ROXBURY, NJ – Enduring a cold December wind, rail historian Chuck Walsh recently stood at a spot in Roxbury that's dear to the hearts of many fellow American railroad enthusiasts: The westward launching point of the famous Lackawanna Cutoff.
As the wind nearly drowned out his voice, Walsh was videotaped by his daughter - first in front of the former Hopatcong train station and later near the Port Morris rail yard - as he described the sites' importance. The result of the father-daughter effort was one video in a series about the Cutoff that Walsh is publishing on YouTube.
"I post quite a bit on the Lackawanna Cutoff Facebook Page, but I felt something was missing," said Walsh, who is president of the North Jersey Rail Commuter Association. "My daughter and I have been talking about it. We said, 'Let's make a series of videos.' I needed her buy-in; she knows the stuff behind the camera and we needed the collaborative effort to make it work."
The Walsh's video shot at Port Morris is the second in their series about the Cutoff, an engineering marvel that opened on Christmas Eve 105 years ago. By building the rail route between Roxbury and Pennsylvania, the Lackawanna created a flat beeline over valleys and through ridges, allowing high-speed trains to save substantial time compared to the prior circuitous route.
The old right-of-way was taken out of service by Conrail in the late 1970s, but it is now being slowly restored by NJ TRANSIT. The goal is to once again provide fast train service between Hoboken/New York City and Scranton, Pa.
Walsh has been at the forefront of the movement to return trains to the Cutoff, which was acquired by New Jersey in May 2001. He said one of his goals in making the new videos is to educate people about the Cutoff's history, something unknown to many of the people who regularly drive past, over and under it.
Raising awareness about the Cutoff's feats of engineering is vital to securing support for its revival, Walsh said. "Maybe even more than when I started 30 years ago," he stressed. "Thirty years ago the trains weren't that much in the distant past. But it hasn’t been an active railroad in almost four decades now and that's a long time for anyone under 50 or at least 45. They're not going to have any recollection of trains on that line."
When Conrail abandoned the Cutoff, it ripped out the tracks. So far, NJTRANSIT has installed about three miles of new track west of Port Morris, Walsh said. The plan is to build a new station in Sussex County's Andover Township and extend NJTRANSIT commuter service there before tackling any additional westward restoration.
NJTRANSIT hopes to refurbish the 1,024-foot Roseville Tunnel in Byram Township next year.