Board
He said restoring the Cutoff between the Roseville Tunnel and Pennsylvania would likely cost about $288 million, with a big chunk of the money needed for repairing the majestic Hainesburg Viaduct and nearby Delaware River Viaduct. Funding would come from the Biden Administration’s infrastructure improvement bill now being reviewed by Congress.
Amtrak estimates the restoration of service could be accomplished by 2035, but Walsh said he's confident it could be done sooner. He noted the president, who lived as a child in Scranton, appears to be enthusiastic about the project.
“Joe Biden actually mentioned this project at 50th Anniversary of Amtrak celebration,” Walsh said. “He said it would be great to be able to take a train from New York to Scranton. This is the only route that makes sense if you’re going to connect Scranton to New York City.”
The right-of-way, in both New Jersey and Pennsylvania, is owned by the states, not held privately. That is likely to make a restoration more feasible than other Amtrak expansion proposals involving routes owned by private companies, Walsh said.
The Scranton-to-New York proposal is shown on the “Amtrak Connects Us” website.
Walsh has created a series of YouTube videos about the Lackawanna Cutoff. His latest one deals with the new Amtrak proposal:
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