The return of passenger trains through Blairstown took a big step toward reality this week when federal officials announced that New York City to Scranton service has been accepted into the Corridor Identification and Development Program.
Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey made the announcement December 5, along with Rep. Matt Cartwright, of Northeast Pennsylvania’s 8th Congressional District.
The Federal Railroad Administration has included Northeastern Pennsylvania in its Corridor ID Program with the goal of reestablishing direct passenger rail service between Scranton, Pennsylvania, and New York City. The Corridor ID Program was established as part of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to assist with the development of intercity passenger rail corridors.
The National Passenger Railroad Corporation, better known as Amtrak, issued a detailed study for the resumption of passenger service between New York and Scranton earlier this year.
The two-year study that was commissioned by Amtrak and the Pennsylvania Northeast Regional Railroad Authority mostly focused on the costs and benefits on the Keystone State portion of the line and was included in the application that led to this week’s inclusion in the Corridor ID Program.
The plan would revive the long-dormant Lackawanna Cutoff – that ubiquitous former railroad line that looms more than 100 feet in some places over Frelinghuysen, Blairstown and Knowlton; a route that includes the massive concrete viaducts over the Paulins Kill and the Delaware River.
The immediate effect of the designation is a $500,000 grant from the FRA to develop a scope, schedule and cost estimate for the service.
However, a lot of that work has already been completed with the report submitted earlier this year, says Chuck Walsh, a longtime advocate for the restoration of the Cutoff and a resident of Knowlton.
“This project has a head-start because much of it has already been done in Amtrak’s 400-page report,” said Walsh, who is also president of the North Jersey Rail Commuter Association.
Walsh called Tuesday’s announcement a major milestone. And while there are still several more hurdles to clear, this event was one of the most important.
“There is a three-step process, and nothing is going to happen overnight,” Walsh said, while acknowledging that just a few years ago he would not have thought it would get even this far.
Trains traveling at speeds up to 110 mph on the Lackawanna Cutoff segment would transport 380,000 riders in its first year, rising to 470,000 after three years, according to Amtrak.
Amtrak claimed the regions surrounding the restored service would see up to $84 million each year in economic activity. The study also said the service would include $20 million in user benefits such as decreased travel time.
The costs of upgrading the tracks to federal standards for passenger trains would be between $99 million and $176 million. That estimate, however, is only for the Pennsylvania portion of the line and does not include the costs associated with restoration of the cutoff and other improvements on the New Jersey portion from the Delaware Water Gap to Andover. There, NJ Transit is currently restoring tracks to connect to New York.
A sample schedule issued by Amtrak earlier this year indicated three trains in each direction with stops at East Stroudsburg and Pocono Summit in Pennsylvania and Blairstown, Dover, Montclair, Morristown and Newark in New Jersey.
That last passenger train to operate on the proposed route ran in January of 1970, when the Erie-Lackawanna Railroad, at that time the owner of the line, ended all long-distance passenger service. The last freight train passed through Blairstown in 1979.
The tracks survived on the Pennsylvania side and still host numerous freight trains, although those tracks would need to be upgraded.
Joe Phalon, Contributing Writer
Joe was lured out of retirement by the opportunity to be a part of the Ridge View Echo. During a decades-long career in publishing and journalism, he has covered government on many levels from local school boards to the United States Supreme Court.
Along the way, Joe has worked at American Lawyer Magazine, The National Law Journal and The Record among other publications, and as the Press Officer of Columbia Law School. His work has been recognized with several first place awards from the Society of Professional Journalists and the New Jersey Press Association.
Being part of the Ridge View Echo brings Joe back to his roots and the kind of news coverage he loves: Telling the stories of people and local communities as well as keeping an eye on how their money is spent by their government officials.
Joe lives in Blairstown with his wife Rose, the founder of Quilting for a Cause, and their two wiener dogs. He is an artist in his spare time.