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Tuesday, May 28, 2024

BTC Votes in Support of Amtrak Railroad Restoration Through Blairstown 

The Blairstown Township Committee (BTC) is “all aboard” for the revival of the passenger rail service via the Lackawanna Cut-Off proposed by Amtrak to create public transportation between Scranton, Pennsylvania and New York City (NYC). BTC members unanimously approved Resolution 2024-30, that offers support to the project, at a meeting on January 18.  

The township, built and named after the railroad magnate John Blair, might see Amtrak trains pull into a local station by 2028. Resolution 2024-30 shares the history of railroads in Blairstown. 

“Mr. Blair was considered the ‘Dean’ of the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad’s Board of Managers, serving a half-century on the railroad’s board (1850-1899), longer than any director in the railroad’s history.”

“These trains that stopped at Blairstown provided passenger service not only east to Hoboken, NJ and New York City, but also west to the Poconos, Scranton, Binghamton and Buffalo, NY, as well as connections to Chicago.” 

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) announced in early December that the NYC to Scranton corridor, via the 28.5-mile stretch from Port Morris, New Jersey to Slateford, Pennsylvania, known as the Lackawanna Cut-Off, would be included in the Federal Corridor Identification Development Program, opening the door for significant federal funds. 

The Corridor ID Development Program comes from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act that was signed into law in 2021. Under this legislation, state and local governments can apply for matching federal funds for planning, engineering, construction and operation of new Amtrak corridors. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law puts aside $22 billion for Amtrak. 

The federal government would cover up to 80% of the capital costs and some operation costs. Amtrak estimates an annual revenue of $13.3 million with operating costs reaching over $19 million. 

The current plan involves the restoration of Pennsylvania tracks from Scranton to the Delaware Water Gap, 20 miles of repairs on the Lackawanna Cut-Off and continued restoration of existing New Jersey tracks. 

According to the Amtrak Corridor Revision Plan created in 2021, this reconstruction could generate $84 million in annual economic activity, compounded with $2.9 billion in economic impact from construction along the corridor. 

With three trains running in each direction, traveling at 110 mph, running time equates to just under three hours— an hour and 17 minutes between Blairstown and NYC. Trains are slotted to carry 470,000 riders and complete three round trips each day. The trains will stop in East Stroudsburg, Pocono Summit, Blairstown, Dover, Montclair, Morristown and Newark. 

The last passenger train came through the Blairstown station in 1970. The last freight train came in 1979. 

In December of 2023, Chuck Walsh, the president of the North Jersey Rail Commuter Association visited the BTC to talk about the refurbishments to the Lackawanna Cut-Off. According to Walsh, the project may take one to two years of study and engineering work followed by three years of construction. 

According to resolution 2024-30 the repairs are meant to, “provide another mode of travel for those residing in Warren County and for those traveling through the county, and to help reduce congestion on Interstate 80; and restoration of passenger service will help in meeting global climate reduction goals.”

At the December meeting, Debbie Waldron, who was on the committee at that time, asked Walsh about the historic Blairstown train station building. 

“At one time we were told that the train station would have to be revamped by Blairstown?”

Blairstown train station. RVE Stock photo.

Walsh responded that Amtrak has not developed a site plan for Blairstown yet, but he believes that the corporation does not seek to use the building as a station. Parking and a platform will need to be created, but the township will not have to foot the bill to refurbish the old station. 

Committee member Karen Lance pointed out that with kiosks and ticket purchasing through apps the need for a physical building to serve as a train station is a thing of the past.  

Waldron asked if Amtrak planned to transport garbage from NYC using the repaired rails. 

Walsh responded that it would be “impossible” for freight to be transported through the Lackawanna Cut-Off. Overhead clearance in some parts of the tracks reach 15.5 feet and the average box car is 17 feet in height, double-stacked reach 20 feet. 

“The railyards that have been used in the past are no longer accessible by this route… in terms of trash: where would it come from, where would it go? There’s no tipping stations on the line,” stated Walsh. 

During his presentation, Walsh recalled a study conducted in 2019 regarding the massive concrete viaducts over the Paulinskill and Delaware Rivers. At that time, the estimated repairs for the Paulinskill viaduct were $16 million, with a whopping $54 million for the one across the Delaware. 

Walsh called Blairstown’s participation in this railroad restoration a “once in a lifetime opportunity.”

Alex Tironi Headshot
Alex Tironi, Contributing Writer
Contributing Writer

A recent graduate of George Mason University in Virginia, Alex pursued a degree in journalism with a double minor in American Sign Language and nonprofit studies. She worked as assistant news editor to the Fourth Estate, the university newspaper where she reported on many things but mostly focused on campus crime and PD activity. While working for a nonprofit called the Borgen Project, she wrote about global health and poverty in third-world nations. Alex recently finished an internship writing and editing for a business consulting company in NY. Growing up in the area, she has always been active in her community and brings the same intention as a contributing writer for the Ridge View Echo.